It’s difficult to imagine a more frustrating winning team in the NFL through five weeks. Even after a two-game skid, the Dolphins are still surpassing most of their early-season expectations.
Perhaps it was the illumination of the 3-0 start that allowed fans to raise their level of expectation just one month into the season. That was certainly the case when Miami put up a three-score lead in enemy territory with a chance to make it four wins in five showings.
Just as those first three weeks were patently enthralling, the descent was equally devastating.
And it’s not for the current state of this Dolphins team. Currently, Miami are the seventh seed in the AFC separated from the Ravens and Chargers only by tie-breaking scenarios.
Rather it’s the precarious route to this 3-2 mark that presents the same questions fans have asked for the better part of two decades:
Can this team win a championship with “X” Quarterback and “Y” Head Coach?
Miami are two things is nothing else; really good at home, and horrendous on the road. With an opportunity to buck the latter trend, secure a massively important victory and sustain a lead in the AFC East, the play calling and quarterback became increasingly troublesome.
For years, the word is that Adam Gase didn’t value the guard position enough to invest in it. Ironically, some would argue that poor offensive line play did Gase’s lackluster offenses in during his first two seasons.
Now, in year-three, Gase recognized that to succeed with Ryan Tannehill, a quality offensive line was something of a necessity – and it is for most teams outside of a select few cities (Foxboro, Seattle, Green Bay, New Orleans).
Just five games into the season, Miami are without its planned starting left guard and center, and was without emerging left tackle Laremy Tunsil for most of the second half of the Bengals game.
Rather than dialing back his plan and simplifying the offense with a sizeable lead, Gase continued to trust the protection of an ailing line – and Tannehill did the same.
The result was a number of catastrophic plays that led directly to the Bengals comeback. At 3-2, Miami is very much in the thick of the AFC picture in 2018, but then what? Is this a team that is going to go into Foxboro and compete in January? Would they move the chains more than a handful of times in Jacksonville? How on earth would this offense keep up with Pat Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs?
This loss doesn’t knock the Dolphins from playoff contention, but it feels like confirmation that the team is just as far away as it ever has been from becoming a relevant factor in the AFC.
This is the second straight game in which Tannehill was awful. The lack of an internal feel for the rush conjures up a semblance of PTSD for Dolphins fans. Tannehill is looking more like his days under Mike Sherman opposed to the 2016 developing big-play quarterback that was flourishing under Adam Gase in year-one.
Tannehill’s first interception was unbelievably bad luck, but he put himself in that situation by getting loose with the football under pressure. The strip sack that went the other way for six was an example of Tannehill trying to make a hero play but, again, having little regard for his surroundings.
It’s difficult to articulate the things that are holding Tannehill back because, tangibly, it’s all there. But the big moment brass, navigating pressure, and overcoming less-than-ideal situations have proven problematic for the seventh-year pro time and time again.
Turn on another NFL game and you see quarterbacks operating at a different pace. The game is heading in one direction, and Tannehill doesn’t’ appear to be progressing with it.
It’s still entirely possible that things click, just as they did in 2016, and the offense gets back on track. But the repetition of the same errors, five weeks in, is extremely worrisome.
That’s not to excuse the pass protection Tannehill received in this game. Once Laremy Tunsil was lost, all hell broke loss. The Bengals rushers had a field day on backup Sam Young, who was given minimal help by his staff, failing to adjust accordingly to the new personnel.
Ja’Wuan James was a disaster.
Ted Larsen a nightmare.
Jesse Davis got smoked inside leaving Tannehill as lunch for a Geno Atkins sack.
Frank Gore ran hard and always finds maximum yardage on his carries. He won’t break big runs or make guys miss in the open field, but he’s dependable.
Kenyan Drake showed up both in the passing and running game. He caught a 22-yard touchdown on a beautiful corner route and had perhaps the play of the year for the Dolphins.
That run after the catch is nice, but let’s talk about Kenyan Drake killing a man on his pass pro. pic.twitter.com/MD5QPMRdVx
— Travis Wingfield (@WingfieldNFL) October 7, 2018
Jakeem Grant continues to electrify with another huge play (71-yard punt return touchdown), but the wide receivers, as a whole, seem to struggle finding a rhythm with Tannehill – Albert Wilson led the way with 43 yards and did his best to elude some tacklers in the open field.
