Breaking Down Left Tackle Bryant McKinnie's Miami Dolphins Debut

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Breaking Down Left Tackle Bryant McKinnie's Miami Dolphins Debut

The Miami Dolphins wasted no time before tossing newly acquired left tackle Bryant McKinnie into the fire after acquiring him from the Baltimore Ravens. Six days after the trade became official, McKinnie found himself protecting quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s blind side against one of the most fearsome and productive pass-rushers of the 2013 season.

Here we will break down McKinnie’s debut, focusing on the strengths and weaknesses demonstrated during the game with an eye toward future expectations.

 

Setting the Stage

The acquisition of Bryant McKinnie was not without controversy. The Dolphins officially acquired McKinnie on Monday, October 21st. He was available on the trade block due to the Baltimore Ravens having acquired Eugene Monroe from the Jacksonville Jaguars on October 1st.

Some would argue that it should have been Miami acquiring former first-round pick Eugene Monroe from the Jacksonville Jaguars. Monroe had performed well for the Jaguars the last couple of years, and according to Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union, the Ravens only gave up fourth- and fifth-round picks in the 2014 draft as compensation for Monroe. Why didn't the Dolphins become players in the Eugene Monroe trade? Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald answered that question:

A league source has confirmed for me that Jacksonville didn't really make the usual round of phone calls to the entire league to make Monroe available. So the Dolphins apparently didn't know Monroe was available.

Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland did not anticipate that Monroe would be available in trade. The Jaguars drafted left tackle Luke Joeckel out of Texas A&M No. 2 overall in the 2013 NFL draft and had been forced to play him at right tackle during the first four games of 2013 due to the presence of Monroe on the roster. Jacksonville was 0-4 to that point in the season, having been outscored by opponents 129-31.

To that point in the season, the Dolphins’ tackle tandem of Jonathan Martin and Tyson Clabo had allowed eight sacks in four games, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

Despite the team’s heavy need at tackle, and despite circumstances in Jacksonville which made Monroe’s availability easy to predict, the Dolphins apparently expected a courtesy call from the Jaguars to make sure they knew Monroe was available prior to agreeing on a deal with the Ravens.

Others argue that McKinnie himself was not a worthy trade target. According to Omar Kelly of the South Florida Sun Sentinel, McKinnie had his knee drained multiple times during the 2013 season with the Ravens prior to coming to Miami:

After the Dolphins acquired McKinnie, he was limited in practice during most of the practice week due to the knee, although according to Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, he was upgraded to full participation by the end of the week.

On the other hand, others might argue that even after allowing Monroe to slip through their fingers, the Dolphins sat on their hands too long with respect to McKinnie.

While it is doubtful the Ravens would have traded McKinnie to the Dolphins prior to the two teams facing one another on October 6th, the Dolphins arguably had the opportunity to acquire McKinnie heading into the team’s Week 6 bye. This would have given them two weeks to get McKinnie familiar with the playbook in time for a Week 7 matchup with the Buffalo Bills.

The Dolphins went on to lose that Bills game when right tackle Tyson Clabo (who was eventually benched in favor of McKinnie in Week 8) allowed defensive end Mario Williams to sack Tannehill late in the fourth quarter, stripping the football and putting the Bills in position to kick a game-winning field goal. Some argue that had McKinnie been playing for Miami, the Dolphins would not have lost the game.

All of this set the stage for the Dolphins to acquire McKinnie and start him immediately against the New England Patriots in Week 8 under a hail of criticism.

 

The Opponent

McKinnie was thrown into the fire right away with the Dolphins, as he would go on to primarily face New England pass-rusher Chandler Jones. McKinnie got surprisingly strong results against Jones, who, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), did not record a quarterback sack, hit or pressure during the game.

Chandler Jones 2013
Opponent PFF Pass Block Grade Sacks Hits Hurries
@BUF +0.8 0 1 3
NYJ +1.0 2 1 5
TAM -0.6 2 0 2
@ATL -1.8 0 2 3
@CIN -0.9 1 1 0
NOR +1.0 1 1 2
NYJ +1.0 2 2 2
MIA -4.3 0 0 0

Pro Football Focus

 

A Quick Note

The Dolphins like to take pressure off their offensive linemen in pass protection by throwing a lot of quick-rhythm passes that all but eliminate the opposing pass rush from being able to pressure the quarterback. This puts a lot of pressure on quarterback Ryan Tannehill to anticipate open targets. It also puts a lot of pressure on his receivers to be open.

This is the primary reason, according to Pro Football Focus, that the percentage of Tannehill’s passes that take 2.6 seconds or more before being thrown is second-lowest in the NFL among qualified passers. According to the site, Tannehill has waited 2.6 seconds or longer to throw the football only 36.1 percent of snaps, whereas the median for NFL passers is approximately 49 percent.

The net result of this strategy is that the number of times the Dolphins asked McKinnie to establish a spacious pocket long enough for a pass-rusher to potentially beat him was low. Therefore, we will try to focus on the plays in which McKinnie was really put to the test.

