The Miami Dolphins are hoping that Adam Gase can make the team into a playoff contender. The road to get there is not a matter of one big leap, but rather, a series of small steps.
Jarvis Landry is a phenomenal talent. Of that, there is no doubt. Even so, one of the first changes rookie head coach Adam Gase will likely impose on the Miami Dolphins’ offense is a move away from a disturbing over-reliance on their third-year star.
You can read step one here.
This notion may, at first, leave many fans scratching their heads. After all, in his brief time in Miami, Landry has been the team’s most consistent player, pulling down an astonishing 194 receptions, the most for any two-year player in league history. Furthermore, he is a Pro Bowler, best known for his exceptional hands, yet possessing the kind of elusiveness that can turn short catches into a long touchdowns, as occurred against Houston last season, when he weaved his way through the entire Texan’s defense for a 50 yard score. In fact, Landry is a genuine game changer. His game-winning 69 yard punt return for a TD in the fourth quarter of the 2015 season opener against the Washington Redskins proved as much.
The Dolphins certainly value Landry. So much so that, as the following chart shows, despite a bevy of talented receivers, he was far-and-away the teams #1 target last season.
This has led many, including former four-time Pro Bowler Chad Johnson, to believe that, rather than playing a reduced role in the Dolphins’ attack, Landry is actually in for an even bigger season in 2016.
As such, on the surface, at least, it would seem hard to argue that, in Landry, the Dolphins could possibly have too much of a good thing. Nevertheless, that is, in all likelihood, precisely how Gase and his new coaching staff view the situation.
Now, that isn’t to say the new head coach doesn’t appreciate the intensity and play-making skills Landry brings to the Dolphins’ offense.
“I’m real excited to get around Jarvis, just the way that he plays and seeing what he does on film,” said Gase, via the team’s official site. “I like being around guys like that, that have a chip on their shoulder.”
“I like being around guys like that, that have a chip on their shoulder.”
Even so, there are several reasons why Gase will probably limit the standout’s contributions in 2016. The most obvious being that the team’s staggering over-dependence on Landry limited his effectiveness by allowing defenses to focus almost exclusively on him. So, while he caught far more passes than any other player on the roster, he was actually one of the team’s least efficient receivers. In fact, as the chart below underscores, of the 13 Dolphins who caught passes last season, Landry’s average numbers were middle-of-the-pack, at best. He ranked 8th in yards per reception, tied for 7th in yards per target, and finished last in both touchdowns to receptions and touchdowns to targets ratios.
|Player||Yds per Rec||Yds per Tgts||Rec to TD Ratio||Tgts to TD Ratio|
The downsides of being predictable was a lesson Gase learned when, despite having the highest scoring offense in the history of the NFL, his Denver Broncos were trounced 43-8 by Seattle in Super Bowl XLVIII.
“The lesson we learned from the Super Bowl is that we must be a multiple personality on offense. If it means using different personnel groups, that we might have to slow down, and we would have to run more to get to the next step, then we’d do it. It was no fun to go to that game (in New Jersey) and lose,” Gase told Woody Paige of the Denver Post. “But each game is a totally unique situation, and you have to be prepared for the unknown.”
Being predictable is a mistake Gase has no plans of repeating in Miami. particularly given the array of receivers on the Dolphins roster.
"“It’s just going to be about putting all of the pieces together. How are we going to use these guys and make sure that we are using them to their strengths?” said Gase at the NFL owners meeting in March. “The thing that we are going to have to do a great job of is that we don’t want to try to force guys to do something that they aren’t good at.”"
With that in mind, it is important to consider what type of receivers were the primary weapons in Gase’s previous offenses in Denver and with the Chicago Bears, schemes that relied heavily on spreading defenses by pushing the ball vertically downfield.
Denver’s Demaryius Thomas, 6’3” and 229lbs, and Chicago’s Alshon Jeffery, 6’4” and 230lbs, are both deep threats with 33” arms and the leaping ability to elevate themselves above defensive backs to bring down the ball, no matter how far downfield. More importantly, over the span of their carriers, Thomas has averaged 14.5 yards per catch, while Jeffery has averaged 14.8.
And there is the rub. At 5’11”, 205lbs and with 31’ ¾” arms, Landry is much more of a possession receiver, as evidenced by the 9.9 yards per reception he has averaged over his two seasons in the NFL. Devante Parker, on the other hand, fits Gase’s preferred prototype to a tee. Not only is he the right size at 6’3”, 209lbs and with 33’ ¼” arms, but his leaping ability exceeds that of either Thomas or Jeffery. In fact, he may even be a more dangerous deep threat, averaging a stellar 19.0 yards per catch in his rookie season.
Naturally, upon reviewing Gase’s preferred receiver traits, as well as his attack-minded philosophy, one could assume that Parker, and not Landry, will be Tannehill’s primary weapon in 2016, but the changes don’t stop there. Gase has also expressed a desire to get Kenny Stills, who has averaged an impressive 16.5 yards per catch over his three seasons in the NFL, more involved in Miami’s game plan.
“I’ve always liked his skill set. I liked him coming out (of college). I’m excited to see what we can do to get him rolling in this offense,” Gase insisted at the owners meeting. “That’s why I feel really good about the group that we have, the skill guys.”
If Parker and Still’s near-perfect fit into Gase’s scheme isn’t convincing enough, there is one final statistic that almost surely foreshadows a reduced role for Landry. When comparing the #1 and #2 receivers in Gase’s past offensive schemes, they averaged a difference of 21 targets between them. While last season, the gulf between Landry and Tannehill’s second favorite pass catcher, Jordan Cameron, was a staggering 95 targets. Needless to say, it is difficult to envision Gase, whom, as we have already seen, prides himself on a balanced, yet unpredictable attack, allowing that trend to continue, particularly with the addition of talented rookies Leonte Carroo and Jakeem Grant.
Still, one shouldn’t feel bad for Landry. The truth is, a reduced role will likely benefit his game in a variety of ways. For starters, the emergence of more dangerous deep threats on Miami’s roster should spread defenses, affording him more space to do what he does best, turn short catches into big plays. Additionally, not being asked to carry such a heavy load may well extend his career by a year or two, particularly since his game doesn’t rely on blazing speed. Yet, the biggest beneficiaries of a reduce role for Landry will likely be the Dolphins themselves because a more aggressive and diverse attack may well translate into longer possessions, taking pressure off the defense, and more points on the board.