The passing game finished with less than 200 yards for the third straight game, Tannehill now has five interceptions and four fumbles this season. A lot of punting and a lot of opportunity for giveaways are a perfect ingredient for an offense that ranks near the bottom of the league in every major category.
Miami did get some variety back in the running game incorporating the jets-sweep fly-motion, and the inside trap that gained some footing in week one.
The offensive line simply has to be better, the play calling continues to confuse and the quarterback is trending in the wrong direction.
Things were much more pleasant on this side of the football. Reshad Jones’ presence was a welcome return to the line-up. Jones, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Xavien Howard set the tone in the back end of the defense.
Jones drove on a red zone pass from Andy Dalton that was tipped into the air and picked off. Fitzpatrick made a terrific play fighting through a block and thwarting a screen pass to bring up a fourth down. Howard did well in coverage and had a fantastic pass break up on a throw intended for A.J. Green.
Minkah is a bubble screen eraser. pic.twitter.com/npmiXvim4F
— Travis Wingfield (@WingfieldNFL) October 7, 2018
Jerome Baker had his first two career sacks. He looks like a find at this point with his ability to blitz the A-gap, flow sideline-to-sideline, and correctly diagnose plays in front of him.
Robert Quinn was constantly threatening the edge, but failed to get home for any sacks. On the other side, Charles Harris played well in his first career start.
Inside, Vincent Taylor continues to provide problems for the opposition. He blocked his second kick of the year and the third of his career.
Matt Burke called a great game, the Dolphins won most of their one-on-one match-ups. The Bengals only converted 2/11 third down opportunities and averaged only four yards-per-carry.
Two drives were extended on penalties. Though both were rather questionable, Chase Allen’s running into the kicker, and T.J. McDonald’s unnecessary roughness calls led to seven Bengals points (from the McDonald penalty).
This side of the football has a lot of young pieces that make up a quality defensive core for Miami. The end positon looks like it will need some retooling this off-season, but the Dolphins can certainly build around the identity of a stout pass defense that is nearly equally stingy against the run.
It’s easy to drop the anchor and jump overboard after blowing a 17-point lead. Perspective tells us the Dolphins were 1-4 this time two years ago with similar issues on the offense. That team ripped off six straight wins on the back of a quality offensive line, timely big plays and a takeaway-centric defense.
The Dolphins still have the parts to make all of that happen, except for the front-five. 10 wins is still very much within reach and very likely to put Miami back into the January party.
It would be quite a surprise if the Dolphins didn’t give the Bears all they can handle next week. These next four games will tell ‘Phins fans what their playoff plans should entail.
Miami Dolphins Place Jake Brendel on IR; Sign Hroniss Grasu
Their players don’t just go on injured-reserve, they do it twice in the same season.
The Miami Dolphins official social media account announced that the team has placed center Jake Brendel on injured-reserve, ending his 2018 season. To fill the available roster spot, the Dolphins signed offensive guard Hroniss Grasu.
We have signed center/guard Hroniss Grasu and placed center Jake Brendel on injured reserve.
Full Release: https://t.co/hjVo1uaU4I
— Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) December 12, 2018
Brendel was first placed on injured-reserve with a calf injury prior to the start of the season. He was one of two players that received the IR tag with the ‘ability to return’; this meant that Brendel was eligible to return after Week 8. Since his return, Brendel started 3 games and was active for 4.
Earlier this week in practice, Brendel re-injured the same calf that originally put him on IR. Strategically speaking, we’re at the point in the season where players will be placed on IR simply due to the fact that they’re unable to recover in time to effectively play again this season. Miami has three games remaining and they essentially have to win out (or only lose to the Minnesota Vikings next week) if they want to make the playoffs. The team can’t afford to hold a roster spot hostage for a player who’s less-than 100%.
With Brendel hitting injured-reserve, the Dolphins now have 12 players out for the year. It’s too bad we’re talking about the number of players on injured-reserve and not 12 Angry Men, because the only thing we can speculate at this point is how unlucky the Dolphins’ health has been this season.
