This Miami Dolphins offense is very tough to defend for a number of reasons. They have better personnel than people give them credit for across the field, with a group of playmakers who can beat you in a number of different ways. Plus, the way they deploy the personnel gives defenses headaches. This is an offensive scheme that, while they're trying to be more of a ground-and-pound-type attack, is largely based on misdirection and keeping defenders guessing as to what is coming next. A big part of that attack comes in the form of the screen game.
On this play against Washington, the Dolphins come out in 11 personnel with one running back, one tight end and three receivers. But you see two players in the backfield to start the play. Running back Lamar Miller is lined up to quarterback Ryan Tannehill's left, and second-year wide receiver Jarvis Landry is flanked to the quarterback's right. Tight end Jordan Cameron is flexed in the slot to the left. There are a lot of different problems for the defense at this point, and the ball hasn't even been snapped yet!
Right before the snap, Landry flares to the left to run a bubble screen, not an uncommon sight in this offense. Look at how many defenders react (I count five total) to that screen-action, but that's not where the ball is going. After pumping to the left, Tannehill comes back to the boundary side and throws a quick base screen to Miller out of the backfield, who has a cadre of blockers out in front to set up a 22-yard gain and a first down. This may look familiar to Eagles fans because the Eagles ran a lot of this in 2013 when Miami Dolphins offensive coordinator Bill Lazor was the quarterbacks coach. Think back to that game on the road against Tampa Bay, the first play of the game and a long screen pass to LeSean McCoy? That was the same exact concept, with DeSean Jackson out of the backfield with the screen to the left.
Miami doesn't just use bubble screens out of the backfield to mess with second-level defenders though. They find lots of ways to put those players in a bind and make their eyes deceive them.
Here's a play from the first game of the Dan Campbell era in Miami. Notice that Tannehill is under center here, which has happened a lot more since the coaching change. It's another 11 personnel set with a back (Miller) and a tight end. This time, the Dolphins look like they're running an end-around to, you guessed it, Landry out of the slot. This is something that is also pretty common in this offense. Look at how this takes the focus of the Houston linebackers completely away from the real target in this play, Miller on the screen. Miller lets his blocks develop, and he accelerates to a 54-yard touchdown on a great play-design from the Dolphins.
Go back to the team's Week 3 game against Buffalo, and you'll see more deception from this Dolphins offense. This time, they run a full-on "Stick" concept to the wide side of the field. Tannehill looks that direction, and again four defenders at the second level are taken up by the play. Tannehill turns back to his right and finds Miller again on the screen, this time for 16 yards and a first down. The screen game is such a big part of what the Dolphins do, and it helps to set up the rest of their offense.
Here's a play against Houston where Landry lines up in the backfield to Tannehill's left, and just before the snap he flares out to the right behind three potential blockers for a bubble screen. With four eligible receivers to one side of the field, a large number of Texans defenders are in place to defend this route. But this is just a quick slant to the X-receiver, Rishard Matthews, who takes advantage of a bad angle from the safety and goes 53 yards for a touchdown. Six of the back-seven defenders reacted to the Landry screen-action at the snap of the ball, and just those few steps helped give Matthews the room he needed to make this play happen.
Here's the last deception play I'll show from this offense, and it helps to bring it all full circle.
Miami comes out again in 11 personnel with one back and a tight end with three receivers. This time, the tight end is aligned on the line of scrimmage in a closed formation. Miller is in the backfield to Tannehill's right, and to his left is Matthews. Before the snap, Miller flares to the left as if he's going to catch a bubble screen, which is a threat you have to make sure to defend. How many times have we seen Miller catch screen passes in this article alone? The ball is snapped, and Tannehill pumps to the left, but in true "Statue of Liberty" form, he actually hands this off to Landry on the end-around (a play they worked off of earlier on a screen pass to Miller). Landry finds the edge, with Matthews out in front as a lead blocker on the cornerback, and races 22 yards for a touchdown.
