Monday Dolphins news, notes and thoughts after a review of Sunday’s tape:
• Among many concerns arising from Baltimore’s 38-6 demolition of Miami: Will other teams now use a similar blueprint to expose obvious Dolphins shortcomings?
Those shortcomings begin with gaping, appalling holes in the middle of the field on defense. Baltimore’s Joe Flacco completed 14 of 15 passes in the middle of the field in the first half, for 172 yards.
The Ravens’ first possession began, appropriately enough, with a wide open Kamar Aiken catching a 12-yard pass between Spencer Paysinger and Kiko Alonso, neither remotely close enough to make a play on the ball.
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“Alonso is a liability in coverage!” CBS’ Rich Gannon said later.
Tight end Darren Waller, who has seven catches all season, caught another pass that looked very much like Aiken’s reception, between Paysinger and Alonso, for a 15-yard gain.
But these issues went well beyond Alonso, who was limited to 46 of 72 defensive snaps because of a hand injury.
On at least 10 plays in the first play, Dolphins defenders weren’t even close to the receiver who made the play. That’s unacceptable.
Especially hurtful was Dennis Pitta’s 14-yard catch, between Paysinger and Bobby McCain, on a 3rd and 15. It gained 14 yards and set up a successful 4th and 1 run from Baltimore’s own 44, a play where Andre Branch guessed wrong on a pitch to Kenneth Dixon, who galloped for 15 yards.
On Pitta’s first touchdown catch (a 13-yard play), which was Baltimore’s second score, he beat Paysinger (who guessed wrong) and Isa-Abdul Quddus, who didn’t come over quickly enough to help.
On Pitta’s second touchdown catch (for 9 yards), he was regrettably matched up with defensive end Andre Branch, who dropped into coverage. Pitta easily beat Branch and Bacarri Rambo was late getting over to help. Keep in mind that Pitta hadn’t scored a touchdown since 2013. He had two Sunday.
• Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph has done good work with this group, but Sunday wasn’t one of his finer days, as CBS’ Gannon said without using his name.
“What’s surprising to me,’ Gannon said, “is they didn’t have a better plan to slow down Dennis Pitta. Your job as a defensive coordinator is to have a plan.”
• Sunday’s play reinforced the need to add at least two starting linebackers, including one who has great coverage skills.
Jelani Jenkins – who was sidelined Sunday - might have helped, but the Dolphins already know they need to upgrade over him as a starter. And the Dolphins aren’t counting on Koa Misi, who had season-ending neck surgery in October.
“Linebackers on this team are a liability in pass coverage,” Gannon said.
Here’s how the Dolphins allocated linebacker snaps Sunday: Paysinger 49, Alonso 46, Mike Hull 26, Neville Hewitt 23, Donald Butler 23 and Zach Vigil none. Hull had some good moments, but the overall play of this group wasn’t nearly good enough.
• We noted last week how Tony Lippett had surpassed Richard Sherman in Pro Football Focus’ season cornerback ratings and also had exceeded Miami’s expectations.
Sunday was an enormous step back.
Lippett was beaten badly all day, especially on slants, which Lippett generally has troubling defending.
He was totally fooled on a 23-yard slant to Steve Smith and two slants to Mike Wallace for substantial gains. He wasn’t within six yards of Wallace on a 17-yard gain that set up Baltimore’s field goal at the end of the first half.
And he failed to catch Breshad Perriman on his 53-yard catch and run for a touchdown, though it wasn’t immediately clear if he had primary responsibilities on that play.
Once the Dolphins deem Xavien Howard healthy enough to play – perhaps this week – the Dolphins need to open up that cornerback job and either split time or let the best player take most of the snaps.
• Don’t blame Byron Maxwell for Sunday’s debacle. Though he whiffed on a tackle on the Perriman touchdown, he allowed only two completions, had an interception and forced a fumble. Maxwell continues to make a very strong case to return next season.
• But Bobby McCain, whose play has been uneven for the past five weeks, continues to have issues. He allowed three completions that went for first downs, including one by Steve Smith on a 4th and 2, Baltimore’s second successful fourth-down conversion of the first half.
• Abdul-Quddus, who has generally played well this season, also struggled, allowing a 20-yard catch to Nick Boyle, his first reception of the season. On Baltimore’s first touchdown, nobody picked up Terrence West out of the backfield on his three-yard scoring play; Quddus was late in reacting.