The empty roster spot left by Brendel has been filled by former Chicago Bears and Baltimore Ravens offensive guard Hroniss Grasu.
Grasu was selected by the Bears with the 71st-overall pick (3rd-round) in the 2015 NFL draft. He started 8 games that season for Adam Gase‘s offense, but since then has only started 5. He played for the Bears from 2015-2017, though he missed the 2016 after being placed on injured-reserve. Grasu was signed by the Ravens this past September and was active for 3 games (making 1 start). He was released by the team on November 24th.
From one Hr to another: cheers, mate!
Squeezing Miami’s Tight Ends for Anything They’ve Got
Adam Gase, a hobbled Ryan Tannehill and the rest of the Miami Dolphins have been tasked with operating an offense that has received minimal production from its tight ends. As the team is currently constructed, the playbook, in essence, centers around their two starting running backs, the three starting wide receivers that are healthy and that’s it.
That’s all they can scheme around.
As an opposing defense, you’re well aware that the tight end position is effectively eliminated in Miami’s offense – it’s not a personnel group you have to scheme for.
- You have a banged up Kenny Stills you have to watch, though you really only need to keep him in your peripheral vision as Miami isn’t going to maximize Stills’ speed and Tannehill’s deep ball with the quarterback’s injured shoulder.
- You can monitor DeVante Parker, but his lack-of-enthusiasm helps keep his freakish athleticism at bay.
- You can be on the lookout for Danny Amendola, but you’re probably content allowing the underneath reception (though at 9.8 yards per reception, why aren’t we getting Amendola the ball more on those crucial 3rd-down plays?)
All of the injuries aside, it’s hard to discount the voids created by Miami’s nonexistent production from the tight end position. When Laremy Tunsil goes down in the Cincinnati Bengals game, it’s the perfect time to utilize a tight end for quick passes. All those 3rd-and-short situations – where Miami runs a mind-boggling play – could be eliminated if Miami had a legitimate tight end that could box out an opposing defender on a quick hit. At the very least, a tight end that poses even a minuscule threat would make a defense hesitant to send an extra blitzer or blanket a receiver.
Mike Gesicki catches the ball at the 33 facing sideways and winds up at the 31 facing backwards. pic.twitter.com/aGrzIF3jR8
— Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer) October 26, 2018
Running this offense without your tight ends is like trying to drive your car without power steering. Of course you can do it, but you’re going to have a difficult time driving it.
The fall of this position started back in training camp, when one of the most underrated Dolphins, MarQueis Gray, suffered a torn achilles and was placed on injured-reserve.
Fans initially thought this was an omen for Mike Gesicki, as they clamored for the possibility of having an Olympic-caliber tight end playing with Ryan Tannehill – a quarterback known to utilize the tight end position well.
At a glance, you would think Miami’s tight ends were going to be extremely productive. Up to this point in 2018, Miami rewarded one of their tight ends with a contract extension and spent 2nd and 4th-round assets to bulk up the position. How could this season have gone so poorly for a group that, at the very least, was supposed to be average?
Tight ends predominantly see a spike in production from their rookie years to their sophomore seasons, and this is the one saving grace each of us optimistically have for Gesicki to turn it around. On tape, he doesn’t look the part. But you don’t want to write a player off this quickly. Check out some active tight ends and their growth from Year 1 to Year 2:
When going through the list, the only tight end I came across that saw a dip in production from Year 1 to Year 2 was Jordan Reed of the Washington Redskins. His stats were: 45/499/3 in 2017 and 50/465/0 in 2018…really not the biggest dropoff (I’m sure there are other tight ends who saw a drop in production, but after going through half the league, Reed was the only one that applied).
Problem is, are we confident Mike Gesicki is going to be a tight end that makes this jump? Look at where Gesicki (and Durham Smythe) stack up with other rookie tight ends:
We all thought Miami was going to have a 1-2 punch with Gesicki as a receiver and Smythe as a blocker; and so far, half of the duo has held their end of the bargain. Smythe has performed very well when asked to block on the line. He’s had some misses this year, but for a rookie tight end being tasked with blocking an elite defensive end at times, we can’t really complain much. What the team is missing is the other half of that duet.
