The Miami Dolphins snapped a four-game losing streak by beating the Cincinnati Bengals in front of its home crowd as well as a national television audience on Thursday Night Football during Week 9. Though traveling teams playing on a short week are notorious for poor performances during Thursday games, the Bengals entered the matchup favored.
The Dolphins showed immense grit and determination during the game. Miami ran out to 17-3 lead in the third quarter, but subsequently lost the lead as the Bengals scored 20 unanswered points, leaving the Dolphins down 23-20 with a little over one minute remaining in regulation.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill calmly directed the offense down the field with no timeouts, putting rookie place kicker Caleb Sturgis in position for a game-tying 44-yard field goal with second remaining in the game. Sturgis nailed the kick and the teams proceeded into overtime.
After a number of failed possessions on both sides, the Dolphins managed to back the Bengals up to their own 8-yard line. On 3rd-and-10, All-Pro defensive end Cameron Wake stormed into the backfield, sacking quarterback Andy Dalton for the third time that evening. The game ended as Dalton failed to advance the football completely out of the end zone, resulting in a walk-off safety.
Here you will find a full position-by-position grading of the Dolphins during their impressive victory.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill had one of his stronger games of the year against the Cincinnati Bengals, completing 20 of 28 passes for 208 yards. He did not throw any touchdowns, but neither did he throw any interceptions, either. He did score a rushing touchdown off a quarterback sneak in the second quarter. He added three more sacks to his sack total for the year, though he likely caught a break as All Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins left the game early with a torn ACL.
Of the eight incomplete passes, several had the look of chemistry issues with newer wide receivers the Dolphins have been forced to use since the injury of slot receiver Brandon Gibson. Tannehill missed one connection with return specialist Marcus Thigpen and two with elevated slot receiver Rishard Matthews. He threw another ball into a vacant area of the football field while under heavy duress in the pocket.
He hit Mike Wallace on a slant, but the coverage was tight, and Wallace could not haul the football in while being physically challenged. He also hit Brian Hartline perfectly on a hitch pattern in the fourth quarter, but Hartline was being interfered with by Bengals corner Adam Jones, and as a result, Hartline was not able to get his hands up to catch the football.
His most costly incomplete pass of the evening came during the overtime period on a controversial 3rd-and-1 play call. Offensive coordinator Mike Sherman inexplicably called for a shotgun pass attempt on the down instead of a run play. Tannehill was charged with hitting Hartline on the quick slant.
In order to clear out the passing lane, tight end Charles Clay was to run a quick pattern into the flat, bringing strong safety George Iloka with him in man coverage. The problem is, instead of getting out into the flat quickly so that Tannehill could hit Hartline quickly, Clay ran vertically up the field and gave Iloka a shoulder fake before breaking to the outside.
Clay’s lack of urgency froze Iloka directly in the passing lane Tannehill was attempting to hit with Hartline, causing Ryan to pump the football instead of hitting the pass quickly. By the time he re-cocked his arm and was able to finally throw it to Hartline, Bengals corner Adam Jones was able to recover lost ground against Hartline and knock down the pass.
On the other hand during the same overtime period, Tannehill made an excellent play that resulted in a defensive pass interference call in favor of Miami. He recognized an aggressive Cover 1 look from the Bengals defense and optioned into a play that featured three verticals with max protect in the backfield. Tannehill then used his eyes to draw the center-fielder toward Brian Hartline to Ryan’s left, rather than the true deep threat, Mike Wallace, to Tannehill’s right.
Tannehill clicked back over to Wallace and threw a perfectly on-target deep ball that Wallace would have likely been able to catch in stride for a long, game-winning touchdown. Bengals corner Terrance Newman made an extremely savvy, veteran move choosing to interfere with Wallace at midfield and take the spot foul rather than allow Wallace to streak into the end zone for the game-winner.
Tannehill also deserves massive credit for his work in the one-minute drill just before the end of regulation. Faced with a three-point deficit and only 1:18 on the game clock, at his own 24-yard line with no timeouts at his disposal, Tannehill calmly directed the offense 50 yards down the field for a game-tying 44-yard field goal.
