Who: Dolphins (5-4) vs. Packers (3-4-1)
When: November 11, 4:25 East
Where: Lambeau Field – Green Bay, WI
Weather: 36 degrees, 8 MPH wind, 20% chance precipitation
Vegas Slant: Packers -10
The NFL’s primary aim is to create parity across the league. For the most part, the league has hit its mark with the average game separating two teams by one score or less. Double-digit favorites in the league are rare, especially when the favorite trails the underdog by multiple games in the win column.
Walking wounded into a hostile environment, Miami’s offense is going to have to elevate its level of play to a height not yet achieved this season.
After all, it’s not Sam Darnold that will emerge from the tunnel come Sunday. This time, it’s Aaron Rodgers – the greatest quarterback to ever play the game.
An upset would change the narrative for Adam Gase’s Dolphins. Bit by the injury bug more severely than just about every team in the league, Gase has Miami over .500 despite lowly offensive and defensive ranks, and a negative point-differential.
It would be the surprise of the weekend in the NFL but, if Miami can pull off the shocker, the team will head into the bye at 6-4 and poised for a wildcard push.
The Packers Scheme:
Like all good attack units at this level, the Packer offense is multiple. While arguments bluster about the state of Wisconsin over Mike McCarthy’s job security, and even his overall competence, it’s number 12 that drives that bus.
Exploiting favorable match-ups, passing from heavy packages, short, intermediate, deep game; everything is at this group’s disposal when Rodgers is pulling the strings. The first two plays of the New England game are a prime example:
Rodgers opened the game under center with 11-personnel, tight splits and split-zone play action fake to get the quarterback in space on a bootleg. Then, on snap number two, the Packers were in an empty set without substitution.
Primarily a zone running scheme, the Packers won’t show as much variety in their attempt to create balance on offense. Green Bay has a pair of pro-bowl tackles and they love to get both out in space. Right Tackle Bryan Bulaga could change this plan as he intends to play on a banged up knee.
Green Bay can afford to roll out slow developing concepts because of Rodgers’ pocket mobility, and threat to create off the edge. Nothing is out of the question when it comes to this potent quarterback and, by extension, offense.
Coordinator Mike Pettine’s finger prints are all over this revamped Green Bay defense. A nice mixture of even and odd fronts, exotic blitz packages and a hybrid zone-man scheme on the back end, it’ll be vital for Brock Osweiler to identify the Packers’ looks pre-snap.
Where Miami could attack, is on the edges with corners that are more physical than athletic. Green Bay will play a mixture of off-coverage and press. Miami has to be able to convert the hitches into back-shoulders and flies when the Packer corners challenge at the line of scrimmage.
With a pair of very impressive defensive tackles, the Packers can two-gap up front and rotate linebackers in and out of run fits and coverage responsibility.
Earlier I eluded to Rodgers as the best quarterback of all-time, and I’ll make that argument until I’m blue in the face. His innate ability to find (or create) passing lanes, the relationship between his eyes and his feet, and the threat of flicking the wrist from any platform and delivering a crisp, accurate pass is unlike anything I’ve ever seen at the position.
Miami must win the match-ups on the outside against Green Bay’s young, yet evolving, wide receiver group. The heavyweight bout figures to feature Xavien Howard on Devante Adams. Miami was experimental last week with the Jets, but it’s safe to assume Howard will travel in a man-zone concept.
Geronimo Allison was emerging as a steady secondary option, but his season is over and rookies Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown will be thrust into more prominent roles.
For the Dolphins sake, hopefully McCarthy and company continue to rely on Randal Cobb and Jimmy Graham – both are past their prime and offer match-ups Miami could take advantage of.
David Bakhtiari is among the elite left tackles in the business and Bryan Bulaga is no slouch off the right side. Bakhtiari is the number one graded pass blocking tackle according to Pro Football Focus – Bulaga the 15th.
The interior play has been less consistent. Justin McCray is the best of the bunch while Lane Taylor is the rabbit Miami will chase.
Taylor is the left guard which draws the attention of Davon Godchaux. Miami could roll the Nascar package onto the field on third down passing situations in hopes of getting Andre Branch or Robert Quinn inside with that match-up. Taylor has surrendered seven sacks this season.
Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark create as many opportunities for the front-seven play makers as any defensive line-tandem in football – both are game changers in their own right, to boot. Technically speaking, Green Bay runs a 2-4-5 defense spearheaded by Clark and Daniels.
Given Miami’s struggles inside, the Dolphins will have to get creative in how they deal with those game-wreckers. Now would be a wise time to dust off the fly-sweep action to mitigate their constant interior penetration.
Then there’s Clay Matthews. Matthews is back to his original edge position (moved inside a couple of years ago) and hasn’t been as successful as a pass rusher. Granted, no edge-rusher has had more sacks taken off the board via questionable penalties, but Miami can neutralize the Packers edge rush with their lockdown tackle play.
Nick Perry hasn’t had a typical year by his standards either – Miami’s tackle play gives them the advantage in this match-up.
Green Bay’s secondary has taken some hits the last couple of weeks. Ha ha Clinton-Dix is gone, Jermaine Whitehead was cut after an ejection Sunday night, and corner Kevin King is doubtful to play.
Jaire Alexander is playing at a rookie of the year pace; it’ll bear watching who he matches up with. He could essentially erase Kenny Stills in part because of great coverage, but also Osweiler’s propensity to ignore Miami’s best receiver.
— Josh Moser (@TheMozKnowz) November 7, 2018
There are plenty. Rodgers can beat anyone, all by himself, on any given day. Even if Miami plays a perfect game, Rodgers is the ultimate eraser.
Green Bay’s stout interior defense will provide problems for Miami’s lacking threesome of Ted Larsen, Travis Swanson and Jesse Davis between the tackles.
Miami can get deep on this defense if Gase devises a plan that nickel-and-dimes the defense into a false sense of security. For an offense that is near the bottom of the league in most major categories, the big play is vital – hitting two or three could keep Miami afloat.
The outside zone and split zone action could have some effect running away from the beef inside. Miami desperately needs to correct it’s unbalanced running back workload – this is a Kenyan Drake game far more than a Frank Gore game.
The Projected Result:
It would’ve been nice to get Ryan Tannehill back this week as Green Bay are an interesting situation schedule wise. Fresh off a “game of the year” type of build-up last week in Foxboro, and back-to-back road dates with Seattle and Minnesota, Miami is the forgotten game of this stretch of schedule for the Packers.
Normally this would be a great time to catch a sleeping giant, but the Packers are in desperation mode. A loss in this game could bring the McCarthy era to an end as the season would likely be a wrap for the Cheese Heads.
A desperate team quarterbacked by Aaron Rodgers against a lousy road team led by Brock Osweiler spells a lopsided outcome.
Pillaging the Pats
Taking From the Rich and Giving to the Phins
De facto Patriots Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores is set to take over the big chair in Miami at the conclusion of New England’s 2018 season. Rumored to be coming with Flores are a pair of Pats staffers.
A master of delegation, Bill Belichick constantly maintains the smallest staff in the league. Flores’ intentions are to bring with him Pats’ Consultant Bret Bielema and Wide Receivers Coach Chad O’Shea.
*We’ll have a comprehensive breakdown of the offensive scheme that comes with O’Shea should this move push closer to official. And we’ll do so in the same capacity as the Defensive Crash Course piece.
If Flores is able to extract both Bielema and O’Shea, he’s plundering 16% of the 2018 Patriots’ staff (that includes Flores). Belichick’s coaching tree has yielded less than desirable results in their new destinations, but Flores is described as “different” from the rest.
I’m in Foxboro reporting on Patriots’ game, so I’ve gotten to chat with people about Dolphins target Brian Flores. One thing nobody exactly says but stands out: This is not your usual Belichick disciple. Disciplined, yes. Stoic even. But not as… how should I put this… rigid?
