Dolphins Notebook: How Special The Rookie QBs Were, Run Game Not Used, and Defensive Struggles Abound

November 6th, 2012

Reggie Bush vs. Colts
A loss is a loss. The Dolphins go from the first Wildcard spot in playoff projections to .500 and fighting to stay in the mix.  It’s unfortunate, but that’s why every game in the NFL season matters.

But there is far more to take away from this game than just an “L” on the schedule. We learned just how good Ryan Tannehill can be (and how great Andrew Luck can be). We learned that the offense is officially now a pass first offense. And we’ve unfortunately learned that this defense needs to get much more consistent.

Halfway through the season, we know quite a bit about this team. Now, we’ll learn if they’re a “better than .500” team.

 

Andrew Luck Won the Game, But it’s Clear That Both QBs are Way Ahead of Schedule
In what was arguably the most impressive showing by any rookie quarterback ever, Andrew Luck broke Cam Newton’s one year old rookie passing record for a rookie by racking up 433 yards against the Miami Dolphins. He did it with a variation of pre-snap recognition, understanding of the pocket and the rush, anticipating routes, and showing fantastic ball placement that few quarterbacks in the NFL can as of now.

As for Ryan Tannehill, his 22 for 38 game for almost 300 yards and a touchdown is nothing to be ashamed of, especially considering his quarterback counterpart was keeping the game consistently close. Luck obviously was the better quarterback of the two, was more polished fundamentally and mentally, and maximized his receivers better.

Luck was 30 for 48 on passing, targeting SIX different receivers/tight ends at least 5 times in the game, including having 3 players with either 100 yards and/or a touchdown. Luck was 13-19 on 3rd downs (Tannehill and the Dolphins just 4 for 11), and seemed to be in control most of the game (minus one sack).

But it’s just how far along these two quarterbacks are in their progression, just halfway into their initialy season. Keep in mind that Ryan Tannehill threw for 431 yards (2 shy of Luck’s current rookie record) against a Top 5 pass defense in Arizona a few weeks ago. Both quarterbacks are capable of putting up big numbers. But more importantly, both quarterbacks and head coaches trust their quarterbacks. Of the 47 total first downs in this game (both team’s combined), a run play was called just 9 times. Nearly 90 passes were thrown in the game. The Dolphins ran the ball under 25 times for the second straight week.

These two quarterbacks aren’t flawless, and if Tannehill wants to beat Andrew Luck next time, he’ll need to get better as a quarterback (including completing three of those passes on that final drive). Andrew Luck and Ryan Tannehill are going to be fantastic quarterbacks in the NFL based off of this season so far. It’s a matter of when, not if. And the “when” is coming sooner than anyone could have imagined.

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Reggie Bush and the Run Game No Longer the Offensive Focal Point
At the start of the season, it was logical and implemented that the run game would be the focal point of the offense. Through the first five games, Reggie Bush was averaging 83 yards per game despite playing some tough NFL defenses, and the run game as a whole seemed on track. But since the team’s win against the Bengals in Week 5, Bush hasn’t had more than 14 carries in a game, and on the season they are now passing more than running the ball as a team.

That’s not to say it’s a bad thing. Maybe for Reggie Bush fantasy owners, it’s concerning. But this has more to do with the team’s struggles to drive block up the middle as well as the emergence and confidence by Ryan Tannehill that the team is more willing to pass the ball. In the loss to the Colts last week, the Dolphins ran the ball just 5 times on 18 first down opportunities. The game isn’t being set up by the run. It’s being run through the arm of Ryan Tannehill.

While I’ll hope to see Reggie Bush an even bigger part of the passing game (just four catches all season), it’s clear that the offense is a passing offense first, even with the rookie quarterback at the helm.

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After Cameron Wake, Nolan Carroll, Few Stepped Up Defensively

In the early part of the season, it was the defense that was the lead factor for the Dolphins success. The run defense was arguably the most consistent in the league (still doing a good job), and the pass defense hadn’t been exposed yet.

But this past week’s 500+ yard effort by the Colts is concerning for the Dolphins future. While I’m optimistic that they are a legitimate playoff contender, their defense can’t just have 2-3 players playing well.

Cam Wake finished the game with four tackles, two quarterback hits, and the only sack by the Dolphins in the game. Luckily for Miami, he’s been a constant force for them, and his impact despite being targeted by pass protection is a major luxury for the Dolphins. Also, Nolan Carroll finished with 10 solo tackles, 3 passes defended, and 2 tackles for a loss. Playing aggressive and more impressively having great timing in both coverage and reacting to the ball made him the best cornerback on the field in this game. He doesn’t have the length or natural coverage ability of Sean Smith, but he certainly wasn’t beaten as badly as Smith was in this one.

The safeties continue to be late in their reaction in run support on the edge and their breaks vertically. Both Chris Clemons and Reshad Jones continue to be liabilities in the pass game, and this game continues to prove that point. Jared Odrick still can’t consistently generate pressure from his end spot. Paul Soliai has still been a mountain and efficient in the middle, but he’s not as active as he was earlier in the season. The linebacker play by Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett have been solid, nothing elite, but they do prevent a lot of the issues I have with Koi Misi. And as a unit, they still can’t contain tight ends at all.

The Dolphins defense has a lot of talent, especially in their front 7. But they can’t have 2-3 players play well. They need most if not all of their defense to step up. Luckily for them, Brandon Fields had a tremendous day, punting four times for 213 yards (a 53.3 average), had two inside the 20, and had a 60 yard boot. That gave the Colts poor field position consistently that likely stopped them from putting up 30-40. But the Dolphins need to hold teams’ under 24-20, especially with the field position they were given.

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Week 10 Preview
I had expected a win by the Dolphins over the Colts, but it seems I overlooked just how dominating Andrew Luck could be in this game. That being said, it took 433 yards of passing for Luck to lead his team to a 3 point win, at home. This time, the Dolphins travel home to play the struggling Titans who are coming off a 55-14 beat down by the Bears.

The Titans have been getting embarrassed through the air this year, being in the bottom 5 in the league in that department. I’d expect a (then 100%) Ryan Tannehill to throw for 300 plus yards, hopefully using Reggie Bush more in the flats, and have this team completely control the Titans to get back above .500. They should be able to contain Chris Johnson, and the Titans don’t have a passing game that will scare, especially if Miami can contain their tight ends in the middle of the field.

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