Moore Modifications: How Will Adam Gase Tweak His Offense to Fit Matt Moore?
The Dolphins had several strokes of incredible luck during Sunday’s game. The weather gods seemed to cooperate, dooming the air-oriented Cardinals attack. Several tipped passes seemed to go right towards Miami’s defenders. At the end of the game, Matt Moore’s desperation heave downfield fell into Kenny Stills’ awaiting arms. Then, Damien Williams managed to get down with a mere 0:01 on the clock to allow the game-winning field goal attempt.
However, their luckiest moment came early on Monday morning. After further examination of Ryan Tannehill’s knee, it was determined that the Dolphins QB didn’t tear his ACL – he simply suffered a sprain to the ACL and MCL. Most, including those in the Dolphins’ organization, assumed that Tannehill’s injury would be a serious season-ending ligament tear.
Alas, the luck that seems to have struck Adam Gase’s team once again revisited them.
Ryan Tannehill won’t return until Week 17 at the soonest, and even that could be a stretch. Nobody wants to risk re-injury at this point in the season, knowing that the team already dodged a bullet and a tear would potentially cost Tannehill part of training camp in 2017.
However, if the Dolphins manage to punch a ticket to the playoffs, it isn’t out of the question that the Dolphins’ man of steel could make his way back into the starting lineup for his first taste of postseason football.
At this point, the key to the statement above is the word “if.”
The Dolphins currently face as tough of a task as any team could be given in the final stretch of the season; they’ll have to play three-consecutive division games, two of which are on the road in a hostile climate. Oh, and they’re going to have to do it with a passer whose last start came in 2011.
Considering the fact that there aren’t 32 quality starting QBs, it’s impossible to expect teams to have rock-solid options as backups. However, in terms of stability, Matt Moore is as good as it gets. He has been in the building through multiple regimes and has served as Ryan Tannehill’s tutor since the Texas A&M product’s rookie year.
Matt Moore can’t be expected to run the offense in the same way that Ryan Tannehill does. Moore doesn’t have the same level of arm talent and is nowhere near as athletic as the Dolphins’ starter. While this is true, there’s plenty that Adam Gase can do to make sure that things still run smoothly with a new signal-caller under center.
Obviously, it all starts with running the ball.
Matt Moore isn’t going to be able to slide the ball into tight spaces deep down the field with multiple players high in coverage. Ryan Tannehill brings a different level of downfield ability.
Ryan Tannehill is able to put enough arc and zip on the ball to slip it between defenders and drop it in ahead of the end zone’s back-boundary. Matt Moore does not possess the same ability; at his age and given what we’ve seen from his career thus far, he doesn’t have the same ability to balance acceleration and distance on the ball.
However, he will be able to throw bombs down the field if the coverage is right.
The defense leaves a single man over the top covering Kenny Stills. All the QB has to do is read the play and let it rip.
Matt Moore’s approach as a self-proclaimed gun slinger could help the Dolphins capitalize on the tendency of defenses to stack the box against Jay Ajayi. However, he doesn’t have the ability to squeeze the ball deep.
The best way for Miami to get easy opportunities for Matt Moore to attack thin coverage deep is to use shorter routes and running plays to draw the defense in before striking.
On Sunday, the Dolphins provided some glimpses at plays that could work in a modified offense for Matt Moore.
On the play above, multiple out-breaking routes clear the middle of the field for Ajayi. Tannehill sends the checkdown Ajayi’s way, and the Dolphins pick up a first down. Plays like that will be crucial for the team as they look to win games with Matt Moore at the helm.
It can also be expected that the Dolphins will incorporate Kenny Stills more heavily in the offense, which luckily for them already appeared to be in the cards on Sunday.
While the attempt to get Drake involved out of the backfield didn’t work above, it’s going to be something that the Dolphins try to use to keep the defense honest underneath.
If Kenyan Drake runs a swing route on a day when the Dolphins are continually looking underneath, it’s likely that they’ll be able to get a safety or deep defender to react. If they can cause even slight hesitation, it’ll be a net-positive for Matt Moore’s ability to attack defenses deep.
In terms of RB play in the passing game, a failed attempt to get the ball to Jay Ajayi on a wheel route also shows a potential way that Moore will be able to succeed.
Multiple routes breaking away from Ajayi allowed the Dolphins to ensure that there would be a window to drop the ball into. The defense expected Tannehill to attack the middle of the field or go underneath, leaving an opening over the top. Miami would be wise to go back to this play with Matt Moore under center to provide an easy opportunity to lay the ball up for a playmaker.
While fans have tired of the Dolphins’ use of screen passes, I’d expect them to sprinkle them in (with a purpose) even more frequently.
Two different directions, both with positive results.
One of the most important things that will have to happen for the Dolphins to win games with Matt Moore at QB will be the creation of extra yardage by receivers. Miami’s offensive play-makers will need to make the most out of each and every completion.
The king of that is Jarvis Landry.
Plays like this, which are easy for the QB and end up with a massive net-gain, would be an enormous boost for a team quarterbacked by Matt Moore. However, we know that Jarvis Landry can do this. The onus will fall on other weapons’ ability to follow in his path and create opportunities.
On the play above, Dion Sims needs to find a way to get upfield. The Dolphins will rely on the ability of their pass catchers and running backs to make plays and generate yards after the catch.
So, why should the offense be so fixated on underneath routes, check downs and rushing attacks with a QB who has expressed a desire to make plays deep down the field?
Because Matt Moore’s mouth is writing a check that his 32-year-old body might not be able to cash.
Moore’s arm strength and zip are very different from Tannehill’s. In addition, Moore doesn’t have the ability to stand in and take huge hits with regularity. Tannehill often hangs in and takes shots as he delivers, but the Dolphins’ veteran backup won’t be able to shake hits off and get back out there like Miami’s younger passer does.
Here’s a demonstration of the difference in zip on the football, first showing Tannehill, then showing Matt Moore.
The contrast is clear between the two passers.
Given the obvious difference in ability, an increase in underneath plays and routes that draw the defense in underneath would allow Moore to be attacking single-coverage more often down the field. This would capitalize on Moore’s ability to turn on the gun-slinger mentality and give his receivers chances to make plays.
Moore’s game-winning completion shows exactly what he can do with coverage allocated underneath.
On this snap, the Cardinals decide to keep eight men in the box, leaving just three players down the field. As the blitz crashes in, Moore takes a chance and heaves the ball up to Stills.
In a situation with more defenders over the top, that pass could very well have been intercepted. Thanks to the Cardinals’ concern with underneath defense and assumption of conservative play for Miami, they aren’t prepared for Moore to take a shot down the field.
Building an offensive approach is not simply about the play design on any given snap; it’s about the sum of every play that is called throughout a season.
Opposing defenses will study tendencies and history heading into every matchup, making it important to create and exploit the concept of an identity. If the Dolphins are going underneath on quick out-breaking routes or slants and passes to running backs, defenses will adjust to that. However, adjusting to that would allow the Dolphins to take advantage of that same perceived identity they would be creating.
Matt Moore has nothing to lose in the next three weeks. Adam Gase has already (emphatically) stated that Ryan Tannehill is the starter, and Moore’s decision to continually re-sign as Miami’s backup indicates that he has accepted the role.
However, Moore will also provide an interesting barometer for Tannehill’s success this season; if the Dolphins’ backup performs at a high level, it makes an interesting statement about the value of Miami’s head coach compared to the importance of Tannehill’s improvements under center.
Right now, Moore’s job is simply to hold down the fort. He’s the football equivalent of a house sitter or a substitute teacher.
Don’t do anything crazy, and try not to let the house burn down while the other guy is away.