This game featured a couple of teams who have exceeded expectations this season. While neither holds the division lead, they are both well in contention for a wildcard place. Carolina improved their chances with the go-ahead drive scoring with less than a minute to play. It wasn’t Cam Newton’s best day as a passer, but he made enough plays with his legs to triumph in a defensive battle. Miami got some bad luck along the way especially when the officials decided to pick up a personal foul flag on Luke Kuechly in the end zone for a seemingly blatant shot to the head. The no-call came on third down and would have setup the Dolphins with first and goal from the one. In the end though their defense couldn’t stop an 80 yard drive, including a fourth and long, pushing them below .500 and leaving them with some catching up to do. The Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin incident can’t have helped with the former being especially missed on the field. Let’s take a look at some individual matchups.
Carolina – Three Performances of Note
Still a Running Quarterback
Cam Newton (-5.4) really struggled in the passing game despite making some plays with his legs in the clutch. Ignoring passes dropped or batted down, those thrown away and spikes he was 19-of-32 for 174 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He was especially poor under pressure with a QB rating of just 8.8 (4-of-13 for 41 yards and a pick). Newton showed poor location on short throws too, consistently making it difficult for his receivers. The former-number 1 pick did take advantage of the blitz, going 6-of-9 for 81 yards (95.1 QB rating). The best throw came just after the half when Newton threw a strike deep to Ted Ginn Jr. that would have been a touchdown, but for the former Dolphin dropping the pass. There were some equally poor throws though, such as Newton’s interception; a post which he underthrew allowing Nolan Carroll to undercut the route and make the pick. He was also fortunate Chris D. Clemons wasn’t able to force a turnover when he tried to force one in on a corner route with 11.31 to go in the fourth. Newton did show good ability as a runner, breaking the aforementioned Clemons’ tackle on his touchdown run (Q3, 8.19), but equally the Auburn product cost his team yardage by failing to throw the ball away on occasion when he was under duress. Overall if the Panthers want to go places this season they’ll need Newton to step up in the passing game.
No Johnson, no Problem
It’s always great to see backups take advantage of their opportunities with big games, and that’s exactly what Mario Addison (+2.8) did. Bryant McKinnie simply had no answer to his quickness, allowing immediate pressure on a couple of occasions. Overall Addison registered a sack, three hits and four hurries on just 27 rushes, showing the ability to get to the quarterback from both sides. There were a number of very impressive plays, but perhaps the best was his pressure in the second quarter (8.33) where he displayed a great spin move and got to the quarterback in less than three seconds. It was somewhat of a quiet day for Addison in run defense as he failed to register any stops but he graded positively as many times as he graded negatively. While he was sealed outside on one run in the middle of the fourth quarter (9.15), he was able to draw extra attention on the first play of the game (15.00). Pass rushing depth is always a good thing and Addison is providing that.
Short over Star
There’s a big reason why this Panthers defense has had a massive turnaround – the play of the defensive tackles. In this game it was second rounder Kawann Short (+2.5) who outplayed first rounder Star Lotulelei (-0.7). The Purdue product was a menace in both the run and pass game as found himself consistently in the backfield. The Dolphins don’t feature an All-pro trio on the interior but it was an impressive game nonetheless. As a rusher Short had two hurries on 18 rushes, beating rookie Sam Brenner with a beautiful inside move on one play with 10.02 to go in the first. His other hurry also came against the undrafted free agent as he showed great strength on a bulrush. You have to feel a little sorry for Nate Garner; it must be difficult finding a rhythm when you’re constantly being moved about. However Short took advantage, beating him completely on one play in the third quarter (5.00). Although he missed the tackle, Short held him up for a long time allowing pursuit to get there. Lotulelei meanwhile had a mixed day in the run game (grading positively twice, but also grading negatively twice) and had just the solitary hit as a pass rusher (22 snaps) when Brenner strangely decided to stop blocking him. Uncharacteristically quiet game for him.
Miami – Three Performances of Note
Tackle Still a Problem
With Martin out, the Dolphins have gone to Bryant McKinnie with some disappointing results (-4.2). This was his worst game of the year so far as there were times he looked disinterested in even trying to block Addison. On one play (Q3, 6.19) the former Raven and Viking failed to pick up the rushing defensive end focusing instead on a linebacker who was dropping back after faking a blitz. It took McKinnie an age to realise and by that point it was too late. He also allowed defensive players inside him far too easily in both the run and pass game, hardly getting his hands on them. Speaking of the run game he was equally as poor in that department (-2.4) as he was in pass protection (-2.3). McKinnie allowed Frank Alexander inside him without getting a hand on the backup defensive end on one play only to see him miss the tackle. On the other side Tyson Clabo (-2.2) looks a completely different player than he was in Atlanta. He allowed two hits and two hurries on 47 dropbacks, committed two penalties and graded negatively as a run blocker (-0.9).
Free Agent Failure?
Dannell Ellerbe (-3.5) has not been the every-down middle linebacker Jeff Ireland hoped for when he signed him to a multimillion dollar contract. Run defense has been the biggest problem and that was no different against the Panthers (-3.1). Despite making six tackles, Ellerbe failed to register a single stop, consistently going backwards when guards got to him at the second level and only bringing runners down when they were far downfield. Ryan Kalil especially had his way with him at the second level generating consistent movement whether pulling or heading straight from his centre spot. The struggles are especially concerning considering the quality of defensive tackle play in front of him with Jared Odrick and Randy Starks. One of the most disappointing plays came on third and one with 1:55 to play in the fourth quarter when Newton threw him a stiff arm and picked up about seven yards after contact as all Ellerbe could do was ride him out of bounds. The former Raven also graded negatively in coverage (-0.3) as he lacked general zone awareness and as a pass rusher (-0.2, no pressure on two rushes).
Savvy Smith beats Grimes
Brent Grimes (-2.2) has been one of the Dolphins’ best players this season but he struggled against Steve Smith. It was an uncharacteristically poor game for the former Falcon who played a little too soft giving up a number of first downs underneath. Overall he allowed 7-of-9 targets to be complete for 72 yards and six first downs. He missed two of his seven attempted tackles both of which allowed significant extra yardage. The first came on a smoke route where Smith got away from Grimes with a wicked spin move. The second was even more egregious as he gave up a first down on a dig route facing fourth and ten with just 2.33 to play in the game and then failed to wrap Smith up allowing about ten yards after catch. There were some positives as Grimes showed close coverage on a couple of occasions either forcing a throwaway or preventing a completion and he made an impressive play against a screen where he beat Brandon Lafell outside and made a tackle for a loss.
– No Dolphin offensive player graded in the green, but seven graded in the red.
– The Panthers’ defense combined to miss just three tackles.
– The Panthers combined to knock Tannehill down 12 times.
PFF Game Ball
For stepping up in place of Johnson I feel like Mario Addison is worthy of the award.
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