One week after a disappointing performance against the Cleveland Browns, Miami Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace broke out against the Indianapolis Colts with nine catches for 115 yards and a touchdown.
Given the public controversy surrounding Wallace’s 15 yards receiving in Week 1, we can assume the Miami Dolphins were motivated to get their $60 million free-agent acquisition producing better in the following game.
A close examination of the Week 2 game against the Indianapolis Colts game shows that the coaches made significant adjustments in order to scheme Mike Wallace open during the game. In this piece, we will examine what those adjustments were, how Wallace was able to execute them and look at an example of what the focus on Wallace may have cost the Dolphins.
Route Depth and Variety
The first and most noticeable adjustment the Miami Dolphins coaches made in scheming Mike Wallace open was due to the depth and variety of Wallace’s routes.
Against the Cleveland Browns, Wallace ran a lot of deeper routes. One quick look at the routes Wallace ran against the Colts shows that the Dolphins increased the variety of his routes and decreased their depth.
Below you will find a diagram of every route Wallace ran on his nine catches during the game:
As you can see, the only true deep route present was the double move on which Wallace caught a 34-yard pass from quarterback Ryan Tannehill in the third quarter.
The first route Wallace ran during the game was a crosser during which Wallace flattened out at a depth of about 12 yards. Wallace’s second catch of the game was a skinny post designed to get Wallace the football again at a depth of about 12 yards. These were the two deepest routes during which Wallace caught a ball, other than the double move.
The best example of the change to Wallace’s route depth and variety came in the first quarter when the Dolphins threw a simple wide receiver screen to Wallace.
The blocking in front of Wallace was superb. Center Mike Pouncey has a unique ability to release far beyond the line of scrimmage and block defensive backs on screen plays.
The Dolphins utilized this. Tight end Charles Clay kicked out wide to seal the boundary defender. Right tackle Tyson Clabo, who generally struggled during the game, hoofed it out wide enough to produce a key block.
Once the blocking was set, Wallace’s speed became the final agreement to turn this simple play call into an 18-yard touchdown.
The second-most notable adjustment the Dolphins made to scheme Wallace open was to protect him from potential press coverage by stacking him with other receivers on the same side of the field.
After the game, Colts corner Greg Toler explained to Mike Wells of ESPN.com how the Dolphins utilized this tactic:
We were getting hands on him, but they were doing a good job of hiding him behind stacks so you couldn’t get a good press on him. That’s when he did his most damage.
Toler was correct in his assessment, as we will see on the following play.
The Dolphins ran the play below against the Colts’ quarter-quarter-halves coverage scheme. The stacking of Wallace behind slot receiver Brandon Gibson made it impossible for the secondary to adjust their position and coverage scheme to allow Greg Toler to press Wallace.
The route itself was simple and did not require special ability from Wallace to execute. Wallace ran an out route underneath Toler’s quarters coverage. This is a good example of how the scheme produced some production for Mike Wallace.
The scheme alone could not have produced the kind of day Mike Wallace enjoyed against the Indianapolis Colts. If Wallace had not excelled with his execution of the routes, his production would have stayed relatively minimal.
The play below starts out with Wallace lining up on the right perimeter of the field.
Colts corner Greg Toler starts out in an aggressive press position against Wallace. Because Wallace motioned inside into a stack with wide receiver Brandon Gibson, Toler was forced to pull out of his aggressive press positioning.
The coverage dictated that, as Wallace crossed the middle of the field, he would be covered by the Colts’ nickel corner, Darius Butler. This was a favorable matchup for Wallace.
From there, Wallace’s execution of the route against man coverage created the opportunity for Tannehill to complete the pass.
Notice how Wallace pumped his brakes, as he crossed the middle of the field in order to force Butler to react. Once Butler slammed into Wallace’s back, Wallace re-ignited his engines and created the window through which Tannehill could safely place the football.
The next play was Wallace’s biggest gain of the day.
You will note that, once again, the Dolphins hid Wallace behind a stack, this time a “trips” formation to the right side featuring three receivers. The front-most receiver, Michael Egnew, will run a deep vertical post, occupying the safety on that side of the field. The inner-most receiver will run a flat route to occupy the shallow coverage from the outside linebacker to that side.
The scheme prevented Wallace from being pressed and guaranteed him single coverage by corner Greg Toler. It was up to Wallace to do the rest with his skill.
At a depth of about eight yards, Wallace executed a stutter step as if he were cutting to the outside. Toler bit on the move and changed his body orientation. When Wallace re-accelerated on his vertical, he had Toler soundly beaten.
Sometimes, there can be a cost to placing too much emphasis on getting the football to one player, rather than having the quarterback distribute the ball into places where the defense is weakest.
It was clear the Dolphins made every effort to get Wallace involved in the game early and often. Below we will take a second look at a play that we already reviewed.
The above play resulted in Wallace’s first catch of the football game. The question we have to ask is whether the Dolphins placed such an emphasis on getting the football to Wallace that quarterback Ryan Tannehill ignored a more appealing option to his left.
Brian Hartline is lined up to Tannehill’s left and runs a drag route across the formation. The corner lined up opposite him is in press man. He will follow Hartline across the formation in man coverage, creating a vacuum to that side of the field.
The Dolphins have tight end Charles Clay on the line, attached to the offensive line to the right side. He will cross from the right side to the left into the vacuum created by the corner in man coverage with Hartline. Simultaneously, tailback Lamar Miller will run a wheel route up the left sideline into that same empty space.
The Dolphins now have two players running into a vacant area of the football field where only one linebacker, Jerrell Freeman, can cover. Given his zone assignment, he is more concerned with Clay sitting down in the vacated zone than he is Miller running free up the left sideline.
There is a safety present who could potentially threaten Miller’s route if Tannehill’s timing and ball placement are off. However, this safety starts out in single-high, center field alignment. He also rotates toward the opposite side of the field from Miller’s wheel route at the snap. He is not in favorable position to prevent Miller from catching a deep ball on the wheel route.
The most favorable read on the play was not the throw to Wallace that Tannehill ended up executing. With Miller running vertically on the left sideline, Clay sitting down under the zone and only a linebacker to try and cover both players, Tannehill should have worked that read during the play.
The Dolphins clearly placed an emphasis on getting the football to Mike Wallace during the Week 2 game against the Indianapolis Colts. Their coaches created a game plan to see that he would have every opportunity to produce.
Wallace’s execution of his routes helped turn the game plan into a reality. While the team may have missed on a potential quick-strike touchdown on the offense’s third play of the game, the benefits of getting the team’s biggest playmaker more involved may have outweighed the costs.