The Dolphins INSTANTLY got more exciting on offense by the time Day 1 of the free agency period was in the books. Ryan Tannehill has weapons now. They have a sure handed and deceptively speedy wide receiver returning in Brian Hartline. They have a sure handed third down receiver in Davone Bess. Lamar Miller has huge upside both in and out of the backfield. Later on, they added a speedy receiving threat at tight end in Dustin Keller. Marcus Thigpen can occasionally come in and do some unique things out of the backfield and in the slot. Several of the young wide receivers showed some promise at the end of last season, and after the initial free agency moves, the ‘Fins snuck Daniel Gibson in the door as well.
You can never have enough weapons on offense. Offensive production in the NFL today is maximized by several factors. Before getting into how the Dolphins can, with only a couple of more moves, have an absolutely scary offense for teams to face, it deserves to be said that it is unlikely that the Dolphins fully go this route. Before we get into the moves that will get the Dolphins there, we’ll explore the factors that make an offense incredibly difficult to stop, which applies to any level of football – not just the NFL:
- Be Different
Anyone who watches NFL Network, ESPN or any other sports broadcast knows that one of the common phrases that you’ll hear when someone comes up with something innovative in the NFL is “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” I love what a few teams are doing today to be different. Unfortunately, imitation is also the quickest route to having defenses close the gap on your offense. The more teams that are following the same blueprint, the more teams will build their defense to effectively stop that particular scheme style. The further you can go from what other teams are doing, as far as style and scheme, the more you increase your chance at production.
A simplified example of this would be if offenses are built to stop pure power offenses, you’ll see bigger, stronger linebackers and defensive linemen – but with the sacrifice of speed. Teams will build their defenses in reaction to what the trend is in the NFL, or they’ll build a generic defense built to align “the bigger, stronger guy vs the power offensive player” and the “smaller, quicker defender vs the smaller, quicker offensive player.” What works best against this (we’re excluding the freakish players that are an exception to the rule, like Calvin Johnson, who can beat the matchups anyhow) is building a team built on speed, so the “power” defenses can’t keep up. Similarly, if the trend in the NFL is “speed” offenses, you’ll see defenses adjust and smaller, quicker defenders become the norm.
- Be unpredictable
If teams don’t know what to expect, the likelihood of success increases exponentially. The speed of the game in the NFL causes players to “cheat” based on tendencies. The less they can base on tendencies, the more they are forced to hesitate and then to read and react just a fraction of a second longer, which is an eternity on the average NFL play.
If you’ve read my articles before, you’ll know I’ve bashed a “certain coach who shall not be named again (to protect the ignorant, so for anonymities sake, we’ll just refer to him as “The Moustache.” When The Moustache coached in the NFL, the average fan could tell you what the team was running roughly 80%-90% of the team’s plays, even when running “surprise” plays, like a fake punt, sideline screen, or on-sides kick attempt. It’s infuriating, and against teams that study film as part of their career, completely ineffective and whose sole production level is based on superhuman effort of a few special players to make it work at the most ridiculously ineffective level.
Think of what the 49ers were able to do last year with the read option, or what the Patriots do utilizing their interior receivers and tight ends (instead of building from the outside in, which teams still don’t seem to be able to defend), or what Peyton Manning is able to do with reading defenses and changing the play to something they would least expect.
- Scheme the offense to the talent that you have
This is one that seems to be a downfall for many coaches. Most effective schemes in football are maximized by tailoring them to the talent that you have. Time and time again, we see coaches that have star running backs, but want to force a dynamic passing attack that treats the running game as a mechanism that is only present to keep defenses halfway honest… even when they don’t have the receivers to do so. The inverse is teams that have dynamic wide receivers, and instead will constantly try to run the ball down a team’s throat. You don’t run a scat back straight up the middle 20 times a game, nor do you force sweeps wide with a power back. It’s should be common sense, but the best coaches will tweak their schemes to match up best with the talent that they have, and take advantage of the skill sets that the different players on the team possess.
