Punching It In: Why the Dolphins Will Thrive in Adam Gase’s Goal Line Offense
Performance on the goal line is about finishing the job.
For the Miami Dolphins, a team that has been unable to finish the job of reaching the playoffs in recent seasons, red zone performance is something that must improve. While Joe Philbin and Bill Lazor appeared to sometimes stumble upon plays that worked in the most critical area of the field, it never seemed that they had a hold on exactly why it was working. The scheme would sometimes allow players to make exceptional plays, but the design was never such that it appeared to be driving any success in that area.
Luckily for the Miami Dolphins, their current head coach has made a name through exceptional play design that drives the success of a team.
Adam Gase studied under several of the league’s best offensive coaches and worked with one of its greatest offensive minds in Peyton Manning. While many ask if Gase’s success was driven by Manning, this is not the question we should be focused on. What we should want to know is whether or not Adam Gase learned what made Peyton Manning successful and if he can implement that in his coaching.
From 2004-2010, the Christensen and Manning-led Colts had one of the NFL’s top 10 red zone offenses. This features two appearances at the No. 1 spot in 2008 and 2010 respectively.
When Peyton Manning and Adam Gase worked together in Denver, Gase’s offense was influenced greatly by Manning’s preferences (obviously). This meant that on the goal line, Adam Gase was able to learn what the greatest field general in NFL history did at the line of scrimmage to best allow him to finish the job and put points on the board.
So, what exactly does this consist of?
Well Max, I’m glad you asked.
Quarterback Decision Making:
In all areas of the field, QB decision-making and coverage diagnosis are incredibly important. On the goal line, where all 22 players are jammed into an area that is 20 yards deep at the most, that decision-making becomes even more crucial and mistakes become even more fatal.
Adam Gase’s offense is not incredibly dependent on switching through reads during the play. His progressions actually become self-explanatory for a passer if they can diagnose the coverage before the snap. These pre-snap reads are the most important portion of Gase’s offense for a QB. Quick decision making and a fast release became staples of this system in Denver, as Peyton Manning’s age meant keeping him upright was an even greater priority than for most passers. Standing in the pocket and taking hits did not work for a quarterback in his late 30s. This quick release ended up finding its way into Gase’s play designs.
If the quarterback hesitates, the play will break down. Here is an example:
On this play, Jeremy Langford runs a standard route leaking out of the backfield towards the sideline. He has space because the rest of the receivers are all bunched on the other side, which leads to difficult throwing lanes in the area. However, this is by design. The defense is concentrated on the crowded side while Langford leaks out towards a more open area. Jay Cutler hesitates and does not throw the pass to his outside shoulder, which would have most likely resulted in a touchdown. Instead, he waits and is forced to throw the ball away.
Here is another example, actually from Denver’s 2014 game against Miami:
It is imperative that the QB recognizes where linebackers will be in coverage so that he can exploit a potential mismatch. On this play, Peyton Manning sees that Demaryius Thomas is coming across the field will enter Jelani Jenkins’ zone. This means that he could exploit Jenkins, a player with lesser ball skills, for a potential touchdown. That is exactly what he does, stepping up to that side and throwing the ball to Thomas, who Jenkins is not able to defend.
These plays both show that Ryan Tannehill’s ability to make reads pre-snap and adjust the play at the line of scrimmage will become crucial in Adam Gase’s offense. However, the quarterback’s ability to diagnose is only part of what makes Gase’s offense effective in the red zone.
Big Bodied Receiver:
DeVante Parker spent the 2015 season in one of two states:
Injured or underutilized.
In 2016, Adam Gase will look to push DeVante Parker into the spotlight in an attempt to fit him into the Demaryius Thomas role.
This conversation should be opened with something that Adam Gase actually does not like to do: call fade routes.
When most hear “big bodied receiver” they think of the Calvin Johnson/Matthew Stafford connection, which was based on heaving the ball up and praying. In Adam Gase’s system, he likes to avoid this type of play.
Here you can see the dangers of those routes. Jay Cutler puts it up to give Alshon Jeffery a chance, and the defensive back ends up with an interception.
Adam Gase prefers to use the receiver’s length to help him gain body position and box out receivers. Rather than simply making it a vertical battle, it becomes an effort to extend pass catchers’ long arms and place the ball somewhere the defensive back can’t reach it.
This is an example of how Adam Gase will look to use DeVante Parker. This route works beautifully on the goal line if you have a long-armed and tall pass catcher. Jay Cutler places the ball far enough out so that the DB trailing Alshon Jeffery cannot reach the ball, and high enough that the defensive back in front cannot beat him to it. This route can result in big hits, but it also represents a way to use a WR’s size to your advantage without simply relying on the imperfect use of fade routes.
As offensive coordinator, Gase also uses spread out sets to create wider areas and individual assignments on larger receivers that allow for the use of body position to make plays.
On this play there are five players running routes. This means that the defense has no choice but to spread themselves thinner, leading to higher importance on individual coverage. However, this leaves Demaryius Thomas, whose length and height make him a tough assignment for most defensive backs, able to play one-on-one. Manning throws the ball to Thomas in a way that allows him to shield it from the DB with his body, taking advantage of the high number of receivers out in the route combination.
This is a strategy that Gase will look to implement with the Dolphins, as he has viable receiving options in Landry, Parker, Stills, Cameron and possibly even Carroo or Hazel. Either way, the Dolphins will be able to spread out defenses in the red zone and utilize the size of DeVante Parker.
Adam Gase’s offense sputtered in 2015 when Alshon Jeffery was out due to injuries. This shows how important it will be for DeVante Parker to be on the field during 2016. Gase echoed this importance by holding Parker out of some OTA and minicamp practices in an effort to ensure that one of his projected top options doesn’t spend his season on the trainer’s table.
