Rookie head coach and rookie quarterback sealed the loss, but the run defense and offense provided a silver lining. That, plus how the receiving group could be improved and a Week 4 preview that is optimistic yet, I feel, realistic, here on the Dolphins Notebook.MDD Lead Editor: Eric Galko
Rookie Head Coach, Rookie Quarterback Sealed the Loss
A loss like Week 3 is going to happen when you have a rookie head coach and a rookie quarterback. Partially thanks to their lack of experience in those type of situations. And partially thanks them just not understanding the plays that need to happen and how to make those plays in pressure situations.
Joe Philbin (and likely in major thanks to offensive coordinator Mike Sherman) seemed to be uncertain of their philosophy as an offense down the stretch of the team’s loss to the Jets. That can’t happen. The running game had been the staple of the team all game long, but as the game was closing out, too vanilla and predictable of an offense was run.
Rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill was put in a position (three times by my count) to seal the game on a touchdown throw. But again, his lack of downfield touch and overconfidence in his receivers lead to incompletions that, in reality, should have sealed the game.
Those mistakes as a playcaller and missed throws as a quarterback are going to happen with rookie personnel and limited receiver talent on offense. It’s frustrating, but I’d like to keep this in mind: If this is the reason the Dolphins lose (inexperience in certain situations), which will come in time, then I can be a little more confident in the future of the Dolphins.
Silver Lining: Running Offense and Defense Are NFL Elite
The Dolphins certainly lack a consistent offense. And Matt Schaub (and even Mark Sanchez at times) seemed to be able to get downfield on the Dolphins secondary. But regardless of the struggles as a team as a whole, when you have a rushing offense that can produce 120+ yards per game running the ball (currently 4th in the NFL) consistently AND be arguably the best run defense in the NFL (2nd in the NFL despite already facing Darren McFadden and Arian Foster), you’ll be in each and every game.
Few teams are “elite” in any one area. And even that doesn’t seem to hold consistent. The Packers, Saints, and Patriots are concerned “elite” passing offenses, and all three struggled in that area this past weekend. But the Dolphins seem to be able to churn out 4+ yards per carry with Reggie Bush, Daniel Thomas, or Lamar Miller at will. And their run defense hasn’t allowed a 100 yard rusher in 19 games.
Being able to control the run game means that, in theory, mean they can control the clock. And with that, the Dolphins have a chance to be in each and every game this year, as long as they don’t consistently allow the big play. And that’s more than I expected so far this year. Are playoffs an option with just this run defense and offense? Probably not. But at least it’ll provide for continuous close games all season long.
Receivers Need to Show Much More Consistency
It’s getting more and more frustrating to realize how inconsistent and lackluster the Dolphins receivers have been. Davone Bess is the only one that can get separation consistently. Brian Hartline relies on great throws from rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Legadu Naanee, yuck. Anthony Armstrong, no thank you.
But really, outside of Anthony Fasano, none of those receivers are able to stay consistent as the game goes on to really give Ryan Tannehill a chance to succeed. Tannehill seems to only trust Fasano each time off the snap, and targets him frequently when he’s on the field and in 1st down pickup situations. That can’t happen each week. Fasano simply isn’t Rob Gronkowski.
The receiving unit lacks definition. They all seem to be trying to fill the same job, despite the routes/design, and give Tannehill more difficult decsions than he needs. That has to be fixed. Whether it’s having more contained, shorter routes, exploiting the slot more without Anthony Fasano, or getting more of a relationship downfield with receivers like Brian Hartline, improvements need to be made in this passing game.
Week 4 Quick Preview Notes
Before the season, this may have been one of the better chances for the Dolphins to get a win under their belt. But travelling to Arizona to face the 3-0 Cardinals after they beat the Seahawks, Patriots, and Eagles in back to back to back weeks won’t be an easy task.
But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. The Cardinals seem already to be playing to the Dolphins strength as a team. Their running game doesn’t have much teeth, so containing this team to under 80 yards rushing shouldn’t be too difficult. Their run defense hasn’t been consistently tested based on who’ve they’ve played thus far, and even though Reggie Bush will be out, the offensive line should still be able to open holes in the B-gaps like they have thus far.
As long as Tannehill can be in more quick pass situations, they should be able to neutralize the pass rush to an extent, but that will be a serious concern. But I don’t expect the Cardinals to put up substantial points quickly on the Dolphins secondary, meaning it should be a fairly close game (like the first two Cardinals games were this season).
I won’t project a win, but I do not believe the Cardinals are world beaters and legit playoff contenders. The Dolphins shouldn’t be overly frustrated in their tough loss to the Jets, because Week 4 has a chance to a win to get them back to .500.