Miami Dolphins Offense: The Pistol and the Motion

Riding a five game winning streak, the Dolphins implementation of the Pistol Wing formation may provide a clue on their offensive success.

miami dolphins offense
Nov 28, 2021; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) directs his teammates against the Carolina Panthers during the fourth quarter at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Dolphins offense has had a bit of a resurgence lately thanks in part to continuity in players at quarterback, wide receiver and offensive line.

What’s been a facet for the offense of the Miami Dolphins success has been the implementation and use of the “Pistol Wing Formation”

What it is

The pistol formation, like the shotgun, is really an alignment between the quarterback and the running back. In the pistol formation, the quarterback lines up four or five yards behind the center, the running back lines up two or three yards behind the quarterback. In the shotgun formation , the quarterback lines up seven yards behind he center, and the running back lines up to the side of the quarterback.

The Pistol Formation comes with it’s advantages and disadvantages, lets take a brief look at them

Advantages

  • The Pistols main advantage is its versatility that comes from it’s hybrid design. Having the quarterback three to four yards deep allows him to make downfield reads and separate himself from the pass rush by a few yards.
  • It also has the running back five yards from the LOS and directly behind the quarterback to build momentum before getting the ball.
  • The Pistol formation supports Read Options. It can be a fully functional pass play, keeping the running back to pass block. It can also serve as a run play with power blocking and pulling guards
  • The real nightmare is the RPO. It’s entirely dependent on the quarterback to watch the defense and decide which play will have the most success.
  • Can create advantages in the play-action game. The pistol alignment represents a run-first perception, it makes the play-action pass that much more effective.

Disadvantages

  • It’s dependent on the quarterback to quickly decipher defenses and make smart decisions, it comes with a big learning curve. A wrong decision could prove disastrous.
  • Playing Man coverage takes away most of the passing game, leaving minute plays for offenses to employ
  • Offensive line blocking is dependent as the quarterback is closer to the LOS. OL blocking can make or break the offense

What it means

For any Offense which runs the Pistol, it means these things:

The best Pistol offenses are those that can implement aspects of a Spread Offense into their game plan, it requires a smart quarterback who can properly read defenses once the ball is snapped.

While the Pistol could be used just to run the ball, it’s at its best when each play is different than the last. As such, having a solid core of blockers, pass catchers and a good quarterback is necessary.

When running the ball out of the Pistol, teams run up the middle where there are a lot of defenders. Teams that are undersized along the offensive line aren’t built for this type of play.

The Miami Dolphins Offense

Over this current five game winning streak the Dolphins have primarily lined up in shotgun, which includes the pistol formation. Usually this formation includes the basic Pistol offense with a Wing look.

Other Pistol Formations | OptionFootball.net
A variation of the Pistol Formation

How it’s done

The Pistol usually has two to three players in the backfield, primarily as it is designed to be a run first offense.

However, with the wing formation, TE’s on the edges, force defenses to play at least three players deep.

While it may seem that the pistol is most effective on the dependence of the running game; paradoxically, it is dependent on the threat of a passing game.

The passing game is dependent on the quarterback moving the ball to and from the flow of attack. The best description may be the term of “sequence football”.

Basically, the offense runs in plays where it attacks different parts of the field once the ball is snapped. This does not mean that every play is called in order, it is mostly based on matchups and post snap reads.

Which is why you see plays that look and feel similar, but can attack different parts of the field. Similar to Sean McVay’s singleback look.

Backfield Motion

Passing Game

The main sequence the Miami Dolphins offense use is the backfield motion to create space and attack different facets of the field.

On the play above Wilson motions to the right side of the formation, this allows Tua to see the defense is in zone coverage.

Wilson runs the wheel route gaining depth into the defensive backfield. Waddle runs the curl, an intermediate route, attacking the soft zone in the middle. Meanwhile, Durham Smythe is jammed at the LOS running a short crossing route.

The biggest threat to the defense is Wilson gaining depth into the defensive backfield, which forces Giants defensive backs Xavier McKinney and Aaron Robinson to stay deep and prevent a big play.

In turn, this frees up the intermediate route Jaylen Waddle runs, he has enough space to catch the ball for a first down and keep the drive alive.

Running Game

The Dolphins also use the backfield motion concept to create space and attack different running lanes in the run game.

