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Miami Dolphins

Inside the Film Room – Dolphins New Defensive Scheme

Kevin Dern



Examining Brian Flores, Patrick Graham’s New Defensive Direction

Like the Easter Bunny, I’m back seemingly once a year for Locked On Dolphins. Hopefully that will change as we get further into the offseason.  The Dolphins season ended with a resounding thud last year and changes are afoot. Matt Burke, who I wrote last year had a lot of things he could do to improve Miami’s defense, failed, and like his boss Adam Gase, is now gone working for his mentor Jim Schwartz again in Philadelphia.

Enter Brian Flores.  I was pretty open to several of the candidates Miami could’ve hired, especially Vic Fangio and Kris Richard, in addition to Flores.  We’ve heard that one of the deciding factors for Steve Ross, Chris Grier and Tom Garfinkel was the list of names on Brian Flores potential coaching staff list.  I think it’s pretty hard to not be at least slightly impressed with the names that Flores has on staff.  Jim Caldwell is impressive.  Plucking Chad O’Shea and Jerry Schuplinski from the Patriots on the offensive side and Josh Boyer to run the defensive passing game are also impressive.  He’s got past experience working with Patrick Graham in New England, and Graham and LBs Coach Rob Leonard worked together in New York.  Tony Oden was retained to coach safeties.  So, the question I had was, what could Miami’s defense potentially look like in 2019? I told Travis I was interested in taking on this project, so here it is.

First and foremost, a defense as multiple as the one that Bill Belichick and Brian Flores put together in 2018 is a lot to take in.  I’ve used several sources to put this together.  Those sources include my own charting on NFL Game Pass, James Light (@JamesALight), Chris Kouffman (@ckparrot) and a member known as Disgustipate on message board for information used hereafter. Please, do yourself a favor and check out those guys on Twitter or if you stop by ThePhins – they all have outstanding information.

Overall, while some of their statistical rankings on defense are middle-of-the-pack, they were ranked 7th in points allowed (20.3 per game) and tied for 5th with Denver and Miami with 28 takeaways (18 INTs, 10 FRs). Those two categories, in my opinion, are your money-makers on defense.  While Miami was on par with the Patriots in terms of turnovers, Miami was 27thin the NFL in terms of points allowed per game, giving up 27.1 on average – a full touchdown more than the Patriots.  We all saw the Patriots dominate the Rams in the Super Bowl and held the Chiefs to just seven points through three quarters of the game. We know what the Patriots defense can do when it’s revving on high.


As far as how it works, my one sentence synopsis would be this: Miami’s new defense will likely be a multiple-front, defensive back-centric malleable defense that can be adjusted on a weekly basis to counter each opponent.

Forget about the debate between 4-3 and 3-4.  It’s archaic in today’s NFL.  Having watched several Patriots games and charting their games against the Packers and Vikings – more on the reasons why in a bit – we’re likely to see this team base out of a nickel defense, and it can be multiple in its formational setup.  One of the things the Patriots do well is they can use various personnel groupings and run different formations out of them.  For instance, they’ll often run three defensive linemen and three linebackers onto the field but will run a 3-3-5 or 4-2-5 out of it.


Chris Kouffman pulled these numbers, and here are the personnel groupings, formations and snaps from each that New England ran in 2018:

HALF DOLLAR – 30 personnel (3 DL, 0 LB, 8 DBs) – 1 Snap
QUARTER – 40 personnel (4 DL, 0 LB, 7 DBs) – 3 Snaps
QUARTER – 31 personnel (3 DL, 1 LB, 7 DBs) – 45 Snaps
QUARTER – 22 personnel (2 DL, 2 LBs, 7 DBs) – 41 Snaps
DIME – 41 personnel (4 DL, 1 LB, 6 DBs) – 82 Snaps
DIME – 32 personnel (3 DL, 2 LBs, 6 DBs) – 162 Snaps
DIME – 23 personnel (2 DL, 3LBs, 6 DBs) – 1 Snap
NICKEL – 42 personnel (4 DL, 2 LBs, 5 DBs) – 307 Snaps
NICKEL – 33 personnel (3 DL, 3 LBs, 5 DBs) – 226 Snaps
BASE – 52 personnel (5 DL, 2 LBs, 4 DBs) – 12 Snaps
BASE – 43 personnel (4 DL, 3 LBs, 4 DBs) – 97 Snaps
BASE – 34 personnel (3 DL, 4 LBs, 4 DBs) – 13 Snaps
HEAVY – 53 personnel (5 DL, 3 LBs, 3 DBs) – 1 Snap
HEAVY – 63 personnel (6 DL, 3 LBs, 2 DBs) – 7 Snaps
HEAVY – 64 personnel (6 DL, 4 LBs, 1 DB) – 3 Snaps


For what it’s worth, the Patriots official team depth chart lists them as a 4-3 team.  That said, the Patriots spent 12% of their snaps in a BASE personnel grouping.  The amounts of various formations and personnel groupings alone should make any Dolphins fan excited after three combined years of Vance Joseph and Matt Burke running the defense.

Primary Fronts

To give you a better idea about some of the things you’ll see with the Dolphins defense moving forward, let’s look at some of their key formations.  We’ll start with their sub fronts since they’re predominantly in these looks.

1) Marble– this is one of the Patriots 4-2-5 nickel defenses.  But don’t take that too literally.  More often than not you’ll see a true DE, usually Adrian Clayborn or Deatrich Wise lined up at DE.  You’ll see one true DT, usually one of Malcom Brown or Lawrence Guy teamed with Trey Flowers at the two tackle spots.  The “Buck” is usually Kyle Van Noy or John Simon, both whom usually play as a stand-up DE; that’s where the amorphic aspect comes in as both of those guys are “linebackers” but playing as a DE. And yes, that spot plays a 9-technique.

The Mac (Mc) is usually Dont’a Hightower if he’s inserted head-up on the center and the Money ($) is usually Elandon Roberts.  Though if the Mc is not inserted, those roles are interchangeable. Sometimes you’ll see Roberts off the field and Simon at the Buck, Kyle Van Noy at Mc and Hightower at $.

Patrick Chung is pretty much exclusively the SS, essentially playing like a 4-3 strongside linebacker, and the star is a slot defender.  In the games I’ve watched this has usually been Jason McCourty or J.C. Jackson if they use a third corner.  However, the Patriots will use 3 safeties a lot, especially if the offense is in 12 or 21 personnel.  In that situation,   Devin McCourty is usually the second slot defender and Duron Harmon comes onto the field as a middle-of-the-field (MOF) free safety.  If they use a slot corner Devin McCourty stays back at free safety.

  1. Marble Point – this is a variation on the Marble package. The main difference here is that the SS is inserted to play head-up on the TE, with the Buck playing an 8-technique outside the TE. The intention here is to prevent the TE from getting a free release if it’s a pass play, and to have a bigger, more physical player setting the edge against an outside run to the strongside. Teams will try to counter this by having their TE detached from the LOS, flexed out or lined up in the slot.  The Patriots have countered this, by using the Buck player to play WAY outside and help jam the TE and then rush the QB. You can see the example of them doing this to Kyle Rudolph in the video Below.


***You’ll also see this stunt below in the Dime Odd front.***


  1. Diamond– this front you’re going to see played more with true 3DL 3LB personnel. Typically what you’ll see the Patriots do is have Kyle Van Noy at the $ position, playing almost like a stand-up DE, with Elandon Roberts at the Mc and Hightower as the Buck.  Van Noy is the operative player here as he can be used as a coverage player or pass-rusher; typically if he rushes, he’s doing some sort of looping stunt into the backside A or B gap.  New England would also play John Simon here.


