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Miami Dolphins

Dolphins Sweep Jets – Week Nine Takeaways

Travis Wingfield

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Though it may seem like a minor miracle, the Miami Dolphins have a winning record and are just a half game behind the sixth seeded Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC playoff picture. Few had Adam Gase’s team slated for a winning record come mid-November, yet here the Dolphins are.

Beating the Jets for the fifth time in six games under the third-year Head Coach, Miami has put the screws to its most hated rival with the services of four different quarterbacks. Ryan Tannehill leads the charge with two of those victories, while the other three (Matt Moore, Jay Cutler and Brock Osweiler) have one apiece.

This game set offensive football back multiple decades. Miami gained 168 yards of total offense while the Jets Rookie Quarterback, Sam Darnold, proved even more futile throwing four interceptions.

Adding another layer to the story, as the Dolphins are want to do, the dominant defensive effort was achieved without the services of Safety Reshad Jones beyond the first quarter.

Key Stats

Stat Dolphins Offense Dolphins Defense
Ave Start Field Pos 34 yard line 17 yard line
3rd Down Rate 3/16 (19%) 2/13 (15%)
4th Down Rate 2/2 (100%) 0/2 (0%)
Sacks 4 4
Turnovers 0 4

 

The Jones Saga

According to reports, Reshad Jones removed himself from the game late in the first quarter. Jones played the first three series, then was pulled off the field for rookie Minkah Fitzpatrick. Jones, disputing the decision, decided he was done for the remainder of the game.

Per that column, Dave Hyde insists that Jones has a history of being something of a selfish player. He’s often late to meetings, racks up team-levied fines and has been known to freelance outside of the structure of the defense.

That would explain the vast breakdowns from last week’s thrashing in Houston. On the other side of the ledger, it could speak to larger problems within Miami’s locker room. In a year where the team’s selling point was ridding itself of locker room distractions, Miami has one on its plate – even worse, from its best player.

Offensive Takeaways:

The consecutive games streak without an opening drive touchdown was extended to 19, the longest current run in the NFL. The offense was a consistent display of poor teaching tape and curious play calling mixed with odd personnel decisions.

Whatever Kenyan Drake did to upset Gase has landed the 24-year-old upstart clearly in the second string. Drake carried the football three times, giving way to Frank Gore’s 20 carries. Gore’s workload netted just 53 rushing yards – a 2.7 YPC average.

Jakeem Grant’s one reception was a crucial chain-mover on third-and-long, but he was a ghost in yet another game plan.

Speaking of ghosts, Kenny Stills is a forgotten man in the Brock Osweiler-led offense. Devante Parker returned to the milk carton with one catch of his own.

On the subject of Osweiler, this was his worst game as a Dolphin. He was off-target all afternoon throwing behind, late and off schedule. His complete inability to go off-script highlights even bigger issues on the offensive line.

It’s difficult to discern which has been worse: The Miami offensive line’s health, or the general lack of execution from the group.

Ja’Wuan James left the game and returned, but his future is shrouded in doubt at the moment (MRI on the right knee coming Monday). Laremy Tunsil left the game in the fourth quarter and did not return – both were tremendous in the game prior to the injuries.

These injuries opened the door for Zach Sterup to don the Sam Young mask for a half. Sterup was atrocious. He allowed two sacks and offered zero push in the running game. The story was the same for left guard Ted Larsen.

One redeeming quality Adam Gase has always been able to hang his hat on; his penchant for aggressive approaches to the game. Sunday, however, the plan seemed convoluted. It felt like plays were being drawn out of a hat.

Normally, certain looks dictate Miami attack deep, others called for running plays, but the timing felt very random in this contest. Gase’s propensity to give up on a drive following a penalty is perhaps his most maddening trait (and they are piling up at this point). A pair of inside handoffs on 1st and 20 and 2nd and 18 signaled white flags for two seperate first half possessions.

Offensive Conclusions:

Articulate as this blog tries to be, there aren’t many adjectives or paragraphs needed for this conclusion.

Miami couldn’t block, the quarterback play was dreadful, the play calling and personnel decisions were puzzling and the receivers didn’t create separation.