Using the motion while using the same type of blocking scheme. Usually Pistol offenses run with a power scheme along the offensive line. However, the Dolphins use a zone blocking scheme.

The sequence in how the run game can vary in playcalls but use the same blocking style. Run out wide, off tackle, and up the middle all use down blocks by most of the line with a pulling guard and blocking on the other side of the backfield.

This concept is used on the run above.

The counter play uses down blocks to build a wall of bodies away from the play and a pulling guard to kick out and head upfield to clear a running lane.

Albert Wilson motions and post snap so does the right side of the offensive line. The theory is that the flow of a play can take multiple blockers to the point of attack or be decoys while the running back is on the opposite end.

The execution on the play above illustrates how the theory is able to work. The blocking style is designed so when a defender reacts to blocks to stop a play, he will be placing himself in jeopardy for a companion play. Sounds familiar to the RPO. 

Multiple Threats

The Pistol offense is designed in complete backfield series, each of which presents multiple threats to the defense on each play.

Passing wise, the Dolphins run the Pistol Wing to put the perception that there are multiple deep receivers. Most of the time when it is ran, it is in a condensed look.

“When you condense the formation in general out of those RPO looks… it gives defenses more things to look at leading to conflict and hesitation on the eyes as there are a lot of motions, possible split zone action and a variety of different plays that can happen. For Tua he gets the options of the flat, the hook, the curl, the post, the handoff. There are so many different ways [Tua] can put the defense in conflict , when you condense that you increase the post snap reads”

Travis Wingfield

In the condensed Pistol Look, there can be many options, threats, Tua can look in his post snap reads.

For example, the stick flat RPO that is a staple in the offense. Based on the type of Coverage is shown once a play is motioned, the flat play to the tight end is an easy read against man coverage.

It has a balance of passing, which is predominantly play-action in nature. The RPO adds that extra conflict for defenders where they have to hesitate, they have to read and react. It puts defenders in a bind.

The Future

When you watch NFL teams run the Pistol offense, you see them tire out defenses in the running game. It’s discouraging when a team can just pound the rock for six yards a carry and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.

The Dolphins, however, cannot run the ball well due to issues along the offensive line. Once these issues are fixed through the draft or free agency signings, the offense has the potential to become a possession team head coach Brian Flores has preached about.

The flip side for the Miami Dolphins offense is that it is labeled as a predominantly RPO offense that dink and dunks its way; although, defenses have not been able to fully halt it.

The threats the condensed Pistol Wing looks bring defenses are the route combinations designed on three levels of the field. Opposing defenses have tried to match up with the wide receivers on the outside to stop deeper routes from forming. Thus, being okay with Tua to throw to shorter and intermediate routes.

Defenses are pattern matching on the outside and allowing linebackers to stay in zone. By doing this, defensive backs are focusing on route distribution while linebackers are able to play with their eyes in the backfield. Leaving the middle of the field open for running backs and tight ends to roam.

Essentially, it is death by paper cuts.

Partner that with a better offensive line, preferably to run a power scheme, and a premier running back. The Miami Dolphins offense could do damage next year.

Follow Hussam Patel on Twitter

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How to Tell When the Miami Dolphins are Running Wildcat

The Miami Dolphins came out in the Wildcat often on Sunday, with little success, and it may be due to this tell in their formation.

Miami Dolphins huddle
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The Miami Dolphins are, for the third week in a row, winners after defeating the Jets 24-17. After starting slowly, Miami was able to put up 17 second-half points, largely due to Tua Tagovailoa and his ability to shake off an early interception.

Although, the most interesting part of the game might have been the offensive gameplan. The Miami Dolphins consistently came out in Wildcat formation, where either a running back or wide receiver would take the snap. Then, they would choose to either hand off to another playmaker or keep the ball on a run up the middle.

The Dolphins, although coming out in Wildcat several times, were unable to find much success with the formation. A majority of their runs were stopped in the backfield or only gained a few yards.

A major possibility for Miami’s lack of success, along with mediocre offensive line play, may be a tell that signals when the Dolphins will motion into Wildcat.

While watching the game, I was able to uncover a small change in Miami’s pistol formation when they plan on motioning Tua out wide.

Below is a side-by-side photo of Miami’s pre-snap look in a pistol formation (in which the QB is not under center, and a running back is behind him). The play on the left is a reverse pass to Albert Wilson, while the one on the right motions into Wildcat.

