Hog Heaven Opponent Scouting: the Miami Dolphins

The Washington Redskins have not been good in the month of November.  This is pretty much a constant from year to year, dating back past the days where the Redskins needed flawless Decembers to make the playoffs.  A big reason they haven’t won much in this month is because of a typically difficult schedule.  There’s been a lot more 49er-type teams on the schedule than Dolphin-type teams.

So when you get a match-up with a team like the Miami Dolphins, the expectation should be that the Redskins will win.  Only problem, though, is that the Redskins themselves have proven to be such a weak team that the 1-7 Dolphins are favored to win this game.  Should they be?  I reviewed the last two Dolphin game tapes to develop an opinion on this.

In a nutshell, this team reminds me a lot of studying the Carolina Panthers, but this is a better team than the Panthers.  I don’t think even the Dolphins really know what they are going to get out of Matt Moore from game to game: Moore is a Rex Grossman clone, but one with some mobility.  But I was really impressed with offensive coordinator Brian Daboll’s creativity.  Daboll hasn’t fixed the Dolphins QB problem, but losing Chad Henne to injury may have had a lot to do with that.  Daboll has taken two perennial underachievers, running back Reggie Bush and wide receiver Brandon Marshall, and has created an offense where each is enjoying a career year.  Think of all the offensive masterminds that have coached those two: Jeremy Bates, Mike Shanahan, Sean Payton, Josh McDaniels, and…Brian Daboll has found out how to best use those players.

To be fair to Marshall, I think he’s just become a better player this season.  Marshall is still inexcusably horrible in the red zone, and he will never, ever be in the class of Calvin Johnson, Dwayne Bowe, et al.  But Marshall’s yards per catch is finally up again to levels suggesting he is a number one receiver.  Now that Marshall is making vertical plays instead of just catching balls underneath the zone and engaging the DB in a physical battle of wits/interpretive dance, he’s worth throwing to as many times as the Dolphins do.  Just…not on the goal line. 

Which is fine.  Because Reggie Bush is developing a nose for the end zone.  The Dolphins have figured out that the secret to getting a player like Bush in space is to trick the defense with the play design, and not expect Bush to get himself into space.  By definition, space players need to be in space to be effective.  A back that can get out of traffic into space and then make plays in that space has a defined label: “Adrian Peterson.”  Bush is not Peterson, and the Dolphins figured that out about five games too late.  Unfortuantely for the Redskins, you have to plan to stop Bush, and that makes the Dolphins a dangerous team.

Now, the biggest difference between the early-season Dolphins and the current team is the play of the offensive line.  The OL has graded out average this season, but in the last three weeks, its been the best unit on the field on either side of the ball on either team.  The play of offensive tackles Jake Long and Marc Columbo has failed to meet expectations this season, but last week, the duo shut out Chiefs OLB Tamba Hali.  Hali is a better rusher than anyone the Redskins have (though I’m sure the Chiefs would gladly swap OLBs with the Redskins), so there’s a lot of pressure on the Redskins pass rushers to get to the quarterback.  Actually, I’m going to stop writing that.  The Redskins play a 3-4 defense.  They need both OLBs to show up every week.

What Daboll does really well is that he finds a weakness and he attacks it over and over and over using either the same play or the same idea.  What Jim Haslett does not do well is protect players who are failing their assignments either with the scheme or by putting them on the bench.  Which is why a few horrible plays from Rocky McIntosh always seems to roll into a horrific season.  The Redskins will not be able to stop Reggie Bush if McIntosh consistently blows his assignments: even if the front seven is dominating the Dolphins OL, they can just throw it to him.

I’ve talked a lot about Dabolls strength’s here, so I feel that I can point out that like Jim Haslett and Kyle Shanahan, he has obvious weaknesses as well (usually related to misunderstanding his own personnel), and the Redskins aren’t at a huge coaching disadvantage going into the game.  Daboll is committed to the pass, which is good because of Miami’s personnel, but it also makes their offense a situational disaster.  They’ll attack you on first, second, or third down with the pass, which means that their running game is purely complementary.  Also, their quarterback is Matt Moore.  So you can understand why this team is 1-7, maybe.  Look at the Giants-Dolphins game, and it’s clear that up 14-3 in the second quarter, Daboll’s offense managed to add just three points once the playcall script expired.  

Kyle Shanahan and Daboll could both learn a lesson from studying each other, because their mistakes are very similar.  The big difference at this point is that the Redskins offense is stale, it’s non-threatening, it doesn’t challenge you either mentally or physically.  The Dolphins offense will challenge you to an extreme, but a getting win relies on four strong quarters from Matt Moore.  They can beat a team 30-3 if they get that performance, but by never taking the game out of his hands, Daboll will lose games that seem put away.  Either would look like a genius if they had an established quarterback, but then again, wouldn’t we all?

The Dolphins play disciplined football on offense above all.  While that normally would be a good thing, it’s just a frusterating element on a 1-7 team because it sometimes looks like they aren’t trying.  They don’t get many alignment penalties or holding penalties, but because of this, sacks have been an issue all season.  The Redskins bring down the opposing QB better than any team in football.

The Chiefs offense had great success against the Dolphins defense through the air.  Actually, this goes for every team the Dolphins have played this year, with the exception of the Giants, who refused to catch the football when it hit them in the hands.  Dwayne Bowe was uncoverable in this game.  Cornerback Vontae Davis did not play thanks to a violation of team policy, but Sean Smith — a pretty good cover corner — was unable to handle Bowe or Steve Breaston.  

This could be the game for Leonard Hankerson.  He won’t have Davis on him, he made a couple plays last week against a far superior defense, and the biggest thing: the Dolphins do not have a semblance of a pass rush.  Cameron Wake doesn’t beat double teams, and without him, the Dolphins don’t so much as get pressure on the opposing QB.  With the Redskins QB getting time to throw, it is likely we will see some target get a chance to step up.  Fred Davis also provides matchup troubles for the Dolphins.

The Dolphins base defense is a heavy run-stop unit (both in scheme and personnel), and the Redskins are a team that never committed to the run.  That will come in handy this week.

I think the Redskins score a couple of TDs, and win a close one.