5 Changes New OC Bill Lazor Will Likely Bring Miami Dolphins’ Offense
5 Changes Bill Lazor Will Likely Bring Dolphins' Offense
The Miami Dolphins hired former Philadelphia Eagles quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor for their offensive coordinator position on Wednesday morning. Under former offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, the Dolphins gave up the most sacks in franchise history, scored a grand total of seven points in their final two games and ranked near the bottom of the league in points scored and yards produced in 2013.
Considering the quality play of quarterback Ryan Tannehill and the playmakers added last offseason, it was an unacceptable outcome to a season that would have likely resulted in a playoff berth with more offensive efficiency. Change was obviously needed, but was the right change made by handing the keys over to Lazor? What exactly are the Dolphins getting with this hire?
Any Dolphins fan who is expecting Lazor to bring Chip Kelly's spread offense with him to Miami will be disappointed when they see the unit take the field in September. Lazor, who served as the Virginia Cavaliers' offensive coordinator from 2010-2012, has run a West Coast offense in the past and likely isn't coming to town to overhaul the system head coach Joe Philbin already has in place. There's hope that Lazor will bring elements from the Eagles' offense with him; just don't expect him to deviate from the West Coast that Philbin is such a strong advocate of.
Despite being a product of Kelly's revolutionary offense, Lazor's credentials speak for themselves. Virginia's offense ranked dead last in the ACC the year before Lazor was hired and it jumped into the top five during his first two seasons on the job. And as quarterbacks coach in Philadelphia, Lazor oversaw the jaw-dropping improvement of quarterback Nick Foles, who threw 27 touchdown passes to only two interceptions in 10 starts.
Still, there is some mystery in regards to what the Dolphins' offense will look like in 2014. Here are five changes you can almost assuredly expect.
Cody Strahm is a Miami Dolphins contributor for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.
5. Wrinkles of Chip Kelly's Spread
Like I mentioned in the intro, Lazor has traditionally been a West Coast coach. Don't expect the Dolphins to take the league by storm with a revolutionized offense similar to the attack the Eagles run under Kelly. But I would be very surprised if Lazor doesn't at least try to bring some of the concepts he learned in Philadelphia to Miami. I mean, how could he see how successful that offense was, ranking second in total offense behind only Peyton Manning and league's most prolific attack of all time, and not try to incorporate some of its elements?
So, what wrinkles can we expect to see the Dolphins acquire? The Eagles' fast-break tempo is something head coach Joe Philbin is rumored to be high on. Philbin initially wanted to install a no-huddle scheme when he was first hired by the Dolphins which was seen in the frantic pace in which he ran practices. But Miami scaled back those plans during Philbin's first two seasons, and Lazor's offenses at Virginia were traditionally huddling units. It could be something the two collaborate on and introduce, though.
As for play-design, I'm sure Lazor will look to implement some wrinkles of Kelly's spread. More read-option is the obvious, especially with an athletic quarterback like Ryan Tannehill at the helm. But said plays won't just involve Tannehill reading the defensive end before deciding to give the ball to the back or to tuck it and run. Kelly believes in optioning off of interior defensive linemen as well. This is particularly beneficial on outside-zone runs.
Also expect the influx of combo plays, especially when the offense is operating at a high tempo. Combo plays give the quarterback two simple options based on the look the defense is giving. For example, Miami may line up in a two-receiver stack to either side of the formation, looking to see if two defenders mirror the array. If not, the quarterback simply throws a quick screen to the receiver, hoping to take advantage of a two-on-one scenario. If the defense covers the stack with two defenders then the quarterback will hand the ball off for an inside zone or power run.
Such a complex system is rather fundamental when you break it down as it simply looks to take advantage of opportunistic matchups. Lazor should attempt to bring many of these concepts with him to South Beach. It would be a disservice to his new team not to.
4. Less Transparent Pre-Snap Cadence
One of the biggest complaints against the Dolphins' offense in 2013 was a transparent pre-snap cadence. When Tannehill shouted "Go-Go" before the snap the Dolphins ran, and when he shouted "Go" before the snap the Dolphins threw. Some argued this happened too quickly for a defense to actually comprehend what what said in time to decipher Miami's intent. The film, however, told a different story.
Defensive lines were clearly getting a jump on many of the Dolphins' running plays, keying on the tailback without fearing play-action, a bootleg or a slip screen after Tannehill yelled two "Go"s. Also, an intelligent defender wouldn't bite on an attempt at play-action on a "Go" count simply because he would know that "Go" means pass, thus defeating the purpose of the fake.
The coaching staff tried to inform fans that their cadence was more complex than what was being heard on television. But judging by how easily opposing defenses picked up on it, I'd say that wasn't accurate. Even left tackle Bryant McKinnie admitted teams were getting a jump. That's something that should never happen. Disguised intent is just too fundamental of a requirement. Lazor, who has coached under football minds like Dan Reeves, Joe Gibbs and Mike Holmgren, couldn't possibly allow this to continue.
