Dolphins vs. Cardinals: Drawing Up a Game Plan for Miami

Erik Frenz@ErikFrenzSenior Writer ISeptember 28, 2012

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - SEPTEMBER 16:  Head coach Joe Philbin of the Miami Dolphins looks on during the game against the Oakland Raiders at Sun Life Stadium on September 16, 2012 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

The Miami Dolphins are a bit of a tease.

At times, they look like a team that is capable of hanging with anyone despite their lack of talent; other times, they come unglued.

Either way you look at it, a lack of talent is at the forefront of the issue. What do teams that lack talent do? Game-plan.

So here's what they have to do against the Arizona Cardinals to hand the unexpectedly undefeated Cardinals team their first loss of the season.

Stay Conservative on Defense, Starting With Larry Fitzgerald

Despite Arizona scoring 20 points against them, the Patriots laid out the blueprint on shutting down Arizona's offense. Here's a drive summary from Arizona's game against New England, courtesy of NFL.com's game book.

The Cardinals scored 10 points off two turnovers that gave them the ball in New England territory. Three of Arizona's 13 drives lasted longer than five plays. Only two of the Cardinals' drives moved the ball more than 30 yards.

On the CBS broadcast of the game, analyst Rich Gannon highlighted New England's style of defense at the start of the game, pointing out that the theme of the day for the Cardinals would be patience:

Patience, and the reason being the Patriots are extremely patient as a defense; they're disciplined. They're going to force you to earn everything you get. They're going to stay back in seven-man fronts, keep safeties back to help with Larry Fitzgerald, so you have to take what they give you. It's a challenge because most teams don't have that patience.

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The Patriots had two men on Larry Fitzgerald the entire game. The cornerback, whoever it was on any given down, stayed with Fitzgerald step for step, with the safety on the same side of the field coming over to help out over the top when Fitzgerald went deep.

Because of this strategy, the Patriots held Fitzgerald to just one catch for four yards on four targets. 

But most defenses don't have the kind of patience the Patriots do. That was on full display when the Cardinals took on the Eagles, where Bleacher Report NFC West lead writer Tyson Langland gives us some insight as to how the Cardinals receiver was able to nearly double his production from the entire 2012 season in one game and score his first touchdown of the season.

Langland points out that the Cardinals have grown patient in how they utilize Fitzgerald.

@erikfrenz Arizona stopped sending him on 10-15 yard routes. They started running rub routes, drags, slants and crossers. Short routes.

— Tyson Langland(@TysonNFL) September 28, 2012

@erikfrenz Allowed Kolb to get him the ball quickly. The one deep route was on the PA TD pass.

— Tyson Langland(@TysonNFL) September 28, 2012

Langland also points out that the Eagles committed a cardinal sin—putting a cornerback on Fitzgerald in man coverage. Yes, even if that cornerback's name is Nnamdi Asomugha, Fitzgerald has burned man coverage so often that it's downright foolish to expect him not to do it even against one of the league's best.

On this 1st-and-10 play, the Cardinals sent wide receiver Michael Floyd in motion before the snap (blue arrow), with both Fitzgerald and Floyd attacking the seams on go routes.

Once quarterback Kevin Kolb saw Fitzgerald going up the seam with safety Nate Allen's attention fully focused on Floyd, it was a no-brainer for him to make the throw to the end zone. If Allen had known, or realized, that this was a five-on-two scenario with only two Cardinals offensive players even running routes, maybe he would have chosen differently.

It should have been pretty obvious that each would get doubled, but Allen took the bait on the crossing pattern by Floyd and gave up Fitzgerald over the top.

The Patriots never allowed this to happen, which is why they were able to prevent Kolb from targeting Fitzgerald. 

The surest way to slow down the Cardinals is to take away their best offensive playmaker, and that is clearly Fitzgerald.

Blitz Beaters

We turn to Langland once again, who points out the Cardinals did most of their damage by getting pressure on the quarterback over the first three weeks of the season, but especially against Philadelphia.

Through the first two weeks of the season, Arizona controlled two very good football teams by continuously attacking the quarterback with pressure. [Sunday] was no different, as Vick was pummeled by Daryl Washington and the rest of the linebacking corps. 

In total, the Cards defense managed to record 13 quarterback hits and five sacks. It's pretty rare for a team to get that much pressure on the quarterback, but when you have trouble picking up blitzes from every gap, what do you expect to happen?

The Dolphins may have been beaten badly by the Houston Texans, but they had some offensive rhythm going at times against the Texans' blitz.

This 2nd-and-9 play, the Dolphins second play from scrimmage, serves as a good example of Tannehill doing what he will need to do often against the Cardinals, who love to blitz.

There were five receivers split out wide, and the Texans were in Cover 1 with man coverage underneath. 

The cornerback lined up seven yards off of wide receiver Davone Bess, leaving a big window for a completion. Tannehill did exactly what must be done against a blitz, finding the open window and getting his receiver the ball in space where he can get extra yards. 

Tannehill got the ball out less than one second after it was snapped, and as a result, the Dolphins picked up their first first-down of the day.

The Dolphins have taken to a game plan that takes the pressure off of Tannehill, with short and intermediate throws the name of the passing game. According to Pro Football Focus, Tannehill has completed 36 of his 55 throws behind the line of scrimmage to 10 yards downfield, and he's only thrown eight passes deeper than 20 yards this year.

They have also run the football a lot to help open things up behind the front seven.

Any notion that the Cardinals will be less conservative blitzing because of Tannehill's athleticism completely ignores the fact that the Cardinals have blitzed Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and Eagles quarterback Michael Vick with frequency; it's safe to say they're both just as, if not more athletic than Tannehill.

These are both good strategies for beating a blitz, but it's up to Tannehill to get the ball out quickly and it's up to the offensive line to pick up their blitzes and give him enough time to make those throws.

Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained firsthand.


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