Tannehill showed an excellent understanding of knew when he could use the middle of the field and when he needed to steer toward the sidelines on the drive. He also caught the Bengals defense trying to line up and quick-snapped a pass to Mike Wallace which gave the Dolphins five yards while stopping the clock. His accuracy was pinpoint and his management of the game was at its best.
Position Grade: B+
Tailback Lamar Miller had the best game of his short career, carrying the football 16 times and gaining 105 yards. He was also a frequent target in the passing game as he caught four passes for 24 yards. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Miller also caused four missed tackles on the day and gained 64 of those 105 yards after contact.
It was an all-around great day for Miller, except for one glaring mistake. In the second quarter, Miller made several tacklers miss en route to a big 41-yard gain on the ground. However, Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap hustled deep down the field and stalked Miller, waiting for his opportunity to tomahawk the ball out of his hands. Dunlap succeeded, and Bengals corner Adam Jones was able to scoop up the football in the end zone.
Tailback Daniel Thomas struggled during the game, gaining only 38 yards on 12 carries. He was handed the football three separate times in short-yardage situations during the game. He failed to gain a first down on all three occasions, despite his designation as Miami’s short yardage specialist.
Position Grade: C
Though the wide receivers unit was a man short due to the injury to slot receiver Brandon Gibson, the unit stepped up nicely against the Bengals and made an impact on the game.
Mike Wallace had one of his best games of the year. The official production of six catches for 82 yards does not fully detail his impact on the game.
Unlike several other games where Tannehill threw him the football over and over again, Wallace was only targeted seven times in order to get those six catches for 82 yards. The one pass he did not catch was a slant route wherein the corner physically impacted the play and broke up the pass attempt.
The statistics do not capture how Wallace was able to burn Bengals corner Terrance Newman on a fly route in overtime, which may very well have won the Dolphins the football game had Newman not made a conscious choice to dive and grab Wallace’s legs rather than allow him to speed through to the on-target pass.
Receiver Brian Hartline did not produce much on the stat sheet with only three catches for 39 yards; however, one of his catches was an extraordinary play during one of the biggest moments in the game. As Tannehill attempted to direct the team 50 yards down the field for a game-tying field goal with one minute remaining and no timeouts at his disposal, Hartline caught a beautiful 21-yard pass on an out route.
Tannehill placed the ball high against the man coverage, and Hartline was able to jump for the football and ever so slightly scrape both toes against the ground before going out of bounds.
Receiver Rishard Matthews caught two passes for 24 yards during the game, however two of Tannehill’s eight missed connections during the game came while trying to hit Matthews. The two need to continue working on their chemistry.
Position Grade: B
Tight end Charles Clay caught three passes on four attempts in his direction for 22 total yards during the game. His backup Michael Egnew caught the only pass sent his way for 13 yards. Rookie tight end Dion Sims did not make an appearance during the game.
The tight ends’ impact on the passing game at 35 total yards with no touchdowns was fairly negligible on the day. It should not necessarily be deemed a positive or negative. However, the run blocking of the pair was negative. Though Egnew’s blocking was decent at times, Clay’s blocking was more consistently bad.
It is a testament to the inexperience and incompleteness of the unit that Michael Egnew, once derided endlessly for his blocking as a rookie, has become the unit’s most consistent blocker. Clay is more of a pass catching tight end, and his blocking has yet to come on since joining the NFL in 2011. The most disappointing blocker is rookie Dion Sims, who was drafted in part to be a tight end blocking specialist.
The unit’s blocking during the 2013 season has been so inconsistent that the Dolphins decided during the Bengals game to forego the concepts of disguise and put a sixth offensive lineman on the field when they want to run the football.
Additionally, Clay showed a poor understanding of the offensive play concept on a critical 3rd-and-1 play in overtime. On the play, he was to run a quick route into the flat, drawing strong safety George Iloka in man coverage out of the passing lane so that Tannehill could hit Brian Hartline on a quick slant. Instead of running the route with urgency, Clay steered up the field and gave a shoulder fake before breaking to the outside.
