Miami Dolphins CB Sean Smith is a crucial member of the young core that has driven the team to their unexpected performance thus far in 2012. He represents one of the better draft picks embattled GM Jeff Ireland has made in his tenure in Miami, and he has elevated his play to a new level after the pre-season trade of Vontae Davis. But while he has the physical tools to continue to develop into a top-flight cornerback, he put up one of the great stinkers in recent memory for a Dolphins player this past week against the Indianapolis Colts. Sean Smith is this week’s goat of the week.
Right from the first quarter, the Dolphins entire defensive backfield appeared to be playing very soft coverage on the Colts wideouts. While it is certainly understandable to play scared with future HOFer Reggie Wayne, playing off of the likes of Donnie Avery, T.Y. Hilton, and Lavon Brazill does not exactly make a lot of sense and played a significant role in Andrew Luck’s pre-Thanksgiving carving of the Dolphins turkey defense. However, Smith alone cannot be held responsible for the defensive game plan, which is likely the work of defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle. No, Smith is the goat this week due to two crucial second half plays where Smith made the type of rookie mistakes he had stopped making in recent weeks.
The first came late in the third quarter with the Colts driving down 17-13 and facing a 1st and 10 from the Miami 36-yard line. Smith lined up on Wayne to Luck’s right, but backpedaled off of Wayne after the receiver broke across the field on a deep post and was picked up by the deep safety. Smith headed further down field where Hilton, covered by CB Nolan Carroll, was running a deeper post into the end zone.
Meanwhile, in the pocket, Luck was being flushed to his left by the pass rush of DE Derrick Shelby. With his eyes firmly entrenched down field on the streaking Hilton, who had a half-step on Carroll, Luck likely did not see the retreating Smith who was in excellent position to cut off Hilton’s route. Luck made the throw deep down field, back to his right and it looked for all the world that Coyle had dialed up the perfect defense at the perfect time to generate the big play the Dolphins needed. Except there was one problem…
With Smith arriving before the ball, Luck’s pass was destined to be picked off, or at the least batted away. But Smith promptly suffered from the most common disease that has plagued members of the Dolphins back-7 all year (and in prior years as well). It’s called “My-Head-Can’t-Turn-itis,” and it results in seemingly well-blanketed receivers catching passes while members of the Dolphins defense look foolish when they don’t know where the ball is. Touchdown Colts, and the Dolphins would never recover the lead.
Unfortunately, a big reason the Dolphins would never recover the lead relates to Smith’s second major gaffe. With three minutes remaining in the 4th quarter, the Colts faced a 3rd and 4 up by 3 and trying to run out the clock. The Dolphins still had two timeouts, and so the Colts logically were going to be aggressive and attempt to pass for the first down. Luck dropped back to throw and was immediately pressured by a collapsing pocket.
Under pressure, Luck stepped up, hesitated, and attempted to make a short dump off over the middle to his check-down receiver. It was perhaps his worst throw of the day, sailing high and wide of the intended target. Smith, who was covering a receiver crossing the field behind Luck’s intended target, alertly broke off his man toward the ball, dove, and cleanly got his hands under the pass just inches before it hit the turf, appearing to make the pick. A brief moment of euphoria struck Dolphins fans everywhere as it seemed Smith had made up for his many misgivings earlier in the game by putting the Dolphins in field goal range to tie late in the game, and giving them a prime opportunity for the go ahead score.
But unfortunately for Smith, he promptly suffered a bout of the second most common disease plaguing Dolphins defenders; this one’s called “My Hands Are Allergic to the Ball.” While you cannot be exactly sure what was going through his mind, it appears that after making a clean catch of the pass and falling to the ground, Smith tried to transfer the ball from his two-handed catch into just his left hand so that he could return to his feet and try to advance the ball down field. In doing so, Smith essentially just threw the ball to the ground on his own. Since he had not completed a football move, the pass was correctly ruled incomplete despite the actual catching phase of the ball being seemingly complete, and gone with Smith’s greased hands was the Dolphins best chance of stealing a win in Indy that they seemingly didn’t deserve.
Smith’s two crucial errors, in addition to getting torched repeatedly throughout the game (particularly on another deep pass to Hilton earlier in the game, which fortuitously for Smith glanced off Hilton’s fingertips), were certainly a huge factor in the Dolphins disappointing performance in Indianapolis. But that being said, Smith’s role on this team moving forward cannot be understated. While Carroll has made dramatic steps forward this year, he is by no means ready to be a number 1 corner. Yes, the Dolphins could serve to point one of their five draft picks in the top 100 toward a CB in the 2013 draft, but to expect that player to become a top flight corner from day one is unrealistic.
So however frustrated Dolphins fans may be with Smith after this performance and his past inconsistencies, he is a crucial cog in the Dolphins core that will lead this team into the future. The bottom line is Smith’s performance has improved year to year and he still maintains the potential to be the top-flight corner his size and skill set indicates he can be. Re-signing the CB will be one of Ireland’s top priorities in the off-season, but I can safely bet Smith’s agent won’t be using this Colts game tape in the negotiation room. Smith is this week’s goat of the week.
- A great example of the improved coaching discussed last week in this space was exhibited on the final play of the game in Indianapolis this week. While many teams and coaches would have folded up the headset for the week, the Dolphins looked to find every opportunity they could to win in Indy. With the Colts facing a 3rd and 7 from their own 44-yard line with only 46 seconds on the clock and the Dolphins having no timeouts, it was obvious the Colts would not be putting the ball in the air. CBS announcers Kevin Harlan and Solomon Wilcots totally missed the call, as RB Vick Ballard’s game ending 19-yard run was actually not an amazingly impressive game-ending feat on his part.
Instead, Dolphins HC Joe Philbin and his staff realized that even if the D-Line were to blow the play up in the backfield and stop Ballard, the next snap would not come until there were three seconds or less on the game clock, a scenario under which the Colts could easily expire the clock without handing the pigskin back to Miami. Thus, Philbin ordered his team NOT to tackle Ballard on the play, but rather to hold him up and have the entire team try to strip the ball. Contrary to Harlan and Wilcots’ assertions at the end of the game, Ballard was not miraculously pushing a pile of 10 Dolphins down field to ice the game, but rather being held up by those same Dolphins as they swatted at the ball.
Did it work? No.
Does it dramatically add to the chances the team wins the game? No.
But what it does show is a coaching staff who pays attention. Who gets it. And that’s a huge piece of the puzzle.
- Ryan Tannehill is very good and has a bright future.
- Andrew Luck is amazing and has the ability to have a future perhaps unlike any other QB to enter the league in my lifetime. WOW.