Mike Wallace wouldn't admit that the offensive scheme was the source of his struggles, but it probably won't take long for us to find out the truth for ourselves. In 2012-2013, the Dolphins ran a vanilla, uninventive offense that made life all too easy for opposing defenses.
Former offensive coordinator Mike Sherman spent two years building a box, and new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor is now spending his time outside of it.
Lazor has been given autonomy over the offense, according to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald. He has used that autonomy to borrow from some of the concepts he used as quarterbacks coach with the Philadelphia Eagles to help quarterback Nick Foles make a huge jump in his second year.
"It's reminiscent of Chip Kelly’s offense in Philadelphia, with the tempo and style," according to one unnamed Dolphins player, via the Herald. "There are some West Coast offense concepts. Some shotgun, some under center. They've discussed having both no huddle and huddle. It's fast tempo."
Tempo is a key, and we'll get to it later, but Wallace's alignment in the offense is another. Lazor's offense uses a lot of varied formations and pre-snap motion. Wallace lined up almost exclusively on the right side of the offensive formation in 2013, but has been lining up and motioning around all over the formation during Dolphins organized team activities.
The advantages are clear.
"Nobody can ever key on me," Wallace said. "Last year, you kind of knew where I was every single play. Moving around, it's harder for the defense to know where you're at, harder for them to adjust."
Defenses keyed in on Wallace, and the prize pony of 2013 free agency had fewer than 50 receiving yards in nine games and only broke 100 receiving yards in four games.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Wallace caught just one pass on three targets while outside the numbers on the left side of the field. Conversely, he caught 49 passes on 89 targets outside the numbers on the right side of the field.
In theory, a player with Wallace's talents should be difficult to stop, but taking Wallace out of the game became a complicated task of great simplicity.
On this play against the New England Patriots in Week 7, Wallace (circled in yellow) lined up on the right side and ran a fade route down the sideline. Patriots safety Devin McCourty (circled in blue) was in deep coverage on that side of the field, and was the lone deep safety on the play.
Wallace didn't get more than five yards into his route before McCourty began breaking toward the sideline. Tannehill hadn't even begun his throwing motion—although he was staring at that side of the field as if it were Lauren Tannehill, staring back. The result, however, was not nearly as pretty. McCourty lept into the air, tipping the ball in bounds volleyball style and right into the waiting hands of cornerback Marquice Cole, the man assigned to Wallace.
That play may not have been a direct result of Wallace lining up on the right side—McCourty is one of the best deep safeties in football right now—but it may have been a result of a defensive scheme made easier by having the foresight of Wallace's alignment. McCourty spent most of the game lined up on the defensive left (offensive right), probably in response to Wallace consistently lining up on that side of the field.
So, how can the new offense be beneficial?
"Well, there are positives and negatives," explains head coach Joe Philbin. "The thing I think can be helpful is that it can create some different matchups potentially. If you motion him or start him inside, they are going to have to decide if they are going to have a particular player move with him. Typically, in man-to-man defense, it might be different. Zone defense, hey, if he is in the slot, we may like his release against the nickelback better than we like his release against an outside corner, whoever we might be playing."
Some of those matchups will be hugely beneficial to getting Wallace more involved in the offense.
How do the Dolphins create those matchups? That's where tempo begins to come back into the picture.
But there are varying kinds of tempo an offense can use to its advantage.
Tempo can refer to the time from the ball being snapped to it being thrown; it can signify an offense that rarely huddles; or, as Lazor explains, it can mean all of those things, and using them all to your advantage.
"Even when we are in a huddle, we talk about playing with a certain tempo when we break the huddle until we snap the ball," he said. "As we go forward, there will be some other times we will choose to operate a different way, and tempo will take on some other meanings."
Say, for example, a defense comes out in off coverage on Wallace's side of the field. The Dolphins might respond with a short curl route to get Wallace the ball before he gets into the coverage of the cornerback. Say they come out and have him pressed at the line. Tannehill might then send Wallace in motion into the slot to get him away from the jam of the defensive back.
Tempo, as it pertains to a no-huddle offense, should be music to Tannehill's ears.
|Miami Dolphins' offense in crunch time|
|Time remaining||Drives||TD %||NFL rank||FG %||NFL rank||Score %||NFL rank|
|<= 4 minutes in a half||39||10.25||16||23.08||1||33.33||2|
|<= 2 minutes in a half||24||12.5||2||20.83||2||33.33||1|
Anemic at times in 2013, the Dolphins offense came to life in crunch-time situations. The Dolphins scored a league-leading eight times (five field goals, three touchdowns) on drives that began with two minutes or less to go in a half, and a league-high 13 times (nine field goals, four touchdowns) on drives that began with four minutes or less to go in a half.
If the Dolphins can implement their two-minute offense into their regular offense, Tannehill (and, by association, Wallace) could benefit greatly. However, Tannehill must be more cautious in these situations. He threw six interceptions (tied for second-most in the league) with under four minutes remaining in a half.
Every situation has an answer, every action has a reaction, and Lazor's offense is not content with allowing the defense to dictate those situations and will almost always have a reaction.
Aggressiveness and adaptability could be the keys to getting Wallace back on track in 2014.
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots writer for Boston.com. All quotes obtained firsthand or via team news release.