Aug 24, 2013; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman takes the field before a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Biggest Issue Facing Miami - Mike Sherman

 

There comes a time in life for all of us where many of the things we love or enjoy either pass us by, or we pass them by.  We’ve all had to give up dreams we haven’t reached, or things that we once had the ability to do because we could no longer do those things that make us special at them due to lost abilities or other reasons.  We’ve all grown up watching players that we loved, some of whom walked away from the game on their own terms, some who it’s broken our hearts to watch crumble into a shadow of their former selves when they couldn’t walk away.  On occasion, we let our hearts get in the way, convincing ourselves that those players still “have it,” and make excuses for why they aren’t able to showcase the talent that they “still have.”  It’s a tough and heartbreaking thing for anyone involved.

Fans have been calling for the head of Jeff Ireland, Joe Philbin, the Offensive Line, Stephen Ross – essentially anyone and everyone in the organization.  Deservedly so or not, we’re unable to get a clear read on exactly what they can or can’t accomplish – predominantly due to the impact that one man is having on this organization.  This man’s conduct, despite his best intentions, is detrimental to the team in all facets of the game.  I have no doubt he would never intend to harm the organization, and if he realized just how much he is costing the team I believe he might just have the integrity to walk away from the game.  I fear that he might try to change it, only to unintentionally bumble it further.  The man has a great deal of character, and I believe he is a good man who loves the game, but one solid fact remains true:

Mike Sherman must Go, Go-Go.

This is not a recommendation to be cruel to the man, I think given the positives he has brought throughout his career in football as well as his friendship and mentorship to both Joe Philbin and Ryan Tannehill mandate that it be done respectfully.  The fact remains it needs to occur, and it needs to occur immediately following the Jets game this weekend – win or lose.  There are few easy tasks for an NFL coach, and being the one to force retirement upon a friend and mentor would possibly be the hardest thing that Philbin has to do in his NFL career.  It must be done, and it must be Philbin who does it.  Having Stephen Ross or Jeff Ireland remove Sherman would not send the right message, and would undermine Philbin as the coach with his staff, the players and the fans.  It can occur behind the scenes, giving Mike Sherman the opportunity to save face in the public eye by retiring or resigning.  He can have the opportunity to retain his pride in doing so, that would be the ideal scenario here.

Below, we’ll examine five key points in the evidence that illustrates the fact that the game has indeed passed him by.  Make no mistake, every sign points towards the fact that he must go.  We won’t dive deeply into the play calling, as the playcalling could be immeasurably more effective if it the offense wasn’t shooting itself in some very basic and fundamental aspects of the game regardless of what play is called.  Mike Sherman’s fundamental designs for this offense are putting every player on the team in the maximum position to fail, when his primary job is to put them in position to succeed.  Nearly every issue that the Dolphins currently have on offense stems from the issues with the design that Sherman has put in place.  Nearly every success is a testament to the talent level of the players on this team, and their success in the adversity of the situation that they’ve been put in by Sherman.  

There are simply too many fundamental aspects of the game that he no longer sees.  How can we be sure that he no longer sees them?  He hasn’t done a thing about them.  Football is a very cerebral game, when you peel back the layers of brutality involved, and all evidence points towards Sherman no longer having the ability to keep pace with the cerebral aspects of the game.

1. Before the Snap – Cadence & 2. Before the Snap – Timing:

The biggest and most glaring examples of  the game passing Sherman by should illustrate exactly how far this game has passed Sherman by.  The man no longer understands the sheer criticality of the actions leading up to the snap on any given play.  We’ll dive into each of the two aspects separately, but both aspects are aspects of the game designed to tip the advantage to the offense.  The direct quote below is a great one that was found while researching this article that captures the basic and simplistic essence of the snap.  It is a page dedicated simply to the snap for both American and Canadian football, and it holds true at all levels of competition.

The team entitled to snap the ball will usually know in advance the moment when the snap is to occur as one of their players calls out signals, which usually include a loud sound such as “hut” voiced one or more times, the number of which they know; they are thus said to know the “snap count.”  Therefore, they have considerable advantage over their opponents.  The snapper is not, however, allowed to make motions simulating part of the snap action; therefore their opponents can be confident the first motion of the ball or the snapper’s hands is the beginning of the snap.

