Zo huddle
Photo Credit: USA Today

FSM Presents: Zo Huddle – Raiders vs. Dolphins Week 16 – Mariota and the Raiders offense vs. the Dolphins Defense



With Derek Carr likely out for Saturday’s contest, Marcus Mariota will be given the task to salvage whatever is left for the Raiders’ push to land the final AFC wildcard spot. It won’t be easy, however, with both a dwindling chance of making the postseason and the Dolphins’ defense presenting some of the most problematic defensive looks, the kind of looks that has sparked their own playoff pursuit.


Zo Huddle
Photo Credit: USA Today

Marcus Mariota received this reward following the Raiders’ nail-biting overtime loss to the Chargers: An $825,000 payday.

The former Heisman Trophy winner and Oregon Duck standout put the Silver and Black on his own back and combined for 314 total yards in the 30-27 defeat on Thursday night, leading to the monetary bonus. The Chargers simply were not prepared for Mariota and he played as if he was wearing the Oregon Ducks uniform combinations all over again.

But now comes two major challenges for Mariota and the Raiders following that financial reward.

One: Las Vegas being given a 1% chance of making the playoffs now.

Two: The Raiders now having to game-plan for one of the league’s best units at limiting the points and forcing takeaways.

For this week’s Zo Huddle, we not only will break down what elements Mariota can add to the Raiders’ offense, but what to anticipate out of the Miami defense, including one exotic look with a science/biology term that has given quarterbacks fits.

Time to run Zo Huddle on FSM:


Read and react with Mariota


Raiders head coach Jon Gruden dipped into the read-option bag to utilize Mariota – a scheme that the Chargers didn’t expect.

At the 10:58 mark of the second quarter, Gruden throws the unexpected on the Chargers. The Chargers have eight in the box while the Raiders are in 11 personnel (one tight end, one running back) out of the shotgun. Six white helmets crowd the line of scrimmage as the Bolts believe Devontae Booker has the football and is charging toward the left side. Mariota, however, masterfully tucks the ball in and calls his own number.

In read-option offenses, the execution starts with the eyes of the quarterback: Being able to read where the defense is going and reacting on who should be the recipient of the football. It is an offense that works dangerously both ways: It can either lead to fumbles in the backfield or can fool a defense and get burnt. The latter works well on this play.

Outside linebacker Uchenna Nwosu is the edge defender lined up on the Raiders’ right side. He goes unblocked, but because he’s focused on Booker, he loses outside containment and is forced to chase down Mariota past the line of scrimmage. The play ends with Mariota bullying his way past the first down marker.

No matter what type of option offense it is, the edge defender is always responsible for sealing the outside lanes. But that’s not the only play that gave Mariota and the Raiders an advantage.

With 12:41 into the third quarter, the Raiders present a three-wide receiver set but 11 personnel scheme – this time with tight end Darren Waller lined up directly behind left tackle Colton Miller. The Chargers send strong safety Rayshawn Jenkins on a blitz, with the intent of blowing up the 1st-and-10 run play.

However, the Chargers end up rolling the dice on the wrong side. Mariota fakes the handoff to the motion man Nelson Agholor and Josh Jacobs as both bolt to the left. Waller plays the rare role of pulling offensive lineman as the main lead blocker by sprinting to his right. There’s once again no outside seal from the Chargers and Mariota gains 26. Lucky for the Chargers, Waller didn’t blow up free safety Jaylen Watkins on the play, and he ends up forcing Mariota to the sidelines.

But the play works with this result: six Charger defenders slanting to the Raiders’ left side, thinking Jacobs has the rock. But it’s Mariota who tucks it and runs it.

In the end, Mariota gained 88 yards off his mobility. But now comes the next challenge for him and the Raiders – one of the league’s best defenses down in South Beach.


“Fins Up” on defense


Zo Huddle
Photo Credit- Full Press Coverage

Is this the new “Killer Bees” for the Dolphins?

That unit brought chaos in the early 80s, even before a young QB named Dan Marino joined the roster. This new Dolphins defense directed by head coach Brian Flores and called by defensive coordinator Josh Boyer brings confusion and chaos.

Even All-Pro wide receiver Keenan Allen left the Chargers’ 29-21 loss to the Dolphins bewildered by what the ‘Fins came with on defense, saying to reporters, “They had a great game plan for us. They executed it well. I would say we were probably pretty confused out there with all the looks that they were giving us.

