There are a myriad of opinions about why the Miami Dolphins’ offense has been so putrid after four games, and it has been putrid. The problem is almost all of the opinions are partially right, but also not singularly the issue at the same time. Try to blame one area and you are missing another aspect of the issue. Though, the “issues” with Cutler are the most overblown, followed closely by blame on the offensive line.
Defensive Coordinators Are Smart...
This isn’t “first year head coach” Adam Gase anymore. No one is questioning what he is trying to accomplish in Miami. They know Miami’s offense is going to run through running back Jay Ajayi and wide receiver Jarvis Landry. They know the stretch run play, the bubble screen and quick crosser are staples of the offense. They know Miami is going to try to eat clock at the line of scrimmage. We as fans know this and we don’t have a third of the resources available to coaches.
Miami saw ever more stacked boxes down the stretch last year. Ryan Tannehill made teams pay with the deep ball (not ironic), and to an extent, Matt Moore as well. Ajayi could make a man miss or run through one in an 8 man box. This season? No one is respecting quarterback Jay Cutler. Miami is facing 8-9 man boxes on a constant basis. It’s almost like teams are playing redzone defense against this Dolphins team. Corners are playing with inside leverage because they don’t believe Miami will hit a go-route or a post. They blitz the run, they blitz the pass, it doesn’t matter. Which means you have to make them pay with your play calling.
Gase needs to make changes... big ones.
There are some ways in which you can beat the blitz in a stacked box.
The way Miami was successful with this last year was partially based on designed roll outs. Tannehill is an athletic quarterback, that is one thing no one has ever really taken away from him. Cutler is not the athlete Tannehill is, also he’s rather old for an NFL player, and should not be trusted with this type of play on a regular basis. There are also certain run-pass options and quarterback options that aren’t available to Gase as much anymore but, more on quarterbacks later.
Another way to beat the blitz is on delayed releases from your tight end and running back. Often they will stay in long enough to throw a chip block and then release on a hot route. Tight end play has been a big issue here. Anthony Fasano is actually very good at this type of play, and until Miami can get teams to back out of the box they need to think about playing Fasano over Julius Thomas. (That interception Cutler threw towards Fasano in the Tennessee Titans game shouldn’t have been thrown). Thomas has had a number of drops that would have proven to break decent yardage if he had executed. Tight end play is one of the biggest issues so far this season as to why the offense can’t move in these conditions.
Oh, and play-action passes. But you need the run game to be effective for that to actually work. So... Miami is now in a situation where they almost HAVE to pass to set up the run.
How hard is this playbook anyway?
Gase was labeled an offensive genius. Understood. And has proven, with time, he can manipulate a playbook to his players. However, this makes two seasons in a row where he has publicly stated he has had to “dial-back” the playbook to get the team to play faster and more instinctively. A number of people interpreted that last season as Ryan Tannehill not being able to handle the playbook.
Hence, when Cutler came in it wasn’t supposed to be an issue, because he knew Gase’s system. Well... it seems the issue in learning the playbook wasn’t on Tannehill, or at least not solely on him. We have players up and down the board who look lost at times. And not just back-ups. We’re talking miscues from receivers Landry, Kenny Stills, DeVante Parker...even, occasionally, center Mike Pouncey. How hard is this playbook to learn? Do you need a PhD in Football to understand it? Are your running one play with like 4-6 sets of route options based off coverage... I don’t understand how it can possibly be made that difficult but at this point, anything is possible.
Mostly not the O-Line ... hate to break it to you.
A number of times this season individual offensive linemen, or multiple, will be graded out among the highest players on the team and people will be aghast. Well, when you line up 8-9 nine in the box, even if you’re playing a two tight end set or the I formation, you’re a man or two short in the run game. The entire offensive line can be winning their matchup, but the extra players will still crash through the play.
That is not to say each member of the line has been perfect. They have not. Yet, when it is, one here and one there... it adds up. Playing as a unit is an incredible part of the overall success on the field. That is why when Gase was rotating Jesse Davis and Anthony Steen at left guard in the beginning, it was frustrating. Those guys need to function as one. Pouncey being out all/most of preseason doesn’t help this... In. The. Slightest. He is their signal caller and leader. Limited reps with Pouncey means limited reps in continuity. At the moment, no particular player on the line is playing especially poorly. They are having some communication and play-calling issues (as is the rest of the offense), and they are facing more people than they can actually block. That’s not on them to fix.
It’s not ALL Cutler’s fault either... and Moore probably won’t be better.
Let’s acknowledge the things Cutler is doing poorly. He has pocket awareness... but not presence. He knows when there is pressure. After that: footwork is terrible, he doesn’t know where to go, and runs around like a chicken with his head cut off. He looks like a pin-ball bouncing around off offensive linemen. He nearly butt-fumbled. It’s the opposite of Tannehill and Moore’s problems in the pocket. Tannehill has a fairly low awareness, but when he does see it coming, he is usually doing something positive... running, throwing on the run (one of his best traits), etc. Moore, lacking athletic ability, throws the ball away or takes the sack. Which often leads to a Forced Fumble or Strip Sack (tiny hands).
This is why teams are blitzing Miami into oblivion right now. They know if they rattle Cutler in the pocket they got like a 65/35 split of things going their way. Cutler’s passer rating is pretty good when not being pressured or blitzed... when pressured, it is cataclysmically low. The exact numbers have changed after the Titans game, but, last week it was something like 100 when not pressured and circa 45 when pressured/blitzed. That’s what I would call a precipitous drop off. (If you have the specific stats on this sound off in the comments, I think it’s behind PFF’s paywall.)
Again, being on the same page and everyone understanding the playbook would ease a lot of these woes. Unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be the case. Like Julius Thomas having no clue he should be turning to catch a fade route in the endzone on the hot-read. Some of the “drops” will get better when Cutler and the skill player get more acquainted with each other in live games, but that excuse is wearing thin already.
When Gase says that it’s a little of a lot of things... that’s not JUST coach speak. If Miami wants to improve their offense, they need to make teams pay for loading up the box and blitzing them. Without: proper communication, everyone in equal understanding, and improved accountability, there will be no improvement on offense.
Gase might need to come to grips with the harsh reality that, “his playbook” is possibly too complex for the average NFL player; without a coach/player type QB like he had with Peyton Manning on the field.
If I am going to point a finger at one position group for piss-poor play, it’s going to be the Tight End group and their usage. Specifically, Julius Thomas whom has been abysmal in just about all of the aspects mentioned above. The embodiment of everything going wrong, if you will. More 2 TE Sets with Fasono and Gray, or play Gray as a fullback in the I-formation for a while... something...6 linemen and Fasano...anything...please?