Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
27 Nov 2012
by Rivers McCown
Some fans, some orange seats, and some sprinklers all popped in for Sunday's tilt between the Dolphins and Seahawks, where they were treated to two of the better rookie quarterbacks in the NFL: Miami's Ryan Tannehill and Seattle's Russell Wilson.
Wilson has clearly taken a step forward from his first appointment with Any Given Sunday. He's learned to harness his escape instincts in the pocket, and doesn't take as many bad sacks. The biggest compliment I could give his play in this game was that he made some plays that I don't think any other quarterback in the league could make at this point. The one in particular that stood out was a third-and-12 near the beginning of the third quarter, where Seattle blitzed an unblocked safety right up the gut. Wilson doubled back around, losing the safety, then drifted to the right, got his head downfield, and hit Sidney Rice on the edge of the sideline for a 26-yard gain. There are quarterbacks with better pocket presence, and there are quarterbacks who run stronger, but the agility needed to shake this safety and quickly get the ball downfield after resetting were startling.
It especially stood out in contrast to Tannehill, who made a couple of very poor throws under pressure. One was picked, and one would have been picked in the end zone if not for a roughing the passer penalty.
However, with the stakes high at the end of the game, Wilson could not come through. The Seahawks had a first-and-10 from the Miami 40 with 2:11 to play and the score knotted at 21. After a one-yard loss on a run from Robert Turbin, Wilson threw an inexplicable ball on a covered screen to Marshawn Lynch, losing six yards, then took a sack on third-and-17. The Seahawks needed maybe five or seven yards to create an acceptable field-goal opportunity for Steven Hauschka, and instead they went backwards.
Miami took the initiative after the punt, running down the field quickly on a pair of intermediate Tannehill passes to Davone Bess, as well as a 15-yard scramble by Tannehill. Dan Carpenter kicked from the 25, and, as Chris Myers said, the field goal was good "at the buzzer." (Digression: we should probably have a play-clock buzzer. It would make delay of game a much easier call, for one thing.)
Tannehill started off slowly and made a couple of mistake throws, but generally looked very solid against the Seattle defense. Seattle had our second-ranked defense through Week 11. Tannehill doesn't pop off the tape like Wilson does, but he made some impressive stick throws and took advantage of a couple of blown coverages to keep Miami's offense humming late. More impressive was the Miami rushing attack, which averaged 6.8 yards per attempt. Reggie Bush and company had a down game against Buffalo, but bounced back this week. Bush made a couple of insane runs through unblocked defenders, getting the edge on an unblocked Seattle linebacker in the middle of the first quarter for 11 yards, and spinning right past Kam Chancellor on his touchdown run in the second. Daniel Thomas showed burst that, frankly, I didn't think he had after his rookie season.
Then there's one offensive unit that I didn't mention yet. How did they do?
If you've headed over to this week's Quick Reads already, you know that Marshawn Lynch had the lowest DYAR of any running back this week: -28. 15 of those negative DYAR came on the ground. The last time Lynch had a negative DYAR score in a game, it was Week 6, and it was only minus-one DYAR. You have to go all the way back to Week 1 against Arizona to find a double-digit negative DYAR score for Lynch.
|Team||OFF VOA||DEF VOA||ST VOA||TOTAL VOA|
Special teams (read: Leon Washington's return touchdown) kept Seattle's overall rating close in this one. For the record: Seattle's pass offense had an 83.7% VOA. Their rushing offense mustered -32.0%. Though with opponent adjustments, that goes up to -16.8%.
Uh ... hmm. Nobody went for it on fourth down and there were no coach-induced challenges. Do I condemn the Seahawks for not going for it on fourth-and-1 from the Miami 38 in the middle of a scoreless second quarter? Nah. Do I take this opportunity to flex my Cultured Sportswriter Who Knows Best genes and denigrate Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman for their possible Adderall suspensions while I have my fifth coffee of the day? Nope.
So, I guess I've got nothing for this segment.
Why can't the Lions ever upset anybody?
The Dolphins slapped a franchise tag on Paul Soliai for the 2010 season, but surprisingly reached an agreement with him in free agency for two years and $12 million. He was supposedly on his way to Denver for a visit at the time, and Miami had just traded fellow Pro Bowler Brandon Marshall to the Bears, so the rebuilding team narrative was strong, but Soliai decided to stay with the team that drafted him.
It's turned out to be a pretty fulfilling agreement for both sides. Pass defense in general has become much more important over the past few years, and the value of a run-stuffing defensive tackle has waned a bit, but Soliai has played a big role in leading the Dolphins to the fifth-best rush defense in the league by our numbers (through Week 11).
Against Seattle, he popped off the tape quickly on a couple of first-quarter runs. Here is how they set the tone for shutting down Seattle's run game:
14:54 in the first quarter, first-and-10 from the Seattle 16
|Seattle comes out with a slot receiver to the right, in a three-wide formation. Miami counters with their base nickel set. Soliai lines up over the left A-gap, between center Max Unger and left guard James Carpenter.|
|The call here is for Carpenter to cut block Soliai.|
|Soliai keeps his center of gravity rather easily though, and stays on his feet throughout, limiting Lynch's options.|
|Lynch powers through Soliai to make forward progress, but only gains two yards because of the early penetration.|
|Graphics by Matt Glickman|
7:59 in the first quarter, first-and-15 from the Miami 40
|Seattle comes out in the i-formation, with both receivers split right. Miami counters with their base 4-3. Soliai is lined up over the center Unger.|
|And he proceeds to win at the point of attack. Well, win might not be strong enough. Embarrass.|
|Soliai pushes Unger right into Lynch on the stretch play, almost six yards into the backfield.|
|Because of how the angle changed, Jared Odrick was able to move to the left of his blocker and take down Lynch for a five-yard loss.|
|Graphics by Matt Glickman|
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