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Bird Watching: Dolphins At Eagles – Letdown

9 min read
Bird Watching Philadelphia Eagles

Philadelphia Eagles vs. Miami Dolphins – 2015 Week 10

Dolphins 20 – Eagles 19

Letdown. It’s an ugly word that describes both a poor performance and the feeling it leaves with fans. When you follow the rhythms of an NFL season, it is undeniable that letdowns do happen. After the Eagles’ huge overtime win in Dallas, the ‘L’ word has been in the air all week. Certainly an effective start could quiet that quickly.

The Dolphins are in the midst of an odd season. They fired Joe Philbin after a sloppy and embarrassing start to the season. Since Dan Campbell assumed the reigns they are 2-2, two blowout wins and two blowout losses. Their run defense is among the most porous in the league. With the Eagles racking up more than 150 yards on the ground in four consecutive games, there was a match-up to be exploited.

1st Quarter
Eyes rolled all over the Delaware Valley as Ryan Tannehill converted an early 3rd-and-long, hitting Lamar Miller who had beaten Brandon Graham on the near sideline for 35 yards. The Dolphins deviated from our established script when their drive was stopped on a sack, as Graham, Fletcher Cox and Vinny Curry converged on Tannehill. They did take a 3-0 lead on Andrew Franks’ 42-yard field goal.

Then, the most amazing thing happened …

The offense actually opened the game with an energized and effective drive. It started with a short pass to a wide open Brent Celek that the veteran tight end took downfield for 60 yards. Two plays later, Sam Bradford rolled right, bought himself a few seconds and found Josh Huff in the back of the endzone for a touchdown.

After a solid opening kick return, Damien Williams mishandled the next kick-off and burst out of the end zone after recovering it. He realized his error too late and found himself buried at the 1-yard-line. On the first play after a False Start, Walter Thurmond rocketed, untouched around the corner and into the back of Tannehill. The ball came loose and fluttered out of the back of the end zone for a Safety.

Getting the ball back after the safety, the Eagles continued to roll. Solid runs by DeMarco Murray and 20-yard catches by Celek and Jordan Matthews led to a 1-yard TD run by Ryan Mathews. The score was 16-3, the Dolphins were reeling, the Birds were steamrolling and the home crowd at The Linc was electrified.

When the Eagles D chased Miami’s O off the field after five plays, Bradford and Co. had a chance to continue the rampage and bury their guests.

As the 1st Quarter clock wound down, they methodically continued to move the ball. Conveniently, they would switch sides at midfield.

Eagles 16, Dolphins 3

2nd Quarter
On the second play of the quarter, Celek struck again. This time, the veteran TE went for 40 yards and a first down at the Dolphins’ 12. Poised to go for the kill shot, Bradford was instead sacked on the next play by Ndamukong Suh. The 8-yard loss took the offense out of its rhythm and led to a 32-yard field goal attempt by Caleb Sturgis. His missed right.

Are you telling me there isn’t another place-kicking option out there somewhere? At this point I would prefer to have whatever is left of Jan Stenerud kicking for this team.

The Suh sack and the missed FG allowed Miami to get a shoulder off of the mat. With that new life, the Dolphins unveiled rookie RB Jay Ajayi from Boise State. Ajayi popped for runs of 20 and 24 on either side of a 9-yard rush by Miller. The Eagles managed to slow them down enough to hold them to another Franks field goal. But, this game had clearly gone from a ‘blowout waiting to happen’ to a tenuous 10-point lead.

A promising drive was stunted when a 21-yard pass to rookie Nelson Agholor was followed closely by a Holding penalty on Jason Kelce. As though the suddenly sputtering offense wasn’t bad enough, Donnie Jones punt was blocked and Miami took over at the 12-yard-line.

It took only two plays for Tannehill to find Miller on a 12-yard catch and run TD along the near sideline.

This is where talented, well coached teams show their mettle. Instead, on 3rd-and-3 Bradford was sacked and fumbled the football. Miami DE Olivier Vernon scooped it up and was immediately hit by Dennis Kelly. The ball came loose again and Bradford recovered it at the 3. The officiating crew showed a pathetic, if not laughable, lack of understanding of the rule book as they spent the next several minutes trying to figure out what had just happened. To further complicate matters, Allen Barbre had been called for Holding.

Eventually, it was decided that the Birds would keep the ball. However, since Vernon was ruled to have not had possession before the ball was stripped from him by Kelly, it would be 4th down instead of a new set of downs.

Jones had to punt from the end zone and managed to get it out near midfield, where punt returner Jarvis Landry was called for Taunting after he was run out of bounds. So, the Dolphins didn’t have quite the field position they should have had.

The teams traded a few failed drives and headed up the tunnel.

Eagles 16, Dolphins 13

3rd Quarter
The third quarter was a pastiche of mediocrity, penalties and punts. There were only two truly remarkable plays. First, on 2nd-and-8 with just under six minutes remaining, Chris McCain blew past an overmatched Kelly and hammered Bradford as he was looking to throw downfield. The Eagles managed to recover the fumble, but Bradford suffered both a concussion and an AC shoulder strain like the one he suffered in college. The other play of note was a 43-yard catch-and-run by Rishard Matthews that set up Miami with a 1st-and-Goal on the final play of the quarter.

