Uh oh! Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a run? Is it a pass? Is Tannehill thinking about what he's going to do to his wife in the jacuzzi after he gets home?
Welcome to SUTTON's guide to giving opposing defensive coordinators nightmares! This installment will cover the 2013 Miami Dolphins play-action game. Other nightmares discussed in this cult classic include "Your Youngest Daughter is Dating Alpha", "Wearing Baggy Sweatpants in the Club with a Loaded Gun with Plaxico", and "Gettin' Wasted with Aaron Hernandez." All chapters illuminate some of the deepest-rooted fears faced by modern-day defensive coordinators, but no chapter addresses the complexity, the horror, the confusion, and the hopelessness of their plight like the 2013 Miami Dolphins play-action game. Let's delve right in...
DVOA play-action. Mmmmm sounds sensual, doesn't it? Like something you can do in the adult-version of "The Sims"? OK pervs, put away the meat saber. DVOA is an acronym for defense-adjusted value over average. Essentially, this statistic tells us how well we do compared to other teams, given the down-and-distance and the level of competition we are facing. For example, a completed pass of 7 yards on 1st and 10 against Jacksonville is much easier than a pass of 7 yards on 1st and 10 against San Francisco, and this statistic will take this into account. (All statistics for this FanPost is courtesy of Pro Football Focus or Football Outsiders).
Play-action is used differently by NFL teams. Washington, who threw more play-action passes than any other team, predominantly utilized play-action out of their zone-read package. Minnesota, who threw the 2nd most play-action passes of any team, utilized the talents of their workhorse running back Adrian Peterson, and capitalized on the fact that defenses would stack the box or bite hard on a perceived running play. Scheme-wise, play-action can be implemented and utilized in vastly different ways, and as such, different teams use varying personnel and mismatches to catalyze their play-action game. TE's and WR's who run intermediate routes effectively, WR's who can get deep, teams with dangerous running games, and QB's who can sell the fake, adjust the protection, throw on the run, and make all the throws can contribute to a lethal play-action game. The Miami Dolphins have ALL of these facets, which is why I think the Miami Dolphins will have a top 5 play-action game in the entire NFL and catapult the offense into one of the most versatile and wicked that opposing defensive coordinators have to contend with.
TE's and WR's who run intermediate routes effectively. I thought about writing "seam-stretching tight end", but then I figured the comments section would be overrun with Aaron Hernandez-prison-butt sex jokes. Anyway, I digress. One of the reasons I believe we will have a lethal play-action game is because of Hartline, Gibson, and Keller. Say what you will, but Hartline is a damned fine route-runner and excellent on the sidelines. He runs an impressive double-move and had the timing been different by a quarter-second on a couple throws last year, we are looking at a guy with 3 or 4 TD's instead of 1. Hartline has found a niche in the league and is getting paid good money for the very intermediate routes we are talking about. Gibson is a smooth guy who gets off the line of scrimmage well - this will help maintain the timing that is necessary for effective play-action. He is big and strong, but also quick enough to get behind defenders into the 2nd level and possesses tremendous hands. Keller is a mismatch against most LB's, and play-action will highlight his strengths: quickness, speed, and route-running. Sorry, this was mostly conjecture. Statistics are coming soon, nerds. But I think we can see from a theoretical perspective that Hartline, Gibson, and Keller should all aide in the play-action game.
WR's who can get deep. I'm talking specifically about Mike Wallace. Despite being on a team that was bottom-quartile in the entire NFL in rushing, the Steelers were one of the most effective teams using play-action (ranking 10th in the league in DVOA play-action). Hmmm, I wonder why. They couldn't sell the run and it was mostly the ability of one man to outsmart and outrun other people: Mike Wallace. He had approximately 368 yds and 3 TD's off of play-action passes last year despite being one of his worst statistical seasons as a pro. There's a reason: if a defender bites if just for a second, Wallace is gone. Wallace's best route for play-action, however, is the skinny post or the deep slant. His subtle head and hand movements sell his routes and he is almost impossible to stop in play-action. Silver lining: he absolutely destroyed the Jets last year during play-action passes with 66 yds and a TD (and that was only on play-action passes).
Teams with a dangerous running game. OK, more conjecture. I'm high on Lamar Miller and think he will be a beast. I don't think he will score an exorbitant amount of TD's but I do think he gets 1,000 yards. I think he hovers in the 4.5-5.0 ypc and produces that chunk yardage that our running game needs...especially to set up a lethal play-action game! Our play-action game depends on being able to sell the run, and I think Miller has enough production to justify teams being worried about him breaking out.
QB's who can sell the fake, adjust the protection, throw on the run, and make all the throws. Ahhhh, the moment all you stat geeks have been waiting for. During his rookie season, Ryan Tannehill ranked in the top 3 in completion % difference and ypa when it comes to play-action. The 2012 Miami Dolphins ranked 7th in DVOA play-action, despite being a lukewarm running team with no downfield threats. So let's recap: Tannehill improves his completion percentage on play-action passes by almost 10% (compared to other passing plays), increases his yard per attempt 5.3 yards during play-action passes, and the Dolphins as a whole has a play-action game that ranked 7th overall compared to other NFL teams. Tannehill was also one of the best QB's (top 5) in the NFL against the blitz, namely because of his ability to identify the blitz and adjust protection.
So you are a defensive coordinator and you are game planning against the Dolphins. You have to contend with a WR who can run by a CB in a cover 3 simply by sprinting, an up-and-coming RB who has the vision and cutting ability to get to the 2nd level and beyond, a QB who can rotate protection and make all the throws, and complementary players who can run intermediate routes. Take the mind of the opposing safety. How in the world are you supposed to be expected to come up and make a tackle against Lamar Miller and also be expected to not let Mike Wallace get behind you? What happens when Dustin Keller is stretching the seam while Mike Wallace is running down the sidelines? What do you do if Brian Hartline runs a 20 yd comeback and Gibson runs a deep post from the slot?
Oops, I forgot to mention that the Miami Dolphins were #3 in the league in pass yards per play-action pass last year! Sooo, yeaaa, we are kind of a big deal...The moral of the story, and I've scripted a few FanPosts dealing with the subject, but our best bet to move the ball this year is to be unpredictable. Play-action will help maximize our unpredictability and keep defenses off-balance. Did you watch Ryan Tannehill throw on the run last year? He is very impressive on the run and I believe bootlegs and play-action should be a formidable package of the playbook. He moves around the pocket like a veteran, which is necessary in having an excellent play-action game. Play-action suits Tannehill's strengths, puts an emphasis on the running game, and highlights the skills of Wallace, Hartline, Gibson, and Hartline. We have all the pieces in place to have one of the most horror-inducing play-action games the NFL has to offer. Freddie Kreuger has nothing on nightmares anymore. The 2013 Miami Dolphins play-action game will surely provide some of the most explosive plays during the season and get us into the Playoffs. And give defensive coordinators nightmares in the process.