The Tape Don’t Lie: Tennessee Titans at Miami Dolphins, a review


Dolphins coach Adam Gase says, “The tape don’t lie.”

So each week, I’ll give the game tape a closer look.

Here are some things I noticed after watching Miami’s 27-20 defeat of the Tennessee Titans in the season opener, which also happened to be the longest game in NFL history due to two lengthy lightning delays:

PHOTOS: Check out the players, fans and cheerleaders from Sunday’s win vs. Tennessee

1. Minkah Fitzpatrick has a Pro Bowl future

You may say he’s played only one NFL game. And you may say Miami didn’t really need another safety with the 11th pick in the last NFL draft. But Fitzpatrick, who is in fact currently a slot corner, is the real deal. We saw it throughout camp. We saw it in the preseason. And we saw it early in Miami’s first victory of the season.

  • In the first quarter, Fitzpatrick disengaged from a blocker, spun around, dove at the right thigh of herculean former Alabama running back Derrick Henry and upended him after a gain of 5.
  • On the very next play, Fitzpatrick diagnosed a pass in the flat to Corey Davis. He quickly accelerated toward the receiver and dragged him down by the ankles after a gain of 1 yard.
  • Then, on a later drive in the first quarter, on a 4th-and-goal from the 3, Minkah prevented a Titans touchdown. He identified the pass play (he has tremendous diagnosis skills and instincts as a rookie) and made his move out of the end zone and toward the receiver, who caught the ball inside the 3-yard line. Fitzpatrick corralled Corey Davis by the left thigh and pulled him down outside of Miami’s end zone. It was a pure form tackle.

He uses excellent technique. He puts in as much time as any Dolphin studying. He also brings tons of energy. Fitzpatrick brings juice to the unit with his youthful exuberance. He is, quite simply, a future Pro Bowler.

2. Albert Wilson stirs the creative juices of Adam Gase.

Gase has had months and months to think up creative ways to use Wilson, the smallish but strong receiver/running back who does many of the things Jarvis Landry does, but at a fraction of the cost. Miami was only 2-for-10 on third downs, which is an issue that must still be corrected. But on one play in the first quarter,  Wilson got it done by himself.

  • He caught the ball at the 18, spun out of the arms of a tackler, stayed on his feet and dove forward for five more yards and a first down conversion. Wilson, who usually plays outside, actually began the play at an inside receiver position and ran a simple in route.
  • Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins are going to count on Wilson and Danny Amendola to create first downs when they catch the ball a few yards shy of the marker on third down. And Wilson actually has an edge on Amendola to get that done.
  • In the second quarter, Wilson lined up at running back. Later, Tannehill handed off to Wilson, who came in motion from left to right and stopped in the backfield. Wilson took the ball, with an option to pitch to Kenyan Drake. It was straight from the Mike Martz Rams play book. Drake was disappointed he didn’t get the toss. Maybe next time. We have to assume they’ll run this play again. Or perhaps some other play Gase researches that Wilson once ran at Georgia State.

  • In the third quarter, on a red zone play, Wilson lined up at Wildcat quarterback, with Tannehill at receiver, but Miami called time out. Gase has lots of creative options with versatile players like Wilson, Jakeem Grant and Kenyan Drake at his disposal. We enjoy it when Gase rolls out multiple formations and plays we haven’t seen before. Most importantly, it’s great when it’s stuff the opponent hasn’t seen before. At Monday’s press conference, I asked Gase how much he enjoys the process of researching and drawing up unique ball plays.  “It’s fun to do,” Gase said. “You try to stay within the framework of the system and be creative at the same time. When you have good players, you’re able to do that and it’s fun to call those plays.”

3. Reshad Jones is back to his old self.

Jones had a bunch of tackles last season, and made the Pro Bowl. But at least to me, he didn’t seem as dangerous a defender as he was in 2015 and in 2016, before he was hurt. Jones is playing fearlessly again. He’s showing that he can make plays on the ball down the field, with two interceptions of the Titans on Sunday. And, of course, the most exciting aspect of Jones’ game is how he’s able to trick opposing quarterbacks and running backs into thinking he’s not coming, and then — boom! — at the last minute, here he comes.

  • Jones had quite the second half. First, he intercepted a Marcus Mariota floater which led to a bit of a melee which spirited the crowd.
  • Then, with Miami leading 10-3 late in the third quarter, and Tennessee driving, vintage Reshad. He sensed exactly what was coming, pretended to drop deep, creeped toward the line of scrimmage, blitzed and smashed Lewis for a loss of two. Jones then stood over Lewis while probably saying some things he might not want children to hear. Jones then flexed his muscles. “SAVAGE,” Texans safety Tyrann “Honeybadger” Mathieu tweeted at me about Jones’ play.

Jones wasn’t perfect, as he will, and did, occasionally miss on an open-field tackle by going for a take-out shot. But Jones, at his best, always seems to make instinctual, game-changing plays.

