The 6-4 Miami Dolphins hosted the 1-9 San Francisco 49ers at HARD ROCK STADIUM, Miami Gardens, Florida. The following is my reaction to the game after watching the game live Sunday and then re-watching it in its entirety Tuesday morning. If you are not interested in reliving the game then please scroll through to just the individual film studies and the closing thoughts section. Go follow me on twitter @TomLikeFootball
Narrative throughout the week
The majority of the narratives throughout the week did not focus at all on the San Francisco 49ers and what they could potentially bring. Most were too busy looking back at last weeks win over the Rams and ahead to Miami’s schedule after the 49ers. The Dolphins entered the game 6-4 after winning 5 in a row and many appeared to be simply chalking up the W at home to the 49ers and getting ready to play Baltimore in Week 13. It is incredibly difficult to win 5 games in a row and even more so 6 in the NFL. Yes, this is an extremely talent poor San Francisco football team, however, it has a Quarterback in Colin Kaepernick whose ability and arm strength can cause teams problems. Of course this is a different Kaepernick to the one who set the NFL ablaze in December 2012 and January 2013, but his ability as a dual threat QB remains and despite not posing the risk of beating Miami by running the score up through the air; he posed a danger of extending drives and moving the chains by evading blitzers and making teams pay with his legs.
N.B. Dolphins have given up an average of 14.8 rushing QB yards a game this year.
Another big narrative this week was injuries (yet again), particularly to the Offensive Line (yet again). Miami was forced to start last week without Pro-Bowl LT Branden Albert and Pro-Bowl Center Mike Pouncey. However, they finished the game without 1st round pick and rookie LG/ LT Laremy Tunsil. The Dolphins O-Line struggled massively last week and when it became apparent Sunday morning that Tunsil would not suit up vs. San Francisco I’m sure many were nervous. The 49ers are talent poor, as previous stated, but missing your starting LT, LG and C would hurt any team no matter who you are facing. Another narrative that was particularly prevalent in the South Florida area was an exchange between 49ers starting QB Colin Kaepernick and Miami Herald writer Armando Salguero. The argument earlier in the week centred around Kaepernick’s wearing of a shirt that featured Fidel Castro, who then died Sunday morning. The argument got a lot of traction in South Florida as it raised a controversial topic amongst Miami natives (many of whom have Cuban ancestry). It made Kaepernick a hated figure in Miami and the fans certainly let him know it from the moment he entered the stadium. The 1-9 49ers, who have one of the leagues worst Defenses (worst run D) and an abysmal offense couldn’t possibly give the Dolphins problems? Or could they?
P.S. Remember when some Dolphins fans last season wanted the team to sign Chip Kelly as Head Coach?
Miami Dolphins vs. San Francisco 49ers, Week 12
The first play of the game for Miami was a play that I spoke at length about last week. It is a play that Adam Gase loves calling early as its an easy check down completion guaranteed to gain the Dolphins anywhere from 3 yards to a first down. As I spoke about last week: it is a simple play action pass to a motioning TE who runs to the flat for an easy completion. It helps build confidence early and generates rhythm on Offense. The Dolphins ended up punting on their opening possession and surrendered a TD on the 49ers opening drive on Offense (first time surrendering a TD on the opening drive since week 2 @ Patriots). The TD drive for the 49ers saw an excruciating amount of read-options, play actions and inside runs, which kept the Dolphins Front Seven guessing. The 49ers showed a lot of Offense on their opening drive and it was a sign of what was to come, a long day against an Offense that played above their 1-9 record. San Francisco’s TD came on a 2nd & 10 where Kiko Alonso was late picking up the RB Hyde out of the backfield and resulted in Miami going down 7-0 early in the game.
The Dolphins punted again on their second offensive possession and the infuriating screen game was back from last week. Tannehill threw a quick screen to Damien Williams on 3rd & 15 and had no chance of picking up a 1st down. The Dolphins did take a shot on 1st down earlier in this drive as Tannehill threw what was at best a 50:50 jump ball up to DeVante Parker, clearly showing the QB and Head Coaches faith in the young playmaker. I tweeted earlier in the week that this 49ers Defense was vulnerable to the big play and that the ‘Fins would look to get Parker going early. Unfortunately Parker could not bring the ball in for a big chunk play but it demonstrated Miami’s confidence.