The mistake caused Iloka to sit in the passing lane for an extra heartbeat, forcing Tannehill to pump the football instead of throwing it to Hartline. By the time Tannehill could re-cock his arm and get the ball out to Hartline, corner Adam Jones had recovered lost ground and was able to knock the ball away. This forced the Dolphins to punt the football in overtime.
Clay somewhat saved the unit grade by carrying the football for a nifty 13-yard gain during the game, showing the versatility that saw him rushing for over 1,200 yards in college at Tulsa. The Dolphins must explore this ability further and focus on using Clay out of the backfield from traditional halfback positions and roles, as this same versatility is one factor that made Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez particularly difficult to cover in New England.
Position Grade: C-
The Dolphins offensive line had one of their better showings of the year against the Cincinnati Bengals. As a testament to how far the unit still has to go, the unit still allowed three sacks despite having one of their best showings of the season.
Center Mike Pouncey was particularly good during the game firing out into the second level for excellent blocks down the field. He drew a high overall grade from Pro Football Focus (subscription required) for the game.
Left guard Richie Incognito, now suspended due to potential threatening messages left for teammate Jonathan Martin according to Mike Garafolo of Fox Sports, left the football game early with an apparent neck injury.
Backup Nate Garner played in his place. Lucky for Garner, Bengals starting All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins also left the game early with an apparent knee injury. Atkins had already claimed a sack on quarterback Ryan Tannehill by beating Incognito’s pass protection. Garner did a mediocre job against Atkins’ replacements.
Left tackle Bryant McKinnie strung together his second impressive performance since joining the Dolphins, shutting down standout Bengals pass rusher Michael Johnson. According to the Pro Football Focus page linked above, McKinnie only allowed one quarterback pressure during the game.
Right guard John Jerry also played a clean game. According to Pro Football Focus, he did not allow any pressures on Tannehill. The service also gave Jerry a positive run blocking grade for the day.
Right tackle Tyson Clabo replaced Jonathan Martin, who left the team amidst accusations of bullying and misconduct by teammate Richie Incognito. Clabo started off the day shaky. On the sack play that Incognito allowed to the All-Pro Atkins, Clabo also allowed his assignment to blow by him and hit Tannehill. It just so happened that Atkins got there first. Had Incognito blocked Atkins better, Clabo very well may have allowed his ninth sack of the season, according to Pro Football Focus.
The Dolphins made use of a sixth offensive lineman during the game. Backup tackle Will Yeatman played a position similar to the tight end position he manned in college and initially in the pros, before making a switch to offensive tackle. According to the same Pro Football Focus page linked above, Yeatman only played 12 snaps. He did not stand out positively or negatively.
Position Grade: B
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required) the defensive line tallied a total of six sacks and 17 quarterback hurries during the game. Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton saw pressure on 20 out of his 30 dropbacks during the game. That is outstanding work by the defensive line.
Cameron Wake had a particularly stellar day as he accumulated three sacks, including the game-winning safety in overtime.
In run defense, defensive tackles Paul Soliai and Randy Starks were very stout against Cincinnati’s regular run offense which featured BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who ran 21 times for only 72 yards during the game.
However, the team allowed the much more explosive tailback Giovani Bernard to tally 79 yards on only nine carries, thanks in large part to a 35-yard run that will make highlight reels as being among the 10 most impressive plays of the 2013 NFL season.
The defensive line caught a break when Bernard injured himself late in the game, missing the latter part of the fourth quarter as well as the overtime period.
Position Grade: A
Though the defensive line did a stellar job during the game, the team's linebackers struggled.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), linebacker Philip Wheeler missed a total of four tackles during the game. He was an effective blitzer, tallying three quarterback hurries on only 15 pass-rushing attempts, according to the same source. However, in coverage he allowed all three passes to be completed on his direct coverage for a total of 29 yards.
