The Miami Dolphins looked extremely good on the opening drive of this past Friday’s first pre-season game. Ryan Tannehill looked quicker, the offense had an increased tempo, receivers ran quick routes, and the offensive line played better than expected and still we don’t know anything about the offense. Consider that the Dolphins ran an offense with no scripted plays, no game planning of any kind, they walked onto the field and Bill Lazor called plays the players executed them.
O.k. so maybe the first few plays were scripted. You can picture Lazor standing in front of his first team offense saying “guys, we are going to run this, then this, and then this, and if you execute it properly we will run this, this, and this.” Probably not quite like that but you get the idea. The point is the Dolphins didn’t prep for this. They didn’t try to over think things, they simply let the players play.
So if the offense looked that good on one series that held no game planning what can we expect from the offense when they do? Hopefully a lot more of the same provided they don’t over think it.
Reviewing the first drive of the game has been fun and difficult given the network tape. On the first play the Dolphins who are missing Brian Hartline, Mike Wallace, and Charles Clay, line up with two receivers wide to the right and one wide to the left. The TE lines up off the line and shifts to overload the right side giving the Dolphins three receivers on the right with the TE still in the TE box but off the line. He can do this because the slot wide-receiver is covering the tackle by being on the line of scrimmage.
With Ryan Tannehill opening in the shotgun and Lamar Miller beside him, the Dolphins have opened with five viable receiving options. When the ball is put into play, the Atlanta Falcons are in man to man on the outside and have their safeties drawn up about five to ten yards behind the linebackers. As the right slot receiver breaks his route to the middle of the field the Falcons safety goes into coverage while the man covering the slot receiver breaks out to cover the flats for containment.
Lamar Miller runs a five yard hook route underneath the covering linebacker while the second safety back pedals to keep Miller in front of him. It’s an easy five yard completion.
On 2nd and five the Dolphins come to the line in the same formation forcing the Atlanta Falcons defenders to line up the same way. The Dolphins run similar routes with the exception that the receivers and tight end on the right are now blocking three yards off the line downfield. Lamar Miller takes the ball from Tannehill and cuts to the right. They gain three on the play.
On the third play of the game the Dolphins show a slightly different look. The tight end is lined up outside the tackle but two yards back off the ball. The slot receiver is moved inside on the line about two yards off the tackle. Prior to the snap the right outside receiver goes in motion while the slot receiver breaks upfield and to the outside pulling coverage. Tannehill looks to the right where coverage is one on one, the TE stays into block and Miller takes to the flats drawing inside linebacker coverage away from the middle.
With the safeties pulling back, Atlanta is in a nickel defense, the right outside receiver, Rishard Matthews, finds the middle of the field clear and sets up for a first down reception.
It should be noted that it has taken the Dolphins about 18 seconds from the end of the last play to get back to the huddle, break the huddle, and get back to the line of scrimmage to run their next play. Preaching tempo!
The Dolphins open their next formation still in shotgun with two wide to the right. The left side receiver is lined up more in the slot location and not wide, it’s Brandon Gibson. There is no outside receiver on the left as the Dolphins send Gibson in motion to the right. This is probably the least successful play of the series passing downs. Tannehill takes the snap fakes the hand-off to Miller going left and Gibson sets up for the wide-receiver screen. Tannehill gets the ball to Gibson quickly but runs into his own blocker two yards downfield. He bounces off and picks up another five yards for a seven yard gain. Had the outside receiver been out of his way it could have been more. Least successful mind you.
On the next play the Dolphins line up in a more traditional formation two back set Tannehill under center. Two wide receivers one on each side. The Dolphins put Dion Sims in motion from the tight end position who moves from the right to the left side. The play picks up one yard bringing up 3rd and 1. They come out in the three receiver set to the right and Tannehill in shotgun. In years past the Dolphins would either run from a standard I-back formation or empty backfield formation, instead they show pass 100% and hand the ball to Miller who gains five yards and a first down.
The success on that play came from Miller who hit the hole quickly behind the left tackle as the entire line blocked to the right leaving a huge wide hole on the left side where the outside linebacker had come up to meet Miller on the slant run.
The Dolphins on first down line up with two receivers on the left and pout Miller in motion to the right who they hit on a flats route that nets about two yards. Atlanta is struggling to follow the motion that the Dolphins are throwing at them. Imagine that Mike Sherman. The motion by Miller and the release of the right side tight end leaves Miller completely alone, the outside right receiver needed to hold his block longer but instead released after contact up field allowing the corner to make the stop.
On 2nd down the team lines up with trips left, a three receiver formation on the left side with one wide, one in the slot, and one about four yards West of the tackle. Miller is back with Tannehill in the shotgun. At the snap, the defense is forced to play the right corner in flat protection, no receivers there, and he is held in place by the tight end. The safety is forced to cover the inside slot receiver while the other corners pick up the middle slot and the outside right receiver.
The tight end on the right releases downfield taking the corner with him, Miller heads for the right side flat drawing the linebackers away from the left side. The safety allows the inside slot receiver to pass to deeper coverage and his route once the safety commits upfield is to break his route to the left behind coverage. Rishard Mathews takes catch wide-open and is tackled at the 7 yard line by the corner who was covering the deep route from the right. I would suspect that Lazor will see this on film and try to roll those outside routes shorter to takeaway any recovery opportunity. This is a very well designed play. With Atlanta in a zone coverage, the formation forced the Falcons to use a linebacker to cover the mid-zone where Matthews was able to easily get behind.
We will skip the next play and go to the touchdown play. The Dolphins open the formation with Miller and Tannehill in shotgun, the right slot receiver, Gibson goes in motion to the left, where there is a wide and slot receiver. Gibson reaches the tight end position line and reverses his field as the ball is snapped. Tannehill looks to the left which draws linebacker attention away from Gibson. Tannehill puts the ball into Lamar Miller’s gut and pulls it out, the line blocks down to the left as Miller takes the fake to the left. The outside linebacker draws in and Gibson is able to slide out to the right where he easily scores six points.
The Dolphins were far quicker to the line of scrimmage and ran most of their plays from the shotgun, the formations rarely changed and showcased three, four, and five receiver sets with motion. Minimal motion at that. It’s easy to look at this offense and wonder what they are hiding because frankly, this is nothing more than the base of their system. If this is the first layer of the cake, what the hell is the icing going to look like?