« October 28, 2013 | Main | October 30, 2013 »

2 posts from October 29, 2013

October 29, 2013

A look at Mike Sherman's failed second half

Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman basically said Monday that the idea he abandoned the run -- indeed, abandoned what was going well -- in the second half of Sunday's game against the New England Patriots was not really accurate.

He said the statistics that show the Dolphins going pass heavy in the second half were skewed by the team being down 10 points with only 7:14 left in the game.

"At that point we were forced to throw it in that situation and I think we threw it during that time," Sherman said of the situation where Miami got the football trailing 27-17. "After the turnover, they ran it 15 and threw it three and they scored a touchdown and they ran out the clock.  In that same situation I think we threw it 15, ran it three almost the reverse.  We were down by 10 and we were in a two minute mode trying to get caught up.  Most of our passes that we threw and generated in that time frame, those 15 passes were almost all in a two minute mode trying to gain 10 points back."

And sure, enough, Sherman is correct. Once the Dolphins got down two scores, they felt the need to throw every down and did exactly that -- passing 15 times and running only once on a desperation Ryan Tannehill scramble that was called as a pass.

But ...

My problem with Sherman -- perhaps everyone's problem with Sherman -- isn't so much that he passed the ball so much when his team was trailing by 10 midway through the fourth quarter.

My problem with Sherman is he was partially responsible for that 10-point deficit because he's so stubborn about throwing the football -- with no apparent regard for what the opponent was doing, no apparent understanding of the results he was getting, and apparently forgetting the results he had just gotten one half before.

The Dolphins, you see, led this game 17-3 at halftime. The Dolphins gained that advantage because they ran the football 22 times in the first half and passed 18 times. They gashed the New England defense, ranked 31st against the run, on the ground to the tune of 103 yards and a 4.7 rush per attempt average in the first half.

It was a fine formula for winning against Tom Brady on the road. It ran clock, which shortened the game. It kept Brady on the sideline, limiting his opportunities. It helped the Dolphins defense.

It. Was. Working.

Right? Agreed?

But then for some reason known only perhaps to Sherman and the Dolphins coaching staff, the Dolphins went away from that which was working in the second half.

In the second half, with the Dolphins ahead by 14 or, worst case, tied at 17-17, the Dolphins ran the football six times. And passed 11 times.

So they built a lead running more than passing in the first half but came out in the second half and passed nearly twice as much as they ran even while they led or were, at worst, tied.

Up 17-3 in the second half, the Dolphins passed four times and ran only twice.

Up 17-10, the Dolphins ran one and attempted to pass once.

With the game tied at 17-17 in the second half, the Dolphins passed six times and ran only three times.

Eleven passes. Six runs.

And a 17-3 lead that was built running more than passing evaporated.

And the trend continued. Down 20-17 after a New England field goal, the Dolphins ran the football twice their next drive. And passed it four times.

So basically with the game in his hands, Sherman flipped his own first half script that was so successful. The criticism of him is not that he passed when the Dolphins were 10 points down. The criticism of him is that he forged a 17-3 lead by running more than passing and then went away from that in the second half, passing nearly twice as often as he ran, even as the team was still ahead, tied, or only a field goal behind.

And remember all this against the 31st-ranked run defense.

It gets worse. One of my other criticisms of Sherman is he views the game in binary fashion. If the defense loads up to stop the run, you pass. If you the defense loads up to stop the pass, you run. It's a simple choice of two things.

The problem is there are more than two possibilities at play in football.

Bill Belichick (and most NFL coaches) can quickly understand they can make the Dolphins do what they want. They can bait you into doing what they want you to do by giving you a certain look, just as a defensive back can bait a quarterback into making a throw the signal-caller thinks is open but really isn't.

Another problem I have is that presented with evidence that stuff is working, Sherman easily goes away from it (See above).

And given evidence stuff isn't working, Sherman sometimes continues to press forward as if that evidence does not exist. The continued confidence in right tackle Tyson Clabo is a clear example of this. Remember when Sherman promised Clabo's issues in pass protection would get resolved and no change was necessary? That was before Clabo gave up key sacks against Baltimore and Buffalo that factored in costing Miami the game.

Well, on Sunday, Sherman must have seen that the desperate Patriots were blitzing on practically every passing down in the second half. It was their halftime adjustment. And he saw how dangerous this might become initially when a sack from a blitzing defensive player resulted in a nine-yard loss. That sack turned what would have been a 37-yard field goal attempt into a 46-yard field goal attempt that Caleb Sturgis missed.

Well, shown that evidence, and still leading 17-3, Sherman passed more than he ran anyway. (Remember, he got this lead running the football more).

And then a blitzing defensive back got a strip sack on Ryan Tannehill.

And later, down 20-17, came an interception.

No negative plays happened when the Dolphins were running more than passing. Bad things started happening when Sherman flipped the script. And he just kept passing even as he was ahead of tied or just a field goal behind.


Tuesday PFF and Salguero look at Sunday's game

The good folks at ProFootballFocus.com delivered their weekly film review of Sunday's game and I am adding my weekly analysis and insight to that review.

Get it ...


Left tackle Bryant McKinnie played well in his Dolphins debut, posting a +2.0 grade and +1.4 pass blocking grade. He gave up two hits and a sack but neither came against Chandler Jones.