Dannell Ellerbe missed only one tackle during the game, according to the same source above. However, he and Wheeler only combined for a total of four “stops,” which, according to Pro Football Focus, are tackles that constitute an offensive failure (including sacks).
Ellerbe was gifted a key interception by Bengals wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, who was open on Ellerbe’s coverage over the middle but bobbled the football, tapping it right into Ellerbe’s hands as he trailed. During the return, Ellerbe had the chance to bring the ball back for more yards but seemed rather to make a beeline straight for the sidelines as he was winded during the play.
Backup linebacker Jason Trusnik only played 16 snaps according to the above source, but made his presence felt on those snaps. He totaled three tackles and two “stops” as defined above.
Position Grade: C
Corners Dimitri Patterson and Brent Grimes had a decent overall day in coverage against the Cincinnati Bengals.
The unit cannot be said to have had a great day. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), the corners as a whole were thrown on 35 times with 19 completions for 258 yards.
The unit did not allow any touchdown passes on their direct coverage, and they were able to snag two interceptions, one which Grimes returned for a 94-yard touchdown. However, the unit was partially responsible for the Bengals ability to string together long drives which tired out the defense and helped the Bengals come back against the Dolphins.
Additionally, according to the source above, Grimes and Patterson combined for eight total missed tackles. Grimes in particular missed two tackle attempts on tailback Giovani Bernard during one 35-yard highlight reel touchdown run.
Position Grade: B
Safety Reshad Jones may have had the worst game of what was already shaping up as a poor season for the standout defensive back. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Jones missed three tackles during the game and allowed all three passes thrown on his coverage to be completed for 42 yards.
Worse, there is a possibility that Jones was guilty of freelancing during the game. On the game’s final play, which ended up a sack-safety by All Pro defensive end Cameron Wake, Jones was seen visibly arguing with free safety Chris Clemons prior to the snap about the defensive play call. Eventually, Jones gave Clemons a waving-off hand motion and proceeded to blitz quarterback Andy Dalton, despite Clemons’ protestations.
In the Dolphins defense, different players “have the ball” according to which coverage is being called, which means that the ability to call the defensive responsibilities changes according to whether the Dolphins are in Cover 1, Cover 2, Cover 3, quarters, etc.
It is unclear which player should have been in charge of the call on the final play of the game. If Reshad Jones had the call responsibility, then Chris Clemons should not have been questioning his call so vehemently. On the other hand, if Clemons had the responsibility, then it is likely that Jones waved off his play call and chose to freelance on the play, leaving a receiver open in the middle of the field.
What is clear is regardless of who had the call, corner Brent Grimes was the unfortunate soul stuck in the middle of the argument. He kept visibly pleading to both players prior to the snap to let him know what the call was. If Jones was not going to blitz, then it was up to Grimes to blitz the passer off the edge. If Jones was going to blitz, then Grimes needed to pull back into coverage.
As neither player let Grimes know what was supposed to happen at the snap, he was left guessing. He guessed that he was supposed to blitz. When Grimes noticed that Jones was also blitzing, he awkwardly stopped and attempted to pull back into coverage.
Luckily, none of this mattered as Cameron Wake barreled through Bengals guard Kevin Zeitler to sack Dalton in the end zone for a walk-off safety. However, had Wake been unable to rush so effectively, there was a chance the miscommunication could have resulted in a big play during a sudden death period.
Position Grade: D+
Return specialist Marcus Thigpen averaged 26.3 yards per return on his three kickoff returns during the game, whereas Bengals returners Brandon Tate and Cedric Peerman only managed a 15.0 yard average on three returns.
Tate managed only a 8.2 yards per return average on six punt returns during the game. Marcus Thigpen was forced to fair catch all three of his punt returns.
The biggest special teams gaffe of the day for Miami came when rookie place kicker Caleb Sturgis missed a chip shot 34-yard field goal during the first quarter. Sturgis went on to make two more field goals, including the 44-yard game-tying field goal during the final seconds of regulation.
Position Grade: C+