Are there words to describe this feeling? Because if there are, I’m completely lost for them.
Saying this was a phenomenal finish is an understatement. This was legendary. This is eternal. This will go down right next to the Michael Thomas interception as one of its best plays in franchise lore.
THE MIAMI MIRACLEpic.twitter.com/1jEJrvVigN
— NFL Retweet (@NFLRT) December 9, 2018
Anytime the Miami Dolphins defeat the New England Patriots you have a valid reason to celebrate, but this victory means much more than most others.
The Dolphins were 7 seconds away from the end of their 2018 season; 7 seconds away from unofficially firing Matt Burke, endlessly chastising Adam Gase for some (more) horrific play calls, and ushering Ryan Tannehill out of Miami. Instead, we’re tied for the final playoff spot in the AFC.
Below are a few things we noticed from the epic 34-33 Dolphins victory over the Patriots:
1) Who Stole Adam Gase’s Playbook?
Where have these plays been all season?
Dolphins fans have been crucifying Gase for his perplexing playcalling all season, and rightfully so. At times it seems like the head coach and de facto offensive coordinator is unable to adjust or play to his team’s strengths.
This team has an athletic quarterback, shifty playmakers on offense and a banged up offensive line, and yet, bubble screens were the focal point of this offense for the majority of the season.
Coming into this game it was evident Miami needed to do something on offense.
.@ryantannehill1 with a dart to Brice Butler to take the lead!
— Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) December 9, 2018
After a television camera caught their actual offensive coordinator, Dowell Loggains, (presumably) calling plays, Dolphins fans were quick to credit the offense’s spark with the new man in charge. Unfortunately for us, that was mostly a ploy, as Adam Gase was still in charge of calling plays this game.
Which makes me wonder, why not attempt this earlier in the season when the team was struggling to put up points (they entered this game averaging 20.5 points per game)? Either the team adjusted or they decided to open up their playbook a bit more rather than saving plays for when the season is lost.
This game featured plenty more play action with a healthy mix of RPO and intermediate passes thrown in. Tannehill is extremely accurate when on the move, and fans have loudly wondered why the team isn’t designing more plays to get him out of the pocket. On one hand, you have a quarterback coming off of a knee injury paired with an offensive line that gets mistaken for an amusement park turnstile at times. There isn’t a lot of trust that the line will give Tannehill enough time to fake the run and analyze the pass.
Maybe Gase and company felt they had nothing to lose? Tannehill suffered 7 sacks last week against the Buffalo Bills while spending the majority of the time in the pocket. It couldn’t get any worse, right?
The risks the Dolphins took this game payed off; and when you’re playing Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots, you can’t expect to be conservative and win.
— Big E (@ian693) December 9, 2018
Ryan Tannehill threw the ball 56% less than Tom Brady and nearly outdueled him in the box score. Helped out by that final 69-yard play, Tannehill completed 14/19 passes for 265 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Maybe the Dolphins offensive success has more to do with Kenny Stills‘ comments the other week rather than Dowell Loggains holding the playsheet. After experiencing a heartbreaking loss to the Indianapolis Colts, Stills called out the team’s quarterbacks by exclaiming that he can’t “throw himself the ball”. Since then, Miami has gone 2-0 and averaged 27.5 points those games. Obviously it’s a short sample size that can change as other teams adjust, but Stills sparked something in this team that Gase and company were unable to ignite prior to those comments.
Miami’s Man of the Year nominee had a stellar game, catching 8 passes for 138 yards and a touchdown, but that last-second touchdown by Kenyan Drake overshadows a couple of head-scratching plays Stills made earlier in the game. With Miami looking to take back the lead, Stills caught a 2nd-down pass and inexplicably slid one yard shy of the first down marker.
Of course Miami still had an opportunity to convert the 3rd-down, but a questionable play call led to a Ryan Tannehill sack and the team was forced to rely on their defense to win the game.
The Patriots predictably walked down the field and scored an additional field goal, leaving Miami with just 16 seconds left.
Miami’s victory also saves Adam Gase from having to answer questions about punting on 4th-down with just over 4 minutes left to play near midfield. Though Gase would have been off the hook if Stills held onto a 3rd-down pass that was thrown a tad high, but was well in his hands.
Frank Gore is closer to 25 than he is 35 (he’s actually 35, but he’s really not). The ageless wonder averaged 7.7 yards per carry on his way to accumulating 92 rushing yards and a 24-yard reception. It’s hard to say he’s a better player than Kenyan Drake (who proved that theory wrong on the last play), but there’s a reason why Gase goes to Gore more than Drake. Drake ended the game with 24 yards rushing on 6 attempts.
— Michael Giardi (@MikeGiardi) December 9, 2018
What the Patriots didn’t predict was the impact Brandon Bolden would have for their AFC East rivals. The former Patriot ran for two touchdowns and caught another pass on his way to having a career game. With all of the “revenge-game” plotlines floating around last week (Charles Clay, Jordan Phillips and Matt Darr returning to Miami), Bolden’s return was overlooked. Seems the Patriots did the same thing in their defensive gameplan.