The Rams were additionally left mind twisted following their loss to the Dolphins 28-17, with defensive lineman Michael Brockers telling media personnel, “I felt like it was 11 guys on the line of scrimmage, and once you snapped the ball, everybody was coming. I’ve never seen that before, that many times. It was a lot. It was a little crazy to look at.

So how does Zo Huddle decipher the Dolphins’ defense? Here is one hint: There is a scientific cell term to describe one look they bring.


Blitz zero and the “amoeba”



Zo Huddle
Photo Credit: Sun-Sentinel

The Dolphins do run a base four-man defensive front, so we start there. But they have two linebackers responsible for the ‘A’ gap (between the center and guard on offense). That look gives opposing blockers the feeling the Dolphins will crash the trenches with six. Except, the Dolphins bring pressure from all angles.

One blitz call to anticipate is the zero blitz – which has become the ‘Fins go-to play call on defense. This is the blitz call that frustrated the likes of Jared Goff, Kyler Murray, and others this season.

Take the Rams game as an example: Goff may have finished with 355 passing yards, but he completed just 57.3% of his throws. And when the ‘Fins brought the heat, Goff threw two interceptions, lost one fumble that became a scoop-and-score for Miami, had zero touchdowns, and was bottled to 136 yards.

The downside on Cover Zero blitzes is that there’s no safety help. But Flores, Boyer, and the rest of the ‘Fins staff have a strong trust in their cornerbacks and their multiple rushers to call the scheme.


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Photo Credit- OC Register

Arizona game is another prime example. One play is a 3rd-and-3 situation for the Cardinals early in the first quarter. Murray is operating in an empty set (no backs in the backfield), but the Dolphins throw six along the line of scrimmage – creating a 6-on-5 scenario with the Cards’ front line of protection. No one on Miami along the LOS drops back into coverage. Murray immediately rolls to his right with the hope he can either trust his mobility or fling the quick delivery. Except right-side defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah gets penetration, puts Murray in a position where he’s holding the ball away from his body with his throwing hand, and jars the football loose for fellow DE Shaq Lawson to snatch it and score the 36-yard defensive touchdown.

The blitz zero isn’t the only call wrecking offenses. The Dolphins take advantage of the fact defenders can move around pre-snap and not be called for a false start, leading to the “amoeba” look.

For those who remember science and biology classes, you hear the term amoeba often associated with a cell that can alter its shape. Well, this “amoeba” has defenders moving around before the snap in the effort to perplex linemen and quarterbacks with who is rushing. The “amoeba” brings four to eight defenders against offenses.

Along with Goff and Murray, other notable quarterbacks who have struggled against the Dolphins include Cam Newton (not even 187 passing yards in both games against Miami), Jimmy Garrapolo (128 passing yards), and Justin Herbert (174 yards). Another key stat: The Dolphins have six games when they reach three sacks or more and are 5-1 in those contests. The only loss? Against the Kansas City Chiefs, when they sacked Patrick Mahomes three times and picked him off three times.


Post huddle


Zo Huddle
Photo Credit: USA Today

How do Mariota and the Raiders counter the Dolphins? Obviously, the Raiders now have a read-option element behind center.

But there are two examples the Raiders can use leading to the Miami game on Saturday: Watching how Murray ran against the ‘Fins (gained 106 yards and averaged 9.6 yards a carry in the loss) or how the Pittsburgh Steelers attacked the “amoeba” with an underneath drag route to the slot receiver in last year’s game.

If Henry Ruggs III is off the COVID-19 reserve list, he becomes the perfect guy to execute the drag route and take advantage of the open space. Faking fly sweep runs to Agholor and trusting Jacobs to smash inside can also potentially wear down the ‘Fins.

But this Miami defense will bring confusion, like taking the hardest AP Biology quiz you never expect.


The key for the Silver and Black will be taking care of the football (especially when the Dolphins bring pressure) and taking advantage of Mariota’s mobility. But again, the zero blitzes and “amoeba” possess one more challenge for a Raiders team fighting to keep whatever is left in their January push.

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Lorenzo J. Reyna – Franchise Sports Media

Twitter: @LJ_Reyna


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