As has already been made clear in this series, Jay Ajayi and the Miami Dolphins’ offensive line hold the key to taking down the New England Patriots. However, ultimate success in the NFL, the kind that sustains itself over time, cannot be achieved by an individual star or a single unit, no matter how gifted. Fortunately, Adam Gase knows, better than anyone, that for Miami’s bruising ground game to run at it’s best, a complete team effort will be required, and no Dolphins will be more vital to that cause than Miami’s trio of talented play makers, Kenny Stills, DeVante Parker and Jarvis Landry.
Back To The Future
However, before we can examine just how Miami hopes to employ its arsenal of standout receivers, we must first establish the style of offense Gase is looking to create, or better said, recreate in Miami. Fortunately, that isn’t a difficult task given that the young coach served as offensive coordinator for the 2013 Denver Broncos, the most high octane attack in pro football history. That Broncos team set NFL records for most points (606), most touchdowns (76), number of players with 10 or more touchdowns (4), and passing first downs (293).
To put those astonishing numbers into perspective, consider that the 2016 Dolphins scored 363 points, 46 touchdowns, had no players reach the 10 touchdown threshold, and passed for just 167 first downs. The good news is, Gase was able to set those remarkable marks in Denver by creating an offensive assault that mimicked a Swiss Army Knife, driven by versatile players capable of creating mismatches all over the field. It was a “just the right tool for every job” approach, exactly as he has already begun recreating in Miami.
Even so, is there any reason to believe that Gase will be able to reproduce Denver’s phenomenal success in south Florida? Well, when pondering that question, we must first take into account that the cornerstones to Gase’s powerhouse offense were the Broncos two legitimate deep threats, Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, and as we shall see, thanks to their ability to expand the field, those are exactly the kind of receivers the 2nd year head coach values most.
Having dual threats compelled opposing defenses to continually gamble on whom to cover deep, forcing them to keep their safeties very far off the line of scrimmage to avoid giving up big plays. As we can see from the clips above and below, the safeties aren’t even in the picture when the plays begin, and even so, they fail to prevent the Broncos from scoring.
Thus, as defenses scrambled to protect themselves against deep strikes, they naturally surrendered significant ground across the middle of the field and in the flats. Those passing lanes were quickly exploited by Wes Welker, who, despite being a veteran on the downside of his career, found tremendous success as the #3 receiver in Gase’s system.
Welker’s effective short routes, in turn, opened up passing lanes in the seam for tight end Julius Thomas, who regularly weaved through linebackers for huge gains.
Eventually, Thomas and Welker’s continual exploitation of the underneath routes left opponents no choice but to recommit resources to covering the mid-range passing game, and that, of course, opened up the deep routes once again, setting into motion the nightmarish cycle of indecision on the part of defensive coordinators that made the Broncos staggering records possible.
Run Jay Run
Nevertheless, from the Dolphins’ perspective, the most important aspect of Gase’s three prong aerial strategy to spread defenses is that it created tremendous running room for Broncos running back, Knowshon Moreno, leading to the finest season of his career.
Moreno’s bump in stats naturally begs a question. What kind of numbers might Jay Ajayi put up, given his uncanny ability to break tackles, if Gase’s passing scheme manages to clear the box in the same way it did in Denver? He has proven, after all, a far better back than Moreno, even when running behind an injury riddled offensive line, as he has done in Miami over the past two years.
However, it isn’t just Miami’s running game that could improve under Gase’s approach to spreading defenses vertically. Case and point, while Moreno was always a good pass catcher out of the backfield, Gase’s scheme created far more opportunities for him to apply his craft.
|Moreno’s 2nd Best Season||37||372||10.1||3||45||15|
As the figures above show, Gase didn’t make Moreno a better pass catcher, just a more productive one. If Gase has his way, it could also lead to a big rise in production for Miami’s backs in the passing game, particularly considering that, even combined, the Dolphins trio of backs did not equal Moreno’s receiving numbers from 2013.
