Ja’Wuan James: ‘It’s our job to get it done’
On Monday the Miami Dolphins sat together and watched tape of their 38-7 bludgeoning by the New England Patriots.
“...We didn’t sugarcoat a whole bunch today,” coach Adam Gase said.
He also didn’t say exactly what the problems were. I will not pretend to tell you what all the problems were. I don’t pretend to know. But it’s fair to say the Dolphins got destroyed at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the football.
On defense the team allowed 175 rushing yards. The Patriots came into the game the NFL’s 20th-ranked rushing team and came out ranked No. 12 in rushing. They ran the football a whopping 40 times.
Why not? It was working.
But that was only part of the problem for the Dolphins. The problem that I would say could be more enduring is how the offensive line played.
I watched the coaches’ film for this game. And the offensive line was terrible.
But here’s the shocking thing: The line wasn’t bad because it suffered an injury to center Daniel Kilgore in the first half and they had to go with backup Travis Swanson.
Yes, Swanson gave up a sack.
But the culprits of the poor play were Ja’Wuan James, Ted Larsen, and Laremy Tunsil.
How poor was it?
If I’m the Dolphins, I’m thinking of benching James this week prior to the Cincinnati Bengals game on Sunday. If I don’t bench him outright, I tell him he’s on notice and if he plays early on against the Bengals as he did against New England, he will be benched then.
I’m thinking of doing this because James was taken out of the game midway through the third quarter Sunday. And reserve Sam Young played the final quarter-and-a-half.
And Young was better.
Some examples of James ...
On the play above, James ends up blocking no one while giving up a hurry on Ryan Tannehill.
My supposition is that James is assigned to the outside linebacker and when the outside linebacker does not initially pressure the pocket, James begins looking around to help elsewhere.
But then he loses sight of the linebacker — his assignment. And that player, perhaps seeing James looking elsewhere, decides to pressure Tannehill.
And James doesn’t see him because he stopped looking for him. And so he blocks ... nobody.
Then there’s this in run blocking ...
Here you see James actually hurting instead of helping. He not only doesn’t carry out his assignment, he inexplicably almost throws off Jesse Davis from his assignment.
The thing here is the play is obviously a run to the right. But James’ first step is to go left right into Davis.
This suggests a lack of concentration.
Eventually, James realizes he needs to block right and get at the right outside linebacker. Except that player has had no mental lapse and is already in the backfield.
So James cannot block him. The play is blown up.
Then there is Larsen. He was signed in 2017 to be a starter. And the Dolphins realized that wasn’t a good idea so the team signed Josh Sitton this past offseason.
Except Sitton lasted only one game. So now Larsen, the backup, is pressed into starter duty.
Except we’ve already established he’s not a starting caliber player.
Here Larsen struggles in pass protection ...
Even when the pass rusher stunts and happens to run right into Larsen, the Dolphins left guard loses the physical battle to protect the quarterback.
This play is not a sack. But it is a losing play because the rusher gets into Tannehill’s face and the ensuing throw is poor.
The Dolphins offensive line struggled to pick up stunts by the Patriots on Sunday. That’s either a mental issue on the part of the players or a coaching issue in not teaching what to do well enough.
But even on the play below where Larsen gets it, and picks up the stunt, he loses.
This kind of issue, the Dolphins will say, can be corrected by better technique.
Look, in the heat of battle, sometimes a man has to rely on strength and just athletic ability. The technique isn’t at the forefront of the matter. And in those times, such as the one above, Larsen has to simply be better than the other guy.
And often last game, Larsen was not better.
On the play above, Larsen has an opportunity to deliver a drive block against an opponent that is facemask to facemask.
He fails. And the play becomes a losing play.
As an aside, however, it would have been good for Kenyan Drake to simply put his head down and drive through that tackler for two or three yards instead of trying to cut back.
The narrative you will hear this week is that the blocking was poor. And it was. But the blocking was much, much better in the third and fourth quarters, in my opinion.
And Tannehill threw his interception when that was going on. Tannehill was off on multiple second-half plays that afforded him a good pass pocket.
So that’s on him. And it’s on him that he fumbled a shotgun snap that New England recovered at Miami’s 22-yard line and converted into a touchdown.
Tannehill missing open receivers is one thing. Not seeing them at all is another. To wit ...
What you see above is possibly a 30- or 40-yard gain that Tannehill simply didn’t look for.
The Patriots, by the way, had only two sacks this game. But they affected play after play after play with their pressure.
And Tunsil, who also had two penalties called on him, gave up at least one of those.
Finally, I would tell you that pass protection is a team endeavor. It’s not just about the offensive line.
It’s not just about the quarterback getting the ball out on time.
It’s not just the backs and tight ends.
It’s all those.
And so far this year, Mike Gesicki has failed at his blocking assignments. It’s been bad, and I’m not talking just this game.
Last game — a win against Oakland — was a nightmare for Gesicki on blocking assignments.
Here we have an example of what happened this game ...
Again, not a sack. But a pressure on the quarterback. It is not a winning play by Gesicki.
And, of course, the team may say he’s the pass-catching tight end. Well, then he shouldn’t be out there to protect.
And if he’s the pass-catching tight end, why does he have only five catches in four games?
Yes, yes, he’s a rookie.
I guess the Dolphins are going to ride or die with that logic.