Miami Dolphins won’t keep winning unless coaching gets better
They have talented players, but game planning must improve
As a former player, I have grown frustrated with the oversimplification of football analysis. So this season, I will be watching the coaches’ video and analyzing the impact of all 22 players on the field and the coaches’ game plan.
After a 1-4 start to the season, the Miami Dolphins have reeled off three wins in a row. That’s enough for me to take notice and wonder if the Dolphins have become a legitimate contender in the AFC this season.
There’s no shortage of talented players on the Dolphins’ roster, but they have a first-year head coach in Adam Gase. So, my inclination is to dismiss the poor start because the new coach had to experience some growing pains. But now he and the players have figured it out and will be a problem for the rest of the AFC.
But that’s just a hunch, and those of you who are regular readers of All 22 give no credence to hunches. You want hard analysis, not feelings. So, let’s go.
Though Ryan Tannehill is in his fifth season with the Dolphins, the football world has yet to come to a consensus on the most basic question. Is he good? Unfortunately, after watching the New York Jets game, I can’t answer that question. But I can tell you that, based on the playcalling, Gase doesn’t trust him. All the passing plays were simple reads and called for Tannehill to throw a lot of short outside routes. It looked like the game plan they’d use if they had to play with a backup quarterback. Even when trailing in the fourth quarter, Gase didn’t take the training wheels off.
I assume Tannehill has given Gase reason to be cautious, but there is a better way. Yes, the Dolphins won, but it was because of the players and in spite of the coaches. I wouldn’t bet on the Dolphins breaking the spell of mediocrity that’s plagued them for the past several years.
Run it again
The strength of the offense during the Dolphins’ recent winning streak has been Jay Ajayi and the running game. And it seems like they only have one running play in the playbook. The outside zone. It was stuffed often against the Jets’ stingy run defense, but there were a few times when the Dolphins created big plays in the running game.
At 5:04 in the first quarter, Ajayi scored a 20-yard touchdown run on a zone play. On that play, with a little help from left tackle Branden Albert and the left guard Laremy Tunsil, he was able to reach block the Jets’ Leonard Williams, one of the best defensive tackles in the league. Center Mike Pouncey showed impressive athleticism by getting to the second level and blocking linebacker Julian Stanford. And Ajayi read the blocking well and decisively hit the hole.
Creative but not Strategic
Gase and the Dolphins coaches installed a few creative gadget plays for the red zone. During their second offensive drive, the Dolphins ran a fake reverse screen pass to Jarvis Landry, which set up a short touchdown. Later they even ran a trick play double pass that was unsuccessful. Those plays were nice accessories to the game plan, but the trick to giving defenses trouble is not inventive one-off plays, but packages of plays. A package is a few plays that attack the same player or defensive set in different ways. Effective packages have plays that build on each other and set up the next play. A simple example of a package the Dolphins could have used would have been a counter play off the outside zone play they ran often. The defenders were running hard to the play side, misdirection may have been effective. They did package their zone play with a play-action pass. But they made the mistake that many an offensive guru makes. Their play-action pass attacked the wrong player. After running the ball well a couple of times, the linebackers and the strong safety began to get more aggressive toward run action, then they ran a play-action deep post to the outside receiver. All teams do it, but it’s dumb because the cornerback and the free safety have no run responsibilities, so the run action does not cause them to be out of position.
But if they were to run a corner route with the tight end or the fullback, or a deep over route with the slot receiver, they would be creating a dilemma for the linebackers and the strong safety. They could continue to build complementary plays off of those plays and end up with a simple, yet formidable package of plays.
play to your strengths
The Dolphins’ defensive coaches don’t seem any better than the offense. Given the fact that most of their defensive talent is concentrated on their defensive line and their cornerbacks have been struggling, they should be playing a lot more Cover 2. That would take pressure off of the corners. It would make the defense more vulnerable to the run, but they have shown the ability to stop the run without the extra defender in the box. On Sunday, the Dolphins D got three sacks and two interceptions when rushing four or fewer.
They could also play Cover 2 with a safety in the box and have the cornerback play the deep half. That would make them tougher against the run and confuse the defense.
Blitz if you gonna blitz
The coaches did another disservice to the cornerbacks by running ineffective blitzes. The worst one took place at 4:04 in the first quarter. The Dolphins rushed five guys and the Jets had six in protection, so there was no pressure on quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who completed a deep comeback route for a first down. With the back staying in to block, linebacker Kiko Alonso had no one to cover, so he sat in the hole looking for something to do. Alonso should be coached to add to the blitz if his coverage responsibility stays in to block. But I would suggest that Dolphins defensive coordinator Vance Joseph go a step further and call some max blitzes with Cover 0 in the back end. Cover 0 is man coverage with no middle safety. It sounds risky, because if a receiver catches the ball and breaks one tackle, the play will most likely go for a touchdown. So, it puts pressure on the cornerbacks, but in some ways it is easier on them. With a max blitz, the Dolphins would be guaranteed to have an unblocked player running untouched at the quarterback, so the quarterback would only have a second, maybe a second and a half, to get rid of the ball. There would not be enough time to run complex routes, just enough time to throw quick passes. The corners would need to be aggressive and sure tacklers, not shut cover corners.
Sadly for Dolphins fans, I don’t expect this winning streak to continue. But, on the bright side, the talent is there. Maybe after the coaches get one year under their belts and an offseason to improve, the Dolphins will be able to fulfill their potential.