The Miami Dolphins have finally entered the 2015 season. They're four games behind everyone else, but now that Dan Campbell is the new head coach, the season has really started for them.
It's hard to watch the first four games of the Dolphins season. They're listless. They don't know what they're doing. The defense is sitting back, letting the opposing offenses dictate the game, and the offense is ignoring the fact there's a quality running back on the roster.
The past two games have been electric. While the playcalling is now extremely simplified, all of the players are supercharged and excited after every play. They're revitalized.
And yet the playcalling is still simple. Here's what we've learned.
When the Dolphins run the ball
Lamar Miller and Jonas Gray combine to offer the Dolphins backfield. They're both one-cut players and Miller is light years ahead of Gray with regards to talent. After receiving an unforgivably low number of snaps over the first quarter of the season, Miller is now a lock to see 20+ touches a game. He's good.
The Dolphins run game is fairly simple. Miller has one of the best initial bursts in the entire league and will get to the second level in the blink of an eye. In order to harness his ability, the Dolphins will just create a crease on their offensive line for Miller to hit, and the running back is too fast for linebackers to close in on for a tackle.
Poor tackling and an inability to get off blocks sank the Titans and the Texans. I don't think the Texans even wanted to be on the field. Miller was blowing into the second level without a care in the world and the defensive backs were taking atrocious angles and missing completely.
That's basically their run game. Sometimes they'll run a sweep with Jarvis Landry (similar to the usage of Julian Edelman), and sometimes Miller will bounce to the outside. But he loves to just hit the line of scrimmage with his burst and drag linebackers four or five yards down the field.
The Patriots will be without Jabaal Sheard, so Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich are going to be key with setting the edge and forcing Miller to stay inside, similar to the defense against the Jets' Chris Ivory. New England will rotate Malcolm Brown, Alan Branch, Akiem Hicks, Dominique Easley, and Sealver Siliga on the interior to ensure that Miller's rushing lanes are as clogged as possible.
Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower will be key this week. Hightower will have to square up and plug the rushing lanes, or else Miller will pick up big chunks of yards. In all seriously, the Patriots just have to copy their run defense plan against the Jets and paste it into this week's game plan.
When the Dolphins pass the ball
On a similar note, Miami's offense is concentrated in a similar way as the Jets, too. Roughly 65% of the offensive output is divided among Miller, Jarvis Landry, and Rishard Matthews (like the Jets divide among Ivory, Brandon Marshall, and Eric Decker). I feel fairly comfortable saying that the Jets trio is far more talented than the Dolphins trio, but that the Dolphins #4 and #5 players on the offense, tight end Jordan Cameron, and Kenny Stills or a second tight end, are far more talented than the #4 and #5 players that took the field for the Jets.
The passing attack is fairly simple, with screen passes to Jarvis Landry and post routes off of play action passes to Rishard Matthews. Tannehill tries to hit his first read on every attempt and he's been very successful. If the Patriots dedicate their defensive resources to taking away Tannehill's first read, which is chapter one in the "Bill Belichick Defensive Playbook", then the Dolphins are going to hold onto the ball longer than they would like.
Honestly, we haven't really seen Tannehill hold onto the ball in the last two games because the Titans and the Texans were terrible at adjusting and never took away the Dolphins top target.
The Patriots should dedicate Malcolm Butler to Jarvis Landry and Logan Ryan to Rishard Matthews. Justin Coleman will come on to cover Kenny Stills and his deep speed whenever needed. Free safety Devin McCourty should cheat over to help against Matthews because his routes are generally deeper than Landry's. The Patriots could use a linebacker to help bracket Landry underneath.
Patrick Chung will match-up with Jordan Cameron, and Jamie Collins will likely draw the coverage of whichever running back is on the field.
Tannehill has tremendous scrambling ability, so it's unlikely that we'll see the Patriots defensive line sell out to generate pressure. They'll do their best to contain Tannehill, while the secondary will force the quarterback to go through his reads. Hopefully the pass rush and he secondary will complement one another to disrupt the tempo of the Miami attack.
When the Patriots run the ball
The Dolphins defense has turned a corner and their defensive front is great. Ndamukong Suh, Cameron Wake, and Olivier Vernon are playing great ball on the defensive line, and Koa Misi is breaking out with a tremendous season at linebacker. This could very well be another game where the Patriots elect to ignore the run game, especially with Dion Lewis a game time decision.
The coaching staff seem to have reduced the responsibilities for each player, so defensive linemen and linebackers are only responsible for beating a single counterpart on the opposing offense. This allows them to be more aggressive. The Patriots could try to take advantage with trap blocks and slip screens, but I really don't think the running game will play a major factor, especially with the current state of the offensive line.
When the Patriots pass the ball
The Texans and Titans played some of the most vanilla offenses I've ever seen. There were individual comeback routes, a low crosser for a tight end, and then a go route for a wide receiver. The running back leaked out as an outlet. That's about it. No combinations, nothing special.
The Patriots are going to try and put on a show that the Dolphins haven't seen. Rashad Jones is a great safety and Brent Grimes is a very good cornerback, but the rest of the secondary isn't great. The Patriots would love to take advantage of the match-ups and will pick on the #3, #4, and #5 guys in the secondary.
That said, the Dolphins have two great edge rushers in Wake and Vernon. Wake will be going against Cameron Fleming. That's not a good match-up for New England and it could cause the end of more than a couple drives.
The Patriots were able to sustain offensive drives against the Jets because New York wasn't a great pass rush threat from the traditional sense. Yes, Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson are great pass rushers for defensive tackles. Wake and Vernon will be better able to attack the Patriots offensive line to generate pressure. It's unlikely that the Patriots will have as much time to let plays develop down the field like they did against the Jets.
Still, Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola, Brandon LaFell, and Dion Lewis offer a mismatch for every defensive in the league. The Dolphins secondary isn't in the top tier and the Patriots should be able to have success with their traditional complex attack.