Eagles 16, Dolphins 13

4th Quarter
One thing this Eagles team does with staggering regularity is jump offside in goal-to-go situations. Even worse, the players that are encroaching are usually lined up over the ball. This time, it was Cox and the ball was moved to the 4-yard-line. On the next play, Connor Barwin charged around the corner and, for the second time in the game, deflected Tannehill’s pass. It appeared to hit Barwin’s helmet and ricochet upward and toward the end zone. Somehow, Malcolm Jenkins managed to not just bear hug Landry and drag him to the ground, legal once the ball was touched by Barwin. No, he just flailed his arms as he cluelessly searched for the ball. Where was the ball, you ask? It was gently falling, as if guided by fate itself, into the waiting arms of Landry for the go-ahead score.

For the third time this season, the Birds had watched a 4th Quarter lead vanish. At least, in this instance, there was plenty of time remaining. Mark Sanchez seemed comfortable throwing the ball and driving the tempo of the offense. But, he looked completely lost when it came to exchanging the ball with the backs in the running game. Such as it was, he was able to march his troops into scoring position and hit Miles Austin in the back of the end zone from 26 yards out. But, the veteran receiver failed to get his second foot to the ground and the play was rightly ruled incomplete. Undaunted, just two plays later, Sanchez took advantage of a tired and confused Miami defense for a 22-yard TD to Zach Ertz. However, in his haste to get the ball snapped while the 12 (yes, 12) Dolphin defenders were scrambling, he did not allow Riley Cooper to set himself and the TD was wiped off the board by the offsetting penalties. Sturgis managed to convert a 37-yard kick to make it 20-19.

The defense dutifully chased Miami off the field in three plays. But, the issues between Sanchez and the backs scuttled the offense. Jones punt pinned Miami at their own 2 and, again, the defense did their job.

With a short field and 6:27 remaining, Sanchez completed passes to Murray, Ertz and Murray again to set up a 1st-and-goal at the 8-yard-line. Two plays later, he threw to a crossing Austin at the goal line. Again the veteran receiver failed to make a play. In fact, he seemed to make no effort at all as the ball spiraled by him and into the hands of Reshad Jones in the end zone. Philly caught a break when Jones jubilantly ran the ball out of the end zone and was guided out of bounds at the 4-yard-line.

Another solid showing by the D would have provided a stay of execution for the offense and another shot on a short field. However, the Dolphins found just enough offense to cobble together a nearly three minute drive that ended with one last punt that put the Eagles at their own 29 with less than two minutes left.

Why does every ‘last chance’… ‘many yards in a few seconds’ kind of drive seem to start with a 4-yard dump-off to the sideline?!?!?! Ugh … anyway. Sproles caught passes for five and ten yards. Then, Austin and Sanchez weren’t on the same page, Murray dropped a pass in the flat with room to run in front of him and a throw that was within Ertz’ reach ticked off his hands. Finally, on 4th-and-10, Sanchez chose to throw short of the sticks to Matthews. He was immediately swarmed by defenders and stopped short to end the drive.

Tannehill knelt twice to finish things.

Final: Dolphins 20, Eagles 19

As has previously been noted here at Bird Watching, this team was not going to win it all this year. Yes, they’re in a weak division. Yes, if they get to the playoffs ‘anything can happen’. But, it is games like this that expose them as a work in progress. Not only does Kelly need to continue to add more talent, he needs to find the heart of this team. Unfortunately, it takes time for a group of players to mesh together and still more time for them to galvanize. This town lacks the requisite patience for such realities, though. The voices coming through my radio are calling for sweeping reform and are already wishing Chip Kelly well in his return to the NCAA.

Here at Bird Watching, we’re just annoyed. Well, not ‘annoyed’ … what’s that other term? PISSED OFF. It is absolutely infuriating and unacceptable that you let that team come back from that hole in your building. What allowed it to happen? A lack of game-ready O-Line depth, a failure to find an adequate replacement for your injured pro-bowl kicker, a confounding inability to consistently move the ball on the ground against a heretofore impotent run defense and the undeniable lack of an outside threat at receiver. It has become fashionable to parse Kelly into ‘the GM’ and ‘the Coach’. But, it’s not as though they are at constant loggerheads due to a conflicting ideologies. The fact is, ‘they’ aren’t finished. Whether or not they should be allowed to finish is becoming an increasingly difficult argument to ignore.

So, in the long-term we may be preaching patience, while in the short term we decry all that still needs to be fixed.

Looking Ahead
All of you that have been clamoring for Mark Sanchez will have at least two games, if not more, to learn the true meaning of ‘be careful what you wish for’. Tampa Bay and Detroit are just as beatable as the Dolphins were. If our Birds can’t cobble together 60 minutes of professional football … this could be a lot worse than just a letdown.

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