Prior to last season, Gase repeatedly spoke of wanting to deploy legitimate three down backs on every drive so he would have no need of substituting players and interrupting the flow of the game as circumstances changed on the field. His motivation for doing so was to allow for the use of a hurry up offense, and while his system proved too complex to execute effectively during his first year in Miami, rest assured it is not an idea he has abandoned. That means that the Dolphins’ running backs, particularly Kenyan Drake, will need to step up their game as pass catchers if they hope to see significant time on the field.
Fortunately for the Dolphins, their trio of standout receivers have the perfect skill set to afford Drake, Williams and Ajayi the kind of room they’ll need to mimic, and even surpass, Moreno’s success receiving out of the backfield.
Don’t Play With Mismatches Or You Might Get Burned
We could spend hours dissecting the Dolphins passing game. Believe me, I have. However, it does not take an otherworldly football IQ to identify that the primary strength of Miami’s receiving corps, namely, Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills, is its diversity. Their divergent skills play perfectly into Gase’s desire to build an offense that creates mismatches in order to exploit the inherent weaknesses of opposing defenses.
“It’s a young group of receivers,” Dolphins general manager Chris Grier recently told David Dwork of CBS Miami, reiterating that the front office is in line with Gase’s vision. “Those guys all bring a different skill set, so it’s a good group.”
In fact, the only significant similarity between the three standouts is that they are all 24 years old at the time of this writing, and even that won’t last long, with Stills and Landry turning 25 before season’s end.
|Combine Results||Arms||Hands||40 YD Dash||Bench Press||Vertical Leap||Broad Jump|
|Kenny Stills||30 ½ inches||9 inches||4.38 secs||16 reps||33.5 inches||124 inches|
|DeVante Parker||33 ¼ inches||9 ¼ inches||4.45 secs||17 reps||36.5 inches||129 inches|
|Jarvis Landry||31 ¾ inches||10 ¼ inches||4.77 secs||12 reps||28.5 inches||110 inches|
So, with these differences in mind, let’s take a look at this talented trio and examine, not just the different skill sets each brings to the field, but how those unique abilities will be employed to maximum effectiveness in Gase’s overall scheme.
When The Saint Came Marching In
When Kenny Stills (6’1”, 194 lbs) arrived from New Orleans in a trade, many Dolphins fans had high hopes, but few would dispute that his first year in Miami was an unmitigated flop. To begin with, he was underused and relegated to playing behind Rishard Matthews, whose talents Joe Philbin had all but ignored until Stills was added to the roster. Worse still, even when the former Saint did play, his production was minimal and his catch percentage….atrocious.
The fact that Philbin would have no idea how to use a dynamic player like Stills in his vanilla offense should have come as no surprise. That said, the fact that Gase did know how to put the speedsters talents to work should be equally unsurprising. After all, the rookie head coach made his intentions clear from the moment he signed on to lead the Dolphins.
“I’ve always liked his skill set,” proclaimed Gase at a news conference in March of 2016, per Andrew Abramson of the Palm Beach Post. “I liked him coming out (of college). I’m excited to see what we can do to get him rolling in this offense.”
Well, Still did get rolling, significantly improving his numbers in every category, most notably, in number of touchdowns, yards and catch percentage.
The first thing Gase unleashed was Stills’ blazing speed, which allows him to run past unsuspecting defensive backs with a sudden burst.
Beyond that, Gase was equally aware that Stills is an excellent route runner, capable of getting open by turning defenders around or getting them off balance.
Gase also afforded Stills the necessary playing time to develop chemistry with Ryan Tannehill. That instinctual familiarity, in turn, made it possible for the pair to capitalize on blown coverage, as occurred in the clip below.
Most important of all, Gase never viewed Stills through the lens of a “third receiver”, as many football analysts have dubbed Stills while criticizing Miami’s choice to re-sign him to a four year $32 million contract. In the coach’s mind, Stills is the lynch pin that sets his entire offense into motion by spreading the field. As such, the former 5th round draft choice is every bit as important as a decoy as he is as an actual threat.
In spite of all the positives Stills brings to Miami, no analysis of his contributions would be complete without at least a mention of “the drop seen around the world” from the season-opening loss to Seattle.
