How 3 NFL teams gave away games on Sunday
There’s a saying in football and I think it’s true – there are more games being lost than won, meaning it’s more likely a team loses a game by some bad decisions, situational football or such as rather than one factor earning them a victory. Some prime examples would be several teams taking their foot off the gas pedal and, getting scared against the Patriots after holding a lead, the Packers’ epic collapse at Seattle in the 2015 NFC Championship game when everything seemed to go wrong at the end of the game and these three games from Sunday, I want to present to you.
With this article, I don’t want to take anything away from their opponents, because they did what they needed to in order to walk home victorious, but rather I want to show how the losing teams could have easily turned fortunes in their favour.
To do so, I will illustrate three different types of game developments and complexities – one team that gave away a big lead, one that put themselves in a hole early they couldn’t climb out of anymore and one that put up the better performance and had plenty of chances to win, but couldn’t get the job done.
#3 Bengals – Dolphins
Heading into Sunday the Dolphins were a six-point underdog at Cincinnati after a brutal defeat to their division rival Patriots and had a chance to change the minds of a lot of people around the league with a win against a 3-1 Bengals squad, who they shared the same record with.
Miami was off to a hot start to this game thanks to a red-zone interception of Andy Dalton where the defence was in cover-four and Reshad Jones could drive on an inside post, which landed in the arms of Kiko Alonso, a touchdown pass to Kenyan Drake running a corner route out of the backfield against a linebacker off a double-post concept clearing space and a 70-yard punt return touchdown by Jakeem Grant.
However, after watching the tape I thought they got lucky, as Bengals cornerback William Jackson III dropped a potential pick-six undercutting an in-route, and even more so they left big plays on the table.
One came when they motioned Drake out wide into an empty set with three receivers to the left and the right wideout basically running four verticals, while Danny Amendola ran a choice-route on the linebacker underneath.
Tannehill hit Amendola for seven yards, but had he read the coverage correctly and seen the back-side safety drop down before the snap, he would have known that he now has the free safety in a bind, having to decide which of the inside receivers he follows. His receivers adjusted their routes accordingly and would Tannehill not have played it safe, this should have been a huge gain, if not a touchdown.
Another time in the second half, Miami was set up at mid-field after a short punt and a nice run by Frank Gore they already put them at Cincy’s 25. They came out in an ace right set and motioned Drake out wide once again.
With both cornerbacks lining up to the left against the two receivers and the strong safety moving outside with the running back, this was a clear indication of cover-one. Even if Tannehill wasn’t 100 percent sure, he could have checked if the linebackers trailed the two tight-ends running wheel routes.
There is no way that safety can stay with Drake now cutting underneath on an in-route, but the Dolphins QB just misses it and looks left the entire way where he trusts his receivers to get separation as they cross. The Bengals DBs do a good job passing on assignments and the Dolphins would have to settle for a field-goal.
Regardless of that, they were up 17-0 and with their defence playing one heck of a game and a few mistakes not even having cost them, it looked like Miami was in good position to go home victorious. However, they would not score another point and make some stupid mistakes in play-calling as well as execution, en route to giving up 27 straight points.
When the Bengals get the ball back, Dalton completes a back-shoulder fade to Green against an all-out blitz look and after that, the Dolphins D start to forget the principles of how to defend the Bengals.
Cincy went play-action off a wide zone and picked up almost 20 yards with the tight-end coming underneath the formation as nobody stayed home to that side and they get a nice gain on an inside zone as the defence overpursues.
When you watch the Bengals on tape you can see that they love to run zone and Mixon is always a threat to cut it back, plus then they boot off that and have different levels to attack. While Dalton missed a wide open tight-end off a mesh concept and they had to settle for a field-goal, this was a sign of things to come.
When Miami takes back over they immediately go three-and-out and after a late hit out of bounds, Cincinnati starts the following drive from their 29. Dalton picks up a first down to his number one receiver off a little scramble drill, but the Dolphins defence would force another punt if an unnecessary roughness penalty didn’t bail them out on 3rd & 4.
After an inside zone and zone split move the ball down inside Miami’s 20, the Phins basically give away a touchdown for free. The Bengals come out in a two-by-two set with a stack to the left and a tight end to the right. With two linebackers in the A-gaps and T.J. McDonald threating over the tight-end the defence has seven players at the line scrimmage. From their single-high safety alignment, this looks like cover-three or cover-one, so Cincinnati’s sail concept to the right with Joe Mixon as the third receiver should work either way.
