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Wednesday's 60-second rant: Reliance on deep ball cost Dolphins

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Posted Sept. 26, 2012 @ 4:41 p.m. ET
By Kevin Fishbain

The Dolphins are going to look back at their 23-20 overtime loss to the Jets in Week Three as the one that got away.

Their lead was never more than seven points from late in the second quarter on, but in an ugly game between two struggling offenses, the Dolphins should have walked out of Sun Life Stadium with a surprising 2-1 record. 

With a rookie quarterback and an offense lacking in big playmakers, wins appear hard to come by in Joe Philbin’s first season. One thing has been clear about Miami’s offense, for the start of this season, at least — the Dolphins will run the ball down your throat until you can stop it.

The plan worked perfectly against the Raiders, when the Dolphins ran all over Oakland in a 35-13 win, rushing 43 times for 263 yards. They had success against the Jets’ front as well, rushing for 185 yards on 43 carries, and that’s with Reggie Bush missing the entire second half and overtime.

In crucial times in the fourth quarter and overtime, though, the Dolphins abandoned the run and relied on the deep ball from Ryan Tannehill, a decision that could have kept them from sealing the game in regulation, or even winning in overtime. The “what if?” game will start with Dan Carpenter’s missed field goal and Philbin’s timeout that wiped away a blocked FG attempt by the Jets' Nick Folk, but some head-scratching play calls didn’t help Miami’s cause.

The Jets cut the lead to 17-13 early in the fourth quarter. The Dolphins started to move the ball on the ensuing drive, thanks to a big pass-interference penalty on Jets CB Antonio Cromartie that picked up 24 yards to the Jets' 31, but the drive stalled thanks to two penalties and Carpenter missed a 47-yard FG attempt.

Then things got a little strange, showing one of two things: Philbin had confidence in Tannehill’s deep ball, especially wtih All-Pro CB Darrelle Revis out of the game, and/or Philbin didn’t believe they could run effectively without Bush.

After forcing a three-and-out, the Dolphins got the ball back with 10:19 to go and a four-point lead. Three straight incomplete passes later — all short-range throws — they punted back to the Jets. On the third-down play, WR Anthony Armstrong arguably should have held on for a first down, but it seemed odd to see Miami ignore the run when running some clock would have been prudent.

Fast forward to the end of regulation. After the Jets took a 20-17 lead with just over three minutes left in regulation, the Dolphins had the ball with all three timeouts left, and another pass-interference penalty set them up 1st-and-10 at the Jets’ 23-yard line. The first-down throw to TE Anthony Fasano, a quick sideline throw, was incomplete — and replays showed that Tannehill missed a wide-open Hartline dragging across the middle of the field.

With 32 seconds left (again, all three timeouts remaining), Tannehill went for the jugular on the next two plays. It’s encouraging to see Tannehill have the moxie, and the staff to have the confidence in him to make a big play. However, there could have been better play options to use in their efforts to score a go-ahead touchdown. Instead, Tannehill threw back-to-back deep throws down the right sideline for Hartline. The first throw was out of bounds, and the second was a slight overthrow. Cromartie had solid coverage on each play, with LaRon Landry coming over from his safety position. The Dolphins settled for the game-tying field goal.

Asked about the fourth quarter after the game Sunday, Philbin told reporters, “We tried running it a couple times. Then we had a couple of possessions where we tried to throw the ball. We weren’t very effective there. We were not effective,” he said. “We tried a couple of things to see if we could get the passing game going even though we were backed up with some safe throws that really didn’t get anything going.”

A few things to consider: Miami clearly wanted to attack a Jets secondary that was without its star, Revis. And though the run game isn't the same without Bush, backups Daniel Thomas (19 carries for 69 yards) and Lamar Miller (nine rushes for 48 yards) had some success earlier in the game. Also, the deep sideline throws are generally not high-percentage ones. In the fourth quarter, Tannehill threw the ball deep seven times, completing one pass and drawing two defensive pass-interference penalties. Hartline was called for an offensive pass interference on one of those throws. The opportunities were there, as Hartline often saw single coverage on the passes and it wasn't against Revis, but those are tough throws for any quarterback to hit consistently, let alone a rookie.

All of that would have been forgotten if the Dolphins had won the game in overtime. Certainly, the coaching staff would remember the offensive miscues, but the mood would be much better, and Miami had its chances.

Tannehill completed a deep pattern to Hartline on the right sideline for 41 yards in overtime, setting the Dolphins up at the Jets’ 35-yard line. After a three-yard run by Thomas, Tannehill went for it all, again. Instead of trying a quick pass or using the middle of the field, Tannehill went deep for Hartline, who had CB Kyle Wilson all over him down the left sideline. The throw was a bit long. A third-down rush for two yards set up a 48-yard FG attempt, which Carpenter missed wide left.

In the fourth quarter and overtime, the Dolphins ran 10 rushing plays and 23 passing plays (including penalties). Keep this in mind: they were playing from behind for less than three minutes, at the end of regulation, before Carpenter tied it.

The play-calling against Oakland and in the first three quarters against the Jets illustrated an offense doing its best to put Tannehill in positions to succeed, using the run and letting him operate in the middle of the field with quick passes. At the end of Sunday’s game, it appeared that the Dolphins believed the run game wasn’t working — and that’s fine, but to rely on several deep sideline throws against a good Jets secondary, even without Revis, is tough, especially for a rookie quarterback.

Tannehill has the arm and the confidence, and he did complete the big throw to Hartline in overtime, but after watching him throw several incomplete passes it should have been a sign to change things up — Tannehill completed just 5-of-17 passes in the fourth quarter — including misses on his last six attempts — and that’s a big reason why the Dolphins squandered away an opportunity to knock off the Jets. 

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