The Dolphins and 49ers then exchanged punts and Bobby McCain had an impressive drive for Miami as he had a beautiful pass break up to prevent a first down. Jakeem Grant again fumbled the football on a return and while I do not want to kill the young guy, this is starting to become a habit. I question this because we have Jarvis Landry for fair catches but we also have Kenyan Drake who is equally as explosive and electric as Grant but has not had an issue fumbling this season. Maybe I am being too harsh, but it is certainly starting to become a worrying trend. The Dolphins again looked to Parker and hooked up with him for a huge 46 yard pick up on 3rd & 7. The Dolphins went for the throat with the next play as they dialled up a deep shot down the sideline to Stills off of play action (unsuccessful). Ryan Tannehill then connected with Jarvis Landry for 17 yards, Stills for 14 yards and an 11 yard TD pass to Parker was overturned. The Dolphins TD came on a run from the same formation that was successful @ Chargers and vs. Steelers but this time with a different play call. The 49ers were clearly expecting the FB run as they crashed the middle, however, Adam Gase changed the play call and put a TE on the outside to help seal the edge for Ajayi 1-on-1 (see below).
The 49ers infuriating picked up another 1st down from a Kaepernick run on 3rd down where the Dolphins were not spying. 49ers TE Celek then fumbled the football as Maxwell and Rambo managed to rip the ball free. Damien Williams finally saw action at FB on a 3rd & 1 and took the ball 7 yards to keep the drive alive. Ryan Tannehill then reminded fans that he is just as athletic as Kaepernick as he picked up a 17 yard run on a read-option keeper (He now has the most rushing yards of any Dolphins Quarterback in the franchises history). The Dolphins capped this drive with a TD pass to TE Dion Sims, which was on the money from Tannehill. Sims proved that he can be more than just a great run blocking TE and his size makes him a mismatch on smaller DBs and slower LBs. Bacarri Rambo is a player who the Dolphins like and he has seen his snap count increase every week since Reshad Jones went to IR. Rambo had a solid game and got a crucial pass break up on 3rd & 9 to stop the 49ers making a drive just before half time. The Dolphins then surrendered a sack just before half time as the 49ers brought numbers, but Tannehill could not find a favourable match up to release the ball early.
HT: 14-7 Miami
The 49ers very first play out of HT was a play action pass, which CB Tony Lippett broke on and was picked off by Kiko Alonso as it flew up in the air. The Dolphins then settled for a 24-yard Field Goal from the great field position putting them up 17-7. Dolphins’ special teams played great all game and the 49ers started the ensuing drive on their own 9-yard line, as Andrew Franks routinely landed the ball either 1-yard deep in the end zone or on the 49ers 1-yard line. The Dolphins gave up a 91-yard TD drive, capped by a Garrett Celek TD catch as LB Neville Hewitt simply lost him in coverage. The Dolphins responded with help from their Special Teams as Kenyan Drake took the ball 1 yard deep out of the End Zone and went 77 yards leaving the Dolphins already in Field Goal range. However, the Dolphins ran their 3rd Read Option of the day resulting in Tannehill being hit hard for the 3rd time, before a near INT and sack on 3rd down put them out of FG range.
The Dolphins Defense responded forcing the ‘9ers to go 3 and out before Miami’s Offense started rolling again and resulted in a 38 yard Kenny Stills TD grab. This drive featured a 10 yard run for Tannehill to pick up the 1st down as he looked certain to be sacked and the TD throw was right in the window for Stills and away from the DB who took a bad angle to the ball and allowed Stills to scamper into the end zone.
THE DOLPHINS LOVE THE DOUBLE A-GAP BLITZ. Not sure how many times a week I write this in my notebook, but Defensive Co-Ordinator Vance Joseph loves dialling up this old gem and he used it repeatedly on 3rd down again vs. San Francisco. See below two Linebackers lined up either side of the Center.
This time the Dolphins got a sack from Cam Wake as both Linebackers who were in the A Gap peeled off confusing the protection and coverage. The Dolphins then got a TD from rookie WR Leonte Carroo as the ‘Fins went 5 wide. The play is broken down below but let me just say this once again on here: KENNY STILLS is an EXCELLENT RUN BLOCKER. Carroo had the acceleration to beat the defender who broke on him in coverage while Stills blocked superbly down field.