Four weeks of the Brock-coaster is enough; this team needs Ryan Tannehill back in the line-up. The elements he brings to the offense over Osweiler are tangible. As the Dolphins struggle to fine any semblance of consistency or success, the bigger arm and added athleticism will open things up should Tannehill return.

Defensive Takeaways:

Matt Burke needed something more than the showing his defenses have put forth the last three weeks, and boy did he get it.

Miami picked Darnold off four times, dropped two others, sacked him four times, prevented the Jets from crossing the goal line, and held the Jets to a combined 2-for-15 on third and fourth down attempts.

The play of the day was made by speedy rookie linebacker Jerome Baker. Miami relied heavily on four-man pressure throughout the game dropping linebackers into shell zone coverages. Miami often tried to rob the hook zones or the flat, and Baker got out to the flat for the play of the day.

Baker’s college teammate, Raekwon McMillan, had his best day as a pro. He was prepared, active, and tackled exceptionally well. He made hay in the backfield and looked good in limited coverage opportunities.

Kiko Alonso was the first to rob the hook zone on Darnold – he found a first quarter interception that sparked things for Miami (interestingly, Reshad Jones appeared very disinterested in Alonso’s INT after the fact; even after Alonso took a cheap shot from a Jets player on the enemy’s sideline).

Cam Wake got back to his Jet-destroying ways. Wake had a pair of sacks and collapsed the edge against Brandon Shell all game. He was effective against the run once again, a trend this season for the 36-year-old pro.

Xavien Howard continued his high-level of play preventing anything beyond a first half reception allowed to running back Eli Maguire.

Minkah Fitzpatrick followed suit playing well in coverage and even better in run and screen-game support. Fitzpatrick opened the game as a base corner, rotated into the nickel and eventually wound up at safety when Jones left. The rookie’s stellar play is overshadowed only by his ability to handle more responsibility than a first-year pro should.

The ripple effect of Fitzpatrick playing outside benefited Bobby McCain, who had a bounce back game kicking inside to his natural nickel positon.

It would’ve seemed more plausible to have Fitzpatrick replace T.J. McDonald, but it may be a good thing he didn’t. McDonald had a hell of a game working off the weak side C-gap in run support and taking far better angles this week.

Davon Godchaux was a tree trunk in the ground game an Akeem Spence had a bounce back effort in his own right on the Dolphins interior.

Defensive Conclusion:

Credit Matt Burke for shaking things up and getting away from the bad habits that led to a revolving door of a defense. This Jones situation bears close watching – if he refuses to play within the structure of the defense, the coaches cannot put him on the field.

Miami’s reinforcements (Ziggy Hood and Sylvester Williams) showed well against a porous Jets interior offensive line. If Miami can key the run like it did in this game, create turnovers, and prevent the big communication breakdowns, this side of the ball will be alright.

P.S. The man those reinforcements are replacing has to be a favorite of every Dolphins fan at this point. Check out the injured Vincent Taylor’s get up during the game today.

General Conclusion:

A win is a win is a win. Though next week’s game feels like an even more daunting task than heading into Foxboro, getting to this point was key for relevant football in December. If the Dolphins can find a victory in one of these next two road games (sandwiched around a bye week), they’ll enter a two-game home stand above .500.

That relevance hinges on the health of both Miami offensive tackles. If either misses any time, the Dolphins literally don’t have a viable option to replace one – let alone both.

The Defense used this game as something of an experimental approach, and it worked. Cornell Armstrong saw his first defensive duty of the season, Torry McTyer had some run – it’ll be interesting to see Miami’s approach going forward.

Regardless of how ugly, sloppy or unentertaining it was, Miami sweeps the Jets back to jersey, and sees its 1972 perfect season survive another year. It was a good day to be a Dolphins fan.

@WingfieldNFL

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Miami Dolphins

Pillaging the Pats

Travis Wingfield

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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.

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.

@WingfieldNFL

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Miami Dolphins

Crash Course On 2019 Dolphins Defensive Scheme

Travis Wingfield

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

@WingfieldNFL

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Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins Mock Draft Roundup: A Kyler Murray Sighting

Skyler Trunck

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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.

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.

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