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Miami Dolphins

Confidence in Miami Dolphins Defense

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

In Miami’s defense, individually, the Dolphins’ defense has a very good group of players.

Reshad Jones is a Pro Bowl-caliber safety, Xavien Howard is an elite cornerback and Minkah Fitzpatrick is on his way to becoming one.

Davon Godchaux and Vincent Taylor are phenomenal defensive tackles that cost a fraction of what they’re really worth, and both Jerome Baker and Raekwon McMillan give Miami a solid, young tandem in the middle of the field.

So with all of this “talent”, how did Miami end up with the 29th-ranked defense last season?

Individually, Cameron Wake and Ndamukong Suh were two of the top players at their position across the entire NFL; and yet, how well did those defenses do during their tenure?

  • 2015: 25th
  • 2016: 29th
  • 2017: 16th

We have no idea what kind of results Patrick Graham‘s defense is going to produce, but he has an opportunity to mold a group of talented individuals into a threatening team.

These starters all show promise, but do they provide us with a sense of confidence heading into 2019? See who’s letting us relax and who has us on edge down below:

Defensive Line
Confidence Level: 5
Confident Players: 2

Anchored by two late-round picks that came into their rookie training camp with minimal expectations, Davon Godchaux and Vincent Taylor have stolen the show. Drafted in the 5th and 6th rounds respectively, both defensive tackles have transcended their “draft value” and evolved into reliable starters on the defensive line.

The foot injury to Taylor in Week 8 dampened an otherwise dominant season from the Oklahoma State product, to the point where we started to believe that Taylor may actually be the better defensive tackle between the two.

This is a glorious problem to have for any team, as both players will combine to cost $1.38m against the salary cap next season. These are the exceptional values you receive when you draft stellar talent deep in the draft, and Chris Grier deserves praise for identifying just that.

Where Grier deserves some skepticism is with the performance of his team’s defensive line since taking over as Director of College Scouting in 2007.

Since then, Miami has averaged the 19.5th-ranked rushing defense.

During that time, the team has had:

  • The top-10 rushing defense 3 times (25%)
  • The bottom-10 rushing defense 6 times (43%).
    • In fact, they’ve been bottom-3 as many times as they’ve been top-10.

Recent draft hauls help quell thoughts of incompetent defensive lines, but given the number of resources (money and draft picks) used to solve a defensive line that’s currently in shambles, it’s safe to say our confidence level is average at best.

Christian Wilkins should make it a triple threat on the defensive line, but he is an unknown commodity at this point. Charles Harris was selected #22 overall, and he has provided virtually no assistance to this defense during his two-year tenure.

Even if Wilkins is double the player Harris was, it’s still not enough to eliminate every concern at the position.

Akeem Spence returns and should be a quality backup rather than a starter turned boxer. The only player preventing this defensive tackle room from being the best in the league is the exclusion of William Hayes.

What the Dolphins don’t have are players that can rush the quarterback.

After losing Cameron Wake to the Tennessee Titans and trading Robert Quinn to the Dallas Cowboys, the Dolphins are left with Harris and a bunch of practice squad players.

It doesn’t matter how good Xavien Howard and Minkah Fitzpatrick are, if the opposing quarterback has all day to throw, a receiver is going to get open.

Think back to the Buffalo Bills game last year in Miami when Josh Allen was able to find Zay Jones for multiple touchdowns after each play lasted an elongated amount of time. Allen was also two inches away from hitting Charles Clay in the endzone on a desperate hail Mary attempt….on another play that was extended extensively.

Since 2007, Grier has had a hand in drafting 5 defensive linemen in the first 2 rounds. Combined, out of a possible 292 games they could have all played, they were active for 191 of those games (65.41%) and started just 51 (17.47%) of them:

Clean slate? We’ll give these players one. Confidence they’ll evolve into productive players? Neutral.

Linebackers
Confidence Level: 4
Confident Players: 1.5

You’re just as likely to find half of a human playing football as you are to find Kiko Alonso playing Jeopardy.

Since tearing his ACL in 2014, the former Oregon linebacker has been pretty durable. Up until his ankle injury towards the end of last season, Alonso played every defensive snap. In 2018, Alonso was responsible for another 1004 snaps (92.19%).

But that’s where the consistency ends.

Alonso is going to be on the field and he’s going to consistently give you 8 tackles a game. He is consistently around the ball, but it’s usually after the ball is caught by the opposing running back or tight end.

He diagnoses plays fairly well, but he doesn’t get to his opponent until they are already 3-yards up the field.