While Miami almost gets lucky as the left defensive end is just missed in protection, Dalton sees Kiko Alonso having to follow his RB despite just having lined up in the A-gap and he can hang in there long enough to allow him to create separation on the deep out. Despite an underthrown ball, the linebacker gets turned around and loses track of it. Touchdown Bengals – one-score game. There is no way a linebacker should be put in such a position.
However, at this point, the Dolphins are still ahead and could take hold of this game. With the offensive line being shuffled around, however, there is somebody messing up time and time again.
There should be an easy first down for them on a switch concept with a skinny post and wheel route opening up their tight-end on a deep out, but even though the line was sliding the right way, their left guard gets whopped off the snap by Geno Atkins and it results in a sack. On 3rd & 16 Kenyan Drake converts in phenomenal fashion on a simple check-down, where it looks like he has no chance but makes multiple defenders miss.
On first down they run a lead sweep out of a two-back set, but the play side guard steps inside and doesn’t peel off quickly enough, so the linebacker can shoot the gap for no gain. The following play changed the entire game.
The Dolphins come out in ace right with twins to the left and fake zone that way with the O-line sliding right, both tight-ends staying in protection and a two-route concept by the receivers – a fade outside and a post-corner by the slot.
Newly inserted left tackle Sam Young for some reason jabs outside for a second instead of stepping inside, where Michael Johnson immediately gets a step on him off an inside stunt.
That puts pressure in Tannehill’s face immediately and instead of just taking the sack or trying to throw the ball past the line of scrimmage to the right (where nobody is), he basically tries to sky-hook it off his feet.
The ball goes off the helmet of one of his O-linemen and Johnson, who had put on the initial pressure, takes it back for a 33-yard pick-six. I don’t like the play-call in that situation because they are already on the right hash, the protection guides Tannehill even further to that side and makes this is a very long throw across the field. Obviously, the quarterback’s decision is even worse.
Now the game is tied and Miami is reeling. They try to re-establish the ground game, but a holding penalty puts them in a bad situation once again. That’s when some weird play-calls come up, like a zone fake to the wide side with Tannehill following his back, who he just used the fake for. I mean who are you trying to fool with this? They punt again and put the Bengals into position to take the lead.
A couple of plays in Mixon runs inside zone once more, but jump-cuts and bounces all the way to the outside, where the cornerback loses contain and the RB goes for 25. Two snaps after that Cincinnati once again runs a double post concept, this time off play-action.
The linebackers get sucked in and the single-high safety stays deep even though the Bengals had been attacking that inside receiver all game long. Even though the Dolphins would hold at the goal-line this set up a chip-shot field goal to give Marvin Lewis’ troops their first lead of the game.
With 3:30 left on the clock, Miami is now down 20:17. They lose two yards on a running back swing screen off a wing motion, commit a false start and miss Drake on a simple out-route. Now on 3rd & 17 they desperately need a big play. The Bengals disguise their pressure by bringing over a linebacker late on a five-man rush with cover-one robber behind it.
Meanwhile, the Dolphins have a fade route from the single receiver to the left, two deep curls by the two receivers to the left and the tight-end releasing late. Surprisingly the O-line does a solid job picking up the pressure, but Tannehill didn’t feel Carlos Dunlap coming around the corner even though he sees nothing but green grass in front of him.
The QB slightly drifts left, steps up late and is stripped from behind by the D-end. The fumble is returned for a TD, as he would be late on that curl to Stills anyway.
When the Dolphins come back out on the field with their final chance, Tannehill completes one out-route to his tight end, but is almost intercepted when trying pretty much the exact same concept and throws a couple of check down to his running back, before finally sealing the deal. For some reason, they have both wideouts trying to split the two safeties with post routes, but the pass (deservedly so) is intercepted by rookie standout Jessie Bates
Miami would get the ball back once more after three run plays by the Bengals, but have the game end on a meaningless 25-yard run by Drake. Miami was in control of this game, despite leaving some stuff on the table.
What killed were some questionable play-calls, a lack of understanding of defensive coverages by their quarterback and poor execution by their makeshift offensive line. Add a defense that seemingly forgot the principles of the opposing offense and didn’t stay true to their assignments in the second half, plus a pressure look that should have been called off and you have a team that gets outscored 27:0 over the final 24 minutes.