- Broad skill sets
The more things that a player is able to do on offense, the more unpredictable you can make your offense. In essence this requires a combination of the previously mentioned items above, but allowing an even greater essence of unpredictability. A great example of this would be to take a look at Percy Harvin, now of the Seahawks. Where did the Vikings line Harvin up when he was there? Running Back, in the slot, split wide, pretty much anywhere on the field. They’d pull him on a reverse when he was in the slot or split wide, and throw to him out of the backfield. He was a threat to get the ball in any manner from anywhere he lined up on the field, creating mismatches and keeping defenses on their heels.
The more that you can combine the above, the more successful your offense has the potential to be. An example of this would be Ronnie Brown with the Wildcat. Ronnie was a marginally effective player before the wildcat came along, but within the Wildcat in Miami, both he and an aging Ricky Williams truly blossomed into a dynamic threat that affected the league as a whole. Once Brown left for greener pastures, his effectiveness in a traditional running game was reduced again to marginal at best. This offense worked best when it was at its most unpredictable, forcing defenses to overthink and react to something different.
The above “rules” are also why so many folks are intrigued by the possibility of what Chip Kelly could bring to the NFL in Philly. He ran a high octane offense in the college ranks, and many folks are curious to see what he does and if he is able to adapt his system to the pro’s. If he can effectively do that, while adapting to the talent and skills that he has in the locker room, it could be exciting to watch and something that other teams attempt to duplicate.
While I could come up with numerous examples to support this in the current NFL – San Fran with the read-option “pistol” offense, New England with their “interior passing attack” scheme, etc – I’d rather focus on what the Dolphins could do immediately to add spice and flair to their offense, as well as be able to run some truly unpredictable schemes where they could run or pass out of any set, inclusive of growing the list of “gimmick plays” exponentially.
There are really only two moves that could turn the potential for this offense into a seriously complex puzzle for defenses to figure out, and both are additions of players they could easily take in this month’s draft. Two names could give Joe Philbin and the Dolphins more toys than they know what to do with. They are two of the hotter names available, and yet they could add an unpredictability to the offense that we haven’t seen before. The two players in question? Tavon Austin of West Virginia, and Denard Robinson out of Michigan.
With Austin and Robinson, combined with Wallace, Hartline, Keller, Clay, Miller… the Dolphins can run nearly any variety of play out of nearly any personnel package. A reverse can come from any position on the field, and any one of these players provides a dynamic receiving threat for Tannehill. Teams will not be able to keep these guys covered, and it will open up the running game as well as alleviate the pressure on the line. Defenses will be forced to play back on their heels or get torched, to blitz less and attempt to read the plays as they develop and hope to guess right. After the first few times that teams get burned on a reverse, a quick pitch to Robinson and having him unload downfield a few times will force teams to hang back and wait.
An exciting offense adds to the win total for the season, and against depleted divisional foes such as the Jets and Bills, enables the fins to come out of those games with an expected minimum of a 3-1 record. The Pats defense is a defense that you can make plays on, and it enables the Fins the potential to match up with the Pats on the scoreboard and enables fans to expect at least a season split with the Pats. That’s going at least 4-2 in the division, and should enable the Fins to obtain at least a 6-4 record outside the division – and could put them at 10-6 with a potential playoff birth. That is one heck of a lofty expectation, but also a realistic one given the possibilities.
As you read the names above, you may have noticed a name was missing. I hate the idea of giving him up, but I think drafting Austin and Robinson makes one player expendable as the “odd man out” – though I am a huge fan of him as a player, and actually rejoiced when the Fins got him as an undrafted free agent. A reliable fan favorite, Davone Bess would become a casualty of the new offense if these players worked out. The team wouldn’t have to move him right away, and could wait until training camp to pull the trigger on a trade based on the early development of several young players, but the fins should be able to get a 4th rounder in return for Bess, and potentially a 3rd rounder from a receiver starved team. I think a 4th rounder is more likely out of this years draft, with a trade for a future pick next year being more likely to be a 3rd rounder. Bess is one of the more reliable slot receivers in the league, and could easily help the receiving corps for a number of teams out there.
What do you think? How do you feel the Dolphins could make their offense even more dynamic and more exciting? As always, I’d love to hear the ideas that other fans have…