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2019 Opponent Scouting Report: Dolphins Offense fun fact: Jim Caldwell is on this coaching staff

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Miami Dolphins v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Overview

On November 10th, 2019 the Indianapolis Colts will host the Miami Dolphins. In this Week 10 match-up, I sought to understand our opponent and get a better idea of how they may “attack” our Colts.

The Colts and Dolphins share a long history together going back to the days of the old AFC East. It was a rivalry that was mostly one-sided as the Colts only managed two wins from 1977 to 1987 a span that saw 21 match-ups between the two franchises. Due to those lean years in Colts history, the Dolphins lead the all time series 47-27. However, our Colts have had the upper hand in more recent history, going 4-1 in the last decade. On paper, the Colts look to have the upper hand in this game as well, but the Dolphins players and coaches aren’t on the “tank for Tua” train, as they have improved as the season has gone on. Hopefully our Colts can help the ‘Phins front office in their quest to land the number one overall pick.

Let’s see what we can expect in week 10.


Offensive Scheme

When the Dolphins hired Brian Flores away from the New England Patriots, it was a little surprising. Maybe it was just me, but Bill Belichick’s former assistants don’t have a great track record once out on their own, and Flores wasn’t the guy I thought anyone would poach, anyway. Regardless, the Dolphins hired the former Patriots linebackers coach for their head position. With him, Flores brought along long time Patriots receivers coach, Chad O’Shea to become his offensive coordinator.

From the outside looking in, the O’Shea hiring makes a lot of sense even if Flores wasn’t the head coach. O’Shea spent a decade in New England watching the same Patriots system grow and develop and mature over the years. If there was a position coach in the league who was more qualified to get his first shot at calling plays in the NFL than O’Shea, I would be very surprised.

Naturally, O’Shea has brought with him New England’s famous Erhardt Perkins offensive system. I’ve written about it before, earlier in the season against the Texans, in fact. From that article:

The Erhardt-Perkins isn’t a system in the same way that the West Coast or Air Coryell offenses are, as those systems imply a style of passing the ball. Short throws stressing a defense horizontally or more vertical passing concepts stressing a defense vertically, are the aim of the West Coast offense and Air Coryell, respectively. Instead the Erhardt-Perkins can be used to accomplish either of those goals and is instead a highly efficient method for communicating passing concepts out of various formations. The article I liked above is a great dive into this topic but just to give you a quick understanding the Erhardt-Perkins exists to streamline ideas. In theory, your offensive coordinator could call the same passing concept out of an infinite number of formations and because the concept was the same, you don’t have to process any additional information, it’s technically the same play to an offensive player but is unpredictable to a defense.

Another resource that I will link each and every time I write about this offense is this article from Grantland. It’s a great piece and if you read my work very often, you’ve probably opened that same link ten times and I won’t apologize.

So the question then becomes, what does Chad O’Shea look to do with his highly versatile offensive system?

In short, O’Shea needs a quarterback who can quickly process what the defense is doing, and know where to go with the ball accordingly. His system requires good decisions more than a bunch of highly talented playmakers. As I understand the system, due to its nature the quarterback has to understand the passing concept that has been called (regardless of formation) and then know which route combination (there are usually routes on both sides of the field) is likely to produce an open pass catching option, work his progressions and find the open man. It sounds easy enough on paper but in real time it’s pretty difficult. You need a quarterback with a big brain to be able to pull it off. Maybe somebody that went to Harvard?

So if you were wondering why the Dolphins coaching staff is starting Fitz over Josh Rosen, it’s due to the fact that, while Rosen has the higher ceiling, if these coaches want to keep their jobs for more than one season, going to the Fitzmagic well is their best option.

Let’s get into some of the things I saw from this offense.

This is well-designed:

The Dolphins caught the Steelers in a tight spot. They sent the play side linebacker on a blitz while they were in man coverage that was designed to switch when the slot receiver went in motion. What resulted was linebacker Vince Williams (#98) struggling to catch up to the much faster Albert Wilson (#15) and it was an impossible task. My favorite part of this play is how Fitzpatrick instantly rolls out to the play side. There were no questions about where he was going with this throw and O’Shea didn’t want to rely on the offensive line to protect Fitz long enough to make the throw.

All-in-all, a well-designed play that forced a mismatch and limited risks that exist due to holes in their roster.

