In an effort to get a little bit more inside the game, Alen Dumonjic, an x's and o's football junkie who blogs for The Score, will give us his insight on the intricacies of the game. Look for his analysis before each game.
BREAKING DOWN THE DOLPHINS' OFFENSE
Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll’s offense features mainly 11 (1 back, 1 tight end) and 21 (2 backs, 1 tight end) personnel, with the latter featuring rookie H-back Charles Clay. Clay has become an intriguing player because of his versatility as a blocker and pass catcher. He aligns and is motioned to various positions on the field, thus making it harder to key if it’s a run or pass.
Speaking of the run, the Dolphins running game has gotten better over the last few weeks and a major reason why is running back Reggie Bush. Bush, who is approaching 1,000 yards for the eason. He’s had a heavier workload this season than in the past and has surprisingly held up. He’s been healthy and a threat to take it to the end zone at anytime, as witnessed last week against the Bills when he took a carry 76 yards for a touchdown through the Orchard Park snow.
Bush’s carries have come in many different ways because of the various run concepts that the Dolphins have used to get him into space. These run concepts include Iso Lead, Inside Zone, Counter, Toss Sweep, Draw and even Jet Sweep. Jet Sweep is one of the plays that Daboll has turned to in an effort to get Bush running into open grass which he often seeks. By using this concept, Bush is able to get a head start from the slot receiver alignment, as he runs across the formation before taking the handoff, turning up the speed and becoming a threat in space against defenders.
One of the bright spots for the Dolphins has been the quarterback position which is manned by Matt Moore. Moore, who replaced an injured Chad Henne, plays with confidence and is efficient in the passing game. Moore’s a part of an offense that maximizes his talents by simplifying his reads and getting the ball out of his hands quickly.
The offense is not entirely different from the one that the Patriots defense saw last season under offensive coordinator Dan Henning. Much like Henning’s offense, Daboll’s passing game uses a plethora of Hi-Lo reads, which put two defenders in one area against a single defender. The Hi-Lo read has two similar routes ran at different depths, as seen in the diagram below.
Along with various Hi-Lo concepts, the passing game features several variations of the Smash concept, which features an outside receiver running a Hitch route while the inside (slot) receiver runs a Corner route. One of the variations that the Dolphins use is called a ‘China’ concept, which still has the slot receiver run a corner route, but the outside receiver runs a square-in. The diagram below displays the ’China’ concept, with W and Y being the main receivers that make up the concept.
BREAKING DOWN THE DOLPHINS DEFENSE
Defensively, the Dolphins have bounced back well after a slow start to the season. The defense is called by defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, who is very multiple. Nolan likes to give a variety of looks in the defensive backfield, which often feature Nickel (five defensive backs) and Dime (six DBs) packages, and is not afraid to send any defensive backs downhill either. The Dolphins have one of the highest percentage of blitzed defensive backs in the league, and the blitzes frequently come from a cornerback aligned outside or a safety through one of the gaps. He is also willing to send blitzes and play man coverage behind them and at times zone coverage.
Nolan likes to use several fronts to stop the run and apply pressure. Some of the fronts that he goes to include Okie, which has two defensive ends aligned head-up on offensive tackles while the nose tackle is head-up on the center, Over (weakside Guard is uncovered) and Under (strong side Guard is uncovered). The Over and Under fronts are run out of three- and four-man defensive lines, with the three-man line often accompanied by a stand-up outside linebacker aligned across the outside shoulder of an offensive tackle.
In the secondary, Nolan’s defense plays a significant amount of coverages, such as Cover 1, Cover 1 Robber, Cover 2, 2 Man Under, Cover 3, and Tampa 2. This is only one of many that Dolphins defense runs.
Cover 3 is a pure zone coverage that has four underneath and three deep defenders. It is one that’s particularly interesting in this case because the Dolphins’ defense runs it in several ways, with a cornerback being a underneath zone defender while two safeties and the opposite cornerback split the field into thirds or sometimes a late rotating safety down into the box, which is common in today’s NFL, as seen below.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
- Dolphins LBs vs. Patriots TEs - This is a matchup to watch because the Dolphins two inside linebackers, Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett, are playing at a high level right now and have speed and athleticism to match-up with big tight ends. Last week, tight end Aaron Hernandez was able to make big plays while Rob Gronkowski saw various bracket -- double -- coverages thrown his way to neutralize him. However, the Dolphins have the ability to run with the Patriots tight ends despite struggling to do so earlier in the season.
- Dolphins CBs vs. Patriots RBs and WRs - The Dolphins' cornerbacks are a very interesting bunch because they are talented, yet they tend to take poor angles when attempting to tackle a ball carrier. Because of this issue, offenses are able to create yards after the catch or after contact.
- DE Mark Anderson vs. LT John Jerry - Anderson is likely to be getting more snaps than in recent weeks because of the injury to Andre Carter, and this week is his first shot at further impressing the Patriots coaches. His match-up is Jerry, a second year guard that has moved to left tackle because of injury to starter Jake Long. Jerry has fundamental flaws in his game, such as inability to get his hands off his hips quick enough as well as bending at the waist, which causes him to lunge, and Anderson’s quickness should be able to take advantage of this.
- Patriots DL Games vs. Dolphins Interior OL - At times, the Dolphins interior offensive line had issues picking up stunts and twists by the Bills defensive line last week, and the Patriots could look to test them in this game with similar stunts such as an E-T (end-tackle) stunt.
- Dolphins Blitzes vs. Patriots OL and RBs - This will be interesting to watch for because the Dolphins will send blitzes from various places on the field, such as the aforementioned cornerback blitz or through the A gap (area in between Guards and Center). Miami will show blitz up the middle, in the A gaps, and then back out at the snap of the ball. By doing this, they cause the protection confusion and potentially get a favorable match-up with a linebacker on a running back.