Coaching Chemistry: How Ryan Tannehill Fits Into the Adam Gase Offense
Adam Gase is not the typical candidate who comes from just one coaching tree. He has learned from several great football minds, and has decided to adopt what best fits his style from those approaches. He has formed a unique offensive identity. That is why we have not yet heard many concrete details about the Gase system; because there really aren’t any.
In this article, we dissect what makes Gase’s offense so lethal, and specifically assess how it will fit the skill set of current Dolphins’ quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
There is no name for the Adam Gase offense. That is simply because it has not been run before. Gase has been a student of some of the game’s finest offensive minds. Steve Mariucci was one of the originators of the true West Coast Offense. Mike Martz engineered the “Greatest Show on Turf.” Martz learned from the Chargers’ revolutionary coach in the 1960s, Don Coryell, whose schemes have appeared in Gase’s offense. Possibly most importantly, Gase went to the Peyton Manning school of passing.
Since 2012, the Miami Dolphins’ receivers have utilized one of the most primitive route groups in the NFL. We have all witnessed receivers running the same patterns in the same situations week in and week out.
If you do not know, the route concepts on the field can make or break a play. Receivers do not get open simply because they run the right route, or make a defender misjudge the direction in which they are moving. They get open because other routes on the field draw coverage away from the quarterback’s intended target.
The Dolphins have been one of the worst teams at this consistently; throwing windows are small, and receivers are consistently stacked to one side with little or no thought put into how the routes will affect one another.
Adam Gase utilizes some of the most innovative route concepts I have seen, in order to create throwing windows for his quarterbacks. He often does this in a way that allows for a quick release, and makes the passer’s job easier (especially in third down situations).
Here is a very simple example of this concept:
The intended target here is Julius Thomas, who is covered by a linebacker in zone. The receiver at the bottom of the screen runs what appears to be a standard deep route. The goal here is not to get open, it is to draw coverage up the field so that there is an easy throw on third down to move the chains. The read is simple, thanks to the route run by the receiver that clears space for an easy conversion.
The Miami Dolphins have not employed these concepts since Ryan Tannehill arrived. Dolphins’ fans have been quick to criticize Tannehill’s tendency to throw the ball short of the marker on 3rd down, but he often has no choice because of the incredibly uninspired route groupings. Typically, there is only one option for Tannehill in those situations.
In Adam Gase’s offense, the route concepts usually give the quarterback several places to go with the football. Here is another example:
Julius Thomas slips off of the line to make a key reception here to move the chains. This is once again made possible by a deep route the receiver runs to fend off defenders (also by wide receiver blocking, a key feature of this offense). However, there is another option on the opposite side of the field, which has running room cleared out by the slot receiver. Welker in this case, running across the flat clears out room for the running back. This takes away the linebacker presence, affording Manning the ability to go to his running back for what would have in all likelihood been a similar gain.
In short, Ryan Tannehill will have a much easier time on third downs in Adam Gase’s system. It actually will even remove some of the relevance of the offensive line since the receivers are able to get open thanks to routes run by the other pass catchers. Openings come from the design of the play, and allow for a quick decision to be made.
This tactic will make a world of difference when Ryan Tannehill finds himself in key situations next season.
Changing the Screen Pass:
Most Miami Dolphins’ fans can agree that the team relied far too much on passes thrown behind the line of scrimmage in 2015. Everyone was ready to pull their hair out every time Jarvis Landry would back up for a quick screen on 1st and 10.
Well, the screen pass will not be going away any time soon. However, it is about to get a lot more fun.
Adam Gase does rely heavily upon screen passes in his offense. They are not called as frequently as they were in the Bill Lazor system, but they are surely prevalent, and will continue to be with the explosive ability of playmakers like Jarvis Landry and Kenny Stills. However, when Gase uses the screen pass, he does it in a way we have not previously seen in Miami.
First, he often incorporates the play action pass into the screen. He also uses more unique blocking tactics.
The nitty gritty of this play is somewhat similar to what Miami was using with Jarvis Landry this season. However, the play action pass at the beginning incites just a second of hesitation in the defense, which can prove to be lethal in the NFL.
The hesitation is seen first in the defensive lineman who bites on the fake. This allows the left tackle to slip out into the open, where he throws a key block. In doing so, this enables receivers to block down field, and frees up Demaryius Thomas for the touchdown.
Adam Gase also tends to use conventional formations for unconventional purposes in an effort to catch defenses off guard. The play shown below is something he ran frequently in both Denver and Chicago.
Before the play begins, it looks like a fairly standard running formation. The tight end moves across, in what the defense most likely believes to be an unassuming blocking maneuver. However, when Gase does not use this formation to run, he will have the quarterback do a slight fake (almost like half of a play action), create hesitation on the defensive line, and allow blockers to slip out and clear space while throwing short to the running back or tight end.
The Dolphins used screen plays repeatedly last season. However, it became a weakness down the stretch as teams began to realize what they were doing. Adam Gase on the other hand has figured out how to play his “predictability” to his advantage.