Although Byron Maxwell has played well this season, it would not be a Dolphins game if we didn’t get one pass interference call on the Cornerback. The Dolphins surrendered a TD and gave up consecutive big plays of 16 and 35 yards before an 8 yard throw left the ‘Niners on Miami’s 1. Despite a great run stuff on 1st down the Dolphins gave up a TD to Torrey Smith as CB Tony Lippett was caught flat footed in zone coverage and was late on his exchange with Maxwell in coverage allowing Smith to make a beautiful 1 hand grab to put the 49ers worrying at 31-21 with 7:42 still to play. Miami had a costly 3 and out which featured another Tannehill read option, which for the third consecutive time failed to produce more than 3 yards. The Dolphins also threw the ball twice killing the clock. The Dolphins then got a sack on 2nd & 10 as they started bringing 5 regularly to cut off any escape lanes for Kaepernick. Andre Branch came up with a big sack. 4th & 15 I DO NOT LIKE THE CALL. Below I have broke down what I hate about this call. I am of the mindset that if it is an obvious passing situation, why risk a liability in coverage like Cam Wake rather than having your 4 best pass rushers out there who can get home quickly and will force the QB into an early throw when routes might not have developed yet? Tweet @ me what you think but the 49ers ended up converting this 4th and long.
The 49ers would eventually settle for a FG making this a 7 point game as Miami got the ball back with 2:11 to go. The Dolphins then went run, overthrown pass, run before punting the ball. The ‘Niners had the ball on their own 38 yard line with 1:44 to go and 1 Time Out.
My notes for this last past of the game are barely readable as I took my frustration out on the pen and paper. The Dolphins somehow allowed the 49ers to convert a set of downs where they were 2nd & 25, 3rd & 21 before Bobby McCain was beat in coverage on 4th & 11. The 49ers got the ball to Miami’s 6 yard line after CB Byron Maxwell was slow adjusting his hips and allowed 49ers WR Herley to make a foot tapping 18 yard catch down the side-lines. Byron Maxwell redeemed himself by breaking on a slant on 1st down as Kaepernick saw an opening and tried to thread a ball through a window to send the game to OT. The final play is broken down below and I want to commend Suh and Alonso for showing great hustle on this play, however, coverage did break down in the back of the end zone and against a better QB … the Dolphins may have surrendered a TD here.
It was closer than many expected and infuriating at times (Kaepernick ended up with 113 rushing yards), but a win is a win. Miami has now won 6 in a row and sits in the final wild-card play off spot at 7-4. When Miami first went on this winning streak it was due to the emergence of Jay Ajayi and that carried them for three weeks. But now this Dolphins team is relying on QB Ryan Tannehill who is winning games through the air. Ryan Tannehill was tremendous today despite his box score not doing his performance justice. Tannehill put this team on his back with his excellent movement in the pocket and delivering timely balls on a dime to keep the Offense moving and putting points up on the board.
Miami’s Defense is playing bend but don’t break and their D-Line has been great the past six games. Whether its Wake, Suh, Branch, Phillips or Mitchell, all have been disruptive and most importantly productive. Kiko Alonso is looking like a bargain in the trade Miami made with the Eagles. He had another INT today to go along with 12 tackles… He now has 91 on the season! The secondary has been worrying at times but I like the development of Isa Abdul-Quddus at Safety and I believe he could be a great fit opposite Reshad Jones going forward.
Miami is now 7-4 and has played a string of teams who many around the League consider to be ‘below average teams.’ But the point still remains; it is incredibly difficult to win SIX games in a row in the NFL. The only team hotter than the Dolphins right now is the Cowboys and if Miami wants to make the play offs it is going to have to win a majority of its remaining games. The schedule looks tough: @Baltimore (excellent Defense), vs. Cardinals (underperforming but talented roster), @Jets (always difficult), @Bills (again difficult) and vs. New England… But Adam Gase has changed the culture around this franchise and is finding a way to get the most out of his young play makers on Offense each week). The Dolphins have big play threats in DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills alongside explosive playmakers in RB Jay Ajayi (who has taken a back seat the past few weeks but has opened up so much for Miami through the air as teams load the box) and Jarvis Landry. This Dolphins Defense will not lose the team games, but the Offense needs to sustain drives to keep the pass rushers fresh. If the Defense plays with the lead it can pin back its ears and be productive. These are exciting times for the Dolphins and their fans.
Can I start the #FinsPlayoffPush or is it too early? On to Baltimore.