Who: Dolphins (7-6) at Vikings (6-6-1)
When: December 16 – 1:00 East
Where: US Bank Stadium – Minneapolis, MN
Weather: In Doors
Vegas Slant: Vikings -7
One remarkable, unforgettable play has shifted the entire paradigm revolving around this Dolphins team. Resiliency, preparation, and a little bit of luck has propelled Miami from the despair of playing out the string of glorified exhibition games, to a legitimate playoff contender.
A victory Sunday in Minneapolis would put the Dolphins on the fast track to January football. But, in order to steal a win, Miami has to buck two negative recent trends:
1.) Winning against a quality team on the road
2.) Winning when there are expectations to do so
Miami have been up to the task in the role of spoiler in recent years. Adam Gase’s Dolphins find a way to get to the winner’s circle in one-score games (19-6 since 2016).
The big question for the opponent is the state of the offense. This will be the first time newly promoted Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski will call plays in his career.
Both teams are in need of a win to keep their playoff hopes intact. The winner will feel great about their chances to make the final push, while the loser can start thinking about renting their U-Hauls and setting winter tee-times.
This portion of the column is essentially a blank canvas. Previously the Quarterbacks Coach, new play caller Kevin Stefanski has been on the Vikings staff since 2006. He began his stint in the same role held by Dwight Schrute of Dunder Mifflin (Assistant to the Head Coach).
Since his arrival 12 years ago, Stefanski has coached the quarterbacks, tight ends, running backs and the quarterbacks again. He’s clearly well-respected by the Vikings organization.
How do you plan for an offensive scheme that has literally never been published? The key for Matt Burke and the Dolphins defense will be focusing on the individuals. The Vikings will strip things down and put their star players in position to do the things that made them stars.
For Adam Thielen, this means working the perimeter of the field with out-breaking routes. Stefon Diggs will almost assuredly lean on his curl-route prowess to lull Miami into a false sense of security before trying his patented double move.
Lastly, Stefanski will put Kirk Cousins in advantageous situations. Expect the Vikings to make a concerted effort to run the football, create some rolling pockets and get the ball out Cousins’ hands quickly.
The Seattle tape could be a misnomer because of the Seahawks’ antiquated offense. Extra linemen in the heavy package far more frequently than the norm, Minnesota played a stack-and-shed defense that allowed the linebackers to shoot gaps.
This would counter some of Miami’s more successful plays. The Dolphins have made haste on the inside trap with the tight end wham, but that only works against an aggressive one-gap penetrating defense.
Miami has also recently begun pulling the backside guard and tackle in more of a power-scheme. This would be effective in allowing Miami to climb to the second level and pick up chunk yardage on early downs.
One thing that hasn’t changed, in this Mike Zimmer defense, is the A-gap presence of the linebackers. They’ll bring Eric Kendricks and friends down into that position leaving it up to the offense to figure out if it’s legit or simply a bluff.
Interior pressure is the name of the game for this Vikings defense. Miami must find a way to mitigate that aspect of this swarming Vikings defense if they are to sustain offensive success.
Zimmer will always mix and disguise his coverages on the back end. The coverage revolves around the physicality and athleticism of All-Pro Safety Harrison Smith. He will rob the backside over-route, match the tight end man-up, cover the slot, drop into a two-deep look – he gives them ultimately flexibility.
Kirk Cousins was signed to get the Vikings over the playoff hump. Ironically, Cousins’ biggest pitfalls come when the lights are the brightest – in primetime games. The embattled passer has been the brunt of fan criticism due in large part to his $84 million fully guaranteed contract.
Cousins greatest struggles come under pressure, something Minnesota does a poor job of preventing. He’s under duress more than any other quarterback in the NFL and has a pedestrian 83.4 passer rating when the heat is on.
Minnesota’s offensive line is, for lack of a better term, offensive. For starters, Right Tackle Brian O’Neill is questionable, giving Cam Wake a potential match-up against a backup. That backup, Rashod Hill has played just as much as the two starters, however. The threesome has surrendered 87 pressures on 1,204 pass pro reps (13.8% pressure rate). Comparatively, Ja’Wuan James and Laremy Tunsil’s combined pressure rate is 5%.
