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Sunday, November 24, 2013

v/s Miami, Pregame

The most average of teams, Miami is a year and a half into a rebuild that finally saw them use a top pick on a QB after Dan Marino - the average Ryan Tannehill - to pair with average Packers OC Joe Philbin as new head coach, and former Packers head coach/former Tannehill college coach Mike Sherman.  They pilot a generic WCO - not a downfield pushing one like Jon Gruden, or one that tried to rededicate to the running game like Steve Mariucci.  Just an average, wait for the dumpoff WCO.

 Add in Kevin Coyle as DC - a former Bengals staffer - and you get a generic, hand me down Tampa 2 variant.  An average team, at 5-5.   If you assume they have some talent, but not a lot, and not a ton of depth, you're right.  If you figure their league rankings are pretty average, you're catching on.  Football Outsiders weighs them at 15 defensively, 20 offensively.  Their yard/points ranks are 31/23 on O, 21/12 on D.

It's not that average is bad. It's competitive, and two of Carolina's three losses were early in the season when average was better than whatever Carolina was.  Carolina was never really average - they've been either brilliant or somewhat awful.  Average was enough to beat Carolina versus Buffalo and Arizona.  Miami has had some competitive games - they beat up on Cleveland to open, they're one of a few teams to beat the Colts; they pulled out a close one to Atlanta after.

They're 2-5 since their starting streak, doing a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde act since - they were stomped by the Saints and then lost close games to Baltimore and Buffalo.  They actually pulled it out against a pretty good Cincy team, and their last included fending off the Chargers by 4.   If you give them four points in each loss, they tie or win four more games.  Not unlike Carolina in the past, they're a flawed team that still plays close.

Young QB Ryan Tannehill isn't sophomore slumping (but, hey, Cam Newton didn't actually slump so your mileage may vary).  He's improving in most stats, already eclipsing for TDs from last year and 3% higher in completions.  They'll take it - on the downside, he's also thrown 11 interceptions for the year and he's taken 6 more sacks than all of last year.    So you can tell that the game isn't necessarily too big for him, but the ceiling doesn't seem high.  He doesn't seem to be the playmaker you might want out of a first round QB.  

And they haven't done an exceptional job getting guys around him.  Mike Wallace is a longball guy who did a good job working with a massive-armed QB, but he doesn't have that here, and he doesn't have an offense that demands it. In the event the ball does get forced downfield, Wallace has only come down with 3 of 15 past 20 yards. 

 Brian Haneline is a scrappy undertalented route runner who leads Wallace in all categories.  
TE Charles Clay leads the team in TDs over both; neither are special.  Rishard Matthews appears to have overtaken Brandon Gibson in the slot; Matthews had 11 rec for 120 yards and two scores last week.  Philbin does like some form of the spread, downfield Mike McCarthy version of the offense, but is more conservative in how it's done.  He keeps the packaged plays, for most a college concept until recently but something that's happened in Green Bay for a few years, to a minimum. 

There's a requisite playaction component, but Lamar Miller hasn't been special.  They're 14th in yards per attempt, some of which is a good draw game, but Miller has been losing ground to backup Daniel Thomas.  Thomas has a lower yards/attempt on the year but more scores, and his size has been something the team has enjoyed (235 versus the 210 Miller).  Miller also struggles in pass protection, and neither is a WCO style pass threat. 

Their OL, famously, is a bit of a mess right now.  The scandal with Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin makes for a right side OL that doesn't exist; Mike Pouncey might not play at C.   They picked up Bryant McKinnie to play LT mid-season because their various plans to replace Jake Long had failed, to middling results.   Former Falcon Tyson Clabo is playing RT, and he's actually had a solid past few weeks.  This is a unit that doesn't give up a ton of pressure, but 31% of their pressure becomes a sack, which is worst in the league. 

To face that, Carolina goes in without some of its heart and soul with Charles Johnson; they still have three good tackles and Greg Hardy, but they'll have to be creative to remain dominating.  Tannehill, at times, does well against the blitz because it provides easier reads, but if you confuse the back end, he can struggle more.  It leaves Carolina in a bit of a quandary defensively - not enough at end this game to provide consistent pressure, not enough in the back end to bring the house, and their most dangerous weapon to cover (Wallace) isn't any more likely to get the ball than their other random players. 

But, in this phase, Carolina seems destined to win out. This isn't as good an offense as the last couple of weeks, and Johnson or not, I don't think Miami can be more physical here than Carolina. 

On the other side, it's time to re-establish the rush.  Ron Rivera was harping on this, and it's a good week to do so.  27th against the run, Miami rarely brings a safety up anyway; their front isn't terrible and features a few good players on the DL, but Cameron Wake is their only higher level threat.  Inside him, Randy Starks and Paul Soliai have been decent, but RE Olivier Vernon does struggle a good bit with contain and staying at home; the Dolphins give up yards all over the line.   They're a unit built to stop the pass, so they give up a lot of run yards and keep the big play in front of them religiously.  3rd overall pick Dion Jordan emphasizes that - he rarely plays because he hasn't shown he can stop the run at all.  Jordan only has one sack, so it's not like he's playing the pass with a lot of ability right now either. 

They don't get a lot of backup - Phillip Wheeler is a contain style Tampa 2 ILB, and he's susceptible to the draw since he keys quickly to the run.   Reshad Jones makes plays in his half of the back of the field; SS Chris Clemons less so, but again he's expected to cover the deepest man and not  as much on the run.   To attack this duo and the usual coverage runs within Cam Newton's best throws, where he can exploit with corner routes and posts downfield at around 18 yards. 

 They also, since they key to the pass, lack some awareness on the screen; as usual, the later the better.  They're not a great team for the packaged plays since they tend toward pass most of the time, but it's easy enough to just run on them. 

It's week two of the Ted Ginn homecoming parade - after visiting San Francisco two weeks ago, he goes to his drafted team in Miami this week - and that might amp that matchup a bit.  Otherwise, attacking the 5-man underneath zone upfield looks like a matter of spreading out a bit and letting Newton find the open guy with combination route concepts.

Ginn also gets a break that Miami recently ranked last in's special teams rankings; that's where they picked to not be average.  Ginn should easily take advantage there.

This is a winnable game for Carolina.  It's an easier opponent than the last two.  But they'll have to deal without Johnson, keep the intensity up, and establish the run to really do their best work.  Still, in the event it becomes a close game or a battle of field position, I don't see any worries there, if they bring their A-game.
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