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Behind Enemy Lines: Figuring out what Matt Moore brings to the table vs. the Steelers

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To prepare for the AFC Wild Card game between the Steelers and Dolphins, I sat down with Kevin Noble, editor of The Phinsider, to get the lowdown on the Miami Dolphins.

Miami Dolphins v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers know all too well what the Miami Dolphins and Jay Ajayi can do on any given Sunday. They experienced it first-hand in Week 6 when the Dolphins pummeled the Steelers 30-15. A lot has changed since then on both teams, and to get the lowdown on the Dolphins, I went behind enemy lines for the scoop.

I conducted a Q&A session with Kevin Noble, editor of The Phinsider, to talk about everything from the differences between Ryan Tannehill and Matt Moore to the Miami offensive approach on Sunday, and more. Check out the interview below, and be sure to check out The Phinsider for all the best news and views from the Dolphins perspective leading into Sunday’s playoff game.

The Dolphins have officially ruled out Ryan Tannehill for the game Sunday, and Matt Moore will make another start for the Phins. What are some of the positives in this situation for Miami? Also, what does Moore struggle with?

Moore is a true professional and fits his role as a backup quarterback perfectly. He came into the Arizona Cardinals game when Tannehill was first injured, and led the team back for a win. Then, five years after his last start, he came out and beat the New York Jets, followed by a win over the Buffalo Bills, completing season sweeps of both of those teams. He did struggle last week, especially in the first half, but so did the rest of the team as they lost to the New England Patriots. The major differences between Tannehill and Moore are Tannehill's mobility. Moore can move, but not like Tannehill, and Moore is more of a "gunslinger" than Tannehill. If Moore sees an opening, he is going to chuck the ball up in the air and expect his receiver to make a play. He doesn’t have the arm strength of Tannehill, so there are times when those passes flutter a little, allowing defensive backs to make a play on the ball. With Moore as your starting quarterback, you have to expect some interceptions, but you’re probably going to get some big plays as well.

Moore seems to struggle to find his rhythm early in games, including a 0.0 passer rating last week for the first 30 minutes. But once he does get into a routine, he starts to move the Dolphins' offense effectively - unless the interception comes.

The Dolphins have won 10 games this season and Adam Gase looks like a genius after they went on their run which started with the Week-6 win over the Steelers. What does Gase do so well and do the Dolphins feel theyve found their long-term coach in Gase?

Gase has been impressive this season and has Dolphins fans believing the team finally has found a coach that will be able to stay around for several years, rather than continuing the cycle of hire-fail-fire-search that has been so common since Don Shula (and perhaps Jimmy Johnson). Gase is honest both with the players and the media. He isn’t afraid to say a player is falling below his expectations, and he’s not afraid of benching a player who isn’t getting the job done. We’ve seen Jay Ajayi benched in Week 1 because he didn’t react well to Arian Foster being named the starter. Byron Maxwell also was benched. Mario Williams has been benched and then deactivated. Gase is willing to do whatever he needs to do to keep the team moving forward, and the players seem to respond to it.

That said, he’s not a dictator type and he relates to the players incredibly well. He trash talks with the defense during practice, and he welcomes players telling him on the sideline when they feel something has to change during a game - especially the wide receivers when they don’t feel they’re getting into a rhythm and something could be done differently.

Gase's biggest strength is probably the fact that he’s not tied to his own system and, instead, is focused on the best system that works for the team. He’s told assistant coaches to make sure he doesn’t stray from the passing game, especially as Ajayi has emerged, because Gase realizes he likes to pass more than run and he wants to be balanced. He gets input from the players and he adjusts his scheme to what puts the players in the best situations. It seems like a common sense approach, but so many coaches have come into Miami looking to fit players into a scheme, while Gase has looked to fit his scheme to the players.

Jay Ajayi was a no-name, but has become a household name since he ran all over the Steelers and several other teams this season. Are you confident the Dolphins can run the ball on Pittsburgh, or will this game mainly be on Matt Moore's arm?

I definitely think the Dolphins are going to try to run the ball. It seems like some teams have success running against the Steelers and some do not. I think the Steelers are averaging exactly 100 yards allowed per game, and obviously Ajayi's first of three 200 yard games this season came against the Steelers, so there’s a chance for them to run the ball effectively. That said, I would expect the Steelers to be focused on not allowing Ajayi to beat them and forcing Moore to try to win the game. That could be an awesome thing for Miami as he looks for DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills deep or to Jarvis Landry short, allowing Landry to pick up his customary yards after the catch. But it could also be ugly as Moore sometimes throws the ball into coverages he shouldn’t attack.

That probably doesn’t answer the "confident" part of your question, but that’s probably the best answer available. They will definitely try to run the ball, but they will not be afraid of letting Moore open it up through the air, either. It’s just a matter of whether or not they will have success with either of those.

The Steelers' offensive line has done a tremendous job protecting Ben Roethlisberger, and the strength of the Dolphins’ defense is their defensive front. What needs to happen for the Dolphins to cause havoc in the Pittsburgh backfield?

That’s a great question. It seems like in one game the Dolphins defense is just blowing up an offensive line, but then they struggle in the next. There doesn’t seem to be something that the offensive lines are doing drastically differently between those two games, either. Cameron Wake and Ndamukong Suh are obviously the top two concerns on the defensive line for an offense, and most of the time they play next to each other. That could mean your center, guard, and tackle are trying to find a way to double team both players with just three blockers - unless a tight end or running back are added. Miami has done some interesting things lately with moving Suh around much more, including using him as a Wide-9 defensive end, and that has confused some protection schemes.

I do recommend trying to actually block both of those two, because leaving them unblocked did not work well for Bryce Petty and the Jets.

Really, the key for the Dolphins' defensive line is going to be (1) linebackers filling gaps to stop Le'Veon Bell from running wild and (2) the Dolphins secondary - a season-long weakness - being able to prevent the quick passing game and allowing Wake, Suh, and the rest of the defensive line to get to Roethlisberger.

This game is strange. Miami beat the Steelers in Week 6, but the Steelers are 10-point favorites in the playoffs. How do you see this game playing out, and who do you think leaves victorious on Sunday?

I honestly have no idea. If Pittsburgh blows out Miami, I wouldn’t be surprised. If it’s a close Steelers or Dolphins win, that wouldn’t surprise me either. If it’s a dominant Dolphins win, that might actually surprise me, but I wouldn’t say it’s outside the realm of possibility either. Maybe it’s a part of having not been in the playoffs for so long, but I really have no idea what to expect here. It probably comes down to exactly what you already mentioned - the Dolphins pass rush and Ajayi. If those two start working, Miami is in this game. If they don’t, Miami will have played 17 games this season before starting their offseason.

If I have to pick, I probably say Pittsburgh moves on to the divisional round, but I’m not sold on the Dolphins having as slim a chance as most of the national media seem to suggest.