« Wheeler: Coverage and call should have been better | Main | Miami Dolphins coaches must better recognize own players' flaws »

Three minutes of pain that may linger

Look, there is plenty of blame to go around for the Miami Dolphins losing to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. Just read this and you will see how the coaching staff, the quarterback, the so-called playoff-caliber defense, a lot of people failed in this game.

And the intriguing thing is the comments coming from players criticizing the coaches' calls or strategy that were anonymous weeks ago took a public turn when Phillip Wheeler laid out the case why he thought the play-call on the game-winning (losing) TD pass from Aaron Rodgers to tight end Andrew Quarless was a bad call.

So go to those links.

Here ...

I want to get into the final three minutes and 10 seconds of Sunday's game.

The Dolphins held a 24-20 lead with 3:10 to play when they had a first-and-10 at their own 35 yard line. The Dolphins ran Lamar Miller up the middle and gained a yard on the play. The Packers promptly called their third and final timeout with 3:05 to play.

So here is where Joe Philbin strategy came into play. His thinking?

 “Well, I’ll have to go back, but when we met as a staff, all the coordinators – we know the type of quarterback that we’re playing against – we decided," Philbin said. "I told Bill [Lazor] that we were going to do whatever we have to do to get a first down, whatever the call. I told them to be aggressive. Kevin [Coyle] knew that, Bill knew that, Darren [Rizzi] knew, everyone in the department knew that and that’s what we decided to do."

And so on second-and-nine from the 36, the Dolphins called a pass out of the shotgun formation.

I understand the logic. First, the Packers had both their starting cornerbacks out of the game. Secondly, there was that big meeting of the coaching minds that decided the team was going to be aggressive.

I understand the reason to pass. But why not a bubble screen? Or a quick slant? Something fast and safe, right?

Instead Tannehill took the snap and as he was dropping, immediately was swarmed by two blitzing defenders. So the QB threw the ball out of bounds, stopping the clock for a team that didn't have time outs.

And Philbin blames the offensive line, which was outnumbered, for the failure.

"I didn’t think we protected the quarterback very well on those plays," he said. "We have to do a much better job. But that was decided before. We knew – you have to do whatever you have to do to gain a first down. Dom [Capers] was playing coverage zero, there were eleven guys down, you executed. Again, you have to give them enough credit. They executed better."

Again, how about executing a quickie slant? Or this: Take the sack! It runs clock. Running clock at that point is a good option.

Anyway, the idea of doing whatever is necessary to gain a first down apparently didn't carry over to third down. Miller took a handoff and ran left for one yard.

So, you have this premeditated idea of moving heaven and earth to gain a first down by passing on second down but on third you go into a shell to play the clock? That does not make sense to me. Either the strategy exists or it does not.

Half-measures are for losers, folks.

If the Dolphins had not gone with the riskier strategy and simply would have run the football three times and punted they would have worked the clock more in their favor. By my calculations, they would have given the Packers the ball back with 1:50 left to play instead of 2:04.

Anywho ...

So the Packers get the ball at their 40 yard line. They gain a first down with a 12-yard run by James Starks and that takes the game to the 2 minute warning.

Then the craziness begins.

First down ... Rodgers, under much rush, throws a duck to Starks who gains one yard.

Second down ... Incomplete pass by Rodgers throwing to Quarless, who was covered one-on-one by Phillip Wheeler. Wheeler wins that one.

Third down ... The Dolphins bring great pressure from Olivier Vernon and Cameron Wake and Vernon slaps the ball loose. And the fumble is on the ground. And while Brent Grimes and Chris McCain both dive for the loose ball in slow motion, Green Bay guard T.J. Lang swoops in and recovers the fumble ahead of the two Miami defenders. Call it bad luck. Call it more hustle by Lang. Whatever. The Packers are still alive. But barely. They are hanging on by the hair on an ACME Packing Plant box or something. The Dolphins are actually winning at the line. Getting pressure. The offensive players are out of sorts, trying to get lined up to get the next play off.

And that is when Philbin calls a time out!

"That's not where you want to call a timeout with Green Bay struggling," FOX color analyst John Lynch, a former NFL safety says on the broadcast.

