Analyzing The Miami Dolphins on First Down

Consider the following chart...
These are all the plays the Miami Dolphins ran on 1st down against the Seattle Seahawks broken down by the direction of the play, on runs and Ryan Tannehill's passing. The left 3rd of the chart are the runs to the left, center of the chart are the runs to right, and the right 3rd of the chart are passing situations.

Some interesting tendencies begin to develop when breaking down the Dolphins. The most glaring - Find the name Thomas on the chart.

Notice the direction Daniel Thomas runs on every first down carry... When Thomas is in the game on first down the Dolphins run to right side of the line, in every instance. Watching the game it is difficult to notice the subtle nuances in play calling, but teams have staffs of professionals combing data to find tendencies. Thomas running to the right on first down will clearly be highlighted in the New England Patriot film session. 

 Reggie Bush is a little more illusive.

Although there is a tendency, when the Dolphins run left on first down; they do it with Reggie bush. There is data missing that gives defenders even a little more ability to anticipate the offense. Formations and pulling linemen are huge keys for a linebacker.

Zach Thomas always seemed to be moving to the ball. Many times broadcasters spoke of Thomas's instincts, but there was much more going on with Thomas. He broke down offenses in different situations and was able to follow keys that led him to the ball carrier.

A pulling lineman cannot be disguised. A 300 pound man drawing back and running across the backfield has nowhere to hide. When Mike Pouncey got around the left side on Bush's 21 yard TD scamper, Zach Thomas may have been able to breakdown the film and be in position to stop the play.

What about the passing...

There were 14 situations where Ryan Tannehill passed on first down. Three of those opportunities were either a kneel down at the half or the two spikes on the final drive, those are greyed out on the chart and eliminated in the count. With those removed, Tannehill was successful on 6 of 11 first down passing attempts, 55%. Though the gains on successful throws were substantial, the average when considering the miscues was actually less than the running plays (see main chart) at 6.9 yards per attempt. For a comparison, Tom Brady had a similar completion percentage and his average yardage was equitable. The difference in the Patriot offense versus the Dolphins is, Miami passes 38% of the time on first down, while NE passes well over 50% of the time. The conclusion from the style of offense is, New England does not believe negative plays or incompletions, on first down, are detrimental to their offense.

The Patriots place no special relevance on first down.

This is what sets New England's offense apart from the rest of the NFL, except perhaps Denver, Green Bay and New Orleans. These teams have such great confidence in their QBs, first down is not a mystical must gain 5 yard down for the offense to be successful. The reason is simple, give Brady, Manning, Rodgers or Brees 3 chances to throw for 10 yards and they will make the play many more times than not.

This is where Miami is hoping to go, but also what Miami must defend against this week. The reality in the NFL is, when a team has a QB and offense capable of completing passes, even when the defense is playing the pass, there is little opponents can do to stop them once the train starts rolling.

Defeating New England on Sunday will not come on the predictable tendencies of Bush Left and Thomas right, it will come on the arm of Ryan Tannehill and a Miami offense that can make one throw in three further than ten yards.

To beat New England, Miami will have to score points and keep Tom Brady on the bench. With Bill Belichick on the opposing sideline, going against tendencies will be the key. Time for the rookie to open the door to the future.

There's is nothing to lose by being wide open. Playing to tendencies will surely lead to defeat...

May as well let it go Dolphins!