To be fair, this actually speaks volumes about the ineptitude of the Dolphins defensive line. If they were able to contain the run better, rush the quarterback with any kind of consistency, or had a 0-technique or 2-technique defensive tackle that was able to maintain the middle of the field, Miami’s linebackers would probably perform better than they have.

This unit makes up for a lot of defensive line failures.

But Kiko is not half the player we’re confident in. Raekwon McMillan’s ACL injury really dampened what could have been a more-promising career up to this point.

McMillan should have been able to get his “rookie mistakes” out of the way in 2017, and 2018 should have instilled more confidence in our defensive play caller.

Overall, he did an admirable job. There were instances where he was burned terribly in coverage, but he also had stretches during the season where he was one of the better defensive players on the field.

I’m simultaneously skeptical of what McMillan can become, but I also believe last season was both a recovery period and a learning curve.

Statistically, McMillan is not a better player than Kiko Alonso, which makes it debatable that he’s a player we’re confident in.

In this case, we’re not rounding up – and we’re being a bit generous with McMillan’s 0.5 – but maybe Kiko deserves a 0.5 himself, and together, they can make one, complete linebacker.

The youngest starter in this unit, Jerome Baker is expected to take the next step and become a better outside rusher and coverage linebacker. Ironic thing is, if you pay attention to the grapevine, it’s possible Baker is an odd-man out in Patrick Graham’s defense.

Personally, I think it’s asinine to leave your best player off the field for extended periods of time (think of what happened last year with Matt Burke and Minkah Fitzpatrick). Good coaches find ways to utilize good players.

Baker is the one of the only linebackers we’ve had confidence in since Zach Thomas or that one season Joey Porter went off (2008).

This unit’s productivity has a lot to do with the defensive line. If Miami can win their battles in the trenches, the team’s linebackers should prosper. Otherwise, “Tank for Tua” is in full-swing.

Secondary
Confidence Level: 7
Confident Players: 3

This position group easily has the capability of becoming a top-10 unit, and it’s not ludicrous to say it could even be a top-5 unit in 2019.

It’s also possible that this position group bottoms-out and ends up living in the bottom third of the league.

On paper, this unit should naturally improve from the 16th-ranked passing defense in 2018:

  • Eric Rowe is better than the missing #2 boundary cornerback we rolled out last season – even if it would be more-ideal if Rowe were a depth player.
  • The Dolphins are expected to solidify positions for both Minkah Fitzpatrick and Bobby McCain.
    • Allowing McCain to thrive in his natural slot cornerback position.
    • Giving Fitzpatrick the opportunity to become an elite talent at one, specific position rather than a valuable Swiss Army knife.
  • A complete season of chemistry under their belt.
    • T.J. McDonald has now worked with Reshad Jones for a full season.
    • Fitzpatrick isn’t trying to learn the ‘lay of the land’ while studying 3 different positions.
    • Defensive Captain Bobby McCain got the “I hope I can live up to my contract extension” butterflies out of his system.

Thing is, we used some of these similar reasons to excuse 2017.

After missing the first 8 games of the 2017 season due to a suspension, McDonald jumped into a starting role in Week 9 – fresh off of a contract extension he earned due to his training camp performance.

We expected vintage 2014 McDonald, and instead we received a player who wasn’t even as productive as Isa Abdul-Quddus.

And it’s not to say that the fans weren’t rooting for McDonald to succeed. We gave him an ample amount of excuses: he had to learn Matt Burke’s playbook, he was shaking off some rust, he had to figure out a way to coexist with Reshad Jones – both of whom are better-suited as strong safeties.

All of which may have some validity to them, but his 2018 performance reminded us why the Los Angeles Rams let a once-promising young player walk. Statistically, it seems like Miami made the right decision, but if you watched McDonald in coverage, he was more of a liability than he was a playmaker.

McCain was expected to settle in at his slot cornerback position last season when he received a $27m contract extension. He was thrust to the outside when Miami realized they actually needed to field someone opposite Xavien Howard.

It’s hard to say it’s entirely McCain’s fault for his subpar season, but when you’re making $6.75m a year (and you’re the 5th-most expensive player on the roster in 2019), you’re expected to provide a solution, not become a detriment.

Although there are only a few players we’re confident in, we aren’t really too concerned about this group either.

If McCain and McDonald are as bad as they were last year, you figure Miami’s passing defense should stay right around 16th again. However, if they perform closer to the expectations their contracts dictate for them, this secondary can carry this Dolphins team to more victories than the “2020 QB club” would like.

Is Reshad Jones “declining”? Yes.
Is Reshad Jones overpaid? Yes.
Did his attitude last season tick us off? Eh, kinda.

