The responsibility for protecting the quarterback doesn’t rest solely on the shoulders of the offensive linemen in front of him. Running backs, tight ends, even wide receivers play a role in that all-important task as well.
So do coaches. A coach’s game plan can do a lot to keep a quarterback clean throughout the course of a game and Miami Dolphins coach Adam Gase came up with a doozy of a game plan to keep 34-year-old Jay Cutler clean against the Chargers last week.
Now, it helped that the Chargers only blitzed Cutler on three of the 35 drop backs he made, according to Pro Football Focus, but Gase’s decision to mostly target Jarvis Landry with short quick passes just beyond or behind the line of scrimmage helped to keep Cutler out of harm’s way.
Against a potentially dynamic defensive front featuring Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, Cutler was sacked twice but was only hit three times and pressured a total of just nine times, per PFF, and that lack of pressure allowed Cutler to excel.
When the Dolphins neutralized the pressure, Cutler completed 20 of 24 passes for 199 yards and the one touchdown he threw, per PFF, producing a passer rating in those situations of 115.1. By contrast, Cutler’s passer rating while under pressure last week was just 53.5.
The fact that the two sacks Cutler took came while he was under pressure contributed greatly to that low mark, because Cutler did a good job otherwise of getting the ball out under pressure, completing four of the nine throws he made against it for 31 yards.
But the game plan Gase had for Landry cannot be underestimated here. As Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald pointed out, Landry was targeted 15 times and seven of the 13 passes he caught were caught within a yard of the line of scrimmage, which was of course by design.
The Dolphins more or less turned Landry into another running back, utilizing him almost exclusively on screen passes and quick slants in an effort to get the ball in his hands and take advantage of his ability to make big yards after the catch.
Landry led the league by tacking on an extra 630 yards after the catch a year ago and he got off to a good start in that direction this year, picking up 62 yards after the catch on a day when he caught 13 passes for 78 yards.
It remains to be seen, of course, if Gase sticks with this kind of a game plan going forwared. As Salguero pointed out, he went away from it a bit in the second half against the Chargers, throwing more downfield that in the first half.
The Dolphins surely can’t afford to lose Cutler, though, so no one should be surprised if a short-quick passing game much like the one the Patriots have long used for so many years suddenly becomes a staple of the Miami attack.