Miami Dolphins: How to Maintain the Status Quo (when necessary) ... Five Battle-Tested Plays
With so much emphasis already directed on new additions and how the team should play to their strengths of smash mouth, physical football on both sides of the ball, let's break down what worked the most in 2008.
As already mentioned, the Dolphins did a great job keeping their core together, so expect to see the following five plays and formations duplicated plenty.
I've singled out three offensive sets and a pair of defensive ones that I feel showcase the essence of, what is hopefully to be, another successful campaign for Tony Sparano (pictured) and crew.
Jumbo Package: Tight End Hook and Go, Corner
We saw this play a lot, last year. Anthony Fasano (pictured) averaged under 8.5 y.p.g. while in Dallas. Last year, he neared 30. That's because, as the season wore on, Chad Pennington realized he had a better rapport with his tight ends than any of his wide receivers.
He and, offensive coordinator, Dan Henning, also realized that, in the Jumbo set, outside linebackers were cheating the run, allowing the smaller Fasano to squeeze through the front seven and burn the OLB for a big gain.
In weeks 10-13, Fasano's numbers went down. This was because strong safeties started protected against his stunt blocks-turned-dashes down the field.
Henning responded with a little hook and go action (for Fasano) from the slot, that would give the wide receiver (only one is deployed on Jumbo sets) the chance to get down the field before Fasano.
Fasano would stop and turn as the WR cuts across the field, drawing the safety away. Fasano would then run an '8'... the corner route. The hope would be to draw away the safety with the WR, and catch the CB on the wrong foot.
This worked a lot, last year, and should definitely work more this year, especially with David Martin also lining up (two tight ends in the Jumbo package) as a decoy for the middle linebacker.
Of course, the best defense for most Jumbo formation pass plays are pass-zone 3-4 formations. This way, the safeties take a step back to discourage the deep pass, thus keeping the play in front of them with only one wide receiver to spread the field out for the quarterback.
Plus, in the 3-4, there are two middle linebackers, so one can hover and resist the bait from the down tight end on the line of scrimmage.
The advantage for the offense is that you have two running backs to block for the QB, or step out for passes. Sometimes, Miami tips their hat when they want to pass by removing RBs Ricky Williams or Ronnie Brown for Patrick Cobbs.
Cobbs was the team's sixth leading receiver, last year.
It's not rare, from the Jumbo set, to see him line up on Pennington's strong side, and dash to his right (the open side of the field) where there's probably no opposing corner, unless they're assigned to cover David Martin (the second tight end). This is doubtful.
This is a good play with many options for Pennington, and two possible screen options if an opposing blitz bursts through the o-line.
Ace (one back): HB Counter off Weak-Side Tackle
This is a cool play that is pictured with Ronnie Brown concluding its execution against New England during the September 21st game. This formation actually has four eligible receivers.
Some teams use three wide receivers. But, Miami utilizes Cobbs in the slot, next to Fasano, and WR Ted Gynn (primarily a blocker) flanked against the sideline, almost stunting a reverse-handoff.
Other starting WR Greg Camarillo will be on the other side of the field (Pennington's strong side). He'll probably run a fly to distract a corner and/or safety, or simply hang back and block.
Halfback, Ronnie Brown, will line up directly behind Pennington.
The ace formations (of which there are several variations) came to popularity in the 1950s, but physical teams still utilize various incarnations of them, today.
Back when tight ends were built like offensive linemen, the purpose of the HB counter was to build a wall of protection for the running back, almost like a really good screen formation.
A counter is a running play that starts with three to five steps (after the hand-off) either up the middle or to the other side of the field you plan on running. The point here, is to allow "the wall" to block the opponents covering them toward the middle of the field, opening up a lane off the tackle for the HB.
Then, as the runner cuts to the outside, the blockers hold as is, and there you have your wall. Ideally, the blockers run down the field, with the running back. After all, they should be more than capable, being eligible receivers should the QB call an audible at the line of scrimmage.
The Lions used to run Ace formations with Barry Sanders all the time. Guys with break away speed are perfect for these kind of plays. Plus, it takes wear and tear off of your feature back because, more often than not, they're pushed out of bounds instead of tackled.
Shotgun Spread: Wildcat
Okay, let's talk about what exactly this Wildcat is. It's run from the Shotgun Spread formation, only instead of spreading four receivers, you spread two (twins on one side of the field, part of what's called the 'Base Wildcat'). The other two receiving spots are assigned to a running back and a quarterback.
Pictured is Ronnie Brown during the September 21st game against the Patriots. He took a snap from the Wildcat with Pennington lined up as a strong side receiver, and threw a 19-yard touchdown to Fasano, lined up as a flanker, twined with Ginn on, what's actually, Brown's strong side (he's a lefty).
I know that's sort of a mouthful, so let's break it down.
