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2018 Opponent Scouting Report: Dolphins offense is so injured, I have no idea who is actually playing.

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New York Jets v Miami Dolphins Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images


On November 25, 2018 the Indianapolis Colts will host the Miami Dolphins. In this week twelve match-up, I sought to understand our opponent and get a better idea of how they may look to attack our surging Colts.

The last five match-ups between these two teams have resulted in a 4-1 record for the Colts. The last coming in 2015 when Matt Hasselbeck and Charlie Whitehurst led us to an 18-12 victory. This Thanksgiving we should all feel very thankful that we will never see Hasselbeck and Whitehurst in a Colts uniform again, but hopefully the result this Sunday is the same as it was in 2015.

Let’s figure out what we can expect in week twelve.

Offensive Scheme

This week we’re going to be taking a look at the scheme of Miami Dolphins head coach Adam Gase. Instead of reinventing the wheel I found this article by Dan Durkin that breaks down a lot of what Gase’s offense looks to do. At the time this article was written Gase was coming off of his time with Peyton Manning and the Broncos and heading into his role as offensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears, where he spent a year before taking over the lead role in Miami. From the article:

Looking through the Broncos’ game tape over the last two seasons affords a prism into Gase’s many influences. From West Coast spacing concepts (likely learned during his time with Steve Mariucci) to Air Coryell vertical concepts (likely learned during his time with Mike Martz) to the route combinations and principles that have defined Manning’s career — mesh, levels, verticals – they’re all in Gase’s playbook.

What stands out about Gase is his ability to create ideal matchups for his best weapons, the self-scouting measures he takes to introduce wrinkles into base concepts and his willingness to reinvent the offense out of necessity.

Let’s step inside the film room to take a closer look at Gase’s offense using All-22 coaches’ film.

Gase’s advanced scouting of opponents to understand which personnel they’ll counter with and how they’ll align to formations is one of his biggest assets.

The first example comes from the Broncos-49ers game. The Broncos come out in 11 personnel in a 3-by-2 empty set. The 49ers counter with nickel personnel in a 3-3-5 alignment with a single-high safety in Cover-1 (man-free) coverage.

By lining up wide receiver Demaryius Thomas as the No. 3 receiver (in football terms, defenses consider the receiver closest to the sidelines as the No. 1 in a formation) on the three-wide side of the field, Gase gets the exact look he anticipated. The 49ers line up linebacker Michael Wilhoite across from Thomas, which is a decided advantage for the Broncos that Manning spots immediately. Tight end Julius Thomas (the No. 2 wide receiver) runs a vertical clear-out to occupy the free safety. On the two-receiver side, Emmanuel Sanders runs a vertical route to clear out the cornerback, while Wes Welker runs a quick hitch.

Not only does Demaryius Thomas beat Wilhoite off the snap, but the route combination creates a huge void in the intermediate area on the right side of the defense for him to settle in on an over route for an easy pitch-and-catch 32-yard completion.

Tight end Julius Thomas (the No. 2 wide receiver) runs a vertical clear-out to occupy the free safety. On the two-receiver side, Emmanuel Sanders runs a vertical route to clear out the cornerback, while Wes Welker runs a quick hitch.

Not only does Demaryius Thomas beat Wilhoite off the snap, but the route combination creates a huge void in the intermediate area on the right side of the defense for him to settle in on an over route for an easy pitch-and-catch 32-yard completion.

Durkin goes on to discuss the Broncos screen game and Gase’s ability to manipulate defenses by understanding his own tendencies. The bottom line is that Adam Gase uses an Erhardt-Perkins offense (and yes I’m posting this link again because this story is really good and everyone should read it) and has a background with many offensive systems. He looks to exploit match-ups and defensive tendency.

Gase has been successful in his career doing these things. He has also found success using 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end and three receivers) more than 70% of the time. When Gase’s offense was at its best he had an elite quarterback and a very good receiving corps. It shouldn’t come as a shock that a coach with great players found success, the question then becomes, does Adam Gase have the pieces to make his system work?