But, Jones is still a quality player to have in your backfield. Don’t let the lack of trade offers fool you, no one wants an aging $17.2m safety. But that doesn’t mean he won’t be productive for Miami this year.

The hard-hitting safety will burn us a few times when he takes the wrong coverage angle, but he’ll probably make up for it with an impressive interception or two.

Jones hauled in 3 interceptions last season, but it was also the first year of his career in which he didn’t record even half a sack.

Let’s not allow our emotions cloud the kind of player Jones is for this team. Could the situation be better? Absolutely. But would you rather Walt Aikens back there? What about McDonald? At least until 2020, you have Reshad Jones – and I’m confident he will produce for the Miami Dolphins in 2019.

Between the offense and defense, Miami has 9 players we are confident in. That’s nearly enough to field half a starting football team!

Stay strong, Dolphins fans. 2020 is the year this team is complete and competes. Allegedly.

Growing up a passionate Dolphins fan in Jets territory, Jason learned from an early age that life as a Dolphins fan wasn’t going to be easy. Previously the Sports Editor for his university newspaper, Jason has experience writing columns, creating game recaps and conducting interviews with Hall of Fame athletes (Harry Carson and Yogi Berra are two of his proudest interviews). When he’s not dissecting the latest sports news, you can find him perplexed over the Dolphins offensive line woes or involuntarily introducing music to his neighbors.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Rich McQuillen

    May 8, 2019 at 12:27 pm

    On the new hybrid defense… Flores on the Patriots, seemed to find a way to sneak in extra dbs (with a 3-2 and 3-3 defense). That will be interesting seeing 3 safeties on the field, or 4 corners. Not sure who those extra corners will be. Base 3-4 and 4-3 were 10% of plays combined.

    TJ lost 15 pounds and should be improved.

    • Jason Hrina

      Jason Hrina

      May 8, 2019 at 2:59 pm

      I would love to see Howard, Fitzpatrick, McCain and Rowe on the field at all times (with Jones and McDonald acting as the safeties and with Fitzpatrick as a type of hybrid – maybe shading towards Rowe’s side). This team is going to need to rely on their secondary often, especially with the lack of pass rush coming from the DL.

      TJ is such a wildcard on defense – if he is able to step up in coverage the team should be very stout in the secondary. Also have to think McCain isn’t anywhere near as bad as he was in 2018 – not a given, but he can’t get much worse.

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Miami Dolphins

Josh Rosen 2018 Passing Chart – Week 17 at Seattle

Travis Wingfield

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Football, more so than any other sport, requires context to tell the full story. Box scores provide the casual fan with a general idea of the cumulative result of any given game, but without isolating each player’s performance, many details go unnoticed.

This project is entirely based around isolating the play of Josh Rosen. Traditional data points will tell you that his rookie season was one of the worst in the history of the league. Watching each drop back multiple times over, breaking down the most impactful plays, and charting the data that tells the true story, this is the 2018 Josh Rosen charting project.

Jump To:

Week 4 vs. Seattle
Week 5 at San Francisco
Week 6 at Minnesota
Week 7 vs. Denver
Week 8 vs. San Francisco
Week 10 at Kansas City
Week 11 vs. Oakland
Week 12 at LA Chargers
Week 13 at Green Bay
Week 14 vs. Detroit
Week 15 at Atlanta
Week 16 vs. LA Rams
Week 17 at Seattle

Week 17 at Seattle –

By the time this season finale came to an end the entire Cardinals operation had to breathe a sigh of relief. A disaster season, that came to a crashing conclusion, was finally in the rearview. For Josh Rosen, the last month of the season was a recurring nightmare. Rosen threw 146 passes in December and the only one that crossed pay dirt was a busted coverage in this Seattle game.

Some of Rosen’s strong suits didn’t travel to the Pacific Northwest. Throwing into contested windows, play-action passing, and third down conversions each brought back less than satisfactory returns.

The Cardinal passing offense converted 3-of-14 3rd downs. Rosen was 2-of-14 for 23 yards on contested throws and 5-of-10 for 56 yards on play pass.

Rosen was chucking-and-praying once again. The average air yards per throw tallied 10.8 yards, while the Arizona receivers only amassed 51 yards after the catch (34.2% of Rosen’s passing total).

The short passing game was far more fruitful than the vertical attacks.