The Vikings interior pass protection is much better. That trio’s percentage is 5.7% pressure allowed, but they’ve also ushered one of the game’s worst ground attacks. Mike Remmers’ PFF run blocking grade is 75th among NFL guards. Center Pat Elflein is 42nd among centers via the ground game.
Receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen are both all-pro candidates. The latter averages an astonishing 9.02 yards per target and is 11th in the NFL with 2.19 yards per route ran. There isn’t a route in the tree that either can’t win on any given snap.
The front-seven is loaded. Danielle Hunter is a game-wrecker. He’s tied for third in the league with 13 sacks, he’s top-10 in pressure rate, and he more than holds his own against the run.
Hunter’s fellow sack-master on the other side is having a down year by his own standards (outside the top-100 in PRP). Everson Griffen had to step away from the game to deal with some mental health issues earlier this season, so the fact that he’s back doing what he loves is a win in and of itself.
Harrison Smith is the straw that stirs the drink for the Vikings. On consecutive snaps against the Patriots two weeks ago, Smith carried Josh Gordon up the seam step-for-step in man coverage, then chucked Rob Gronkowski at the line of scrimmage.
Smith is a punishing run defender that rarely misses a tackle. In coverage he allows a paltry passer rating against of just 68.1 on the season. His safety-mate, Anthony Harris, has three interceptions and has yet to allow a touchdown in coverage this season.
Xavier Rhodes has been playing through an injury all year and his production has suffered. He normally travels with team’s top receivers, but Miami doesn’t really feature a prominent number-one. Kenny Stills is the top option for Rhodes to attempt to lock out of the game and, frankly, that’s a match-up that stylistically favors Minnesota.
Eric Kendricks fits the bill of a modern day linebacker with elite coverage skills, but he’s not much of a thumper against the run.
Those run-stuffing duties fall on the shoulders of Linval Joseph and Sheldon Richardson. The pair have combined for 34 run stuffs – top five among interior D-linemen combinations.
While Kendricks is a menace in coverage, Anthony Barr has been exposed by offenses with similar personnel groupings as Miami.
Dolphins Wednesday Report:
DNP: WR Danny Amendola, CB Xavien Howard
Limited: QB Ryan Tannehill, RB Kenyan Drake, LT Laremy Tunsil, WR Devante Parker, RT Ja’Wuan James, CB Cornell Armstrong, SAF T.J. McDonald
Vikings Wednesday Report:
DNP: WR Chad Beebe
Limited: LB Eric Kendricks, CB Trae Waynes, TE David Morgan, RT Brian O’Neill, RG Mike Remmers, Sheldon Richardson
Miami’s offensive line played perhaps its best game of the season in Sunday’s win over the Patriots. The front-five will have to match that effort against the terrorizing front of the Vikings. Interior pressure will wreck the Miami offense and make points impossible to come by.
On the other side, the possibility of Xavien Howard missing his second straight game could equal some considerable mismatches outside for Diggs and Thielen. Even if the Dolphins push Minnesota into third-and-long, the duo’s ability to separate quickly could lead to another frustrating money-down conversion rate for the opposing offense.
Pressure, pressure, pressure. Getting Cousins off his spot and forcing him into one of those bone-headed mistakes he seems to make on a weekly basis would go a long way towards a road upset.
Minnesota’s defense is stingy, but Miami has found ways to scheme yardage on the ground against some of the better run-stuffing teams in football. From there, Miami can roll out advantageous personnel packages and put the rabbit hat on LB Anthony Barr with passes to the backs (Kenyan Drake).
The Projected Result:
The set-up for this game is fascinating. Whoever comes away victorious heads towards Christmas feeling terrific about their playoff chances (both teams play games against inferior competition in week 16 (a home game for Miami)).
For Miami, the challenge will be getting back up after the most dramatic ending to a football game in the history of the NFL. It will be a testament to the coaching staff if Miami can start fast (after all, they have scored on three consecutive opening possessions).
On the flip side, the Vikings return home on a short week off a game against a physical Seattle team. Expectations of the new play caller are a total mystery, but this team should be desperate playing at in their loud building.
The Dolphins need an early lead and win on special teams. After some gaffes last week (two blocked punts), Darren Rizzi should have his unit rearing to go. This game will be decided by a field goal and with the Vikings issues at the position (Dan Bailey 16/23 vs. Jason Sanders 16/17), Miami wins another game in dramatic fashion.
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.