The snap count is decided in the huddle, usually expressed as “…on (number) .” being the final words spoken by the quarterback after calling the play but before the huddle breaks and the players go to the line of scrimmage.  The snap count allows offensive players to have a small head start.  The defensive players want to predict the snap, and build up speed such that they cross the line of scrimmage exactly as the play begins, so as to increase their chances of getting a tackle for loss or a sack.  By varying the snap count, a quarterback forces the defensive players to react to the movement of the offensive players or risk being called for an offsides or encroachment penalty.

This is a basic truth in football at any level, from the youth flag football level up through any professional or amateur level.  This has not changed in my lifetime, and teams get better at finding new and creative ways to mask the play calls, snap counts formations and their intentions. 

Miami, this season, has done little to mask either the timing of their snap or the cadence called.  Not only are they removing advantages from the offense with how this is being handled, they are simultaneously tipping the advantage to the opponents defense in two respects.  Football has been described as a game of inches and a game of seconds.  Forcing the defense to read the play allows for deception, and it slows them down. 

For those who are unaware, the Dolphins utilize a fairly simple cadence that is called before every snap.  A cadence ending with a singular “GO!” followed by the snap is a pass play, while “GO-GO!” followed by the snap is a running play.  Until Nate Garner’s first week at center, they inevitably would snap it with the same timing on seemingly every play following “GO!”/”GO-GO!” and that is unacceptable given the advantage that this tips in the defense’s favor

Slowing down the defense and forcing them to read the play has numerous effects, including but not limited to:

The Effect on the Passing Game:

It sets up big plays in the passing game by increasing the frequency of putting players who misread the play out of position, where a second lost on a mis-read allows receivers to get open.  It gives the quarterback more time by slowing the defensive line and any blitzers, giving the receivers more time to get open on top of giving the quarterback further time to go through his reads.  This effect can be measured the most via sacks allowed and turnovers by the quarterback.

The Effect on the Running Game:

Big plays can be set up in the running game as it increases the size of gaps and lanes if the defensive front seven isn’t moving forward as a unit due to having to respect the pass on a running play.  If you watch the Tampa game, as an example, you could see the effects of knowing it was a running play by the entire front seven nearly being on an “avalanche blitz” while only having to read the play with a cursory glance.  This stat shows up at its greatest level in minimized rushing totals by teams that provide an all out commitment to the play call of “GO!”/”GO-GO!” signifying that it is a running play.

The Effect on the Offensive Line:

The snap count and knowing the play call gives the offensive line a head start that might be a fraction of a second, but that fraction of a second gives them a chance to get into the body a defender, getting leverage on them and slowing them an immeasurable amount that is unique to each defensive player.  Quite frankly, this advantage may single-handedly be the biggest aspect responsible for such terrible line play at times.  The times that the team hasn’t been able to establish the run because they are 5-6 players trying to block 7-8 players who are all getting a huge jump-start and all of whom know that they now need to key the running back with a small chance of it being a reverse.  In the passing game, those fractions of a second have an exponential effect on the defensive line’s ability to beat a defender. 

Using the Dolphins roster as an example of the above, picture Cameron Wake’s ability to blow past many tackles in the league while being held honest in having to read the play and account for both the pass and the run.  This is simply a guesstimate, but accounting for that during a play may take 0.25 seconds.  Having to read the snap count and player movement, instead of knowing the snap count, may slow him another 0.25 seconds.  The other player being able to get the position on him that they do as he gets off the ball?  We’ll conservatively say in Wake’s case that’s another 0.25 – 0.5 seconds.  Look at a typical pass play where they account for him, and that’s an estimated 0.75- 1.0 seconds on a given play that are accounted for in reading the play and positioning of the blocker.  Now picture Wake not having to slow to read the play for pass or run, not having to deal with a blocker having as much position on him and knowing the exact second that they were going to snap the ball.  Not everyone is a freak of nature like Wake, but he is an extreme example. 

Another example can be illustrated by a play many individuals have seen, but using Troy Polamalu.  Many fans have seen Polamalu guess the snap count as he rushes to the line, going airborne right as the ball is snapped on a nearly unblockable play if timed properly.  This could become the bitter reality if a team or player has the stones to call it, and Miami faces Pittsburgh in two weeks.

The effect on the “deception play” game is even greater.  If Miami is running either a draw play, teams will get an extra head start towards stopping the run.  For play action, you’re simply giving the opponent an additional half second to get to the quarterback for a sack.  The likelihood of teams biting on the playaction fake with players in their secondary is greatly decreased, leaving the receivers covered where they may not have been otherwise.

In essence, you’re minimizing any chance your offense has at success before even accounting for the lack of imaginative play calling.  Sherman not seeing this as an issue, or the fundamental aspect of this is galling and signifies that his tenure needs to end immediately before it poisons the team further.