 

Portion of the Field Accurate Pass/Number of Passes
20+ yards 0/3 (0%)
11-19 yards 0/3 (0%)
0-10 yards (or behind LOS) 11/16 (68.8%)

 

The game was littered with mistakes from the Cardinals QB. Rosen registered 14 mistakes (11 from accuracy, 2 ball security issues, and 1 poor read). Rosen lost two fumbles and had two would-be interceptions dropped by the Seattle defense.

The personnel deployment featured more versatility than recent weeks. Rosen’s passes were supplemented by the following personnel packages.

 

11-personnel 31 snaps
12-personnel 3 snaps
21-personnel 4 snaps

 

As has been the case all season, Rosen was under frequent pressure. Seattle arrived for 11 pressures (6 sacks, 3 hits, 2 hurries) at an average time from snap-to-pressure of 2.19 seconds.

The busted coverage touchdown was Rosen’s one red-zone completion (1-of-3). He was in the gun for 25 snaps and under-center for 13.

Another week, another low conversion rate. The Cardinal passing game converted 8-of-38 plays into first downs (21.1%)

It’s difficult to imagine a more trying rookie season than the one Rosen experienced. The offensive line play was poor, the only consistent pass catcher was Larry Fitzgerald, and Rosen had his own share of rookie mistakes to compound things.

This game goes into the losing performance category marking eight consecutive games that Rosen failed to reach the winning performance category.

 

2018 Performance Results Number of Games
Winning Performance 2 (SEA, SF)
Inconsequential Performance 3 (@MIN, @LAC, @ATL)
Losing Performance 7 (@SF, DEN, @KC, OAK, @GB, DET, LAR, @SEA)

Winning Performance – The QB played well enough to garner a victory. He limited mistakes and made plays in crucial situations.
Inconsequential Performance – More of a game-managing role, the QB didn’t have the big plays, but mistakes were limited.
Losing Performance – The QB limited his team’s ability to win the game with his performance.

@WingfieldNFL

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Miami Dolphins

Josh Rosen 2018 Passing Chart – Week 16 vs. LA Rams

Travis Wingfield

Published

on

Football, more so than any other sport, requires context to tell the full story. Box scores provide the casual fan with a general idea of the cumulative result of any given game, but without isolating each player’s performance, many details go unnoticed.

This project is entirely based around isolating the play of Josh Rosen. Traditional data points will tell you that his rookie season was one of the worst in the history of the league. Watching each drop back multiple times over, breaking down the most impactful plays, and charting the data that tells the true story, this is the 2018 Josh Rosen charting project.

Jump To:

Week 4 vs. Seattle
Week 5 at San Francisco
Week 6 at Minnesota
Week 7 vs. Denver
Week 8 vs. San Francisco
Week 10 at Kansas City
Week 11 vs. Oakland
Week 12 at LA Chargers
Week 13 at Green Bay
Week 14 vs. Detroit
Week 15 at Atlanta
Week 16 vs. LA Rams
Week 17 at Seattle

 

Week 16 vs. LA Rams –

For the second consecutive game Josh Rosen didn’t finish under-center for the Cardinals. In a blowout loss, where it seemed like the entire game plan revolved around making life easy on Josh Rosen, Arizona still managed to get ran out of the building. Mike Glennon completed the final series for the Red Birds offense.

Rosen threw the ball only 23 times, but scrambled more than he has all season. The game plan also featured the least amount of variety, from a personnel grouping standpoint, all season.

 

11-personnel 30 snaps
12-personnel 1 snap

 

Rosen’s typical third down heroics didn’t show up. The Cardinals converted only 2-of-10 third downs in the passing game (one a QB scramble). Converting, as it has been all season, was a challenge in general — Arizona converted just 6-of-31 drop backs (19.4%).

Rosen was in the shotgun almost exclusively (3 under-center, 28 in the gun). This led to a limited play-action passing game (only one throw from play pass).

The four mistakes attributed to Rosen were largely deep shots. He missed on short pass, but two of the three inaccuracies came on balls down the field. One of those deep shots was an ill-advised throw into coverage despite a wide open Larry Fitzgerald coming across the formation (seen in the video thread).

Rosen’s depth splits were as follows:

 

Portion of the Field Accurate Pass/Number of Passes
20+ yards 0/3 (0%)
11-19 yards 0/3 (0%)
0-10 yards (or behind LOS) 11/16 (68.8%)

 

More than half of Rosen’s 87 passing yards came from YAC (54%). The average depth of Rosen’s passes was 9.22 air yards per throw.

Throwing into tight window was a futile effort. Rosen completed 1-of-7 contested throws for 7 yards. Pressure was a regular fixture, yet again, as Rosen was under duress on 11 drop backs (4 sacks, 5 hits, 2 hurries). The average time from snap-to-pressure was 2.30 seconds.

