It was the worst implosion in a season of them for the 0-6 Miami Dolphins. Up 15-7 with 25 seconds left in last Sunday's game against the Denver Broncos, Miami's defense crashed and burned on two consecutive plays — first allowing a 3-yard touchdown pass from Tim Tebow(notes) to Broncos tight end Daniel Fells(notes), and then allowing Tebow to waltz right in for the tying two-point conversion. After those little disasters, a Broncos overtime win seemed a fait accompli, and that's what happened when kicker Matt Prater(notes) booted a 52-yard field goal with 7:29 left in the extra frame.
One day after the 18-15 loss, several Dolphins defensive linemen were all too eager to throw defensive coordinator Mike Nolan under the bus for the personnel used on the two-point conversion. Most goal-line packages have more linemen than defensive backs, especially against a quarterback in Tebow who is more likely to run than pass in the red zone. But Nolan had nickel defenses on each play, even after the Dolphins called a timeout to ensure the correct personnel before the conversion.
"We had the wrong personnel on the field, to be honest," defensive lineman Tony McDaniel told Brian Biggane of the Palm Beach Post. "They spread us out and ran it up the middle. I always knew [Tebow] was going to try to run the ball when they got in the red zone. He just found a way, made a play and they got a win."
McDaniel played nose tackle on the play. End Kendall Langford(notes) agreed that the defense didn't match the play expected. McDaniel, tackle Paul Soliai(notes) and end Randy Starks(notes) were off the field, and all three players are in the team's general run-stopping package.
"We weren't in a goal-line package," Langford said. "Everybody at home watching knew what the call was. That was obvious."
If that's the problem, you can multiply it by two, because the Dolphins didn't just run a nickel defense on only the two-point conversion, they also ran it on the touchdown from Tebow to Fells.
Here are both plays:
On the touchdown, it seems that the Dolphins ran a coverage that had the defensive backs running with the receivers by assignment instead of handing off into zones. Because of that, the crossing route run by Eddie Royal(notes) (19) took cornerback Jimmy Wilson(notes) (27) out of any possibility to take flat responsibility. In layman's terms, Wilson vacating the defensive left side (whether on purpose or by accident) allowed Fells to be as wide open as he's ever been in his entire life. Add in the blitz by linebacker Karlos Dansby(notes) (58), and there was nobody on the defensive left side. If you're going to blitz, how about a zone blitz that puts Dansby on assignment with the tight end?
On the two-point conversion, it looks like the Broncos sandbagged the Dolphins after the Dolphins called a timeout — there was a lot of talk on the Denver sidelines about what to do on the play for what was eventually a quarterback keeper. In my opinion, Miami let Denver dictate the action by falling prey to the idea that Tebow would throw in that position, despite the fact that he'd been throwing horribly most of the day. Miami's defense went wide, and when cornerback Will Allen (25) blitzed and overpursued, that left no run fit and a huge gap for Tebow to walk right into the end zone.
There were some weird assignments on the two plays, but I would have to agree with McDaniel and Langford. I'm not in favor of players ripping coaches in public or vice versa, but it doesn't seem that Nolan put his defense in the best position to succeed.
Dave Hyde of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel provides a list of questionable calls he's seen by Nolan this season:
A. Karlos Dansby wasn't on the field for Cleveland's game-winning touchdown drive. Dansby is considered your best and most versatile linebacker.
C. The two-point conversion defense on the field against Denver. The left side of the Dolphins line consisted of nose tackle Tony McDaniel(notes), end Wake and, behind him, safety Yeremiah Bell(notes).
Now, before we throw Nolan out the window completely, it's very important to remember that he's been a great defensive coordinator in the past. We questioned why he and the Broncos couldn't come to terms after Nolan engineered one of the biggest single-season performance turnarounds in recent NFL history for Denver in 2009. But that version of Nolan makes the current version all the more curious. He's probably got better talent now than he did in Denver, and everything's falling apart. Why is that so?
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