Salguero: The Dolphins helped McKinnie -- a lot. Left guard Richie Incognito helped McKinnie with double-team pass blocking approximately 75 percent of the time. The sack I saw McKinnie give up came on a blitz when he failed to recognize the free blitzer.

Right tackle Jonathan Martin had a dreadful time switching over to right tackle, giving up 3 hurries, 2 hits, and a sack for a -2.5 cumulative grade.

Salguero: Once again, the sack I saw Martin give up came when he failed to recognize a blitzer and basically let him have a free run at quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

As you know, the Dolphins allowed six sacks against New England. All of them came in the second half when Bill Belichick adjusted and had his defense blitz on practically every passing down. The Patriots are not normally a blitz-intense team. But the adjustment was excellent.

Unfortunately, the Dolphins did not adjust to New England's adjustment. Indeed, while most professional teams typically correct errors between series, the Dolphins seemed to make the same error against the New England blitz on multiple occasions.

“Well, what happened was that when we motioned across the formation, it really was on a couple third down situations and we’re not a big motion team as you know, well we motioned across on third down and we needed to just re-id some things and we didn’t," offensive coordinator Mike Sherman said. " I’ll take responsibility for that, it really shouldn’t have been a problem. It was a problem, all we had to do was re-id it. They got us twice on two third down calls, which they hadn’t really been a big pressure package in the third and short situations but they were particularly in that second half."

WR Rishard Matthews played 37 snaps after Brandon Gibson went down with his knee injury, but most came in the second half when the game was tied or the Dolphins were losing. Matthews saw 5 of his 6 targets against Logan Ryan in the slot, catching 3 of them. 

TE Dion Sims (29 snaps) and Michael Egnew (20 snaps) picked up extra workload as well in Gibson’s absence. 15 of Sims’ snaps and 10 of Egnew’s came in run blocking.

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill did not connect on a single deep ball of 20-plus yards. He was 0 for 5.

Salguero: I watched the game again Monday evening. And three consecutive series in the second half spoke volumes to me about the difference in QB play between Tannehill and Tom Brady. You'll recall in the second half the Patriots came after Tannehill. Well on a third-and-2 situation from the New England 19, the Patriots had a free rusher come at Tannehill and the Miami QB failed to account for that blitzer by getting rid of the football. He took a 9-yard sack and instead of a 37-yard field goal to make the score 20-3, Caleb Sturgis thus had to attempt a 46-yard field goal. The rookie kicker missed the kick. The Patriots got the football and drove to the Miami 14 where on second-and-six the Dolphins blitzed Brady. And Phillip Wheeler got an unblocked run at the QB, except that as he was hit, Brady released a pass to Aaron Dobson who beat Nolan Carroll for a TD. The Dolphins got the ball back and once again, they went after Tannehill. And once again an unblocked blitzer came at Tannehill, who fumbled at his own 13 yard line when he was hit. The Patriots converted the turnover into a TD three plays later.

The point is, the Dolphins QB took a key sack and coughed up the football when the Patriots ran unblocked blitzers at him. The New England QB threw a TD pass on the play the Dolphins had an unblocked blitzer practically knock him into next week. It's not necessarily Tannehill's fault that he fumbled. But he must get rid of the football in the red zone. And it would be preferable if he got rid of it and completed a pass.

When running around the end, both left and right, Lamar Miller had six carries for 63 yards. On his 12 other carries, he had 29 yards.

Salguero: Here's a shocker ... The Dolphins fast running back is better running outside. Hmmm, maybe the Dolphins should call more outside runs for him.

Of the six times Brian Hartline was targeted, Alfonzo Dennard was in coverage for five of them. He shadowed him all over the field.

WR Mike Wallace saw targets against six different players, but caught passes on just two of them.


DE Cameron Wake played 34 of 68 snaps which was only a modest increase in workload from the 22 snaps he had last week against Buffalo.

CB Dmitri Patterson handled 62 of 68 snaps, signaling a full return to the lineup.

DE Dion Jordan played 18 snaps, getting full series in addition to his nickel role. He was in on 10 running plays, rushed the passer seven times and was in coverage once. The one coverage snaps had Jordan running stride for stride with New England tight end Rob Gronkowski.

Salguero: Jordan is crazy athletic. He makes impact plays when he gets opportunities. The excuse about him not being able to set the edge on run plays no longer applies as he played more run plays than pass plays Sunday. So why is he getting only 18 total snaps with only seven pass-rush opportunities? Why? Makes no earthly sense to me.

Nolan Carroll is apparently being phased out as Patterson is healthy again. Carroll played only eight snaps on Sunday and in that time he gave up a double-move TD to Aaron Dobson.

Salguero: You'll remember at the beginning of the season, Carroll was the nickel corner. He'd enter the game on passing downs and take the outside receiver while Patterson would take the slot. Well, the groin injury to Patterson made Carroll a starter. But with Patterson back it not only seems as if Carroll has lost his starting role, but also the nickel cornerback role because Jimmy Wilson is filling that and did so on Sunday.

Special teams

Salguero: The Dolphins had a field goal blocked by the Patriots. It was the first field goal the Pats have blocked since 2010 when they blocked another Miami FG attempt. The reason the attempt was blocked is that right tackle Nate Garner was basically run over by two players, including Chandler Jones, who blocked the kick.