The following play is one of my favorites that I saw during all of my film study with Gase’s offense.
It appears at first to be a standard dump off, with the receiver initially indicating a break upfield, but instead cutting back to the quarterback. However, thanks to a pump from the quarterback, Gase pulls off one of the most interesting trick plays in my recent memory. He is able to convince the two defenders that this is a garden-variety screen, something the Broncos ran often. What they do not realize is that Wes Welker is about to break free for a go ahead touchdown.
Gase drew this play up flawlessly. He took a perceived weakness or predictability, and turned it into a complete positive for his team. This will benefit Ryan Tannehill’s skill set greatly, as he is accustomed to throwing these screen passes.
The creativity Gase employs will also allow for the team to build further off of Tannehill’s strengths and create opportunities for him to make special plays, thanks to elite play design and selection as seen above.
Blitz Exploitation & Patience:
This is where I worry for Ryan Tannehill. Up until now, he has had little to no authority at the line of scrimmage. That will change in August.
In both Denver and Chicago, Gase placed a heavy emphasis on the quarterback’s ability to see the blitz, and understand how to work around it. Here is an example with the Bears:
On this play, the quarterback (Cutler) knows that the outside linebacker is coming in on the blitz as opposed to dropping back into coverage. That being said, the read becomes easy. The receiver is lined up in a position to gain easy yards on the out by exploiting the corner who left a large cushion. Had the linebacker dropped back into coverage, the throw obviously would not have been possible.
Gase expects his quarterback to get to the line of scrimmage, and understand what the defense is about to do. That is the reason the ball leaves the quarterbacks hand so quickly in his offense.
This fact could be misleading if it were not for the consistency with which the quarterback understands what the defense is about to do. Here is another example, this time from Gase’s time in Denver:
It is 3rd down. Clearly, the defense is concerned about holding the offense to a limited number of yards. However, they decide to blitz. Adam Gase knows that this means the safety will be ready to come up and make a tackle if the ball is thrown short, therefore he has Welker and Thomas underneath. The safety, Jahleel Addae, hesitates and considers going up field, which allows Manning to exploit single coverage and deliver the ball quickly to Emmanuel Sanders down the field.
I understand the concern among Dolphins fans. Ryan Tannehill clearly is not Peyton Manning. However, Gase did not implement these methods at the line of scrimmage exclusively in Denver; He had quarterbacks reading blitzes and making quick decisions in Chicago, as well.
The above play could very well be executed with the same design, with the exception of Kenny Stills as the outside option. However, it will be an uphill battle for Ryan Tannehill at first in this system. He will be asked to do something he never has before, and that is to spot the blitz and adjust the play accordingly.
There is no evidence that Ryan Tannehill cannot do this. He simply has never been tasked with it. So, the question remains as to whether or not he will be able to serve as the field general for Gase’s offense in 2016. That will prove to be the make or break factor for the Dolphins’ multi-million dollar man.
After reviewing film, it is clear that the desire was not one sided during this coaching search. The Dolphins’ personnel fits perfectly with what Adam Gase wants to do.
If he can resign Lamar Miller (which I think becomes a top priority), then he will have a formidable stable out of the backfield. He also will have Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker, and Kenny Stills, who can all play similar roles to those of the receivers he had in Denver.
Without comparing the players themselves, I can simply say that Parker can play the big-bodied role of Thomas, Stills can be the speed option that Sanders was, and Landry will be the lethal third down/slot option that Wes Welker was in 2013.
It is also clear that Gase relies heavily upon tight ends in his offense. They will most likely make a strong push to resign Jordan Cameron, as he fits the bill as a tight end that can be used outside of the numbers, which would be to Gase’s liking.
Now, for the all important question. Where does Ryan Tannehill fit into all of this?
The answer is complicated. There are a few things that we can say with certainty, however. First, he can make all of the throws asked of him in the offense. Second, Gase will be able to utilize Tannehill as runner in some very unique ways. Third, Tannehill’s chemistry with Landry and Parker will serve him well, as many of Gase’s concepts require immense trust and communication between the quarterback and his primary targets (which seems obvious, but the importance is elevated in this system).
The main question is if he will be able to handle himself at the line of scrimmage. My gut says yes. He has never demonstrated a lack of intelligence, or a lack of willingness to work hard and put the hours in studying film.
Unfortunately, you can’t simulate what it is like to go up to the line and be tasked with making calls against an NFL defense. Tannehill has been handcuffed greatly since he arrived in Miami. He has been driving the football equivalent of a Toyota. On day one, Gase is giving him the keys to the Ferrari. Now, we just have to see if Tannehill can handle the extra power.
This could be debated endlessly, but the truth is that we won’t know until August. What we do know is that Adam Gase’s system fits Tannehill’s physical abilities well, and that he will give the Dolphins’ franchise quarterback every opportunity to succeed in 2016.
And if he can’t get it done, chances are that it will not be Gase that is showed the door at season’s end.