Know Your Enemy: Miami Dolphins
After losing to a fellow AFC East opponent last week, the Ravens will be looking to rebound against Miami and stay above .500. What’s in store for them at Sun Life Stadium this Sunday? Let’s take a look…
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In Tannehill They Trust?
2012 was the year of the rookie quarterback, as Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III, Brandon Weeden, and Ryan Tannehill all took the helm for their respective teams. But somehow, Tannehill got a little lost in the shuffle while others were making headlines. Perhaps it was for the best; he had a very respectable rookie year and in 2013 seems to have picked up about where he left off.
Of course, Tannehill is not without his flaws, and the team is along for the ride as he works through his learning curve. So far, Miami has not asked him to make any complicated reads. He often gets half-field looks and almost never moves beyond his first option. After that, it’s either a checkdown or a tuck-and-run. Because of this, Tannehill is prone to forcing the ball to his primary read. He makes a bunch of contested throws and tries to muscle the ball into a window even if it isn’t there. Additionally, he’s got a bad habit of patting the ball before throwing. In the NFL (and especially behind a questionable line), quarterbacks can’t afford any extra motions that slow their release. It’s not surprising, then, that defenses have recorded a bunch of batted passes and interceptions so far this year.
In my opinion, Miami’s line isn’t doing Tannehill any favors either. There are two stalwarts – Richie Incognito and Mike Pouncey – but the rest of the group is shaky. In particular, Jonathan Martin is really having a year to forget. Below is a play from the week 3 Miami vs. Atlanta contest. The Falcons bring six and, despite Miami having seven blockers, collapse the pocket onto Tannehill instantly.
ILB Akeem Dent is going to follow through the B gap and put a lot of pressure on the right side of the line. However, as you can see below, it actually looks like the Dolphins are going to pick up the blitz successfully…for a brief second.
But that doesn’t last long. Only Mike Pouncey and TE Charles Clay manage to maintain their blocks. Everyone else gets completely bowled over, and the result looks something like this:
The Ravens should have some success blitzing Tannehill, particularly off the edge. I predict Suggs and Dumervil will have a very strong game. However, Pouncey is a beast in the middle of the line, so Canty and Ngata may struggle a bit to get the pressure we expect from them.
Now, despite this one play making the Dolphins look bad, I actually came away impressed with Tannehill and the Dolphins offense as a whole after watching their film. Offensive coordinator Mike Sherman has been around the block in both college and the pros (as head coach of the Packers in the early 2000s and, most recently, as head coach of Texas A&M). His experience at both levels really shows in the team’s playcalling. Their offense is creative and varied (what a concept!) and Sherman seems to know how to get the most out of his young quarterback.
Interestingly, the Dolphins have even used some read-option with Tannehill, and it’s been pretty successful at times. Below is a play that went for a big gain against New Orleans. It’s called Zone Bluff, and you can read more about it here. This is a staple of the Redskins and is also the play that San Fran used to destroy Green Bay in the playoffs.
The Dolphins run a lot of plays out of a singleback shotgun formation, which means they can disguise the read-option wrinkle very effectively. Here, Tannehill is in the shotgun with RB Lamar Miller to his left. TE Charles Clay is lined up offset right as a blocking back.
#93 on New Orleans is Junior Galette, who is listed as an OLB but on this play is the RDE. In this image, you can see Tannehill staring right at him. Galette crashes in and has his eyes on Miller the whole time. As soon as Tannehill extends the ball, Galette moves to tackle Miller, and Tannehill simply tucks the ball and follows his block. Charles Clay chips Galette on his way past and then paves the way for a long run by Tannehill. Check out that running lane:
This will be a test for the defense to see if they (particularly the DEs) can stay disciplined against the read option. Tannehill is mighty quick for a white boy, so the Dolphins could get huge chunks of yards if they spring this particular trap on Baltimore and the Ravens aren’t ready.
Insert Obligatory Ellerbe-Ravens Reunion Header Here
This past offseason, Miami made some noise by signing a number of high-profile free agents. In particular, the Dolphins tried to address their defensive needs, and as we all know, they (over)paid former Raven Dannell Ellerbe to be their MLB. The team also acquired LB Phillip Wheeler and underrated CB Brent Grimes. These players, in conjunction with star pass rusher Cameron Wake and others, such as Randy Starks, were supposed to form a solid, bordering on elite, defense in 2013. The unit had been playing decently but was torched last week by New Orleans on MNF.
To be fair, Cameron Wake is injured, and his absence has really hurt the Miami pass rush. To his credit, Brent Grimes has picked up right where he left off with Atlanta, providing solid and unheralded play in the secondary. But others, particularly Ellerbe and Wheeler, look like bad investments so far this season.
I believe the Ravens will try to target the Miami linebackers in the passing game, as other teams, particularly New Orleans and Atlanta, had a ton of success with this strategy. Below is a play that New Orleans used to get a first down. For those of us (myself included) who want to see Rice used more creatively, this is exactly what the Ravens could be doing with him.
New Orleans lines up with an empty backfield, Brees in the shotgun, and Sproles in the slot to Brees’ left. Sproles will slant in then out. The Miami defense is playing Cover-2 in their nickel package, and they’re going to rush four. The defensive alignment tells Brees this, and he can be confident in knowing the defensive playcall. Because TE Jimmy Graham, at the bottom of the screen, is running a clear-out route, LB Phillip Wheeler is left to cover Sproles in the flat with very little help.
The inside move by Sproles has rooted Wheeler to the ground, and he now stands no chance of catching up (if he ever had a chance to begin with). Brees hits Sproles with a quick pass and then its off to the races.
Here you can see the separation Sproles gets, and he easily makes it past the sticks for a first down. In fact, #20, SS Reshad Jones, ends up being the one to force Sproles out of bounds. Wheeler never even gets near him.
I’d love to see the Ravens attack Miami’s linebackers with some plays like this one. Ellerbe is better than Wheeler in coverage, but that isn’t saying much. Both Atlanta and New Orleans found ways to really take advantage of Miami’s front seven, and without Cameron Wake playing, the Ravens should (hopefully) be able to do the same.