Misdirection and deception is the name of the game for a lot of what Miami wants to accomplish offensively. It will be imperative for the Eagles' linebackers and safeties to trust their keys, stay disciplined and "not take the cheese" that this offense will try to offer up on Sunday afternoon.
If you listened to this week's podcast, you heard a great conversation I had with Greg Cosell from NFL Films about Miami's offense. One of the things he said he'd hoped to see from the Dolphins moving forward was to take more shots down the field, and that they could do a better job of stretching defenses vertically. While they don't do that often, they certainly have some concepts built in to try and do that, and their favorite is the three-level stretch.
This is a great visual of the play. Landry lines up on the outside to start, but just before the snap he motions into a stacked look behind Matthews. Notice the switch from the Houston defense, as the safety who was previously responsible for Matthews switches to Landry and passes Matthews off to the corner outside. For Miami, this is what it wanted.
This is a three-level stretch, with Matthews deep, Landry in the intermediate area and the running back out staying short in the flat.
As Matthews runs his vertical route, watch Landry lean inside before breaking outside. The safety over top of him is already lined up with inside leverage because of his alignment. With the corner on the outside running deep with Matthews, there's no one to defend the area outside the numbers. Landry reels in the pass from Tannehill and runs through at least five potential tacklers before leaping into the end zone for the touchdown. An unreal play by Landry on one of their go-to vertical shot plays, and they love to run it with both receivers on the same side. Keep an eye out for this concept on Sunday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field.
Landry is the go-to receiver in this offense, and you've seen why already in this piece. They use him all over the formation. They try to get him the ball in a number of different ways, and his ability to go up and win over defenders as well as his ability to separate at the top of his route make him one of the toughest receivers in the NFL. This offense isn't just about Landry though. They have an assortment of weapons in the passing game, from Matthews (who continues to prove people wrong every week as he consistently puts up numbers), to vertical threat Kenny Stills to tight end Jordan Cameron, one of the most dynamic players at the position in the entire league.
It's Tannehill, however, who makes this passing game go. He's got the ability to beat you both with his arm and with his legs, but he doesn't always scramble to run the football. In fact, a lot of the Dolphins' biggest pass plays in 2015 have come out of the "scramble drill" where he breaks the pocket and his receivers work themselves open down the field.
On this play against Jacksonville, Tannehill faces pressure, steps to his right and unleashes a deep ball to Cameron for a 41-yard gain. But look at it a second time and notice the job Cameron does of uncovering for his quarterback once he sees he's in trouble.
All teams work on the "Scramble Drill" on a weekly basis both offensively and defensively in practice. All eligible receivers in the offense have rules as to where to run when the quarterback is forced to break the pocket. Something like organized chaos unfolds. Tannehill rolls right, multiple receivers work to get themselves open and it's Cameron running deep who catches the quarterback's eye for the big play.
While this offense is ranked 13th in pass yards per game and ranked just 19th in rushing yards, this is still a team that wants to run the football. Much like the Eagles, they historically have been a zone run team, but over the last month with Dan Campbell in charge, they have mixed in more gap-scheme plays. Still, the zone scheme rules all for this team, and they rely on a rebuilt offensive line to get movement up front. They're capable of doing it from time to time.
This is a split zone run against Houston, and look at the movement this double team gets at the point of attack against veteran nose tackle Vince Wilfork. It's not often that you see this guy get moved this far off his spot in the run game. Bennie Logan, Fletcher Cox and Cedric Thornton will have to be ready to handle the double teams that come along with the zone run game on Sunday.
Rookie running back Jay Ajayi made his debut appearance of the season this past week against Buffalo, and the staff believes he has earned more carries. Ajayi is an impressive mix of power and athletic ability, and his receiving skills out of the backfield make him a dangerous third-down option as well. Expect a healthy dose of the rookie on Sunday afternoon.
Fran Duffy is the producer of "Eagles Game Plan" which can be seen on Saturdays during the season. Be sure to also check out the "Eagle Eye In The Sky" podcast on the Philadelphia Eagles podcast channel on iTunes. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University Football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team's games, practices and opponents.