So, any fantasy owners who are reading this article should take note of something – DeVante Parker will be a very valuable man if he is healthy in 2016.
The Tight End Position:
At the onset of the offseason I felt that cutting Jordan Cameron could be in the cards for the Dolphins. After a disappointing 2015 season, his cap hit for next year appeared to be a tough pill to swallow. However, Cameron took a pay cut to stay in Miami. Initially, I did not understand the decision.
Upon examining Adam Gase’s offense, particularly when approaching “pay-dirt,” it became clear why Jordan Cameron would want to stick around.
Gase utilizes tight ends with the creativity Dolphins fans yearned for in 2015. Bill Lazor used Jordan Cameron in the exact same way he used Dion Sims, which clearly was not maximizing resources. Adam Gase will find very interesting ways to utilize Cameron and Sims.
This is an example of play that could work for either player, while also maximizing the ability of Ryan Tannehill.
Here, the tight end acts as a blocker but slips past the defender to become a receiving option. This catches the defense off guard and results in a touchdown. Trickery here is possible due to the dual nature of the tight end position, which Gase utilizes in a way that Miami has not seen. This pseudo-trick play on the goal line could be an effective option for the Dolphins to utilize Ryan Tannehill’s mobility and Jordan Cameron’s presence.
Here is another example of the tight end slipping out of what initially looks like a running play:
This appears to be a running play by all accounts. Several players are in the backfield in a power formation, and Jay Cutler turns around as if he is handing it off to start out. However, Cutler then turns around and takes advantage of the defense’s eagerness to stop the run. Since no receivers were out in the play, the TE, who most thought was just blocking, actually ends up in the middle of the field wide open.
These plays in the red zone create confusion among the defense. Is he a blocker? Is he a receiver? Nobody knows. That is the beauty of the tight end position, and hopefully the 2016 Miami Dolphins are able to score thanks to utilization of the position’s dynamic nature.
Even those who do not believe Ryan Tannehill can be a winning QB in Miami cannot deny his talent when throwing the ball on the run.
So yes, Ryan Tannehill is a very effective quarterback when throwing on the run. Luckily for him, Adam Gase’s offense heavily utilizes not only quarterback mobility, but also the ability to deliver the ball effectively on the move.
The Martellus Bennett TD showed earlier is a good example of this.
On this play, Cutler rolls out to the weak side of the formation. This catches the defense off guard and allows him to throw a touch pass to Martellus Bennett for a touchdown. These plays that utilize misdirection and quarterback mobility pop up frequently in Gase’s offense.
Here is another example:
Plays like this will utilize the strength of Ryan Tannehill perfectly. Here, Osweiler moves to his right and is able to take advantage of a size mismatch with the tight end.
Adam Gase’s play design also creates running opportunities for quarterbacks in the red zone. Here is a play from Chicago in which he was able to design a running area large enough for Jay Cutler, who is not the most fleet of foot.
On this play, the tight end’s route draws a linebacker to the opposite side of the field. This diversion creates a huge gap for Jay Cutler, who takes off. Cutler decides to move inside, but with Tannehill’s speed that play would become an easy run to the corner. The route concepts on this play illustrate a theme that Gase demonstrates consistently in his offense: every route has a purpose, and every player can be used in some way on each play whether or not he is the intended, or likely, target.
These plays that utilize rollouts and quarterback mobility in the red zone will be a welcomed addition for Ryan Tannehill. The Dolphins QB’s athleticism has often gone underutilized, and Gase’s schemes will finally allow him to take advantage of this strength in the most crucial part of the field.
Oh, and we’ll finally get to see the quarterback actually line up under center on the goal line to create play action opportunities.
Wow, the formation actually allows you to create deception and generate time/options for the quarterback on the goal line. Wouldn’t have known from the Bill Lazor offense.
The Miami Dolphins were playing checkers from 2012-2015. Adam Gase is bringing his chess set.
The goal line offense in Miami has been schematically frustrating in recent seasons. Players on the field went seemingly unutilized, as every option had its own route but none of them seemed connected. There did not seem to be a common goal in terms of one route leading to an opening for another. This idea of route concepts plays heavily into Adam Gase’s approach and will make a world of difference on the goal line.
DeVante Parker, if healthy, will have a huge role in Adam Gase’s system. His length and size will allow him to shield the ball in an area of the field where gaining separation with speed is difficult due to short area. Boxing out becomes hugely important, and Gase will use Parker’s frame to help him develop his ability in that area. Parker will also be a primary option when large groups of receivers are out running routes, stretching out the defense.
Jordan Cameron and Dion Sims should also see a spike in production. The tight end position lends itself to some deceit due to its dual role as run blocking and pass catching options. In Chicago and Denver, Adam Gase left a trail of successful tight ends. Julius Thomas and Zach Miller are just two of the players Gase developed into high-level players during his stints with their respective teams.
Ryan Tannehill will benefit greatly from this system. The ability to make pre-snap reads and change calls at the line of scrimmage will allow him to finally access the full arsenal of weapons a quarterback should have. Gase’s tendency to design rollouts and create space for the passer will also lend itself well to Ryan Tannehill’s ability as a runner and his talent when throwing on the move.
Adam Gase’s offensive schemes become highly advanced on the goal line. His creativity shines through in this crucial area of the field, displaying the offensive prowess that made him such a hot coaching commodity. The Dolphins will see an elevation in their offensive game plans as they prepare to start their first training camp under a young coach whose schemes have rightfully earned him the “offensive guru” moniker.