The big question leading up to this game will surround who is starting for the Dolphins at the games most important position. Brock Osweiler has started the past five games while Ryan Tannehill has been recovering from a capsule injury in his throwing shoulder. Overall the Dolphins are 5-5 but have lost 5 of their last 7. Neither quarterback has been stellar. Osweiler has his moments but eventually he always proves he just isn’t very good. Tannehill played better than Osweiler but after sitting out for six weeks, if he plays, I don’t believe he will provide any real upgrade over his backup.

This play encapsulates the Dolphins during the Osweiler era. The team has done a lot right to get inside the red zone. Granted there are a lot of ways to get inside your opponents 20, but no matter what it’s always a positive. So the team has done this positive thing, you believe you’re about to score points. Instead Osweiler fumbles a good snap and then unathletically stumbles toward the ball without recovering it, turning it over in the process.

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2018 Dolphins.

To be fair to Osweiler, his receiver probably should have felt this zone and sat down in it, regardless they weren’t on the same page and Osweiler missed.

There were a lot of receivers in one small area of the field. And this ball never should have been thrown.

The problem with Brock Osweiler is plays like this one. He does a good job finding the open receiver and throws a catchable ball. This play (and plays like it) is why Brock Osweiler is on an NFL roster. He doesn’t suck all the time. Don’t get me wrong, it’s most of the time, but he has flashes of competence amongst all of the well below average play he puts on tape.

If Ryan Tannehill does make his first start in six weeks, he may provide an upgrade over Osweiler. At the same time, he may not. Head coach Adam Gase announced that Tannehill is now able to throw the ball 50 yards. 50 yards is a long way if you’re a regular guy between the ages of 30 and 120 years old and you don’t play in the NFL. 50 yards isn’t some threshold for NFL passers. 50 yards isn’t impressive.

Even if 50 yards were impressive for an NFL quarterback, he still hasn’t played football in almost two months in the middle of the season, There will be some rust, he won’t be on the same page with his receivers in the same way he would have been had he been playing the whole time and he will have to do all of that while taking hits.

It really doesn’t matter who starts at quarterback on Sunday, neither guy is going to move the needle much in either direction.

Running Back:

Ryan Grigson’s best free agent signing as general manager of the Indianapolis Colts is debatable. He had more misses than hits and he had a couple hits, but my favorite signing by far was Frank Gore.

Gore’s contract was up in Indianapolis and while we don’t really know if Chris Ballard offered another contract, we don’t know if Gore wanted to be in Indy, we just don’t know how it went but the way it worked out seems like it has been the best thing for all parties. Gore has 528 yards and a 4.5 yard per carry average.

Frank Gore is playing at a high level, and his backup, Kenyan Drake, has looked very good as well.

Colts fans should be familiar with runs like this from Gore. Amazing vision, good balance, an otherworldly understanding of leverage — a little bit of luck — and the next thing you know Frank Gore has gone for 30 yards.

The Dolphins don’t have a lot of examples of textbook run blocking. A lot of the time you see plays like this, some of the line isn’t able to work to the second level and the guy who was able to get to the linebackers was completely ineffective. Drake really doesn’t have anywhere to go with this ball but is able to fall forward and get a yard out of the play.

This is a really interesting play design and I suppose it’s possible the outside linebacker was intentionally left unblocked, but I don’t think it’s a play I would call. Either way Drake does a good job making him miss and picking up a nice gain on the play.

Frank Gore isn’t making that guy miss and Kenyan Drake isn’t reading blocks and setting up defenders like Frank Gore. Both guys are valuable pieces and have managed to put up respectable numbers in the ground game. If the Dolphins hope to challenge offensively they will need to find ways to use both backs effectively.