This play isn’t all that different

The Dolphins have targeted running backs a total of 66 times this season. They like to throw to their backs. With that said, Jets safety Jamal Adams bit up on the underneath route, leaving his zone empty for the easy completion in the end zone. This play is why quarterbacks are almost always taught to read the defense from high to low.

Most of the time the safety doesn’t blow this coverage, most of the time the smart throw is to the back in the flat, but every now and then you get six easy points.

Patriot like

So, I noted this before the Colts week 9 game against the Steelers, but it’s relevant this week, too, just in a different way. The best play callers can usually find a play or a matchup or some sort of concept that a defense struggles to defend. Once the play caller finds it, they figure out a way to keep exploiting it until the defense changes to stop it, and that’s exactly what Chad O’Shea did to the Steelers and Joe Haden. Haden couldn’t stop rookie receiver Preston Williams so O’Shea kept giving the rook short in-breaking routes and Fitz kept feeding him the ball.

This play and the one that follows are more about the nature of the offense under O’Shea. He is opportunistic and, based on what I’ve seen, smart. From a distance, it appears that he wants to take what a defense gives him, which shouldn't be confused with allowing a defense to dictate his play calls (See also: Matt Nagy)

Taking what’s there

I’m not sure if this was a called run or if the quarterback checked to it, but when the defense only has six men in the box, they’re daring you to run. If you notice the Jets middle linebacker, wearing number 58, his name is James Burgess and he was just blocked by the least athletic man in the NFL (yes, even counting kickers) but I’ll get to my problems with the Dolphins offensive line in a minute. Bottom line, if I’m Burgess, I’m terribly embarrassed by this play.

What does their run game look like?

The Dolphins’ ability to run the ball is actually a lot better than I expected. I have noticed that they will switch it up and run some zone from time to time, and between me and you, I hope they only call zone runs this Sunday, because they are terrible with outside zone schemes. With that said, they do a better job with gap schemes and they do a much, much better job running to the right. Again, I’ll cover that later.

I know what I said about running to the right, but this time the left had reinforcements.

I believe that O’Shea would like to run the ball more than they have so far this season. The Phins have passed the ball close to 64% of the time this season, but I believe that is due to circumstance. In the past three games the Dolphins were competitive (and should have beaten the Bills), and in those games O’Shea only called for passes 59% of the time, which isn’t a huge drop off. His team, though competitive, still spent large portions of two of those games trailing.

So hot right now

Everyone seems to be doing some version of a short yardage shovel pass, and I understand why. It’s just an option play that any quarterback (even not-so-athletic quarterbacks) can run, and it’s relatively safe in that he really shouldn’t be getting hit. O’Shea shows us his take on the play, pulling the backside guard while Allen Hurns runs (hides) behind him before catching the pass and squirting through for a nice gain.

Smart game management

We can criticize Frank Reich and his penchant for running on 2nd and long. I won’t, but I get it. On this play, the Dolphins wanted to try to set up a more manageable third down play. The fact that the Jets defenders were playing so far off made the combination of the tight end (Mike Gesicki) and slot receiver (Allen Hurns) perfect. Gesicki runs a post to the middle of the field while Hurns runs a slant in behind the tight end.

Even if the defender would have been slightly closer, he still would have had to fight through Gesicki on his route. This is the kind of play that Ryan Fitzpatrick gives you that a younger quarterback might not. It was a smart play but it sure isn’t exciting.


Quarterback:

At this point I don’t think I really need to tell you much about Ryan Fitzpatrick. His story has been told time and time again (some small wars have shorter Wikipedia articles). While the label “journeyman” absolutely applies, there’s something that’s inherently different about the nearly 37-year-old quarterback from Harvard.

Fitzpatrick, somehow, someway, goes on what seems like an annual run of exceptional play, book-ended by truly mediocre play. Despite this weird pattern, he continues to get contract after contract and fans from several teams no doubt have fond memories of that four-week stretch of “Fitzmagic” they all got to experience.

I wish I had some metric to show you the differences in play. I wish I could find the right film or point to a specific thing, I wish I could give you an answer to the question of “Why does he do that?” but the thing is there are a lot of NFL franchises that would love to understand why he does it, too. Instead, I’ll stick to what I can back up with film. We’ll start with some of the stuff that isn’t so great.

Arm strength

Fitzpatrick’s arm is strong enough to play quarterback in the NFL. Some guys throw the ball with velocity, and they make it look effortless. In contrast, on any play that requires the ball be thrown with any heat at all, Fitz looks as if he’s throwing a Hail Mary. The problem then becomes his elongated windup. This play demonstrates what happens when you have a slow release in the NFL: defensive backs are going to have time to react to your throws.