The left is a Miami Dolphins pistol reverse play, while the right is a wildcat run play.
The left is a pistol reverse play, while the right is a wildcat run play.

The difference between the two, although subtle, is noticeable.

Tipping Their Hand.

When Miami plans on putting Tua in motion, they bring him closer to the line of scrimmage by a yard. The play on the left (a Wilson reverse) has Tua about three yards behind the center. On the other hand, the play on the right (which becomes Wildcat) has Tua only two yards behind.

Throughout the game, it was easy to tell if Miami was going to run Wildcat or not. If there were three yard markers in between Tua and the center, it was pistol. Only two yard markers, on the other hand, meant Wildcat motion was coming.

There are 3 yard markers in between Tua and Reiter on the left, only 2 on the right.

This clear tell, while not the only reason, may have contributed to Miami’s lack of success in the formation. In combination with poor offensive line play and an inability to create holes, Miami tipped their hand to the Jets’ defense.

Another interesting element, shown in the photos, is the difference in Tua’s foot placement.

On the Wildcat play (shown on the right), Tua’s feet are noticeably more flat and parallel to each other. The left, on the other hand, has his left foot much farther in front. This may have shown the Jets’ defense, in combination with the distance from the center, that motion was coming.

Through simple cues in body language and distance, it was easy to tell if the Wildcat formation was coming. This could be concerning for the future, as Miami continues to use the formation to establish the run. If teams know that the motion is coming, it becomes far easier to eliminate the idea of the pass and sell out against the run.

The Bottom Line

Miami must work on eliminating the simple tells in the Wildcat if they are to use it more often. They ran more Wildcat in this game than any other game this season, and teams will pick up on this trend.

If the formation is to be successful, the Dolphins will have to learn to not give away what’s coming, along with opening holes for their ball carriers.

It will be interesting to see if this tell continues to show in the coming weeks, and how defenses react to the Miami Dolphins Wildcat runs.

Miami Dolphins Stun Baltimore Ravens on TNF

Dolphins vs Ravens
Credit: Dolphins Wire

The Miami Dolphins stunned everyone with an upset win vs the Baltimore Ravens. Not only did Miami beat the Ravens, but they dominated most of the game. Even though it was a snooze fest of a game until the fourth quarter, Dolphin fans have a reason to be excited again. Here are some key takeaways from Miami’s stunning win vs the Ravens.

Defense Looks Dominant Again

Last night, the Dolphins defense looked like one of the best in the NFL. Holding one of the NFL’s best and hottest players in Lamar Jackson to just 277 all purpose yards. Not only that, but the Dolphins defense also had one interception, four sacks, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery that went for a touchdown vs the Ravens.

Xavien Howard got the game going with a forced fumble that he recovered and took it 49 yards for a score. Justin Coleman had the same sealing interception in the end zone with less than a minute left in the game. But this was all thanks to Lamar being uncomfortable all night.

Jaelan Philips, Andrew Van Ginkle, Emmanuel Ogbah, Brandon Jones, and Jevon Holland were in Lamar’s face all game. Lamar was blitzed essentially all game and it turned out to work for Miami.

Tua Fills In and Delivers

For the second straight week Tua Tagovailoa was active even with his finger injury. But for the second straight week Tua was the active back-up. This was until the third quarter when Jacoby Brissett went down with a knee injury.

On the next drive Brissett tried to go back in and head coach Brian Flores waved him off and called Tua’s number. At first it was evident that his finger is really injured, killing any “benching” speculation.

That being said, as the game went on, Tua did look more comfortable and started to throw better. He had some throws that made you shake your head but it is clear that it was due to his finger. Postgame Tua clarified that his finger “does not feel good”. but he stayed strong and played through it.

Tua’s highlights from last night are his deep throw to Jaylen Waddle and Albert Wilson along with his one yard quarterback sneak to score a touchdown. With the extended week due to playing on Thursday night, hopefully Tua uses this time so he is 100% by the next game against the New York Jets.

Run Game and Offensive Line Leave Question Marks

Even though the Dolphins played their best game of the season vs the Ravens, there was still negatives. The run game still isn’t where it should be. Myles Gaskins was the only rusher with over 10 carries and averaged 2.2 yards per carry. That is including his long of 11 yards. No team in the NFL should be able to win like this consistently, so Miami needs to figure out their run game woes.