  • In the fourth quarter, Jones put Miami in tremendous position to win by intercepting  Blaine Gabbert. The ball was off-target, intended for Delanie Walker, but Jones made a really impressive athletic play, snagging the ball while falling down, almost on his back, reaching out and then — of course — following it with a riveting, circuitous 54-yard return. Jones is a $12 million a year safety and he’s well worth every penny.

4. The Dolphins have speed to burn

The Dolphins are faster on offense. That’s what happens when you delete Landry and add Albert Wilson. That’s what happens when you delete Julius Thomas and add Mike Gesicki.

Jakeem Grant? A blur on that kickoff return touchdown, which was by the way, aided by key blocks from Walt Aikens and Senorise Perry.

The Dolphins have fast athletes on offense, defense and special teams. Kenyan Drake is explosive. Fitzpatrick is extremely quick. Jerome Baker is an athletic linebacker.

Miami has long wanted and tried to upgrade speed across the board and they’ve done a pretty nice job of that this season. Oh yeah - and Kenny Stills. He’s pretty fast, too.

Do you think Ryan Tannehill knew exactly where Stills would be when he uncorked the ball 46 yards on a 75-yard touchdown pass? Do you think Tannehill knew Stills would run right past former Patriot Malcolm Butler? Hell yeah, he did. Did you forget that in 2016, Tannehill hit Stills for touchdowns of 74, 66, 43, 39, 28 and 24 yards?

“They all count the same,” Stills told me at the end of training camp.

“But when you catch a bomb, being a speed receiver, you go deep, you just know the momentum shifts. A quick score can mess up a defense’s confidence. And it really gives us that boost on offense to know that we can do it again.”

All spring and summer, Dolphins debated and discussed (maybe we fueled it a little, too) about which player was actually the fastest. It’s probably Grant. But actually, the right answer is, Miami has a lot of really fast dudes.

5. EXTRA POINTS

  • The Dolphins’ plan to roll nine defensive linemen in a game will probably do a lot of damage, you know, when the game isn’t stopped twice for about two hours a clip.
    --- Who didn’t foresee Gase rolling with Kenyan Drake AND Frank Gore on the first play of the 2018 season? Gore flashed more than we even expected, always seeming to pick up about just what’s exactly needed for a first down. In the second quarter, the Dolphins needed 20, and he grabbed 21, with key blocking from Josh Sitton and Daniel Kilgore... But I think we all know Gase is going to have to run Kenyan Drake even more.It’s nice that Miami can keep a defense off balance. By going with short passes, the defense doesn’t stack up against the run. By going with short passes, that can allow for the occasional deep strike because a defensive back isn’t necessarily expecting it.
      --- Drake has such burst and such acceleration. And they don’t want to wear him out, but… the way he bursts through the middle, the way he’s not afraid to go through traffic, the way he makes guys miss — elite. It’s just so elite.
      --- Laremy Tunsil had a false start and a holding. Ja’Wuan James had two holding penalties. Something worth continuing to watch.
      --- Safety T.J. McDonald missed some plays. In the first quarter, he didn’t take a great angle on a pass to a receiver and also ended up chasing a tight end from behind after a long completion. Most importantly, McDonald has to be sure-tackling in open field, as he is often the last line of defense. On a long run by Derrick Henry, a would-be 62-yard touchdown run, Miami caught a break as Delanie Walker was called for holding Jerome Baker, who actually had Walker by the face mask. Again on this play, McDonald does not take a great angle on a play that should have tied the score at 17.
      --- Bobby McCain broke up a pass intended for Delanie Walker at the goal line with his left arm. McCain just plays aggressively, he competes, he fights, he tries to play tight without fear. On the next play, McCain had coverage in the back of the end zone on Corey Davis. All in all, a very solid regular-season debut for McCain at outside corner.
        --- Miami needs to be better in the red zone and though the ball may have slipped coming out his hand, Ryan Tannehill and anyone who watched saw he needed a better ball for Mike Gesicki in the end zone. Particularly for Gesicki, Tannehill has to throw the fade better next time, because Gesicki was drafted to jump up and finish that play.
        --- At times, center Daniel Kilgore is moved by larger defensive tackles — on running and passing plays. It’s worth monitoring.
        --- It appeared Tanner McEvoy had a shot to stop, but was blocked out, during a key moment of the the Titans’ kickoff return touchdown.
        --- It appeared as though rookie tight end Durham Smythe may have been the only Dolphins with a chance to slow the blitzer who put down Tannehill for the first time this season.
        --- We will give Smythe kudos for volunteering to emergency snap in place of injured John Denney.
        --- So, Andre Branch injured Taylor Lewan and William Hayes injured Marcus Mariota. This Dolphins defensive line is certainly physical and aggressive. ‘Sweep the leg!’ Or should I say, ‘Put him in a body bag!’

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