While that bitter memory will be forever burned into the psyche of Dolphins fans, as it was, in fact, the difference in the game, it is important to note that Stills maintained a 2.5% drop average throughout the season. That was among the lowest for any wide receivers last year, an impressive feat considering his status as a deep threat. Furthermore, costly as it was, the Seattle drop is not something the organization holds against Stills, particularly in light of the personal strides he has made since joining the team.
“Kenny is a guy that’s really grown up over the last couple of years. Really proud of him, how he flourished in Adam’s offense,” insisted president of football operations, Mike Tannenbaum, while speaking to WQAM’s Orlando Alzugaray this off-season. “He’s a selfless person. He has leadership in his own quiet way.”
Stills has been equally effective in winning over his teammates.
“Kenny’s a great guy, a hard-working teammate. We reaped the benefits of that this year and we saw him take another step in the right direction,” Ajayi told Jason Lieser of the Palm Beach Post, earlier this year while preparing for the Pro Bowl. “It’d be great for us to have him back. I know he wants to be back. I know the team wants him back.”
Well, Stills is back, and in the more complex offensive scheme of Adam Gase’s second year as head coach, there is every reason to believe the youngster will become an even more integral part of Miami’s attack, particularly when it comes to stretching New England’s defense as thin as possible. After all, even saddled with Philbin’s conservative approach for two of his four games against the Patriots since coming to the Dolphins, Stills has racked up an impressive 14.9 yards-per-catch average and scored 2 TDs.
Superman or Clark Kent?
Make no mistake. DeVante Parker (6’3”, 212 lbs,) is the most physically gifted of Miami’s receivers. To begin with, the former Louisville star is a versatile high flyer with the size and speed to win the position battle against opposing cornerbacks.
He also has an impressive vertical leap and the strength to go up for the ball and wrestle it away from defenders.
Parker’s tall frame and leaping ability also make him a formidable threat in the end zone.
Yet, for all his physical attributes, few believe Parker has approached his true potential as a professional, in part, due to nagging injuries that have kept him off the field. The fact that Parker only started four games his rookie season (2015) and continued with lingering issue through the following preseason led Gase to draw comparisons between the young Dolphin and Demaryius Thomas, but not in the most complimentary of ways.
“I feel like I’ve been through this with Demaryius in Denver. Felt like he was always hurt. One thing after the other,” complained Gase to Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald back in August of 2016, before going on to explain how Parker could help his own cause. “All the little things you have to do off the field, in the building and when you get to practice, you have to treat everything like a game.”
Getting called out publicly by Gase for his lack of awareness did light a bit of a fire under Parker, which led to improved numbers in 2016. However, he still only started eight games and his yards-per-catch average dropped nearly 6 yards.
Now it seems, the Dolphins have taken a different approach to motivating Parker. Namely, signing Stills to the aforementioned contract that will keep him with the Dolphins through the 2020 season….or so it would seem.
Stills contract is actually structured in such a way that the team can part ways with the former Saint after just two years at a minimal cost. That is important to note because it essentially sets up a head-to-head contest between he and Parker to see which of them will remain with the team after 2018. Unless, of course, the salary cap continues rising at the current rate of $10-12 million per year, which could make it possible for the Dolphins to keep Stills, Parker and Jarvis Landry.
Nevertheless, the fact that the money may be available doesn’t necessarily mean that the Dolphins will be inclined to keep all three. Thus, with Stills already under a long term deal, and Landry expected to follow suit at some point, all the pressure shifts to Parker, who is not yet in line for a big money deal, and may never be unless his play rises to the level the Dolphins foresaw when they drafted him in the first round. So, to put it simply, Parker needs to step it up in 2017 because, if the results of a head-to-head comparison with Stills were tallied today, the race would be too close to call.
Furthermore, Parker would be wise to outperform Stills moving forward given that he was not an Adam Gase draft choice. That could hurt his chances at a lucrative contract, or even the notion of Miami exercising their 5th year option to keep him through 2019.