The offensive line for Miami also did not play their best. As I said above Tua only got in the game due to Brissett getting hurt. The Ravens only had four saves, but had a total of 13 quarterback hits.

The run game also looked horrendous part due to part of the offensive line. Liam Eichenberg allowed several pressures and was the one who allowed the sack that got Brissett hurt. It will be something to keep an eye on if Miami decides to switch up the offensive line during their long week.

Familiar Faces Return

Albert Wilson and Isaiah Ford were the lead receivers for the Dolphins last night. Both tied with a game high four catches and both led the Dolphins in receiving yards. Wilson had 87 yards compared to Ford’s 84.

The question of “where has Albert Wilson been?” finally got answered as Miami finally used him properly. Miami sent him on a wheel route on an RPO and gained 64 yards on his biggest play of the night. He also ran a number of screens where he flashed his ability to make people miss consistently. It will be interesting if Miami keeps using Wilson throughout the season or if this was a “gameplay” situation.

Ford also came through for Miami as he had a number of catches when Miami was in a hurry up offense. Besides not stepping out of bounds in an obvious situation, Ford was impressive. He showed that he can be Miami’s number three or even two receiver if need be.

Rookies Shine

Rookies Jevon Holland and Jaylen Waddle received public praise from the media and the Ravens players. While Jaelan Phillips had his best game to date. Holland was all over the field and broke up a deep ball that was intended for Marquise Brown early in the game.

In addition to that, Holland stuffed the stat sheet, with five tackles, one sack, one tackle for loss, two pass deflections, and a quarterback hit, it seems Chris Grier made have drafted a budding star.

Jaylen Waddle was also a key contributor as he was on the receiving end of Tua’s clutch throw in the fourth quarter. Waddle had four catches for 61 yards and its clear that Miami is making an effort to use him properly. He also drew a ton of attention as the defense always made sure they knew where he was. Waddle as normal was also both Brissett’s and Tua’s security blanket.

Jaelan Phillips impressed fans last week with a great game, but this week he was even better. Even though he only had half a sack and one quarterback hit, he was always around the ball and in Lamar’s face all night. He made sure Lamar didn’t scramble all over Miami and chased him down whenever he tried too.

Looking Ahead

Overall the Dolphins performance vs the Ravens showed how good of a team they can be. Even with the offensive line and run game not being the best they still outplayed the Ravens. The play-calling wasn’t the best but we have defiantly seen worse this year.

Let’s hope Miami is able to carry this momentum through the season and show that they are better than their current record of 3-7 and potentially fight for a playoff spot.

NFL Trade Deadline: Dolphins on the Move?

As Tuesday’s trade deadline rapidly approaches, the Miami Dolphins may be looking to move players. There are two players whose names have come up as tradable pieces.

Dolphins Trade Deadline
Credit: Phin Phanatic

As Tuesday’s trade deadline rapidly approaches, the Miami Dolphins may be looking to move players. Two players whose names have come up as tradable pieces are Albert Wilson and Devante Parker. Miami, whose season is likely over, might be looking to move high salaries or under performers and gain draft capital for the coming years.

Albert Wilson

Albert Wilson might have been the Dolphins best player during camp. Wilson and 2nd-year QB Tua Tagovailoa were showing significant chemistry and were connecting all over the field. 

Wilson was expected to be a big contributor in the offense and have a lot of playing time. Unfortunately, he hasn’t seen the field much and has struggled to be productive when he step on the field.

This season, Wilson has just 7 catches for 45 yards. He is averaging 3.75 yards per target. In week 3, Wilson played 55% of the Dolphins offensive snaps. He hasn’t been close to that number again and played just 4% of snaps last week. Mack Hollins and Preston Williams (when healthy) are seeing more snaps than the Training Camp MVP. The Dolphins clearly don’t have a plan to use Wilson this year and should look to trade him for a position of need (OL, LB) or future draft picks.

Wilson is set to hit free agency after this season, so the Dolphins moving him before the trade deadline and collecting assets instead of letting him walk for free may be the best option. Trading Wilson will also save the Dolphins $3.8 million against the cap and they’ll take on just $1.3 million in dead money.

