Joe Philbin’s decision-making under fire again after disappointing Dolphins’ loss
Though the team has made some strides on the field, and their two victories were well deserved, time and again it seems they’ve been hampered by Philbin’s decisions. New offensive coordinator Bill Lazor’s play calling has also been called into question, but Philbin, who had no prior head coaching experience in the NFL before he was hired by the Dolphins, has found himself having to offer reasons behind several blunders committed this season.
Philbin’s game management has been called into question before, and it has yielded late touchdowns that lost games last season as well, such as when Cam Newton led the Carolina Panthers down the field to score a game-winning touchdown with 43 seconds left in Week 12.
In their home loss to the Buffalo Bills in Week 3 this year, the team was down early but still decided to run the ball in the two-minute drill before halftime to run down the clock. Philbin later chose to abandon what had been a successful running game to call for passes in the fourth quarter that went nowhere and derailed any chance of the team getting back into the game.
Many times the team finds itself stuck between not being aggressive enough on offense when necessary and too conservative with clock management, while also choosing to go against the grain when it comes to overall game management. Many decisions have come to blow up in their face.
Against the Packers it was no different.
One such example was when the Dolphins were down 7-3 in the first quarter but elected to go for the touchdown on fourth down just one yard away from the end zone. Instead of kicking a field goal, the team went with a handoff to running back Knowshon Moreno, who was turned back by the Packers.
"That’s something that we decided early on," Philbin said about the play. "We talked about it as a staff, and I told Bill (Lazor) if it’s fourth-and-1 or inside the 1, we’re going to go for it, period. No hesitation. There wasn’t any thought process. That was early in the first half. If it was in the second half, we might have done something differently. Again, that was something that was discussed in the staff meeting. Nobody was surprised."
Those three lost points could have been the difference in a tight game.
"[We] didn’t capitalize being down inside the 5, which is a must," Tannehill said. "You play a good team, any team in the NFL, and you get down inside the 5, we expect to score. We didn’t get that done, and we just didn’t make enough plays in the first half in general."
To make matters worse, it appeared that Philbin and defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle exchanged heated words when Philbin elected to punt just before the half.
Even with all the first-half struggles, Tannehill and the offense bounced back and had the victory within their grasp. But the final drives from both teams in the fourth quarter — and how Philbin managed the team — is what sealed the Dolphins’ fate.
Ahead by four points and with the ball at the 20-yard line with four minutes left, the Dolphins made the strange decision to start the drive by throwing an incomplete pass to Mike Wallace that instead ate only three seconds off the clock. In a shotgun formation for the next play, Tannehill completed a pass to Jarvis Landry for 11 yards and a first down. The Packers then were called for a penalty two plays later to give the Dolphins a first down at their own 35-yard line and a little more than three minutes to go. In that time, the Packers used up their final two timeouts but Tannehill’s incomplete pass to Charles Clay on second down in essence gave the Packers extra time they would use to their advantage later.
Philbin said throwing instead of running was all part of the gameplan.
"I told [Lazor] that we were going to do whatever we have to do to get a first down, whatever the call," he said. "I told them to be aggressive. [Coyle] knew that, Bill knew that, Darren (Rizzi, special teams coordinator) knew, everyone in the department knew that, and that’s what we decided to do. I didn’t think we protected the quarterback very well on those plays. We have to do a much better job."
A punt closed the drive, in which they chose to run the ball only three times in six plays, and cut the clock in half just ahead of the two-minute warning. Even though the offense failed to kill the clock, a defensive stop would have sealed the victory.
Asking the defense to withstand Aaron Rodgers and his talented receivers is one thing, but Philbin helped out his former team plenty by calling two timeouts during their final drive, one of them prior to a fourth-down play. The Dolphins also looked lost when Rodgers faked an intentional spike and threw it instead. Packers tight end Andrew Quarless took advantage of single coverage from linebacker Philip Wheeler when he caught the game-winning touchdown.
"I felt like it was 50 percent bad coverage and 50 percent bad call," Wheeler said. "Rodgers is a really good quarterback, and he figured it out."
Defensive end Cameron Wake didn’t have an opinion on the Dolphins calling for a timeout with the Packers facing fourth down.
"To be honest with you, I don’t know," he said. "I don’t care if there’s no time on it or it is. It’s fourth and 10. You got to have it. It doesn’t matter. You pin your ears back. This is the end. Empty the tank. They converted, and we had to start over. No matter the situation, timeout or not, you still got to get the job done."
But the job wasn’t done and plenty will be pointing the finger at Philbin for the loss. The quarterback controversy two weeks ago he created was a distraction in the locker room. When his decisions are impacting his team’s chances on the field for the worse and leading to losses, it looks even worse for Philbin’s chances of leading this team to the playoffs.