— Jeff Darlington (@JeffDarlington) January 12, 2019
By now Dolphins fans are tired of lip service. If Flores is the exception to the many before him, great – we’ll find out on Sundays. Flores is, however, off to a unique beginning compared to the lackluster rest.
|Coach (Year Left New England)||Additional Migrating Staffers|
|Charlies Weis (2005 – Notre Dame)||0|
|Romeo Crennel (2005 – Cleveland)||0|
|Eric Mangini (2007 – NY Jets)||0|
|Josh McDaniels (2009 – Denver)||0|
|Bill O’Brien (2012 – Penn State)||0|
|Matt Patricia (2018 – Detroit)||0|
Goose eggs. I didn’t expect that when I began this study, hence the table. Interestingly, the greatest dearth in the Patriots run came between the 2008-2010 seasons. That sentence is a house of cards for two reasons:
1.) It’s sort of hilarious to call two playoff appearances and a combined record of 35-13 a dearth. Those three seasons were the last time New England weren’t participating in the Conference Championship – they’ve qualified for eight consecutive title games since.
2.) It’s something of a strawman to suggest New England’s 14-2 season was cut short at the divisional round because of a loss of coordinators. Not to mention the 2008 season that brought back 11 wins despite starting Matt Cassel for 15 games.
That three-year stretch did come after New England lost its offensive and defensive coordinators, and then Crennel’s replacement at DC (Mangini) two years later. No one is mistaking Flores, Bielema, and O’Shea for Weis, Crennel, and Mangini, but this would be a similar exodus – the difference being all at once opposed to three years.
It’s no secret that Belichick is a ruthless competitor that has no qualms about making enemies. The Patriots have blocked coaches from interviewing for outside positions in the past. Clearly, New England doesn’t block assistants from taking head coaching jobs, but the fact that zero staffers jumped ship might insinuate staffers are held hostage.
Maybe that’s where the idea that Flores is different from the rest comes from. His ability to separate himself from the Pats’ program. His intentions to implement his own initiative that doesn’t try to form as a carbon copy of Belichick’s well-oiled machine in Foxboro.
There are a million ways to splice this, but it all comes back to one conclusion: Brian Flores is beloved by everyone that knows him – even the heartless Hoodie.
Crash Course On 2019 Dolphins Defensive Scheme
For a publication based primarily on analysis, these last two weeks have been a bit of a drag for content. We know the potential names but, as they say, potential doesn’t play on Sundays. In this case, the reference refers to the rumors and names linked to various positions with the Dolphins – rumors, meaning anything but finalized.
Enter Patrick Graham.
It has been reported that Miami, under Head Coach to Be Named Brian Flores, will tag the former Green Bay Packers assistant as the Defensive Coordinator position with the Dolphins in 2019.
Graham, a former staffer alongside Flores in New England, spent the 2018 season coaching the linebackers on Mike Pettine’s defense.
Another name linked to the vacant DC job is Bret Bielema. The former Wisconsin and Arkansas Head Coach spent the 2018 season working hand-in-hand with Bill Belichick as a Consultant to the Head Coach.
And so, from this, we glean some potential defensive structures, schemes and principles that figure to be migrating south this winter along with Flores.
For Flores, Graham, and potentially Bielema, the task is tall. Redirect a unit that ranked 29th in points allowed each of the last two years under the inexperienced watch of Matt Burke.
We start first in New England. After all, Flores will be a master of delegation, but he knows this scheme as well as anyone. Few teams mix up their fronts with more frequency than the New England Patriots.
The prevailing theme among these slight variances of defensive schemes is the “Bear” front. A Bear front simply refers to six defenders up around the line of scrimmage. Two of those players are positioned in a linebacker technique while the other four are down linemen.
This variation of the Bear front is a 3-3 look using three down-linemen, two outside ‘backers shaded off the 9-technique alignment.
— James Light (@JamesALight) February 5, 2018
In this image provided by the Twitter account of James Light, we can see the variations from the nickel and dime packages (yes, Miami will FINALLY be running some dime defense in 2019).
The more traditional look aligns those six players in a 4-2 set.