 

The Good Plays

The first was a 3rd-and-7 play in the first quarter. On the play, Chandler Jones lined up to the inside of McKinnie and initially drew the attention of left guard Richie Incognito, in addition to McKinnie.

In order to free up Incognito against potential blitz and stunt action, McKinnie stepped hard to the inside to take on the role of blocking Jones. This was important, as otherwise Jones could have penetrated the B-gap between Incognito and McKinnie for a quick pressure. Once McKinnie got his hands up, he punched and mirrored Jones through several moves while Tannehill waited for his intended target to come open.

The next play was the 1st-and-10 that followed the above example. This play is going to be a play-action pass, and due to the play-fake, McKinnie will need to step up and keep pass-rushers off Tannehill’s blind side for a good amount of time. In this case, he will be blocking Patriots outside rusher Jamie Collins, rather than Jones.

On the play, Jones immediately slants inward to put pressure on left guard Richie Incognito. This allows McKinnie to sink into a kick slide against the outside rusher Collins. He gets his hands up and times his punch against Collins well, delaying his outside rush.

At the bottom of the rush as Collins wanted to turn the corner, McKinnie’s feet allowed him to stay with Collins and bow up his back for one last stand before eventually Collins’ depth won out.

However, to the point in the play where Collins finally freed himself of McKinnie, Tannehill had already had more than 3.5 seconds of a clean pocket, and the reason he scrambled at the end was because his tight end Dion Sims was losing his battle on the play. McKinnie protected Tannehill’s blind side exactly as you would hope on the play.

Here is another play-action pass in which McKinnie finds himself matched up one-on-one with Chandler Jones.

Due to the defensive play call, Jones was afforded a lot of latitude with which to work against the aged McKinnie. He had options for going inside or outside, or in this case to attempt both routes to the quarterback.

This widened the goal for Jones, putting a lot of pressure on the goaltender McKinnie to keep up with a much younger, more athletic pass-rusher. McKinnie handled it beautifully, flowing with Jones as he first tested McKinnie’s inside shoulder and then attempted to get around his outside shoulder.

There were at least 15 more occasions when McKinnie was put under the sword in straight-up pass protection by the Patriots while simultaneously being asked by the Dolphins to maintain a clean pocket for Tannehill as he sat back and picked out his targets rather than executing a quick pass. McKinnie’s blocking was close to ideal on most of the plays. The pass-rusher only got the better of him in straight one-on-one pass protection two times, resulting in hits on quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

 

The Bad Plays

The day was not completely without warts for McKinnie. Being relatively new to the playbook, there is a possibility that McKinnie was supposed to fan out to block an outside blitzer on a 2nd-and-8 play during the third quarter that resulted in a costly sack and fumble recovery by the New England defense.

On the play, both center Mike Pouncey and left guard Richie Incognito move outward to the left, which could have guarded McKinnie’s inside shoulder against the defensive end lined up on top of him. This could have allowed McKinnie to fan out to the outermost pass-rusher, protecting Tannehill’s blind side from a vicious hit.

Possibly due to the success of this strategy, the Patriots attempted to create confusion for McKinnie several more times from then on. The strategy worked again on a 2nd-and-10 just after the Dolphins got down 27-17 on the scoreboard.

By this point in the game, the Patriots had tested McKinnie in this way a few more times even after the costly 2nd-and-8 sack-fumble in the third quarter. The veteran McKinnie caught onto the strategy quickly and adjusted. On the above play, he clearly recognizes what the Patriots are doing and attempts to fan out in order to block safety Steve Gregory as he comes around the edge.

The problem on the play was McKinnie’s lack of athleticism, not his lack of recognition. When forced to get wide enough to block a pass-rusher on a wide arc, McKinnie’s age and overall lack of athletic ability starts to show.

This was also evident several times during the game on run plays. The Dolphins should expect defenses to watch the film and attempt to take advantage of these shortcomings more efficiently in future games.

 

Conclusion

While the timeliness of the McKinnie trade can certainly be argued, as can the potential alternative of trading for Eugene Monroe, the Dolphins should be very pleased with the early results of the trade. Despite the team ultimately losing to the Patriots in Foxboro, McKinnie locked down the left side of the offensive line in pass protection on all but three plays of the game.

An examination of his strengths and weaknesses shows that Miami could have more success this year blocking standout individual pass-rushers like Chandler Jones of the Patriots. The Dolphins have no shortage of those remaining on the schedule, as McKinnie will face the likes of Michael Johnson and Greg Hardy, as well as Jones a second time.

However, given the athletic limitations he showed during the game, McKinnie could be weak against blitz-oriented defenses that will attempt to confuse him and force him to redirect from one target to another. The Dolphins face a number of defenses that will challenge Miami in this manner as well, including the Bengals, Chargers, Jets (twice), Steelers and Patriots.

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