Knowshon Moreno Proves Himself a Vital Part of Dolphins Offense in Week 1

Ian Wharton@NFLFilmStudyContributor ISeptember 8, 2014

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - SEPTEMBER 07:  Knowshon Moreno #28 of the Miami Dolphins runs for yardage in the second half against the New England Patriots at Sun Life Stadium on September 7, 2014 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

At the end of the Miami Dolphins' impressive 33-20 comeback victory against the New England Patriots, one player stood out among the rest due to his performance.

It's the same player who had to settle for a one-year contract in the offseason despite totaling 1,586 all-purpose yards for the Denver Broncos in 2013. He was one of the last running backs to land a deal, signing after Ben Tate, Rashad Jennings, Toby Gerhart and Donald Brown received multiyear contracts elsewhere.

This player was unwanted by his former employer, cast aside for a younger option with less mileage and wear.

Just said on @nflnetwork: #Broncos don’t expect to be able to sign RB Knowshon Moreno back for 14. He’s a free agent. Should hit the market

— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) January 29, 2014

And worst yet, his accomplishments were often diminished by analysts and fans alike, like when Vinnie Iyer of Sporting News said of the 27-year-old running back, "There's nothing special about him, however. He gets whatever yards are there based on blocking and the running lanes Manning creates by spreading the field."

That player is Knowshon Moreno, and with his 134-yard explosion against the Patriots on Sunday, he showed he's more than just a third-down running back for the Dolphins. His performance resulted in the third-most rushing yards of his career and helped propel the Dolphins to a crucial Week 1 victory.

Knowshon Moreno running with all of the heart that made him a crowd favorite in Denver last year. Where are the haters now?

— Sigmund Bloom (@SigmundBloom) September 7, 2014

In a first half filled with self-inflicted mistakes, there was one consistent playmaker for the Dolphins. Moreno started slowly, receiving his first carry at the five-minute mark of the first quarter. His five-yard gain looked to be nothing special.

Moreno is a plus help-blocker in pass protection, which only heightens his value to the Dolphins
Moreno is a plus help-blocker in pass protection, which only heightens his value to the DolphinsNFL.com

But as the game progressed, Moreno kept churning his legs and ran harder into the Patriots defense. He didn't have to break a run longer than the 15-yard scamper he had in the second quarter because he was busy chipping away four, five and six yards at a time.

For Moreno, the recipe for success is simple: be patient while the blockers set up their blocks then cut where the hole opens up. Below, you'll see how Moreno progresses to the running lane, and he explodes through it for his 15-yard gain.

Moreno takes his time as he feels out the running lane
Moreno takes his time as he feels out the running laneNFL.com

The zone-blocking scheme that the Dolphins utilize is based around medium-sized gains on the ground. By shortening up the distance for a new set of downs early in the possession, the offense holds more control over the defense and increases odds for a scoring possession.

Moreno proved why he is a perfect fit for the Dolphins offense in Week 1 because he chips away at the defense, constantly gaining positive yards.

Satele on Knowshon Moreno: "Did you see that man out there? He’s a crazy dude. We gave him a little crease & he just hit it -- off he goes."

— Andrew Abramson (@AbramsonPBP) September 7, 2014

In the third quarter, the Dolphins began to feed Moreno and establish ball control over the Patriots. Starting tailback Lamar Miller had a decent game, but the Dolphins couldn't keep Moreno off the field when he continued to pick up chunk yards on the ground.

The Dolphins' second drive of the third quarter featured three consecutive Moreno runs totaling 20 yards. That effectiveness allowed quarterback Ryan Tannehill to connect with receiver Mike Wallace for a touchdown on the ensuing play.

Moreno doesn't overthink things when he plays. That's a distinguishing factor as a running back because the back needs to have some anticipation for running lanes developing and then simultaneously decide to attack the gap.

Take a look at the outside toss below. Moreno's gap is off the tackle, but since the Patriots over-pursue, Moreno is able to cut back and sprint through the giant running lane.


The rebuilt Dolphins line was able to create the running lanes, and Moreno exploited the Patriots defense with much-needed consistency.

Moreno rushed for 134 yards & MIA only allowed 1 sack. In 2013, MIA didn't have a game with 100+ yd rusher + only 1 sack allowed.

— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) September 8, 2014

As Moreno continued to work, the offense calmed down. There were numerous drops throughout the game by Dolphins receivers, two fumbles and an interception thrown, but the young roster clearly fed off of Moreno's feistiness. As execution improved, the fans became more involved in the game, which charged the defense with enough energy to hit Tom Brady and totally dismantle the Patriots' vaunted offense.

Whether confronting a Patriots defender after a hard run or taking two or three hits before finally hitting the ground, Moreno was an inspiration to his teammates.

The newly found confidence and attitude helped the Dolphins rattle off 23 straight points in the second half and move the ball with ease.

The perfect example of Moreno's on-field leadership occurred when he dodged the tackle attempts by defensive tackles Vince Wilfork and Sealver Siliga and then scurried into the end zone for his first career touchdown with the Dolphins.

Having a playmaker next to Tannehill in the backfield is crucial for this offense to succeed in 2014, and Moreno was able to go above and beyond the call in Week 1. He might not be able to accomplish such gaudy rushing totals every week, but if he can keep moving the ball effectively and sustaining drives on the ground, he will maintain his status as a vital contributor.  

For Moreno, expect him to keep doing what he has done throughout his career. He'll bring his blue-collar approach and won't worry about the headlines as he punishes opponents on the way to the end zone.

All stats used are from Pro Football Focus' Premium Stats (subscription required) or sports-reference.com. All contract information is courtesy of Spotrac.com.

Ian Wharton is a Miami Dolphins Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report, contributor for Optimum Scouting and analyst for FinDepth. You can follow and interact with Ian Wharton on Twitter @NFLFilmStudy. 


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