These past three weeks have not been fun for the average Dolphin fan. Everyday was a mystery and absolutely no one knew what was going on inside the doors of the Miami Dolphins facility in Davie, no matter how many "sources" they had. There were countless rumors about multiple coaching candidates whether it was Jeff Fisher, Mike McCoy, Todd Bowles, and even Mike Mularkey at one point. It was chaos. But what’s a Miami Dolphins head coaching search without a little chaos?
Towards the end of last week, all fans, including me, were tired and aggravated, wanting Stephen Ross and jeff Ireland to just make a decision, no matter whom they chose. Finally, the verdict was in…Joe Philbin. I was happy, Miami was happy, and it seemed as if the whole Dolphins organization was happy, but now what? What does Joe Philbin give us? First off, he gives the Dolphins leadership and discipline. Watching the press conference, we all noticed that Coach Philbin seems like a man that tells it how it is with a strong, confident manner of being. Secondly, Coach Philbin brings us a fast and affective OFFENSE. Yes, offense: something that has been lacking in Miami for the better part of the last decade. Who will be the quarterback? Who will he draft? What about Free Agency? All of that shall be discussed within time, but right now, let’s talk about J.P’s "West Coast Offense."
The West Coast offense is not very simple to define in one sentence. First, the offense must use "Precision-timed passing, variable formations, and the exploitation of each player’s skills"—Bill Walsh. The offense revolves around a fully dimensional passing attack, which includes a variety of short passes, and also a running game that has the ability to control the clock. The West Coast system exploits a defense’s holes and takes advantage of those weaknesses. Secondly, the attention to detail on every front of the offensive side of the ball will keep the team from making mistakes. The commitment to detail was what made the Packers offense one of the most aggressive and successful in the league.
PRINCIPLES OF THE WEST COAST OFFENSE
1. Use All Your Receivers: Usually, a West Coast system has 5 eligible receivers on all passing plays. This spreads out the defense, giving speedy receivers like Davone Bess or Clyde Gates the ability to get open on easy "Square Ins" or "Slant" routes. The use of multiple receivers was something that was absent throughout the 2011 season. Davone Bess had the worst year of his career, Clyde Gates was not used at all, and Charles Clay (who made big impacts on every catch) was not targeted as often as he should have.
2. Protect the QB: Tony Sparano was said to be an O-Line guru, however, what we saw for the pat 4 years was a failed attempt by an antiquated 50-year old in assembling an Offensive Line for the future. Sure, he got halfway there, but halfway does not work in the NFL. When two men that combine to be 63 years old are protecting your right side, something bad is bound to happen. For this reason, many believe the Dolphins should take a chance on on Reily Reiff in the draft and sign Carl Nicks in the off-season in order to make Miami one of the most dominant Offensive Lines in the league (Supposing Reiff lives up to the hype). The West Coast system draws up certain protection schemes. With a dominant O-Line, when a defense brings in more people to rush than the usual, the Quarterback will be able to have enough time to get the ball to the "Hot Receiver."
3. Read the Defense: reading a defense is one of the most under appreciated talents of a quarterback/wide receiver. If a well-trained QB can read a defense and know with certainty where the ball will be thrown, and a solid WR can read his coverage and run the appropriate route, then this will cause major problems in the defensive scheme of the opposing team. This ability worked wonders with Tom Brady and Randy Moss in 2007. Smart Quarterbacks must be paired with smart receivers in order for any threat to be made. In 2008, the Dolphins had one of the smartest Quarterbacks in the league with Chad Pennington, but not having the capable receiver had them kicked out early in the playoffs.
Is Matt Moore, in his second season as Dolphin, capable of reading a defense appropriately and teaching his best receiver Brandon Marshall along the way, or visa versa? Probably. Would signing Peyton Manning, arguably THE smartest Quarterback in the league, make a bigger intellectual and physical impact on the field? Definitely. Would signing Matt Flynn, a man who has been studying Joe Philbin’s offensive style for multiple years, have a great impact on the field as well? Most Likely. It is a tough personnel decision for Jeff Ireland, and frankly I’m not even sure what Dolfans would prefer at the moment.
4. Timed Routes: What has made the Green Bay offense so effective and quick throughout the years has been the ability for receivers and quarterbacks to be in sync with their routes. This is also what made Dan Marino’s career so proficient as well. The Receiver should know how many drop steps the Quarterback will take, and once that last step is taken, he should be expecting the ball no matter what. This is what 2-minute drills are made of. Receivers are quick on the ball, and Quarterbacks are quick to release. Looking back, the Dolphins had zero two-minute drills resulting in touchdowns, and most of the blame lies on the lack of mental and physical quickness from both the Quarterback and the Receiver.