Be that as it may, there are a myriad of reasons to believe Parker has a bright future with the Dolphins. While his numbers do not yet reflect it, and with all due respect to Demaryius Thomas and Alshon Jeffery, Parker is the most naturally gifted receiver Gase has ever coached, blessed with the kind of uncanny versatility that could eventually make him a better deep threat than Stills and a more effective possession receiver than Landry. In fact, thanks to his growing comfort in Gase’s offense, his numbers are already on the upswing. Parker caught 25 passes for 303 yards, a 12.1 yard average and just 1 TD in the first eight games of 2016. Yet, during the second half of the season, he pulled down 31 catches for 441 yards, a 14.2 yard average and 3 TDs, even though he played the last 3 games without the services of Ryan Tannehill.
As it is, Parker is already a nightmare for opposing defenses, even the Patriots. In the two games he and Tannehill have faced Belichick together, Parker has hauled in 13 receptions for 212 yards, averaged 16.3 yards-per-catch and scored a TD. As such, Parker’s success against Miami’s arch rival ensures that Gase will do everything he can to help the youngster evolve into the Superman Dolphins fans have been hoping for. The only question that remains is…..will DeVante Parker finally do his part to shed his Clark Kent persona and take to the skies, or will he serve as his own personal Kryptonite?
If Parker needs a role model on how to become a consummate professional, he need look no farther than Jarvis Landry. After all, no one is going to accuse the former LSU Tiger of lacking dedication to his craft, quite the opposite. Landry (5’11”, 206 lbs,) is universally respected by fans and coaches alike for his grit.
“I like to play with passion,” insists Landry, explaining the secret to his success in the simplest terms possible. “I like to wear my emotions on my sleeve and sometimes you can tell.”
We can, indeed, tell that Landry is something special, even though he has neither Stills’ speed or Parker’s athleticism. That’s because, what Landry lacks in size and natural ability, he makes up for in a myriad of ways that have made him the heart and soul of Miami’s offense. Perhaps the most notable of his talents is the ability to catch practically anything thrown his way.
Then, there is the fact that Landry can squeeze every last yard out of Gase’s strategy for stretching defenses, leading to the highest yards-per-catch average of his career in 2016.
“We’ve tried to free him up, you know, in that intermediate route down the field every once in a while,” explained Gase during a midseason press conference. “But for the most part, a lot of his things have come off of just his determination to not be tackled. He just has that ability to fight through that initial contact and create yards after (the) catch, after contact.”
As it happens, his perpetual effort and fighting spirit has become infectious among his teammates, inspiring them to work towards greater heights, as in the clip below.
Furthermore, his uncanny ability to get open, and then, make something out of nothing, has made him one of the most dangerous playmakers in the league.
As a result, in spite of playing the slot, Landry led all Dolphins receivers in making big plays last season.
He is also the team’s most consistently dependable receiver, as this graph of receptions by month shows.
Furthermore, Landry is golden when it counts most. In his last five games against the Patriots he has racked up an impressive 39 receptions for 453 yards. Yet, for all his heroics, one-handed catches and fan loyalty, as we are about to see, Landry’s role in Gase’s offensive scheme is not as vital as many would suspect.
Making An Impact
Before we can measure Landry’s significance in Gase’s offense, we need to determine what criteria we will use to determine an impactful performance. Of course, any such starting point will be arbitrary. Nevertheless, we must begin somewhere. So, for the purposes of our evaluation, we will settle on 50 receiving yards and/or a touchdown in a game.
Thus, with that criteria in mind, let us review how Landry, Parker and Stills performed throughout the season.