3. More Balance and Play-Action
Two huge knocks against Sherman's play-calling in 2013 was his tendency to get pass happy, which only put Tannehill and the team's makeshift offensive line in a tough spot, and not incorporate play-action despite Tannehill's ability to thrive after faking the run.
The Dolphins elected to throw on 65.2 percent of their offensive snaps, which was the third-highest in the entire league. The two teams that threw the ball the least frequently, the Seattle Seahwaks and San Francisco 49ers, will play for a trip to the Super Bowl on Sunday. Under Kelly, only five teams threw the ball less frequently than the Eagles. After witnessing how crucial balance is to the success of an offense and the quarterback in Philadelphia, Lazor will undoubtedly make running the ball more often a priority in Miami.
And once he does, expect him to utilize more play-action, which is something Tannehill excels at but also something Sherman rarely dialed up. Pro Football Focus broke down the percentage of each quarterback's throws after play-action and how successful those throws were on Dec. 7. Through the first 13 weeks, Tannehill had only attempted 15 percent of his passes after play-action which ranked as the 32nd most frequent figure in the entire league among qualifying passers.
Tannehill's quarterback rating after play-action, though, was a whooping 118.4 -- the seventh-highest rating in the league. Knowing this, Sherman made a huge mistake not allowing Tannehill to throw after faking the run more often. It's an error no one should expect Lazor to make.
2. More Diverse Formations
Another flaw about Sherman's system was his insistence on lining up his players -- and particularly his play-makers -- in the same positions on the field for virtually every snap. There was seemingly no effort to seek out mismatches to exploit which is a dying method of coaching offense in today's NFL. Sherman put his players in the same alignments on the field to primarily get them acclimated with certain tasks and to keep them comfortable and confident with their responsibilities. In doing this, however, the defense was also able to establish its own comfort zone and was able to dictate the matchups.
Kelly's offense in Philadelphia employed a complete opposite mindset. The Eagles look to find opportunities wherever they may lend themselves, and they line their playmakers up in many different looks to put pressure on the defense to adjust. If Lazor soaked up any of this during his one-year stay, he'll make sure to position his weapons all over the field like chess pieces.
The player that stands the most to gain is wide receiver Mike Wallace. Sherman positioned the speedster on the right boundary of Miami's offensive formation on nearly every play. This allowed the defense to bracket its coverage of Wallace in order to prevent the deep ball. Subsequently, Wallace became more of a possession receiver with the Dolphins than the home run threat he was during his first four seasons in the league. Although Sherman shouldn't be blamed for Tannehill's inaccurate deep ball, there would have likely been more opportunities to connect downfield with more diverse formations.
Expect Lazor to put Wallace on both perimeters, in the slot and to attempt to hide him in three-receiver clusters in order to prevent constant double-teams and unfavorable matchups. I'd be surprised if Wallace didn't re-surface as a 1,000-yard receiver in 2014.
1. No More Wasting Ryan Tannehill's Athleticism
The 58 sacks the Dolphins conceded in 2013 were the most in the NFL and the most in franchise history. At one point during the season, Tannehill was on pace to be sacked more than any other quarterback ever has in the history of the game. A porous offensive line was the biggest reason for that, and former GM Jeff Ireland deserves blame for assembling it.
But the offensive coordinator didn't do the line or his quarterback any favors by attempting to compensate for the issue. The baffling lack of rollouts and bootlegs called by Sherman was very frustrating for Dolphins fans to endure. With an athletic quarterback and a leaky offensive line, moving the pocket is one obvious way to at least try to negate or impede what was a harassing rush.
There's hope that Miami will shore up its offensive line this offseason with a new boss in the front office. Even if it does, though, Tannehill's athleticism is an asset that should be valued. That doesn't mean Lazor should expose him to hits he doesn't need to take, but it does mean he should make sure the defense respects the former wide receiver's ability to run at all times which will only up things up for other players.
Lazor can ensure that Tannehill's athletic ability doesn't go to waste by devising many of the aforementioned concepts. More read option and play-action would obviously be ideal. At Virginia, Lazor often utilized play-action bootlegs, which can be one of the most difficult passing plays to defend and should be a staple of Miami's new offensive scheme.
Lazor, who supposedly did such a brilliant job tutoring the Eagles' Nick Foles, needs to help Tannehill realize opportunities to run as well. There were countless instances in 2013 when Tannehill had nothing but green grass in front of him but elected to force a pass into tight coverage or throw the ball away. When he did tuck the ball and run, it usually led to favorable results, leading Dolphins fans to smack their forehead in frustration being that it was such a rare occurrence.
One of Lazor's most impressive credentials for this job was the work he did with Foles this past season. Assisting in the development of Tannehill's instincts could benefit Miami's offense more than anything in 2014.