5. Passing Plays and Running Plays are compliments, NOT SUBSTITUTES: The way a defense is caught off guard is when they don’t expect the unexpected. Catching a team off guard is not very difficult. All that is needed is an effective game plan. When a team runs the ball four times straight effectively, the defense expects another run. Miami’s "If it aint broke don’t fix it" mentality has resulted in missed opportunities on numerous occasions. If an offense runs the ball effectively (4-5 yards) four times, then a play-action pass should be called. The same goes the other way. If an offense passes the ball effectively three or four times in a row (7-8 yards) then call a draw. This keeps defenses guessing, which is a tremendous advantage for the offense.
PlAYER QUALITIES OF A WEST COAST OFFENSE
1. Quarterback: In a West Coast system, arm strength comes in third to decision-making and accuracy. The main job of the QB in this system is to matriculate the ball with short 7-yard spot routes, square outs, Texas routes, and stick routes. All of these passes need to be thrown with exact precision and speed. Once these pass plays are completed, the QB should then look for the long ball to be thrown.
Another characteristic of the QB style in a West Coast system is the mobility of the Quarterback. When you see teams like the Packers and the Eagles play, what is one thing they both have in common? Mobile Quarterbacks. Mhmm what Quarterback has the ability to be deadly accurate and mobile at the same time…ding ding ding, you guessed it, Robert Griffin III. Griffin would thrive under the West Coast Offense, which is one reason why the Dolphins are said to pursue him heavily in the draft.
2. Tight End: The elite Tight Ends in the league can almost all out-jump a Cornerback/ Safety. They all have receiver speed, linebacker strength, and excellent blocking skills. Is Anthony Fasano the kind of guy that can thrive in the West Coast system like Vernon Davis or Jermichael Finley? It’s tough to say after the solid year he had. Paired up with Charles Clay, this duo has the capability to succeed in this kind of offense, but perhaps a name like Coby Fleener (Mentioned before by The Earl) could make our TE core compete with that of the New England Patriots.
3. Wide Receiver: In the West Coast, Wide Receivers are used most often in the short passing attack. These receivers must have the ability to break away from defenders once they ball touches their hands. The best thing that could ever happen to a player like Davone Bess is that Joe Philbin came to coach. After averaging 77 catches and 789 yards in 2009 and 2010, Bess only caught 51 passes and 537 yards in 2011, dropping his stats in almost every category. Davone is one of the best slot receivers in the league, and the ball needs to be in his hands. There is no doubt that he will thrive under Coach Philbin’s coaching philosophy. The same may very well be for Clyde Gates who had a dismal first season in the NFL.
Free Agency: For this system to work in Miami, perhaps acquiring a player like Reggie Wayne, Desean Jackson, or Eddie Royal in free agency would certainly help this desperate team.
NOTE: Brandon Marshal would be very successful under this new offense as well due to the fact that he played under the West Coast System during his tenure as a Denver Bronco.
4. Running Back: The Miami Dolphins have a perfect running back for the West Coast Offense. Joe Philbin didn’t have what Miami has back in Green Bay, and now that he does, it is likely that Reggie Bush will have a breakout year. Take a look at LeSean McCoy from the Philadelphia Eagles. McCoy scored 17 touchdowns off 273 carries last year playing in the West Coast system. Joe Philbin will have a lot of fun designing a game plan with Reggie Bush by his side.
5. Offensive Line: O-Linemen in this kind of offense need to be quick and agile off the snap. Because the "Ground and Pound" offense will most likely not be used anymore, there is no utter necessity of simply pushing defenders back. Linemen in the West Coast O need to posses ability to pull defenders and take quick steps outside the pocket to prevent a sack. Frankly, players like Marc Colombo, Vernon Carey, and perhaps John Jerry lack that unique quality.
Draft/ Free Agency: Going back to a few paragraphs before, the names Reily Reiff and Carl Nicks came up. Getting these two players would solve many problems from 2011, and would make Joe Philbin’s job much easier. These two players would make the O-Line 13 years younger than what it is now, and fresh and explosive feet are the cornerstones of West Coast Offensive Line.
Joe Philbin’s credentials are those that deserve a simple "wow." The way he carries himself on and off the field is has been complimented by multiple coaches around the league. His style of offense has yet to be seen in South Florida, and is one that will take the entire off-season to learn, however, there is no question that he will be able to implant "The West Coast System" into the minds of all 53 players. Unfortunately, the million-dollar question still remains: "Who will be the focal point of this offense?"