Matt Moore has shown surprising poise under pressure in the Dolphins' three-game winning streak. (Steve Mitchell/US Presswire)
In Break It Down, I will go back and analyze the Xs and Os of a play or performance from Sunday that stood out above the rest.
Matt Moore did not light the world on fire immediately after replacing Chad Henne as Miami's quarterback. The Dolphins lost the first four games Moore appeared in this season (three starts), with the QB throwing just one touchdown to four interceptions in that span.
Since then, though, the light has gone on. Miami is riding a three-game win streak after Sunday's 35-8 laugher against Buffalo, and Moore has a 6-1 TD-to-interception ratio during the run. Some of the explanation comes from Miami's average opposition recently: Kansas City, Washington and Buffalo.
But Moore is showing a lot of positives, too -- enough so that the Dolphins might not be in as much of a hurry to draft a quarterback in April as they likely were before.
Let's take a look at how Moore picked apart Buffalo Sunday.
Moore didn't wind up throwing for a ton of yards (160), but he was efficient and made big plays early when Miami needed them. The Dolphins scored a touchdown on their first drive, with Moore going 5 for 6 and hitting five different receivers.
His first pass came on 2nd-and-7 from the Miami 16:
There's nothing too fancy going on here. Moore is going to hit fullback Charles Clay (No. 31) over the middle for 10 yards and a first down. But notice a couple of things here:
First off, Moore's stepped up to avoid Buffalo's rush coming off the edge. He felt the pressure coming and moved his feet to keep the play alive. And second, he's still looking downfield. This is an underrated part of what we've seen Moore do in recent weeks. Instead of taking off or panicking in the face of a rush, he's working to stay in the pocket and get the ball to his receivers.
Moore's second completion came two plays later. What we see from Moore here shows both great presence and a strong arm.
No. 31 is safety Jairus Byrd, who shows blitz and then comes with it. Moore recognizes the blitz coming and sees that his running back, Reggie Bush, is lined up in a man-to-man situation with Kelvin Sheppard.
That's a big advantage for Miami in the speed department. The only negating factor is the blitz from Byrd, which forces Moore to get rid of the ball early.
Still, Bush has just enough separation for Moore to float in a perfect pass over Sheppard's shoulder to Bush down the sideline for 19 yards.
That's a great throw, made even better by Moore's pre-snap recognition of what he was facing and quick decision once the ball was snapped.
After a short Daniel Thomas run, the Dolphins take to the air again. Moore finds Davone Bess for 21 yards down the middle this time, but not before he again feels the pressure coming at him and sidesteps it:
Most of Buffalo's early attack comes from Moore's front side, so he should be able to see it, but his first instinct is to stay with the play, not bail on the pocket.
Completion No. 4 is another in the quick-thinking, terrific-pass category. On 3rd-and-12 from the Buffalo 31, one play after Moore's first incompletion of the day, the Bills again bring heat -- this time in the form of a blitz, with six defenders coming hard.
That leaves Miami's receivers one-on-one again. Moore looks for Brian Hartline, boxed at the top of the photo.
Again, this is a situation where Moore has to decipher what he's seeing from the defense and make a move in a hurry. Just like on the play to Bush, he finds a favorable matchup and throws a perfect ball.
Here's the coverage on Hartline as Moore lets go of the ball:
That shot emphasizes not only the trust has in Hartline to find his spot and look for the ball, but also that Moore has enough confidence in his throwing ability to put it right where he wants it.
Hartline gets to the first-down marker, turns back and hauls in the pass, with the coverage still right on top of him. A less confident (and/or less competent) quarterback would have whipped the ball out of bounds with a six-man rush coming or tried to run for the first down.
Moore, instead, stayed the course and got the deserved results.
Another example of Moore's terrific passing day Sunday came on the Dolphins' second drive. Off a play-action fake, Moore unloaded one deep downfield to Clay:
That's 40 yards downfield and the ball is dropping right into Clay's hands, in stride, over his outside shoulder to keep the defenders at bay. You cannot throw a better ball in that situation. Moore's not going to sit back and whip it 65 yards on every pass, but he has enough arm strength to stretch the defense.
The play-action pass to Clay works again in the second quarter, to put Miami up 21-3.
Moore takes the snap and fakes a handoff to Daniel Thomas -- as you can see in the picture below, that action freezes at least two Buffalo defenders, allowing Clay to slip up the seam and into the end zone for an easy TD pitch and catch.
Miami's final possession of the first half ends with Moore throwing a 4-yard TD to Davone Bess, which puts the Dolphins ahead 28-3. Perhaps not learning from its previous mistakes, Buffalo brings the house -- a seven-man blitz.
A huge amount of credit on this play goes to the Miami offensive line -- plus Thomas -- as it picks up the blitz and gives Moore a chance. Moore again stays in the pocket, even sliding a step to his right to avoid the push.
He then plants and fires a strike to Bess, who would wind up at right about the "I" in the end zone (or just left of where No. 80 Anthony Fasano is in the shot above).
Is Matt Moore the most talented QB in the league? No. Will he keep Miami from exploring a quarterback in next year's draft? Doubtful.
What he has shown in his recent outings, though, is that he's developing as a quarterback. The physical skills are all there, but Moore struggled with his reads and decision-making throughout his four seasons in Carolina and at the start of his time in Miami's lineup this season.
Attribute it to better offensive line play, weaker competition, more experience or whatever else you want, but Moore looks like a proven vet right now. He's taking shots downfield when they're there, but also keeping defenses off-balance simply by spreading the ball around and not making any major mistakes. Sunday was another step forward for Moore and the Dolphins. He's got six more games to prove he deserves a shot to start for Miami in 2011 -- but the early returns have been impressive.