Today I introduce to you the Miami Dolphins newest running back...
Fine, so I am not breaking a story about the team’s go-to receiver moving to the backfield -- although he did have a rushing attempt in Sunday’s 19-17 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers. (Landry’s run lost seven yards).
I am telling you, however, that for all the talk this preseason of quarterback Jay Cutler loving DeVante Parker and wanting to get the ball more to Parker on 50-50 balls even when the receiver is covered, it was Landry who led the team in targets and receptions Sunday -- as he’s done the past couple of years.
But there was something about Sunday that was different. And it should be closely watched to see if what happened becomes a trend.
That is the Dolphins basically decided throwing quick passes to Landry, sometimes at or even behind the line of scrimmage either in the form of bubble screens or passes that ask him to evade a tackler, was a thing for the Dolphins Sunday.
The Dolphins, obviously not wanting to get 34-year-old quarterback Jay Cutler hit very often, decided pitching quickly to Landry was one way to throw the ball and, you know, not get the quarterback killed.
So the Dolphins threw quickly to Landry again and again and again.
After a while it looked like the team was channeling its running game through Landry because those safe, quick passes are basically long tosses as if to a running back. Those passes are glorified runs.
Landry caught 13 passes for 78 yards against Los Angeles. That’s an average of six-yards per catch.
But the average alone doesn’t speak to Miami’s approach.
This does: Landry caught four passes that lost yardage. He was covered by linebackers on four of his catches. He caught seven passes within one yard of the line of scrimmage. Only three of his catches gained double-digit yardage.
And that total, I remind you, is after the Dolphins went with a more conventional approach to the passing game in the second half.
The first half?
Dink and dunk.
At halftime, Landry had eight catches for 30 yards. That’s right, he was averaging 3.75 yards per catch.
At halftime, running back Jay Ajayi had 11 rushes for 56 yards. That’s right, he was averaging 5.1 yards per rush.
The truth is the entire Dolphins passing game was dink and dunk in the first half as coach and play-caller Adam Gase obviously didn’t want Cutler to get blown up while waiting for longer pass patterns to develop. Gase obviously was trying to avoid the undoing of a mistake such as an interception on a longer pass or a strip sack.
So the passing game was safe. The passing game was Landry short here. Landry short there.
It was as if the Dolphins were trying to be the New England Patriots except without the occasional dynamic play to Gronk.
The second half was better. Maybe the fact the team scored only three points in the first half was a wake up call. Maybe the flow of the game quickened.
And so Kenny Stills caught a 29-yard touchdown pass. And DeVante Parker had a 31-yard reception.
Landry also was allowed to get downfield on his patterns -- sort of. He did less bubble screening duty. He got some crossers.
He had five catches for 48 yards in the second half.
Faithful reader Doug Rudisch suggested I add Landry’s reception totals to the run game because, again, most of the passes were short and safe and glorified runs. I don’t want to do that because it would mean backing Landry’s yardage out of the passing game, which would make that total kind of ugly.
And yardage is not the point, anyway.
The point is whether we are saw what the Dolphins plan to continue doing to protect against dynamic pass rushers? And are the Dolphins going to take this approach every time they face dynamic defensive fronts, thus making Landry’s reception total seem more like rushing stats?
Or maybe this was a one-off approach for the first game of the season? Was this just a way of getting everyone’s feet wet?
I believe the former is closer to the truth.
I believe Gase is concerned about not getting Cutler hit too often because that will lead to bad things.
Bad thing one: Cutler gets injured.
Bad thing two: Cutler does dumb things like throws the ball up for grabs in order not to get hit.
I also believe Gase has studied what the Patriots do with their ancient quarterback -- how they protect him by getting rid of the ball quickly -- and he’s following that template.
The problem there is you need a few dynamic plays to keep defenses honest. And you need pass catchers that can evade tacklers or break tackles to turn two-yard passes into 12-yard gains.
So we’ll see where this passing game goes. This week the Dolphins face a New York Jets front that is actually good. It’s arguably the only respectable part of an otherwise terrible team.
So I would expect, once again, the order of the day will be to protect Jay Cutler.
And I imagine that will involve getting Jarvis Landry a lot of passes at the line of scrimmage or just slightly off the line of scrimmage. It’ll then be up to him to make tacklers miss.
You know ... like a running back.
Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero