Analysis: Miami’s Third-and-20 Call Lost Team the Game

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The Steelers barrel WR Diontae Johnson into the end zone, passed the coverage of Dolphins Xavien Howard (25) and Nik Needham (40) on a third-and-20 TD conversion. PC: Sun Sentinel

The Miami Dolphins just couldn’t hold on to their first double-digit lead of the season, an early 14-0 lead over the Pittsburgh Steelers, losing 27-14 on Monday Night Football in week eight.  

What killed the Dolphins (0-7) in the game were turnovers, and they proved costly as Miami turned the ball over four times compared to the Steelers’ (3-4) one. Earlier in the day, multiple reports named running back Kalen Ballage the starter ahead of the MNF matchup after the Dolphins shipped former starting RB Kenyan Drake to the Arizona Cardinals for a conditional sixth round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. 

However, right before the game, RB Mark Walton was named the starting back. Just three weeks ago, Walton sat third on Miami’s RB depth chart, but his work ethic in practice and games has quickly moved him to the lead-back role. The Dolphins surely looked like a RB by committee team, but although Walton didn’t keep pace with his previous two weeks performances in terms of yards, he essentially handled the duties himself.

The moment Miami lost momentum

For the first time this year, Miami jumped out to double-digit lead and it looked like the Dolphins, with savvy veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, were going to secure their first win of the season. However, after the Dolphins decided to misuse clock management instead of running out the clock going into the locker room with a 14-3 lead, they decided to call a passing play to tight end Nick O’Leary where the ball was tipped and picked off by former Dolphin Minkah Fitzpatrick. Instead of Miami poised to still go into half with a 14-3, after forcing a Pittsburgh third-and-20, defensive coordinator Patrick Graham called a mind-boggling play. 

Some reports said it to be the worst call one could make in the situation, loading the box and blitzing eight with a cover three, when there was just 17 seconds remaining. 

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Mason Rudolph dropped back and threw the ball to a wide open Diontae Johnson and the rest was history as he ran 45 yards to the end zone and Pittsburgh cut the lead to 14-10 at the half. That blunder of a call took any momentum Miami could’ve carried into the second half, and the Steelers went on to score 27 unanswered points and win the game.

Brian Flores…defended the call?

Head coach Brian Flores had some explaining to do to the media and after the game when asked about the call on the third-and-20.

“We felt like that was the right call in that situation. We blitzed them a few times and had some success and they got us on that one. It’s one play in the game. We’re still up at halftime. We’ve still got an opportunity to play well and win the game. Look, there are bad plays in the game; there are good plays in the game. You’ve got to be able to overcome the bad ones. We just need to play better (in the) second half,” Flores said. 

Not sure if that was the correct explanation, but we’ll see if adjustments are made in similar situations as the season progresses.

Going forward, Flores needs to keep the aggressiveness and the passion going, but be better at play calling; especially when you had your first double-digit lead of the year. Miami could’ve won that game in upset fashion after the way the Dolphins exploded in the first quarter with turnovers and stops. They had the Pittsburgh defensive line guessing and the offensive line clueless on what it needed to do. The momentum-shifting play to end the half flipped the way the teams were playing and Miami never grabbed hold of another handle in the contest.

– Carl Mahler is a Sports Contributor for Full Press Coverage Miami Dolphins. Like and follow on and Facebook.

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