Though the sample size is small, Bolden has proven that he’s not just a special teams player.
2) How Does One Defend This Defense?
While on the other hand, Miami’s former 4th-round pick in 2014, Walt Aikens, continues to prove why he’s a one-dimensional player. Tasked with covering the Patriot’s speediest receiver, Aikens was burned on a deep touchdown. I’m not sure if he was expecting help from Reshad Jones, but Jones was late to come over and cover Cordarrelle Patterson, leaving Aikens with 1-on-1 coverage and no help on the inside.
Touchdown Cordarrelle Pattersonpic.twitter.com/hDHrEzUAZl
— PatriotsNation™️ (@PatsNationTM) December 9, 2018
If Tom Brady wasn’t busy channeling his inner Josh Allen at times this game could have been a lot worse.
The future hall of fame quarterback uncharacteristically missed throws to receivers that were more open than what we saw last week in the Bills game. It’s not like Matt Burke‘s defense kept the Patriots in-check. If anything, the Patriots did that to themselves.
Like the rest of the season, Miami generated virtually no pass rush all game, giving Brady ample amount of time to throw. Once again, Bobby McCain had a sack coming off the blitz – matching the total the rest of the defensive line had combined this game: one.
Coming into this game the overwhelming thought was that the Patriots were going to attack the underbelly of Miami’s defense, even with Xavien Howard declared out with a knee injury. And right on cue, the Patriots did just that; embarrassing Miami’s linebackers in coverage throughout the game.
Kiko Alonso and Jerome Baker performed well when the play was in front of them, but they were picked apart when asked to cover a receiver. It’s evident the team needs an upgrade at linebacker this offseason, the question becomes who they upgrade over. Do they trust Raekwon McMillan to evolve in his 3rd-season? Or do they try to find a new middle linebacker and retain Alonso on the outside?
Belichick and Brady also knew where they had their mismatch, picking on Cornell Armstrong and Torry McTyer on the boundary throughout the game.
Tom Brady throws his 580th NFL touchdown.
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) December 9, 2018
A loss would have only heightened this notion, but Xavien Howard is going to get paid this offseason. The Dolphins cannot continue to run out players like Aikens, Armstrong and McTyer and expect to advance in the playoffs.
Minkah Fitzpatrick had a decent game, though he was exposed on a few routes. On the opening drive, Brady completed a 16-yard pass to Josh Gordon and a 12-yard pass to Julian Edelman with Fitzpatrick in coverage. He was also called for a (questionable) pass interference call on the Patriots last drive. It’s not like he had a bad game, it just wasn’t as flawless as his previous games. With Howard likely to return next week and with Fitzpatrick continuing to evolve, it’s possible Miami’s secondary is the catalyst this team needs to make the playoffs.
3) The Special Teams Weren’t So Special
Everyone’s future head coach of the Miami Dolphins, Darren Rizzi, may have had one of his worst games as the Dolphins special teams coordinator.
After the team’s protection (specifically John Denney) allowed two of Matt Haack‘s punts to be blocked, Rizzi was forced to incorporate more of a ‘rugby’ style punting technique – where the offensive line would spread out and the punter would shift to the side before punting it, leading him away from the threatening rushers.
— Gabriel Schray PXP (@schrayguy) December 9, 2018
This resulted in two more shanked punts from Haack, who didn’t seem comfortable punting on the move. These poor punts gave the Patriots phenomenal field position all game, which is typically a recipe for Patriots success.
But the Dolphins special teams unit was fortunate they weren’t the only ones creating mistakes.
The normally clutch Stephen Gostkowski missed a 42-yard field goal as well as an extra point, taking 4 points off the board for the Patriots. Tie these mistakes with Brady’s misplay at the end of the first half and the Dolphins don’t even have a chance at making a Hail Mary.
–Ja’Wuan James stepped on Ryan Tannehill’s ankle at the end of the first half. The quarterback left the field and returned to the lockerroom to conduct some x-rays. These came back negative and Tannehill returned for the 2nd half. After the game, Tannehill was noticeably limping to and from the podium – this will be something to monitor in the final weeks.
–Laremy Tunsil allowed his first sack of the season. He has been exceptional this year at left tackle and deserves to make the pro bowl. When the time comes, his new contract is going to be massive.
-Tight end continues to be an empty position for this team. The team’s tight ends didn’t catch a single pass, and Mike Gesicki only saw one target on the day. Durham Smythe and Nick O’Leary didn’t get a single target.
-Tom Brady passed Peyton Manning for the most career TD passes for their career (including playoffs) – Brady has 580 while Manning has 579.
LET’S GOOOOOOOOOOO pic.twitter.com/9zvOsKCKkV
— Ryan Tannehill (@ryantannehill1) December 9, 2018
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.