And Abdul-Quddus was slow in reacting, and took a poor angle, on West’s nine-yard touchdown run for Baltimore’s final points; Terrence Fede was sealed off on that play. “Poor effort, poor angle,” Gannon said.
• Just as problematic as the play of the linebackers and defensive backs was the lack of pass rush. The Dolphins never sacked Flacco, though Cam Wake, Ndamukong Suh and Branch each applied pressure on a few plays.
Flacco often got the ball out quickly, but that doesn’t excuse never once getting him to the ground on 47 passing plays.
Equally damning: The Dolphins didn’t have a single tackle for loss.
Mario Williams played an invisible 36 snaps, without a tackle. Jordan Phillips was swallowed up on a 15-yard rush and had one tackle in 31 snaps.
• Certainly don’t blame Jay Ajayi for Sunday’s debacle. He ran hard and well, averaging 5.1 yards (on 12 carries) against a defense that came into the game allowing just 3.4 per carry.
According to Pro Football Focus, Ajayi forced seven missed tackles on his 12 carries and averaged 4.7 yards after contact.
Despite trailing nearly all of the game, the Dolphins should have given him more work than those 12 carries. Ajayi, incidentally, leads the league with 44 broken tackles.
• This was Ryan Tannehill’s worst game since the Tennessee loss. He can’t be blamed for the first interception – the end zone throw to DeVante Parker – because Ladarius Webb made a terrific play on the ball.
But on the second interception, Tannehill threw high and behind Jarvis Landry, whose deflection led to the pick. And the third pick was awful – a throw that never should have been made.
Tannehill threw several other errant passes; he could have had a fourth pick if Eric Weddle had held on. And he should have thrown the ball away on the first of two Baltimore sacks, arguably both.
• Tannehill often did his best work while rolling out, including a 15-yard pass to Dion Sims early in the game. (Sims was very solid, both as a receiver and blocker.) Tannehill also moved outside the pocket on Miami’s one touchdown, the throw to Parker. The Dolphins need to keep doing that.
• The offense line wasn’t awful, but center Anthony Steen – filling in for Mike Pouncey - didn’t play particularly well and Laremy Tunsil had three penalties. Jermon Bushrod had a false start and his play remains uneven. Branden Albert did generally good work in a tough matchup with Terrell Suggs.
• Jarvis Landry can be effective on reverses, but what’s the deal with him lining up at running back? He lost one yard on that curious running play. Receiver Jakeem Grant, who received four snaps on offense, was a decoy on the play, running a reverse. Baltimore wasn’t fooled.
• The Dolphins were in entirely too many third-and-forever situations, and didn’t even attempt to get the ball downfield on most of them.
On 3rd and 12, Tannehill dumped off the Damien Wiliams for two yards. He threw a one-yard pass to Jarvis Larvis on a third and 18. And Miami ran a draw to Kenyan Drake on a 3rd and 32. None produced a first down.
“You’re giving the Ravens a free pass by not throwing the ball downfield,” Gannon said.
Miami was 4 for 13 on third downs; Baltimore was 5 for 11 on third downs and 2 for 2 on fourth downs against what had been the NFL’s No. 1 third-down defense.
• The Dolphins continue to have faith in Andrew Franks - they say they haven’t brought in a kicker for a tryout all season – but his longer field goals (his leg is supposed to be a strength) – continue to be an issue.
He missed from 44 yards and is 5 for 8 in his career from 40 to 49 and 1 for 3 over 50.
The Dolphins opted to punt on a 4th and 10 from the Ravens 38, down 14-0, instead of trying a 55-yard field goal, and Baltimore promptly marched 88 yards for its third touchdown.
In Franks’ defense, he’s 20 for 22 in his career under 39 yards and has made all 28 extra points this season, a kick that’s no longer automatic.
But you could see the difference Sunday between having an elite kicker who can make long-range kicks (Justin Tucker) and who often can’t. Overall, Frank is 13 for 17 on field goals this season.
• According to Elias, Baltimore’s 32-point win was the largest margin of victory this century against a team that entered having won six in a row.
Check back in a few hours for Adam Gase’s comments from his day-after press conference.