3. Utilization of Talent:

The usage and utilization of Mike Wallace is a glaring example of how Mike Sherman has no idea how to utilize a rare and unique talent, putting him in a minimal position to succeed.  There are two glaring areas utilizing Wallace that clearly illustrate this fact, both of which have been examined in great deal in other articles.  Mike Wallace has the potential to be one of the most lethal threats in the NFL to score at any moment in any game if utilized properly.

The first issue is the fact that Wallace is being lined up nearly exclusively in the same location every play, as previously examined in an article here on PhinPhanatic.com.  Defenses already know where he will be and have their top corner and safety help over the top designed to have the greatest impact in decreasing his odds at a big play, and a cursory glance to ensure he is located where he always is confirms that is what they will need to do with their coverage responsibilities to best account for him. 

The second article appeared on Bleacher Report, and is entitled “Breaking Down Miami Dolphins Quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s Deep Ball.”  While Bleacher Report may have an intriguing history, the article by Chris Kouffman was spot on in breaking down the play design and calls by Sherman and their impact on the timing of the play when throwing to Mike Wallace.  In particular the comparison in the breakdown of the week 11 play-action pass play design between Miami and a nearly identical play being run by Denver.  In essence, many of the play calls are designed to simply take too long to develop based around the fakes, the quarterback’s drop designed in the play and when there is a hitch step built into plays.  Given Mike Wallace’s pure speed, the play design called maximizes the opportunity that the ball will be underthrown based upon any quarterbacks limitations.

4. The Offensive Adjustments:

The only thing that has proven worse than when the offense makes adjustements this season is when they don’t make adjustments.  Seemingly able to impose their will in the passing game, Miami has proven they will adjust and go to the run.  Seemingly able to impose their will in the running game?  They switch to the pass.  Whatever appears to be working, they get away from.  When the defense adjusts to what is working to take it away, there is an inability to “adjust to the opponent’s adjustments” and this is a glaring example of failure from our offense.   Like the other items in this list, it is purely inexcusable and unfortunately it is borderline amateur.

5. The Impact on the Defense:

Rarely does the offensive coordinator of an NFL team have a tremendous effect on a defense in the way that Sherman has.  The galling ineffectiveness of his playcalling, as well as the items listed above, has a propensity to lead to the defense being on the field an alarming amount either via elevated turnover numbers or “three and out” series.  This wears down a defense by keeping them on the field, has a huge mental effect on them if it comes after a pivotal stop and leads to a need to run a greater amount of substitution packages to keep the teams best defensive players fresh. 

Overall Impact:

As referenced above, Sherman’s overall impact on the team is a detrimental one at this point.  Not only does it greatly reduce the teams amount of points per game, but also “gasses” the Dolphins defense leading to higher point totals for opposing teams as the game wears on.  It leads to turnovers, and it leads to sacks, keeping opposing teams in games that Miami should be able to close out while also keeping Miami from being able to close out those same games.  He’s tipping every advantage in his arsenal and giving that advantage to opposing teams instead, and he needs to go.  A defining moment for Philbin as the head coach will be whether or not he can let his mentor go.

The Aftermath:

If Joe Philbin does cut ties with Mike Sherman as his offensive coordinator and signal caller, where do the Dolphins turn?  The answer may already be within the coaching staff.  Wide Receivers coach Ken O’Keefe has a very impressive pedigree, knows the playbook and has been enjoyed immediate success as both a head coach (at Allegheny State from 1990-1997 and at Fordham in 1998) and as an offensive coordinator (at Iowa from 1999-2011) at the college level.  O’Keefe knows the player’s skill sets on this team, and given the opportunity could potentially produce a much more potent offense with a few small tweaks to the glaring issues outlined above.  We’ll explore his candidacy further in a follow-up article.  He has a solid relationship with Philbin (who was O’Keefe’s offensive line coach from 1999-2002).  If Philbin can’t recognize the issues outlined above, and can’t separate his friend and mentor from the problem he represents, O’Keefe and his 83-17-1 record as a head coach at the collegiate level and propensity for top tier offenses may even be a potentially solid candidate to make the giant leap from Wide Receivers coach to Head Coach at the NFL level. 

Miami might see an immediate and drastic impact on both sides of the ball from it.  No matter what happens this Sunday, Mike Sherman MUST go.

Fins up!

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Tags: Joe Philbin Ken O'Keefe Miami Dolphins MIke Sherman

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