|Opponent||Result||Jarvis Landry||DeVante Parker||Kenny Stills|
|Seattle||Loss||7 rec 59 yds||0 rec 0 yds||1 rec 16 yds|
|New England||Loss||10 rec 135 yds||8 red 106 yds||2 rec 39 yds 1 TD|
|Cleveland||Win||7 rec 120 yds 1 TD||3 rec 51 yds 1 TD||5 rec 76 yds|
|Cincinnati||Loss||7 rec 61 yds||2 rec 20 yds||1 rec 74 yds1 TD|
|Tennessee||Loss||3 rec 28 yds||2 rec 70 yds||0 rec 0 yds|
|Pittsburgh||Win||7 rec 91 yds||5 rec 28 yds||2 red 12 yds|
|Buffalo||Win||5 rec 78 yds||3 rec 20 yds||5 rec 100 yds 1 TD|
|New York Jets||Win||3 rec 33 yds||2 rec 8 yds||1 rec 11 yds|
|San Diego||Win||6 rec 53 yds||5 rec 103 yds||2 rec 47 yds 1 TD|
|Los Angeles||Win||5 rec 28 yds 1 TD||8 rec 79 yds 1 TD||4 rec 33 yds|
|San Francisco||Win||4 rec 47 yds||3 rec 64 yds||3 rec 72 yds 1 TD|
|Baltimore||Loss||11 rec 87 yds||3 rec 34 yds 1 TD||2 rec 21 yds|
|Arizona||Win||4 rec 103 yds||2 rec 14 yds||6 rec 97 yds 1 TD|
|New York Jets||Win||3 rec 108 yds 1 TD||1 rec 17 yds||1 rec 52 yds 1 TD|
|Buffalo||Win||3 rec 29 yds||4 rec 85 yds 1 TD||3 rec 35 yds 1 TD|
|New England||Loss||9 rec 76 yds 1 TD||5 rec 45 yds||4 rec 41 yds 1 TD|
Not surprisingly, Landry, a 2nd round pick, led the trio with 12 impact performances. Stills, a 5th rounder, followed close behind with 10. Yet, Parker, a 1st round draft choice, managed just 8 impactful games. In other words, as was discussed earlier, the former Louisville star is underperforming. Nevertheless, there is an unexpected twist to these statistics, at least in the eyes of the average fan.
- The Dolphins were 7-5 in games where Landry had an impact
- The Dolphins were 7-3 in games where Stills had an impact
- The Dolphins were 6-2 in games where Parker had an impact
As the comparison above shows, when Parker started and performed well, the Dolphins were three times more likely to win. A strong performance by Stills was nearly as certain to guarantee a win. However, Landry’s impact performances had far less effect on Miami’s fortunes.
Those results should come as no surprise to anyone who read the article I wrote prior to last season, Adam Gase’s 12 Steps to Rehabilitating the Dolphins: Step 5. In that piece, I made it clear that it is the deep threats who dictate success in Adam Gase’s passing scheme because, as previously stated, his entire philosophy hinges on them stretching the field. In contrast, despite Landry’s big play ability, his impact is most often felt between the 20s, where he makes a ton of receptions and keeps the sticks moving.
Regardless of Landry’s personal influence on the outcome of games, one would naturally assume that the more Dolphins receivers impacted a game, the greater the team’s chances of victory. Yet, that wasn’t always the case..
- Games were none of the receivers had an impact, the Dolphins were 1-0 (Win – Jets)
- Games where only one had an impact, the Dolphins were 1-2 (Win – Steelers, Losses – Seahawks & Titans)
- Games where two had an impact, the Dolphins were 6-3 (Win – Bills twice, Rams, 49ers, Jets & Cardinals , Losses – Patriots, Ravens & Bengals)
- Games where all three had an impact, the Dolphins were 2-1 (Wins – Chargers & Browns, Loss – Patriots)
Even when Stills, Parker and Landry all had impactful games, the Dolphins did not manage to sweep those games, losing to, of all teams, New England.
The Sweet Spot
So, what will the Dolphins receivers have to do to beat the Patriots? Well, before we can answer that question, let’s turn our attention back to Jay Ajayi and the one factor that ensured a Dolphins victory in 2016, regardless of the opponent.
- Miami was 1-0 in games where Ajayi ran for 100 yds and none of the receivers had an impact 1-0 (Jets)
- Miami was 2-0 in games where Ajayi ran for 100 yds and one of the receivers had an impact (Steelers & Bills)
- Miami was 1-0 in games where Ajayi ran for 100 yds and two of the receivers had an impact (Bills)
To put it simply, every time Ajayi had a good day running the ball, the Dolphins won. As such, we can only conclude that the running game plays a more crucial role in wins and losses in Miami than do the Dolphins ‘receivers. Gase knows this as well. Thus, moving forward, the primary role of the passing game will be, what it has always been in a Gase style offense…..to spread defenses as deep and thin as possible in order to create mismatches for possession receivers, tight ends and running backs. Except, in Miami, where, unlike Denver, the bulk of that work will be done by Ajayi.