The war of attrition seems to have finally broken the Cardinals spirit. The team’s execution was lacking all year, but this game was something of a “white flag” effort from the coaching staff. Rosen gets tabbed with a losing performance for a lack of big-time plays, a few mistakes, and an awful holistic result.

 

2018 Performance Results Number of Games
Winning Performance 2 (SEA, SF)
Inconsequential Performance 3 (@MIN, @LAC, @ATL)
Losing Performance 6 (@SF, DEN, @KC, OAK, @GB, DET, LAR)

Winning Performance – The QB played well enough to garner a victory. He limited mistakes and made plays in crucial situations.
Inconsequential Performance – More of a game-managing role, the QB didn’t have the big plays, but mistakes were limited.
Losing Performance – The QB limited his team’s ability to win the game with his performance.

@WingfieldNFL

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Miami Dolphins

Josh Rosen 2018 Passing Chart – Week 15 at Atlanta

Travis Wingfield

Published

on

Football, more so than any other sport, requires context to tell the full story. Box scores provide the casual fan with a general idea of the cumulative result of any given game, but without isolating each player’s performance, many details go unnoticed.

This project is entirely based around isolating the play of Josh Rosen. Traditional data points will tell you that his rookie season was one of the worst in the history of the league. Watching each drop back multiple times over, breaking down the most impactful plays, and charting the data that tells the true story, this is the 2018 Josh Rosen charting project.

Jump To:

Week 4 vs. Seattle
Week 5 at San Francisco
Week 6 at Minnesota
Week 7 vs. Denver
Week 8 vs. San Francisco
Week 10 at Kansas City
Week 11 vs. Oakland
Week 12 at LA Chargers
Week 13 at Green Bay
Week 14 vs. Detroit
Week 15 at Atlanta
Week 16 vs. LA Rams
Week 17 at Seattle

 

Week 15 at Atlanta –

We’ve reached the point in the season where the Cardinals coaching staff had to make a switch to prevent further damaging their 21-year-old quarterback. Josh Rosen, under duress all game, with very little help from the route concepts and plan to attack the Atlanta defense, was pulled for Mike Glennon in the fourth quarter.

The Falcons pass rush would’ve crippled the most grizzled veteran in the NFL; it completely debilitated Rosen. The Cardinal QB was under pressure 15-of-27 drop backs (6 sacks, 6 hits, 3 hurries) with an average snap-to-pressure time of 2.17 seconds.

Atlanta’s unrelenting pressure led to a season-low in average air yards per attempt (4.6 AYPT). The Arizona receivers picked up 82 yards after the catch counting for 62.1% of Rosen’s passing total.

Once again, a lopsided scoreboard forced Arizona into very little variety from a personnel grouping standpoint. Rosen was 4-of-5 with 37 yards on non-11-personnel calls. The issue there — Arizona was always in 11-personnell.

 

11-personnel 22 snaps
12-personnel 4 snaps
21-personnel 1 snap

 

Rosen only committed two mistakes in the game (one accuracy, one a poor decision). The biggest mistake was an example of nervous antics in the pocket and a decision Rosen would prefer to have back (available in the Twitter thread).

Rosen was under-center just 5 times (gun 22), and only threw from play action three times; Rosen was 2-of-3 with 13 yards on play pass.

The Arizona offense converted only 18.5% (5-of-27) passing plays into first downs. Throwing into contested windows was a 50-50 proposition — Rosen threw for 68 yards on 4-of-8 passing into tight windows.

Rosen’s depth splits were as follows:

 

Portion of the Field Accurate Pass/Number of Passes
20+ yards 1/1 (100%)
11-19 yards 2/3 (66.7%)
0-10 yards (or behind LOS) 12/15 (80%)

 

It was a miserable day for the Cardinals all the way around. Rosen never stood much of a chance to make a big time paly, or to make a game-changing mistake — but the one time he did make a crucial mistake, the game was already out of reach. This showing goes in the inconsequential column.

 

2018 Performance Results Number of Games
Winning Performance 2 (SEA, SF)
Inconsequential Performance 3 (@MIN, @LAC, @ATL)
Losing Performance 5 (@SF, DEN, @KC, OAK, @GB, DET)

Winning Performance – The QB played well enough to garner a victory. He limited mistakes and made plays in crucial situations.
Inconsequential Performance – More of a game-managing role, the QB didn’t have the big plays, but mistakes were limited.
Losing Performance – The QB limited his team’s ability to win the game with his performance.

@WingfieldNFL

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