"That decision is beyond comprehension," a Dolphins source texted me. "You could see the relief on Rodgers' face when he saw the time out."

Philbin disagrees. He thinks the time out is the perfect thing to do.

“We kind of call that ‘Kodaking," Philbin said. "What we do is we let the offense line up in a specific formation and then we want to call time-out. One time we called it on fourth down where, again, that was something we talked about. We’ve used it before in the past and I’m most concerned that our team knows what they’re going to do and how we’re going to execute the call.

"Again, you have to give Green Bay credit. They made plays. They made the play on fourth-and-ten and they made the play at the end zone to win the game. They made plays in the fourth quarter. Give them credit. But again, that’s something wasn’t just – it’s something we talk about all the time, we’ve used, again, we could argue if it was wise to do it, but that was a decision that I knew we were going to do. Wait for them to line up and then call time."

The Packers regrouped. And made the Dolphins pay for the reprieve.

Fourth down ... Rodgers is buying time when he slings a rocket to Jordy Nelson, who is wide open for an 18-yard gain because Brent Grimes fell down.

We go on. The Packers are stopped on first and second down but on third down .... Rodgers finds Starks for 10 yards and a first down. Only 30 second left as the Packers rush to the line.

Then Rodgers connects on a seemingly inconsequential four-yard pass to Randall Cobbs. Again the Packers try to rush to get lined up and Rodgers signals for a spike.

Except the Packers went with a fake spike. And on that fake spike not one Miami defensive lineman rushed the quarterback. They simply stood up out of their stance expecting an actual spike. And Davante Adams beats Cortland Finnegan for 12 yards to the Miami 4 yard line.

"I thought we could have tackled better on that play," Philbin said of Finnegan's effort. "I thought we were in a position to tackle better."

If Finnegan, who had backed off 12 yards from Adams before the play, comes up quickly and tackles Adams in-bounds, the game is over. The Fake Spike backfires.

But the smallish Dolphins corners played, well, small on Sunday -- it's not a good match for them against the Bears' Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall this week, either -- and Adams easily bullied his way out of bounds to stop the clock.

So the Packers are going to have six seconds to live or die.

They come up to the line of scrimmage. They line up. And before they snap the ball, the Dolphins call time out again.

This time, Finnegan can be seen raising his arms as if questioning why Miami is calling time. And Olivier Vernon also seems to be complaining that Miami has called time.

(That makes me wonder, if coaches have made a decision this is what they're going to do and they do it often, how come it seems to surprise the players?)

Remember, this strategy is meant to help coaches and players identify what formation the Packers are using. It gives a glimpse of what Green Bay is thinking. It gives the Dolphins a chance to collect themselves.

Well, the idea of the Dolphins getting a glimpse of what Green Bay is doing goes out the window because after the game I asked Finnegan and Wheeler if they remembered what formation the Packers lined up in before the time out and whether it was similar to the formation on the game-winning play.

"That's a great question, man, but honestly I don't know," Finnegan said.

“I don’t know if they lined up in the same formation or not," Wheeler said. "If they did, someone should have let me know or something."

In fact, the Packers lined up in the very same formation after the time out as they did before the time out. So Green Bay gave the Dolphins two looks at their formation. And the Dolphins still had Wheeler matched man-on-man against Quarless on the outside.

Yeah, Aaron Rodgers is going to see that as a mismatch, like, 100 times out of 100 times.

"We knew when he checked before the play, the ball was going to come my way," Wheeler said. "I just didn’t know which route he was going to run. He checked to a passing play and we knew what his signals were a little bit. He saw it was single coverage on the outside. No help over the top or in the middle of the field. And they knew I had single coverage against the tight end most of the second half anyway.

"I played him well most of the half. On that last play it could have been better coverage.”

Quarless caught the four-yard deciding TD as Wheeler fell to the turf.

Two inconsequential seconds remained on the clock. The three minutes leading up to those final seconds had sealed Miami's fate.

“Aaron Rodgers looks like the hero," NBC analyst Rodney Harrison told America on the NBC Sunday night pregame show, "but the Dolphins really blew it."

Comments