Friday, October 3, 2008

Dolphins' Evolving Offense Remains a Two-Back Attack

Ronnie Brown was the Dolphins' brightest star in the Dolphins' 38-13 thrashing of the New England Patriots in Week 3, becoming the first player since before the Great Depression to rush for four touchdowns and throw for another. Not surprisingly, the third-year back was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week for his performance.

While Brown received all the attentions and the touchdowns last week, don't expect him to become the lone feature back in Miami. One must remember that Brown is still just half of the Dolphins' two-headed rushing attack that won't be going anywhere any time soon.

The Forgotten Back

The forgot man in the SportsCenter highlights, Ricky Williams has essentially matched Brown for production this season. The 31-year-old has carried the ball three more times than Brown this season and has just 11 fewer yards. The lone difference is his touchdown total, which still stands at zero compared to Brown's five.

Like Brown, Williams struggled in the first to games of the season, managing just 52 yards. (Brown posted only 48 during that span.) The Dolphins predictably struggled in both games, losing to the Jets in the season opener and getting routed by the Cardinals in Week 2.

But just like the entire team, Williams had a breakout game in Week 3. In addition to Brown's fine performance, Williams rushed for 98 yards on just 16 carries for an impressive 6.1-yard average while adding two receptions for 21 yards.

Brown might have been the only back to score for the Dolphins last week (and score he did) but Williams will continue to remain an equally important part of the Dolphins' offense. Barring injuries to either Brown or Williams, neither will get a significantly larger number of carries than the other in a give game.

The best thing about having two backs of Brown and Williams' caliber is it makes both better. There is no reason to wear either down to the point where their production drops. While defenses tire as the games go on, the presence of each back allows both to stay fresh late into games more than either would as a lone feature back.

While this might make for some inconsistent performances and frustrate fantasy owners, it is undoubtedly the best thing for the Dolphins.

Wildin' Out

The team's Week 3 matchup against the New England Patriots saw a new wrinkle added to the Dolphins' offense, and it was that which helped the Dolphins so quickly change their fortunes.

Using what is dubbed the "wildcat formation", the Patriots saw Dolphins running back Ronnie Brown in the shotgun at quarterback, fellow running back Ricky Williams in the slot, and quarterback Chad Pennington out wide at receiver.

The formation gave Dolphins multiple options. Taking the direct snap, Brown had the option to run it himself if he saw fit. Three of Brown's four rushing touchdowns were scored in this way.

Additionally, Brown had the option to hand off to Williams, who would be running toward Brown in motion prior to the snap. One such handoff resulted in Williams' longest run of the day at 28 yards.

In the third quarter, Brown took the direct snap and ran toward the left sideline, eventually unleashing a 20-yard touchdown pass to tight end Anthony Fasano.

The execution was stellar, reminiscent of Darren McFadden and Felix Jones at Arkansas. The Dolphins were able to consistently move the ball up the field with ease as the Patriots struggled to adjust to this surprising new attack.

Of course, things will not always look so easy. Defenses will adjust, and the Dolphins will have to as well.

Moving left tackle Jake Long over to tight end on the right side worked like a charm against the Patriots and was a big part of Brown's 62-yard touchdown run. However, having your best linemen on one side of the line will not always work if the defense if the defense knows where you're going with the ball.

For that reason, the Dolphins will have to keep finding new things to do out of the wildcat formation. They must show that they can, and will, do various things out of the formation with a high level of success.

The Dolphins will need to give Brown the option to go to all sides of the field. They need to vary where Ricky begins in the formation so his direction of motion changes too. They need to continue to run the occasional pass out of the formation to keep the secondary on their heels.

Additionally, the Dolphins need to continue to execute in other facets of their offense. As affective as the wildcat formation can be, it can only be so if opponents have more to worry about.

Head coach Tony Sparano was quoted as saying the team's utilization of this formation was "just the tip of the iceberg." If the Dolphins want to continue to have success out of the formation and on offense altogether, that will have to be the case.