Another example

He drops the ball so far down to try to get more on it, it’s going to give defenders time to adjust.

What he does well

No, I’m not saying he’s a great running quarterback. Imagine you’re on a team that’s 0-5. It’s no secret that management has done everything they can to lose as many games as possible and they decided that YOU were one of 53 guys bad enough at football to make that happen. It would be pretty easy to get discouraged.

But then, you look at this old quarterback who has made more money than anyone but the owner. He knows he’s not taking this team to a super bowl (or even the playoffs), but with less than two minutes left in a game trailing by ten points, he is willing to give everything he can, sprint toward the end zone, lower his shoulder and run though a safety just so he can get the team in a position to maybe come back and win its first game of the year.

That’s what Ryan Fitzpatrick is best at.

Every time you see this guy on the field, it looks like he’s having the most fun he’s ever had and he’s giving everything he’s got for this bad football team. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want him anywhere near the starting quarterback position in Indianapolis, but I’ll be a Ryan Fitzpatrick fan from weeks 11 through 17.

More solid play

Here, he knew he had a mismatch and he exploited it. Most linebackers can’t run with Gesicki and there was no safety help over the top. If his arm were just a little better and he could have led him just a little, this is probably a touchdown.

Just enough

This ball got where it needed to go on time, but the Jets had an awful defense called. I wouldn’t trust Fitz to make this throw consistently against other coverage, just due to his limitations, but he made the right read here and fit this ball in.

This article is full of good news and bad news for Colts fans. Unfortunately, Fitzpatrick appears to be on the front end of one of his hot streaks. The good news is that not only did his general manager trade away all of his best teammates, but the guys that filled their spots, and did so at a high level, are either hurt or suspended as of this week.


Running Back:

Kenyan Drake was recently, mercifully, traded to the San Francisco 49ers. Mark Walton had taken over a full-time role at the position, but the league announced that he is facing a four game suspension for some substance (I’m not going to spend any time figuring out what the substance was, I just don’t care. He’s not playing this weekend). As a result, there is only one back on the roster who has a single carry this season and his name is Kalen Ballage.

Walton has shown promise

Mark Walton was a serious threat to have a good day against our Colts. Now, thanks to drugs, we don’t have to worry about him.

Ballage with the short yardage work

Kalen Ballage is 6’2” 230 pounds. He’s carried the ball 35 times for 70 yards and two touchdowns so far this season. If you weren’t a math major, I’ll help you out: those numbers aren’t great.

But...

That could change with an expanded role, and if the officials continue to ignore obvious holding calls from his line, there’s a chance Ballage could have a solid four-game run with Walton sitting at home.

The other two backs on the roster are Patrick Laird and Myles Gaskin. I assume we will see them at some point, lets just hope the Colts don’t allow any of their three backs to look good.


Pass Catchers:

Preston Williams came to the Dolphins as an undrafted rookie free agent. Preston Williams leads all Dolphins receivers with 32 receptions, 428 yards and three touchdowns. Preston Williams tore his ACL last Sunday while returning a punt.

So, if you thought that it couldn’t get worse for the Dolphins, you were wrong. Williams is a very good young receiver, and once he comes back he should produce for Tua Tagovailoa or Joe Burrow or whatever quarterback falls to them in the draft.

Attempting to fill the void left will be DeVante Parker, Mike Gesicki, Jakeem Grant, Albert Wilson and Allen Hurns.

If that list sounds underwhelming... well, it is. Parker is talented, but for his career he averages around 550 yards per season and has never caught more than four touchdowns. With that said, he’s currently on pace to shatter both of those numbers. Still, questions about the fifth year player from Louisville remain.

Gesicki will present the biggest problem for our Colts, and I imagine every team the Dolphins face moving forward. Gesicki is a good receiving tight end. To be completely honest I didn’t pay much attention to his ability as a blocker, but as a receiver he could be special.

Grant, Wilson and Hurns have combined for 35 catches, around 300 yards and two touchdowns. If they were one guy, I’d be okay with that production at this point in the season.

Gesicki

Gesicki, despite having a terrible name to try to spell, will be tough to stop. Normally I would say that someone like Quincy Wilson might be up to the task, maybe that’s more of a Khari Willis thing now, I’m not sure. I don’t believe a linebacker can cover him consistently but most defensive backs will struggle to defend his size. The Dolphins don’t have many other options I would be very surprised if they didn’t try to work the ball to Gesicki early and often.