This, of course, was not Gase’s original plan when he came to Miami. The young offensive mastermind was looking to build a balanced offense, but one, nevertheless, focus around the passing game. Yet, unlike his predecessor, Joe Philbin, the rookie head coach was able to adjust to his personnel and play to their strengths, especially once he realized what a special running back he had in Ajayi, a relentless locomotive capable of breaking tackles and grinding defenses into submission. As a result, rather than continue on their 1-4 trajectory, the J-Train was allowed to jump the tracks, leading the Dolphins on a 9-2 tear that led them to the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
Furthermore, it should be noted that the 100-yards mark wasn’t even the real tipping point to victory for the Dolphins in 2016. Miami was 6-0 whenever Ajayi ran the ball for at least 77 yards, and just 4-6 when he ran for less than that.
Now, I want to be clear on this point. Citing these figures is not meant to imply that the Dolphins are assured a victory every time Ajayi crosses the 77-yard threshold. They are put forth merely to highlight the fact that the more Ajayi carries the ball, the greater the Dolphins’ chances of winning.
This is, of course, due to the domino effect that running effectively sets into motion.
- Keeping the ball on the ground takes time off the clock
- Which keeps opposing offenses on the sidelines and unable to get into a rhythm
- A lack of rhythm often leads to shorter possession and more three-and-outs
- Those three-and-outs, in turn, affords the Dolphins defense the opportunity to remain rested
- That rest then allows the defense to perform better late in games
- Add to that Ajayi’s unequaled ability to tire out defenses, as we highlighted in Step 3 of this series, and the Dolphins offense enters the 4th quarter of games with a huge advantage.
Combined, these, and many other benefits derived from a successful ground and pound attack give Miami better odds of winning. If you doubt this to be true, simply consider that the Dolphins were 8-2 in one score games, with the two loses coming in the first two games of the season.
Those losses were to Seattle and New England. Ajayi did not play in the Seahawks game due to his landing in Gase;s dog house, and he was only allowed 5 carries for 14 yards against the Patriots the following week. All told, the Dolphins managed just 36 carries for a paltry 134 yards over those two games. Yet, as soon as Ajayi became the starter, and Gase rid himself of offensive lineman Billy Turner and Dallas Thomas, Miami went on an 8-0 run in one score games.
While that is an extraordinary accomplishment, this is, nevertheless, an apropos moment to preview another key issue we will be discussing in detail later in this series, because, if we are too look at the Dolphins’ chances of unseating the Patriots through sober eyes, we must concede that the domino effect can work in reverse as well.
In other words, we must take into account that any hope of Ajayi exceeding the 77 yard benchmark will depend greatly on the Dolphins not falling behind early, as happened against the Ravens, and twice against the Patriots. In those three games, all of which Miami lost handily, Ajayi averaged a mere 11 carries for 45 yards, given that the Dolphins were forced to abandon the run and rely almost solely on the passing game to catch up, an all too familiar scenario during the Philbin era.
Rest assured, if the Dolphins are reduced to a one-dimensional attack against New England, they will lose. That stark reality naturally brings us back to the question posed earlier. What can the Dolphins receivers do to help Ajayi and the running game?
Well, the answer is simple. Strike early and often to ensure Miami doesn’t fall behind early, and maybe even builds up a lead going into the 4th quarter of games. That, more than anything, will increase Ajayi’s chances of brutalizing defenses by racking up carries late in games.
All For Jay And Jay For All
Now, imagine of you will, a tired Patriots defense, or any defense, for that matter. It’s late in a tight game, and the Dolphins are driving, eating time off the clock by feeding Ajayi the ball over-and-over again behind the youngest and strongest offensive line Miami has had in years. What is a defense to do?
Naturally, the defensive coordinator has to commit to stopping the run or face certain defeat, and given his defense’s exhaustion, the only way to do that is to move the strong up for run support, essentially, stacking the box. Yet, that leaves either Parker or Stills one-on-one against a cornerback deep, while Landry is left in the same advantageous situation, only in the middle of the field, where he can run a crossing route, perhaps drawing some linebacker coverage as well.