Pass Catchers:

The Miami Dolphins wide receivers should just hold their team meetings in the training room. Danny Amendola and Kenyan Drake lead the team with 61 and 49 targets respectively. After those two Albert Wilson and Jakeem Grant have 35 and 34 targets and both men are on injured reserve. Kenny Stills has been targeted 33 times and is healthy.

Next on the list with 26 targets is former first round pick DeVante Parker. Parker has spent much of the season in Adam Gase’s doghouse but the lack of healthy options should propel Parker into action. That is to say, if he is actually able to play after suffering an AC joint injury in the Dolphins week ten game.

Rookie tight end Mike Gesicki has been targeted 24 times but looking at the roster and it sure looks like Gase will need to figure out ways to use the talented rookie more. Beyond these 4 (possibly 5) receiving targets the Dolphins don’t have much talent and you can argue the level of talent of the healthy targets as well.

In short this receiver group is in shambles due to injury.

This is an easy throw and catch to Kenny Stills. The Dolphins get man coverage and Stills runs a crossing route designed to beat man. Stills does a very good job getting up field and picking up yards after the catch which is what I wanted to focus on. Stills is talented but I didn’t see a lot of highly impressive plays, though that could change with an increased role and possibly better QB play.

This is DeVante Parker. He runs more or less the same route that Stills ran on the play above. Obviously the ‘Phins will look to clear the middle of the field out and run drag routes across the field when they get into man coverage. This was a pretty simple throw and catch but I do expect to see similar concepts from these receivers on Sunday.

If the Dolphins pass catchers were completely healthy I would feel a lot worse about how the Colts matched up. With that said there is still a lot of talent. Kenny Stills, DeVante Parker and Danny Amendola would all upgrade the Colts receiver corps. Outside of T.Y. Hilton that isn’t that high of a bar, but it’s true. Fortunately for the Colts these guys can’t throw the ball to themselves and even if they could Albert Wilson and Jakeem Grant were a big part of this offense that won’t be out there on Sunday.

Offensive Line:

If starting left tackle Laremy Tunsil is able to play after missing their game in week 10 the Dolphins will probably feel pretty good about that position. Likewise if starting right tackle Ja’Wuan James is able to play the Phins probably feel pretty good about that position too. Both starting tackles are above average to good tackles. The Dolphins lucked into Tunsil after a video leaked the morning of the 2016 NFL draft, that showed the talented big man using a gas-mask bong. If you’re not familiar with that device or the video it isn’t hard to find, but the Dolphins decided taking a player as talented as Tunsil was worth the risk and took him with the 13th pick. Despite being the single most bizarre thing I’ve ever seen while watching the NFL draft, their risk has paid off.

Outside of those two tackles, starting left guard Ted Larsen also missed their week 10 contest and is also questionable for Sunday, but unlike those two tackles Larsen isn’t that good. Center Travis Swanson, completely healthy, also not great. Jesse Davis, also healthy but worse than Swanson.

Even if all five guys were completely healthy, the middle of this offensive line is a serious weakness. So far Tyquan Lewis has looked really good and he’ll have a real chance to shine against this Dolphins interior offensive line.

I’m only showing one clip of the offensive line, but it’s something I noticed several times on tape, the Dolphins offensive line has consistently had trouble with pressure in the A-gap. Kenyan Drake’s blocking effort was only slightly better than what mine would have been (and I would have at least used my hands and probably held if I made contact at all). But this was a consistent issue.

I expect to see the Colts defense challenge the inside of this line with stunts and loops and blitzes of all kinds. It would shock me if they took a different approach in this one.

What to Expect from the Colts Defense:

This is a tough week to predict what to expect outside of challenging the interior offensive line. If the Colts are unable to generate pressure, there’s a very real chance they make Brock Oswiller look much better than he is. If they can generate pressure, this game should play out almost exactly the same way the Titans game did.

One of these possibilities would be extremely frustrating to watch, the other means I’ll actually get to enjoy a few hours of my weekend. I’m really hoping for the latter.