Hurns

Like I said, Hurns hasn’t done much on the year but this sure is a cool play for the ol’ highlight reel. This was a great individual effort to get in the end zone.

Parker is talented

But I just want the officiating crew that didn’t throw a flag on this play. Can we set that up?


Offensive Line:

Here it is. The moment you’ve all been waiting for. This. Is. It.

The Dolphins have given up 32 sacks

I’ve watched this play a few dozen times and I can’t figure out what the protection scheme was. It looks like the center and left guard where trying to cross... but why? That doesn’t make sense, neither man would have had better leverage had they done that than had they not. I simply have no explanation for what is happening above, and that’s a common theme for at least the left side of this line.

Believe it or not the guy that missed this block is probably their best run blocker

See number 62? That’s Shaq Calhoun, he was an undrafted rookie out of Mississippi State. He missed this block and Mark Walton paid the price. With that said, Calhoun has consistently opened holes on the right side of the line. Unfortunately for him, his pass blocking was suspect and the Dolphins chose to start Keaton Sutherland over him in their week 9 win over the Jets.

Michael Deiter

This guy stinks.

And I knew it

Did you guys know there’s a draft guide? I hope Deiter has a long, successful career. I really do. I don’t want anyone to do poorly at all, unless it’s the week they play the Colts. Otherwise, I want everyone to be successful, but Deiter is bad and I couldn’t understand the love this guy got. It does get better. My evaluation of this guy was so different from what nearly everyone else was saying about the guy I included an explanation of my process in the introduction to the interior offensive line section of the 2019 Draft Guide:

If you’re the kind of guy (or girl) who trusts a grading service like PFF over someone like me, don’t tell us about it (we’ll all judge you) but just know that PFF has Deiter graded at a 38.6 overall. For context, Mark Glowinski is graded at 57.9 overall.

Yes I am quite aware those numbers mean nothing but there are some people who assign value to those meaningless, unquantifiable grades and I wanted to prove a point to those folks.

This line can open holes in the run game

Granted, this was supposed to go left. Instead, Shaq Calhoun (the guy they benched) worked with center Evan Boehm to create a hole that the back hit full speed ahead.

Normally, I give you the names of the guys who will start for the offensive line and I’ll do it again here but this may be the last time you hear any of their names in the NFL. The XFL? Possibly,

From left to right:

J’Marcus Webb, Michael Deiter, Daniel Kilgore, Evan Boehm, Jesse Davis.

Both Webb and Boehm are former Colts. It seems that neither man was good enough to be a backup for the Colts. We can argue about Boehm all you want, doesn’t change the fact he was probably getting cut and Ballard was able to get something for the guy. Regardless, these Dolphins are starting guys up front who couldn’t make our team.

And that’s the best news of this entire article.


Final Thoughts:

Normally, I don’t post clips in my final thoughts section but this play sums up what I think about the 2019 Miami Dolphins:

So close

The 2019 Dolphins started the season as poorly as any team in NFL history. Seriously, they were historically bad. As the season has progressed, however, this team has improved greatly. I know it probably doesn’t seem like a great improvement would lead to a 1-7 record, but really, it’s a massive turnaround.

Brian Flores and his staff deserve a ton of credit. It’s the general managers job to give a coach players and it’s the coaches job to figure out how to win with the players he’s given. It took Flores’ staff nine weeks to make it happen, but they did it when a lot of coaches would have thrown in the towel.

The past three weeks, the Dolphins played well enough to win each of their games, but they only played well enough to win for about 55 minutes of the first two. In each of those games there were a few plays or series that ultimately ended up deciding the outcome for their opponent. Flores and his staff haven’t figured out how to coach their team to not lose, yet, but when they do, this team is probably going to need all of those picks they traded for to move up in the draft to have a chance to draft the quarterback the general manager so desperately wants.

The play above shows that. Down by three with a chance to drive down the field and take the lead late against a team whose only loss at the time had come at the hands of the mighty Patriots. The Dolphins shouldn’t have been in that game. They shouldn’t have had a chance to drive down the field and get a win and when they found themselves in that situation they fumbled away their opportunity. Eventually they’ll stop fumbling.

This isn’t a good football team. In fact it’s a bad team, but it’s a bad team that, from what I can tell watching the games, is well-coached. The Colts should absolutely win this game, but these Dolphins will put up one heck of a fight.