Coming into 2018, we understood that Gesicki would need some seasoning before he could become a legitimate blocker. And to an extent, we were quite content if Gesicki didn’t block too well, just as long as he was making plays on 3rd-down and in the red zone. We all thought he was the missing component this offense needed to finally be effective in the red zone. Instead, we’d probably be better off stacking the line with 6 offensive linemen.
Mike Gesicki’s challenging rookie season continues. He falls down, then all hell breaks loose when Tannehill tries to proceed through his progressions. Lucky not to get picked. pic.twitter.com/6mcfIU9XFD
— Travis Wingfield (@WingfieldNFL) November 27, 2018
The wildcard of the bunch is Nick O’Leary. The Dolphins have played him at both tight end and fullback, giving them flexibility and the ability to maximize his roster spot. But going into 2019, does anyone think any of these tight ends are safe? Check out the disparity in snap counts from the first week of the season until Week 14:
— Tom Kislingbury (@TomDegenerate) December 11, 2018
It’s evident which player this team trusts. Or, at the very least, which player they believe they can get any kind of production out of. He’s also the only player that wasn’t on the roster at the beginning of the season – telling you just how far the other players have fallen.
This team might need to fire Matt Burke. It might need to overhaul the defensive line or even the linebacking unit. The Dolphins might even need a new starting quarterback in 2019. But one thing we can certainly say is that Miami definitely needs a productive tight end; otherwise, this offense is about as stagnant, stale and unsuccessful as you’ve seen it this season.
— Barstool Penn State (@PSUBarstool) October 14, 2018
Ryan Tannehill’s Late Season Surge is Nothing New
Adversity is the Dolphins QB’s Biggest Weapon
The divisive topic of tanking filters its way through the fan bases of all mediocre franchises. The discussion about whether it’s healthier to lose and climb the draft board, or to establish a winning culture, reverberates for the perpetual .500 purgatory of the NFL.
Every time Dolphins fans are ready to prepare for what’s next at quarterback, Ryan Tannehill rises from the ashes and plays at an elite level.
The statistics are there. After a 1-4 start and a sub-90 passer rating in 2016, fans turned to Notre Dame tape to scout DeShone Kizer. They peeped the ultra-exciting Patrick Mahomes making jaw-dropping off-script plays at Texas Tech.
All those discussions became moot when Tannehill ripped off a stretch of eight games in which Miami went 7-1. During that time, Tannehill posted a 101.5 passer rating and fell back into the good graces of Dolphins fans.
Bruce Arians’ famous quote preaches patience while installing a new scheme. “It takes about eight weeks before things start to become second nature.”
If that’s true, Tannehill has been ahead of that curve.
Two games ahead of the pace, Tannehill finds his groove in the sixth game. In a 2016 win over Pittsburgh, Tannehill posted his highest single game passer rating of the year, and would top that high-water mark four times in the next seven games.
The 2018 season is shaping up very similarly. After a strong start, then stumbling in games four and five, Tannehill is back with a vengeance.
The Dolphins are 2-1 since Tannehill’s return and the veteran, held together by duct tape and Band-Aids, is posting career highs. His passer rating post-return is a ridiculous 129.9. He’s averaging a smidge under 9 yards-per-pass. He’s completing a fraction under 70% of his passes and throwing touchdowns at clip of 11.7%.
The numbers. The wins. The quantifiable metrics are all fun and an easy shortcut to display Tannehill’s recent success, but the it’s the complete control of the offense that best showcases Tannehill’s growth.
Watch this video with the audio on to see an example of Tannehill’s command at the line-of-scrimmage.
Alpha Louis. Alpha poker. Some new cadences and the quick count. Whatever it takes to play Sunday, Tannehill’s gotta do it. He is feeling it right now. 🔈 on. pic.twitter.com/09gyN9mKQJ
— Travis Wingfield (@WingfieldNFL) December 12, 2018
Perhaps the time away from the game, and the return from a reconstructed knee, was a detriment to his development within this offense.
Tannehill is dealing with yet another injury, but if he wants to prove this theory, he has every opportunity. Miami can run the table and jump back into the post-season under Ryan Tannehill’s guidance.
After all, last time, he wasn’t healthy enough to finish what he started.