New England Patriots 4-3 Even Front I just talked about vs Titans. 2 Gap & 1 Gap Hybrid. Very tough to run the ball against. First example is with Tampa 2 Coverage. Second is with 3 Buzz Coverage (SS Buzz). pic.twitter.com/dnskxkrgFp
— James Light (@JamesALight) January 16, 2018
Bret Bielema last coached (on the field) in 2017 at Arkansas, so he’s no stranger to the evolution of the college game and its integration into the NFL. There, Bielema’s defense was based in the traditional 3-4, but the tight splits inside look an awful lot like the classic Bear front (nose tackle over the center and two fellow linemen in a variance between 2i and 4 techniques). Bielema helped institute some of these principles in 2018 – his one season with the Patriots.
The common theme between all of these looks is to prevent specific run plays. The inside run becomes increasingly difficult with all the bodies down around the line of scrimmage. The even bigger factor (both literally and figuratively) is the beef inside.
Vincent Taylor gon’ eat in this new defense. Miami didn’t two-gap at all, but he’s capable. pic.twitter.com/m7nfBdbVoU
— Travis Wingfield (@WingfieldNFL) January 16, 2019
Davon Godchaux has the power to play a true nose or the 2i/3 in the 3-3 Bear Front. Here he is showing us as close to nose alignment dominance as we’ll find from 2018 in this D. pic.twitter.com/Ylc4wt86Di
— Travis Wingfield (@WingfieldNFL) January 16, 2019
Lining up with three down-linemen (pushing 300 pounds a pop) and defending one gap makes it nearly impossible to pull, which means the end of any gap-scheming.
The scheme is also designed to shut down inside zone, but also free up the linebackers with fewer keys and responsibilities. Instead of asking the defensive ends to set the edge on the way to their pass rush (the design of the wide-9) this alignment puts that responsibility on the outside linebackers.
The widened pre-snap alignment gives the linebackers a quicker, unimpeded path to outside runs. Only the Mike Linebacker has to weed through trash and take on blocks in this defense. Raekwon McMillan would likely serve as the Middle Linebacker. McMillan’s instincts and physicality at the point-of-attack would capitalize on the things the former Buckeye does well.
No false steps, clean diagnosis, knifes in and makes the TFL. This new defense wants to free up its LBs, which could make a word of difference for the emerging Raekwon McMillan. pic.twitter.com/MHDja6ebtM
— Travis Wingfield (@WingfieldNFL) January 16, 2019
Then there’s the influence of the actual Titled-Defensive Coordinator, Patrick Graham. Working under Mike Pettine, Graham absorbed the principles of the Bear front and the 46 defense. Pettine spent time with Rex Ryan in Baltimore and with the New York Jets and, as we all know, Rex’s Dad Buddy was the originator of the 46 defense.
The imagine comes from the Patriots defense, but it’s along the lines of what you see in Green Bay with Pettine (and Graham). Four down-linemen condensed to create space off the edge of the linebackers. This means more pass rushing opportunities from linebackers.
Jerome Baker working as an outside rush backer off the weak side – a role he will see plenty of in 2019 in Patrick Graham’s defense. pic.twitter.com/SVzKXuyc8T
— Travis Wingfield (@WingfieldNFL) January 16, 2019
Later, as it inches near official status in the way it has with Graham, we will dive into the potential principles and concepts of Jim Caldwell’s offense in today’s NFL. Much like the Dolphins inclination to bring an experienced consultant along with the young defensive boss, the play on the attack unit is heading in that direction as well.
These consultants figure in as prominent fixtures early in this experimental tenure of young coaches. Caldwell (63-years-old with 41 years of coaching experience) and Bielema (48-years-old with 22 years of coaching experience) can ease the transition to the Flores/Graham grouping along with whomever (possibly Chad O’Shea of the Patriots) Flores chooses as his Offensive Coordinator.
The offensive crash course will be posted just as soon as we have more concrete news.
Miami Dolphins Mock Draft Roundup: A Kyler Murray Sighting
It is that time of year again. Yes, the time of year where we all jump to immediate conclusions, argue and judge each other on projections that, statistically speaking, have a less chance of happening than winning the lottery or being struck by lightning multiple times.