The Shotgun Spread formation is intended for long yardage plays. The Wildcat formation was originally developed to create mismatches with an opposing Dime or Quarter package (set up to defend a long pass).
Instead of four wide receivers, you have two twin receivers on one side so they can play off each other.
The quarterback is kept in the huddle so to keep the play as unpredictable as possible (defenses could burn a timeout and re-group, otherwise). Then, he lines up as a lone receiver on the bottom of the field.
The last receiver lines up aside the alternate quarterback. With the Dolphins, they replace receiver, Camarillo, with Ricky Williams, and use Ronnie Brown as the QB.
They also typically utilize Fasano as the slot receiver because he's a standout blocker, and the Dolphins run a lot from this formation.
There's also a relatively popular college variance of this play called the Split Zone or Flanker Wildcat.
This is when the quarterback (lined up as the lone-side receiver) lines up flanked off the line of scrimmage. Then, after the snap, he runs back to the middle of the field to receive the ball so he can throw it, or to simply deke the corner covering him.
If I'm not mistaken, Kurt Warner ran a close facsimile of this for the Cardinals in the first half of the NFC Championship Game versus the Eagles, on one of his TDs to Fitzgerald.
3-4 Defense: 2-Deep Zone Coverage, Mac Blitz
This is a relatively standard base 3-4 formation where the front-seven shifts with the offensive line and blitzes from the quarterback's weak side.
Usually, when you bring heat, you'll keep, at least, your safeties posted deep so to avoid giving up mismatches down the field if the blitz is stopped by the o-line.
In the play pictured, the Chargers set up a 'trap' play where Tomlinson was supposed to run off the guard, following the fullback's lead, before veering off to the side, last minute. The reason why the 3-4 is gaining in popularity is because athletic OLBs can better adjust to these kind of dekes than ends do.
The Mac Blitz simply requires one down OLB (usually Miami utilizes Akin Ayodele, though, for some reason, as you can see #52, Crowder, typically an ILB, seems to have lined up as an OLB on this play), to line up outside the strong side defensive end (Phillip Merling).
The defensive line pushes the offensive line to the quarterback's weak side, thus freeing the down linebacker to have an open trail toward the backfield.
The Dolphins can afford to run this play more than the average team because Joey Porter is the RILB, so if the blitzing ROLB leaves a lane for the QB to flick the ball over to a screening HB, Porter can close ground as good as just about anyone.
Most 3-4 formations entail taking one of the four linebackers and moving him from the stance, up to the down position along the line of scrimmage, so it's easy to hide this blitz, as well.
But, low risk, lower reward in the sense that if the offensive line holds their position, and is not swept aside to open a blitzing lane, then you're left with a zone defense and three stationary linebackers.
The Patriots were masters of this play when they had Mike Vrabel. Now, expect second-year UT Volunteer, Jarrod Mayo, to handle the blitzing.
The Over/Under 3-4 Zone Protect
The Over/Under Zone Protect could fall under a couple different monikers in the Dolphins' playbook.
But, consider it as this... you have a third and manageable situation, you assume the offense will pass and you don't want to allow their quarterback a pocket to throw in because the pressure is too light.
With any over/under formation, you're talking about rotating the linebackers. In this case, you're taking one inside and one outside LB and moving them in between their corresponding end and the nose tackle (Jason Ferguson).
So, now you have five guys on the line. The four secondary players line up well off the line of scrimmage, so if the vacancies left by the rotating linebackers result in short routes, the corners and safeties can jump up and make the tackle quickly.
For the Dolphins, the two rotating LBs are usually Matt Roth, who had five sacks in '08, and Joey Porter, who remarkably had 17.5. So, you can see why this formation works with linebackers like Miami's.
The zone protection greatly limits any chance of a deep ball, and keeps the play in front of your secondary. You have five down linemen to deal with any rush that could hit you by surprise.
The best offense against this play is a quick screen pass to the side with the weaker-tackling cornerback on the field, because, at most, only one linebacker will get there before the secondary. Again, the two down linebackers are in between the defensive ends.
You will see defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni calling this play, or a very close, custom facsimile of it.
More teams are adjusting their 3-4 zones nowadays, as linebackers become more athletic, rather than bringing in more DBs on long-yardage downs, and changing up to Dime or Quarter packages. That breaks up the synchronicity of your defense.
Well, there you have it. Try to spot some of these plays during the preseason, and log on to Bleacher Report to comment on who runs them the best for the team's sake.
All five of these plays have been used very well by the Dolphins in the recent past, and the potential is there again.
Hopefully, you understand a little more about how these crucial plays function with the team's formations, and the specific attributes of some of the players involved. At the very least, I'm optimistic you now have a little better idea of a couple game-breakers you can use on your friends when playing Madden.
Thanks for reading.