The Miami Dolphins find themselves in a too familiar position this week. The team put together an embarrassing showing on Monday Night Football against a winless opponent, which dropped Miami’s record to below .500. The Dolphins now must return to Miami in order to face a home crowd disillusioned by the team’s lack of success.
Two weeks ago, the Dolphins similarly dropped to below-.500 when they lost to the New England Patriots in Foxboro. The team returned to Miami to face a then 6-2 Cincinnati Bengals, earning its fourth win of the season and climbing out of the losing bracket. With their backs once again firmly to the wall, can the Dolphins repeat that effort in Week 11 by beating the San Diego Chargers?
Here, we will look at everything you need to know heading into the Week 11 matchup with the San Diego Chargers. We will update you on the division standings and injuries and focus on what the Dolphins must improve on in order to try to stay afloat for one more week.
|AFC East Division Standings|
|New England||7-2||234||175||at Carolina|
|New York Jets||5-4||169||231||at Buffalo|
|Buffalo||3-7||199||259||New York Jets|
The Dolphins missed an opportunity in Week 10 to make up some ground against the New England Patriots and New York Jets as both teams had their bye week. With Miami facing a winless Buccaneers team, the Dolphins could have easily moved up into a tie with New York for second place within the AFC East.
The Buffalo Bills got rookie quarterback EJ Manuel back in Week 10, but his return could not save the team from thorough defeat at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The loss drops the Bills to a 3-7 record and last place within the division.
The New York Jets and Buffalo Bills play one another in Week 11. If the Bills are able to emerge victorious, and the Dolphins are simultaneously able to defeat the San Diego Chargers, Miami could move into a tie with the Jets for second place in the East.
Is that important? Very. The AFC has turned into a conference of “haves” and “have-nots” in 2013. There are only six winning teams, and each of the other 10 teams has a below-.500 record. Miami is actually tied with five other teams for standing just outside the playoff seeding within the conference.
The team that stands in the Dolphins’ way is the New York Jets, whom they will have an opportunity to play twice in the coming weeks. One issue for Miami is the division record. The Jets managed to steal a win from the Patriots while also beating the Bills. The Dolphins lost to both opponents. If the Jets are able to beat the Bills again this weekend, they are assured at least a 3-3 finish within the division. In that case, Miami would likely be forced to beat the Jets during both matchups in order to get a tiebreaker over New York.
|Will Yeatman||OT||Knee||Left Early||Active|
The Dolphins were forced to play in Tampa without linebacker Koa Misi, who is fighting a knee injury. Corner Dimitri Patterson also missed the game after re-aggravating a groin injury that has bothered him since Week 1. Of course, tackle Jonathan Martin also missed the game.
The good news is according to the official NFL injury report, the Dolphins had perfect attendance in practice recently. Though several players such as Daniel Thomas, Caleb Sturgis, Dimitri Patterson, Reshad Jones, Chris Clemons and Koa Misi practiced on a limited basis, the only player missing from practice was tackle Jonathan Martin.
However, Miami received another blow on the injury front during the practice as reserve tackle Will Yeatman went down with an apparent knee injury, which was confirmed to be a season-ending ACL tear.
The Dolphins had taken to using Yeatman as a sixth offensive lineman. Yeatman was a former tight end that converted to tackle and seemed a natural fit for the role. The strategy helped the team defeat the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday Night Football as Miami was able to put together its strongest rushing output of the season.
Losing him to injury means not only losing the ability to go heavy with an extra offensive lineman on the field, but it also robs the team of a valuable reserve that would have been the first into duty should starting tackles Bryant McKinnie or Tyson Clabo get hurt.
McKinnie is 34 years old, and Clabo just turned 32 years old. With Jonathan Martin already out, losing either player for any length of time would likely mean rookie Dallas Thomas would be forced to play. The third-round pick looked terrible during the preseason.
What Must Improve
Some Dolphins fans may not believe it, but Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill played a good game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday.
He was aided by a ground game that gained an average of five inches per carry. Receiver Mike Wallace and tight end Charles Clay had drops during the game. His offensive line quit the game early, just when he needed it the most. Yet Tannehill was still able to bring the team back from a 15-0 deficit into a 19-15 lead in the third quarter.
At that point, with the momentum firmly in Miami’s hands and with Tampa rookie quarterback Mike Glennon clearly struggling, the Dolphins defense was physically mowed down by Tampa Bay on an 80-yard touchdown drive that featured eight runs and only one pass. To make matters worse, the tailbacks authoring the drive were third-stringer Brian Leonard and fourth-stringer Bobby Rainey.
Miami’s defense also allowed the Buccaneers to gain two critical first downs a drive later, which put the Dolphins’ backs to the wall. The team was pinned on its own 5-yard line with three minutes remaining in regulation, needing a 60-to-65-yard drive in order to give rookie place kicker Caleb Sturgis a legitimate attempt at tying the game.
It was a minor miracle that Miami was even able to escape the shadow of its own end zone with a few crisp passes by Tannehill. But on 1st-and-10, Tannehill took an unnecessary sack as the Buccaneers rushed six players. The route combinations to Tannehill’s right side did not look favorable for beating the quick pressure, and he was forced to come back left to seek slot receiver Rishard Matthews. At this point (approximately 2.6 seconds after the snap), Tannehill had bodies on him from the middle of the line.
Though the sack was unnecessary, it was hardly a killer. Miami had all three timeouts remaining and two minutes left in regulation, needing about 40 yards for a legitimate field-goal attempt. Recall that Tannehill executed a perfect hero drive in exactly this situation against the Cincinnati Bengals just a week prior, and that drive began with a sack on 1st-and-10.
What happened next lost Miami the game. Already behind schedule with a 2nd-and-18, the Dolphins dropped Tannehill back to pass. Though the Bucs only rushed four players, the entire right side of the Miami line collapsed like the prison fence in AMC’s The Walking Dead. Multiple pass-rushers enveloped Tannehill before he could even finish his drop.
One big lesson to take from this is that the Dolphins run defense needs help. The team had captured the momentum against the Buccaneers until they were allowed to author an 80-yard touchdown drive, which was earned primarily on the ground.
Miami is not a team that likes to bring its safeties down into the box against the run. Using data gathered from Pro Football Focus (subscription required), we find that Miami is only the 25th-most likely team in the NFL to bring a safety within eight yards of the line of scrimmage prior to the snap on a run play. The data shows that Miami has brought Chris Clemons and/or Reshad Jones into the box only 162 times on the total 517 run snaps shared between them.
This is a little bit of a departure from what the Dolphins did in 2012, when they ranked 15th in the NFL in the same measure. The Dolphins ranked No. 13 in rushing yards allowed per game in 2012. They rank No. 25 in rushing yards allowed per game in 2013.
The point of the study is not to attribute the Dolphins’ reduction in run-stopping prowess. Rather, the point is to show that the Dolphins could be doing a lot more to help a beleaguered run defense that is allowing opposing teams to jam the ball down their throats at the most inopportune moments in the game.