It’s mock draft season! Well – it’s been mock draft season since December 30th but who’s counting…
Let’s get started on what I hope becomes a weekly (or bi-weekly depending on how many updates are made) mock draft roundup for Miami’s 13th overall pick:
Bleacher Report: Greedy Williams – CB – LSU
Greedy Williams, arguably one of the top corners in this draft — right up there with Washington corner Byron Murphy. Someone to pair with all-pro corner, Xavien Howard, is a need for this Miami defense. Drafting or bringing in a reliable #2 corner also allows Miami to play players like Bobby McCain and Minkah Fitzpatrick in their proper roles, slot corner and safety respectively.
Williams is a tall corner, measuring in at 6’3”. Add in the speed he possesses and simply looking at the metrics, he has what you want, physically, for a corner.
CBS Sports: Greedy Williams – CB – LSU
Right off the bat, two mocks having Miami select LSU corner, Greedy Williams. It’s hard to argue against this pick when you watch Williams.
For those looking for a quarterback, this mock draft saw four — yes, four — quarterbacks go before Miami’s selection. In between those selections saw a lot of the top defensive line players taken – both edge and interior. Assuming this is the case, a player like Williams would be a solid pick as far as value and need go.
The Draft Network: Kyler Murray – QB – Oklahoma
Now it’s getting exciting! There isn’t a player in this draft with more hype than Kyler Murray. As written here at Locked on Dolphins, Murray has the answers for this Miami team.
Kyler Murray will now get feedback from NFL scouts regarding his draft position and many scouts estimate he’ll be a 2nd or 3rd round pick. He also has millions from baseball waiting for him. Big decision still looms.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) January 14, 2019
Some question if he will be available at #13. As Ian Rapoport reports, maybe that idea isn’t so far-fetched. Maybe it’s just early smoke-screens or maybe teams are actually concerned about his size. Make no mistake, despite the round 2 or 3 grade, quarterbacks always find their name called much earlier. Murray will be no exception.
2019 still may be a “rebuilding” year, but I promise drafting Murray would produce a season defined as anything but boring. If you’re hoping for Miami to make a splash in the draft, drafting Murray would certainly be the biggest play.
Drafttek: Dexter Lawrence – DT – Clemson
Dexter Lawrence did not play in Clemson’s final two games, which ultimately resulted in a national championship. Although Lawrence wasn’t on the field, don’t misunderstand the impact Lawrence had on this Clemson team.
Lawrence has the size to play on the interior of a defensive line, coming in at 6’4” and 340 lbs. He isn’t the quickest tackle in the world, but he can stop the run with the best of them and bring interior pressure to disrupt the quarterback. Although I feel this is high for Lawrence and there may be more impactful positional prospects available at this pick (e.g. defensive end Jachai Polite, Montez Sweat), he would be a safe pick who would contribute day 1 for this Miami defense.
Pro Football Focus: Dexter Lawrence – DT – Clemson
This now makes two choices for Clemson star interior defensive lineman, Dexter Lawrence.
What is interesting, in this mock, players like Houston’s Ed Oliver were still available. Oliver, also an interior defensive lineman, has a different skillset than Lawrence, obvious by Oliver coming in measured at 6’3” and 292 lbs.
Is Miami looking for that big man in the middle who doesn’t get moved around (like Minnesota defensive tackle, Linval Joseph), or the quick tackle, more built for pass-rushing (like Los Angeles defensive tackle Aaron Donald). Who knows, but if both are in the board, Miami’s plan for the future at defensive line will be clear with this pick.
SB Nation: Daniel Jones – QB – Duke
It’s no secret Miami is in the market for a quarterback. Although Duke quarterback, Daniel Jones, has potential, this would be a reach. Jones doesn’t seem to have the high ceiling other quarterbacks slotted in the first round do, so why reach on a player who at best may be a slightly better version of Ryan Tannehill? There are other options out there at a cheaper price.
When you thrown in Miami is supposedly eyeing the 2020 draft class for their franchise quarterback with the 2019 draft geared towards fixing the trenches, it only raises more questions at why this may be the pick.
All that said, it’s the NFL draft. Smoke screens are a plenty and no one really knows what a team is going to do and how a player will or won’t turn out. Pulling the trigger on your franchise quarterback is certainly alluring, but why not put your chips all in on a player who has the franchise-altering potential? I just don’t see it with Jones.
I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on who Miami should take at #13. Follow me on Twitter @skylertrunck and let’s discuss.