Tannehill lines up under center. The ball is snapped. The young QB goes to hand off to Ajayi, but at the last moment, he keeps the ball and rolls out of the pocket, looking to throw. The play action, however, was good enough to freeze the strong safety, ensuring that only one of the Dolphins receivers is double covered deep. If that weren’t bad enough, the defense must also account for the tight end, and Ajayi himself, if he isn’t tied up on a blocking assignment.
The scenario I have just described may sound like the ramblings of a delusional Dolphins fan, and yet, it is exactly the type of situation Gase repeatedly created with the Broncos, where the deep routes cleared the underneath routes, and those, in turn, opened up running lanes or receiving opportunities for the running backs. Only, in Miami, there is an added caveat. Gase has Ajayi to help sell play action more effectively than he could have ever hoped to do in Denver, thus, creating an even greater scenario of nightmarish indecision and mismatches all over the field for Tannehill to exploit.
Look at how much room Devante Parker has on this play action fake to Ajayi after Stills clears out the defensive backs with a deep route. This play is from the Dolphins’ first meeting with New England in 2016, long before Ajayi had established himself as one of the most dangerous backs in the league. Yet, the entire Patriot’s defense bit on the fake. Now , with Ajayi as a unquestioned juggernaut running behind a revamped offensive line, Belichick’s defense will be even more susceptible to this kind of play action misdirection.
Thus, this takes us back to the premise of this article, which has been that Miami’s passing game under Gase will be designed to give running room for Ajayi and his fellow running backs. Yet, as we can see, it will work both ways. The more a defense commits to shutting down the bruising back, the more vulnerable they will become against the Dolphins’ trio of talent pass catchers, taking the nightmarish cycle Gase created in Denver to another level.
Quality Over Quantity
Now, it is important to reiterate that Gase’s Dolphins will not put up the kind of passing numbers that the Broncos did in 2013. Ajayi’s presence alone will see to that. Miami’s offense, as we shall see in the next installment of this series, is being built on the premise of efficiency. No single receiver will be putting up record-breaking numbers, but everyone will be expected to execute when called upon. In other words, the ball will be spread around to every weapon possible in order to keep defenses guessing and the chains moving. After all, why would Gase overplay his passing options and reduce himself to a one-dimensional offense when he fully understands that the way to keep defenses confused is by maintaining a balanced attack?
To put it simply, the genius of Gase’s strategy is in getting defensive coordinators to over-commit to their worst fears. Lay back in coverage, and Ajayi will steamroll through their defense. Double down on the run, and Stills, Parker or Landry will burn them deep. It is a formula easily deciphered, but if a team has the right receivers to execute it well, even the mighty New England Patriots can be laid lowm as occurred in the 2014 AFC Championship Game, where Gase and the Broncos downed Belichick’s Patriots 26-16, on their way to the Super Bowl.
Still, if the idea of Gase recreating the kind of deadly mismatches he produced in Denver sounds too good to be true, let us consider a few irrefutable points:
- Stills and Parker each have higher career yards-per-catch averages than either Demaryius Thomas or Eric Decker, and as such, are tailor made for spreading the field in exactly the manner Gase envisions.
- Landry is an even better slot receiver than Welker, with far greater ability to break tackles and turn short passes across the middle of the field into the kind of huge gains that break the wills of linebackers and cornerbacks alike.
- Former Broncos tight end, Julius Thomas, is now a Miami Dolphin, knows Gase’s system, and is ready to revive his glory days by splitting the seams of opposing defenses, or as yet another red zone weapon for Ryan Tannehill.
- Best of all, Ajayi’s brutal running style is capable of wearing defenses down in ways Knowshon Moreno never could, and as such, brings a knockout punch to Gase’s offensive attack that Denver never had.
Be that as it may. What’s truly important isn’t that Dolfans believe Gase can actually capture lightning in a bottle for a second time. Gase believes it. His players believe it, and, rest assured, Bill Belichick has given that frightening possibility more than just a passing thought as well.
To catch up on the first three steps in this series, visit my column, The Deep Dive.