You don’t beat Tom Brady with pussyfoot, tight-to-the-vest football, and so Joe Philbin kept his offense out there late on fourth-and-five near midfield, and the Miami quarterback shot it out to his far right, to his power guy, to big Charlie Clay. It was Clay’s only catch of the day, and the tight end cut and dipped inside then powered out a first down that rescued Miami’s game-winning drive.
But he had some help. Afterward all you heard was talk about Clay’s muscle and heroics in that anxious moment, yet the play only works if a key trio of Dolphins get it blocked correctly. If not, the three go down simply as pall bearers to another blah Miami season.
So, for the record, here are the people responsible for springing Clay free and keeping a tenuous Miami playoff push very much alive.
Block No. 1 – rookie tight end Dion Sims. Sims played way bulkier in college, pushing 300, in strict road grader duty for the Michigan State run game. But the Dolphins slimmed him down and this time placed him in the right slot position, inside of Clay. Sims now operates at 6-4, 266, and Clay goes 6-3, 255, and the Miami mindset was to launch 500 pounds of brahma bull at the slender Patriot defensive backs out there in coverage.
250-pounders lined out wide. In today’s passing game it’s a commonplace setup, but brother, in prior eras it was something straight out of science fiction. Tight ends were supposed to support the tackles on run calls and catch little curls and hitches and seams here and there.
Then San Diego coach Don Coryell started experimenting with prized tight end, 6’5”, 250-lb Kellen Winslow, shifting him around and creating all sorts of disastrous matchups for defenses. At first Winslow, a magnificent, agile athlete, took a lot of heat for it. What a bully. Pick on somebody your own size, why don’t ya? And thus the question around pockets of the league was, of all things, his toughness.
“I don’t feel any remorse for lining up wide,” was Winslow’s retort. “I know I’m resented for it. Defensive backs calls me a sissy and say, ‘Get back in there where you belong.’ But it’s like telling Earl Campbell he can’t run because he’s too big.”
Sims’ target on this play was 195-pound cornerback Ryan Logan, another rookie, who pressing Clay in tight man-to-man coverage. The Dolphins were worried it might be the 6’1” Aqib Taliq on Clay instead. Talib…a collision corner, a roughhouse corner who could easily blow up the play. But it was indeed Logan, and Sims bolted outside and picked him off as the ball came searing through the air.
Block No. 2 – right tackle Tyson Clabo. A long-time starter in Atlanta, he signed with Miami but was benched earlier in the year as sackers poured in clean from his side. The Ravens and Bills games had been particularly embarrassing for him.
“I understand that there are probably four right tackles in the NFL that can block Elvis Dumervil and Mario Williams one-one-one,” Clabo told ESPN after his demotion. “At this point in my career it doesn’t appear that I’m one of them.”
But when Jonathan Martin went AWOL back in November it became Clabo’s job again, and his job on this fourth-and-five was to wipe out New England’s deft safetyman, Devin McCourdy.
McCourdy lurked 10 yards off the line officially watching for anything mid-range or downfield that the Dolphins might try. But he sensed the action would be coming in-close and crept toward the line as the ball was snapped. That made Clabo’s assignment easier. Clabo ignored defensive end Rob Ninkowski’s rush and raced toward McCourdy, neutralizing him with a simple rollblock. As a result, however, Ryan Tannehill’s throw wasn’t so simple.
“[Ninkowski] came to my face with his hands up,” Tannehill said, “so I had to throw it around him, which brought [Clay] backwards.”
“The throw wasn’t perfect,” Mike Sherman, Miami’s offensive coordinator, said in his postgame Q&A. “We were releasing Clabo off the edge to block outside, so the rush came right on Tannehill. Where he put the ball was the only place he could put the ball. It wasn’t in a perfect spot.”
Block No. 3 – center Mike Pouncey. Assignment – tangle up Dane Fletcher, the clean-up man, the sole Patriot linebacker on the field. Which he did, delivering a two-handed blast up high on Fletcher and delaying him just enough for Clay to do his thing. Fletcher arrived late and could only manage a diving whiff at Clay’s ankles.
So there it is, the anatomy of a fourth-and-five. It was a call Sherman had doubts about, how it “very easily could have been a dead play,” if things didn’t go right. But they did.
Clay is awarded credit…on the stat sheet…in the TV highlight chatter. But some anonymous blockers provided some serious assistance.
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They have a touchy situation on their hands in New York, where Tom Coughlin, the 68-year old coach, has watched the last two Giants seasons fall apart on him. Coughlin delivered big championships in ’07 and ‘11 – as many titles as the revered Parcells – but Sunday’s 23-0 smackdown by Seattle featured 25 yards of New York rushing and five Eli Manning intercepts and the loss put the club at a shabby 5-9 in the standings.
Coughlin’s deal expires at the end of next season and I can’t imagine the Giants not letting him to finish it out. Then comes the touchy part. If they choose not to renew his deal for 2015+ then it’s a cold/ bitter/insulting end to a classy coach who’s delivered six winning seasons in ten years.
But if they offer an extension then the club is taking a major chance that the man still has command of the team, that the 2012-13 seasons were flukes and that the players aren’t looking at him like some grandpa with a whistle.
Knowing Coughlin he doesn’t want to leave the club in worse condition that he found it. Every coach think’s he has one more rebuild in him, at least the ones who aren’t totally burned out from the game…eyes glazed…sleep deprived…tortured by the job.
Coughlin won’t burn out. He’d coach forever if the Lord would allow it. The will is there. And lifers like him don’t quit, anyway…to become fishing guides or greeters or to open up bakeries. Football is all they know. It’s all they want.
Add it all up and, yes, the Giants are in a very touchy situation.
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More from Patriots-Dolphins, this heartfelt prayer to CBS: Please stop with the camera cuts to the high-fiving Kraft clan after every New England touchdown. Game after game, year after year. It’s minor-league. It’s boring. Nobody cares.
Columnist Tom Danyluk joins FootballNation after nine years with Pro Football Weekly. He is an award-winning freelance writer and author of “The Super ‘70s,” which you can find on Amazon.com. Questions or comments? Please contact Tom at Danyluk1@yahoo.com.