Matt Moore threw 3 TD passes Sunday; two went to Anthony Fasano and one to Brandon Marshall. What makes those plays even more startling is, each was thrown on first down. The previous 7 weeks saw a highly predictable Miami offense, particularly on first down. The runs were so prevalent, opponents had taken to playing man coverage on every first down snap. It took 8 weeks for Miami to self-scout and break this tendency but the change clearly allowed Miami to dictate the tempo of the game.
At 3 of 10, the Dolphins third down proficiency remains at the bottom of the league, but what is lost in that stat is the 14 first downs Miami converted on downs other than third. The Dolphin offense began the game passing the ball 12 times and running only 3. In past games, Miami tried to establish the running game even though the defense was playing man coverage and crowding the box with 8 and sometimes 9 defenders. Most of the first down passes came in play action, which held the linebackers and safeties for that critical second it took receivers to find an opening.
The change forced the defense to back out of the box and by the end of the game Miami had thrown the ball 23 times and ran 24 in near perfect balance. By not forcing the run into the teeth of the defense at the beginning of the game, Miami forced the defense to back out of the box and then was able to run the ball. This offensive management in taking what the defense gave is what was missing earlier in the season. Lining up Anthony Fasano in a position to protect the tackle and then running him into the pattern caught the Chiefs off guard, allowing Fasano to find gaping holes in the defense. Matt Moore showed maturity in the pocket and was able to use his eyes to move safeties away from his intended target.
Bill Walsh was a master at understanding his own tendencies. He would script 15 plays for his offense from the same formations he had previously used, only this time the play was completely different. Defenses key on formations and personnel groupings. When coaches and players talk about film study, this is what they are looking for, identifying plays based on those keys. Great offensive minds study themselves, they understand when defenses have found keys and they use those keys against them. The Dolphins did that this week.
This game showed a maturation of not only Matt Moore, but Brian Daboll as well. Several processes hindered the Dolphins along the way to this performance, the lack of OTAs to install the offense early, instability on the offensive line, and the change at QB. The players now seem comfortable with Daboll’s offense, the OL has found some semblance of continuity and Matt Moore has hit his stride. It was said during the lockout, the teams with stable coaching staffs and veteran players would do better than teams with new systems. A look around the NFL will show this has held true.
The Dolphins can repeat this performance if they do the work to understand themselves. The Redskins will look at this tape and see the Dolphins went away from their tendencies and will formulate a defense based on what they see on film. The trick is not for Miami to change its plays every game, but to disguise those plays with formations and motion altering defensive keys that telegraph play calls. Matt Moore must recognize man coverage on early downs and put his team in a position to be successful by checking to the pass.
Miami can continue to win, if they understand themselves and they use their own tendencies to their advantage. If the Dolphins take a one game approach and try to use the same plays without making changes, they will find a defense prepared for their game plan. It is not necessary to change the plays; it is changing the keys to those plays that is critical to success. As Plato once said, “to understand others, one must know thyself.”