Devante Parker

Parker’s career has been plagued by injury since he was drafted by Miami in 2015. In 2019, Parker was healthy for all 16 games and put up 1,202 yards and 9 touchdowns. It seemed like a breakout year and his career was reaching the tipping point. In 2020 though, he missed 2 games due to a hamstring injury, which has been an issue for the majority of his career. He still put up respectable numbers with 793 yards and 4 touchdowns. 

Through the first 4 games of this season, Parker was a key part of the offense with 17 catches for 242 yards and 1 touchdown. Unfortunately, he has missed the last 3 games and is in danger of missing his fourth straight this Sunday in Buffalo.

Parker’s inability to stay healthy may be the driving force to trade him. According to reports, the Dolphins have discussed trading Parker. 

There have also been talks about Parker not being fully committed to football. Nagging injuries can take a toll on a player, and it wouldn’t be shocking if Parker is growing increasingly frustrated.

A trade would give Parker a fresh start to his career which is something he probably needs.

For Miami, a Parker trade would clear cap space for the 2022 season. The Dolphins are projected to have the most cap space in 2022. However, only 19 players from the current roster are under contract for next season. The cap availability is going to diminish rapidly and they need money to re-sign big money players like Mike Gesicki and Emmanuel Ogbah.

Miami may try to trade for an offensive line piece, collect assets for next year, or both at once. Regardless, the Dolphins wide receiver room needs to be monitored with just 4 days until the trade deadline. 

Follow Rishi Desai on Twitter

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The Same Old Dolphins

It begs the question, are these the same old Dolphins?

The Miami Dolphins were outmatched and outplayed by the Buffalo Bills for the eight straight time. Every season the Dolphins find a way back to revert to the mediocre teams of the past and do not recover.

Failing the Defense

Since 2020, Miami Offense has not been able to sustain drives and keep the defense fresh. Ultimately they cannot score points on the board, allowing our Defense to put pressure on opposing offenses.

Buffalo’s first two touchdown drives went for 46 and 52 yards, respectively. The Dolphins were able to come away with with two takeaways, but only gained 10 yards on those turnovers. This came in the first half.

At halftime Buffalo had only 152 yards at halftime. Josh Allen had only 62 passing yards. 46 of the Bills rushing yards came on a single carry by running back Devin Singletary.

Miami’s defense kept the Dolphins in the game until the fourth quarter, even though it was a shut out. The Bills had only 245 yards in the beginning of the fourth quarter. Miami got put to bed at the start of the fourth on a touchdown by Zach Moss to go up 28-0 with 13:38 remaining.

Miami’s offense could not score points on the board nor sustain strives, thus putting pressure on the defense.

Offensive Line Woes

Miami’s offensive line was horrendous abysmal. Plainly abysmal. The return of tackle Austin Jackson, who returned from the COVID-19 list and missed practice, did not help. Neither did Jesse Davis’s play.

The line got Tagovailoa hurt when Buffalo defensive end A.J. Epenesa got through untouched to hit Tagovailoa and injure his ribs, and the Bills already had two sacks before that when a pair of defensive backs got through untouched on disguised blitzes.

Stat of the day: Miami allowed six sacks and 12 quarterback hits.

Run blocking was not good either. The Dolphins averaged 3.6 yards per carry, failed to convert on a 4th & 2 run and could not even run the ball their other fourth down attempts.

With Tua now dealing with a bruised rib cage and Jacoby Brissett under duress for much of the game, the Dolphins need to figure it out.

They need to figure it out. They have to.

Drops, Drops, Drops, Drops, Drops, everybody

Lets highlight this play sequence:

Down 14-0, Brissett was moving the offense down the field to potentially score. At the 33 yard line, Brissett threw the ball right into Parker’s hands, but the wide receiver dropped a would be touchdown that could have swung the momentum.

A couple plays later, Brissett throws to Albert Wilson on a curl that would have gone for a first down, but Wilson dropped it.

The very next play, Brisset throws to Jakeem Grant who tried to go upfield and then fumbled the ball. Potentially blowing the best scoring chance the Dolphins had all game.

Waddle had a muffed punt. However, we should remember that he is a rookie and unfortunately mistakes will be made. He led the WR Corp with six catches and 46, but he also did drop multiple passes headed his way. He has not shown us the difference making abilities he had at Alabama. At least, not yet.

Overall, the Miami dolphins need to game plan better, coach better and play better against the Las Vegas Raiders.

Follow Hussam Patel on Twitter

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