  1. Ruby– this front is essentially the same as the Diamond, but you’re going to be playing an extra safety in the box instead of a third linebacker. In the two games I watched Patrick Chung would often play as the Mc here and Van Noy as the $.  Chung would either play as a LB on the edge, buzz up or back and drop into coverage as a robber, or play straight man-to-man against the TE. Devin McCourty would be the other safety in the box with Duron Harmon deep.


Other Fronts

1) Extend – okay, Dolphins fans, don’t freak out.  The Patriots defense has some elements of the Wide-9 in it.  After all, Jim Schwartz got at least part of his inspiration to come up with the Wide-9 from watching the Patriots.  Their extend front is used out of their 4-2-5 package, with both DTs playing 3-techniques.  These are usually Malcom Brown and Lawrence Guy, with their edge players playing 9-techniques.  These edge players are usually their ends, whichever two happen to be on the field at the time.  Kyle Van Noy and John Simon can also play as stand-up guys on the edge, and the Pats will frequently have both ends standing-up.

2) Dime Odd– as I mentioned before I was able to get a lot of information on James Light’s (@JamesALight) Twitter page.  There is a TON of great info on the Patriots defense there.   This front encompasses one of the Patriots best rush schemes – note the two blitzes below and the GIF against Minnesota.

3) Radar – I honestly have no idea what the Patriots call this front, nor can I find a drawn up schematic for it.  But, one reason I wanted to chart the Vikings game was due to the fact that New England brought back their “playground” defense.  In this front you’ll see Trey Flowers lined up over the center, with three linebackers on the field – Hightower, Van Noy and Simon. They move around pre-snap and then settle into their positions and rush from there.  You’ll see a lot of still frame shots on James Light’s Twitter page.

On this play Minnesota throws a quick screen outside short of the sticks and goes three and out, but you have to wonder if the confusion caused by the Patriots movement pre-snap induces a quick throw.

Use of Three Safeties

What makes the Patriots so versatile is their ability to use three safeties. I noted earlier that one of the sources of information I pulled from was a member on website known as Disgustipate.  He posted the following, which is the alignments of the Patriots safeties per snap from PFF (Note, I don’t agree with some of the PFF labels):

Devin McCourty

LINEBACKER – 226 (this is essentially lining up as a slot safety in dime packages)
STRONG SAFETY – 27 (box safety)
SLOT CB – 143

Patrick Chung
SLOT CB – 276

Duron Harmon

SLOT CB – 27

***PFF has some very weird labeling with their snaps.  I think these are strictly based on alignment, not assignment.***

You can see why in the following picture as all three safeties – Devin McCourty #32, Patrick Chung #23 and Duron Harmon #21 are all on the field, with Chung down in the box.

This picture is of the Patriots 3-2 front as Kyle Van Noy is the player immediately behind Dont’a Hightower.

Sorting through the Patriots games against the Packers and Vikings, I think a fair quick barometer guide for safeties would be that Patrick Chung is usually going to be the guy in the box in their nickel packages, especially on first and second downs (run downs).  Chung and McCourty were more often the split safeties (i.e. ½ field coverage with two deep safeties).  McCourty is almost exclusively in the MOF or a traditional free safety role until the offense is in third downs.  This is when McCourty would often come down into the box and Duron Harmon would play as a true MOF FS.

How I think this relates to Miami…well, this may be a bit controversial, but looking at the way New England plays their three safeties it wouldn’t surprise me if Reshad Jones and T.J. McDonald are both gone sooner rather than later.  I think Miami needs players that are quicker, smarter and more dynamic.  Both Jones and McDonald seem too one-dimensional, especially McDonald who is in my opinion too slow to really work in this defense.

As far as Reshad Jones goes, I think he’s got a better shot to succeed in the defense.  His contractual issues may dictate him staying a Dolphin in 2019, but he’s able to replicate more of what Patrick Chung does than T.J. McDonald…at least as far as the in-the-box stuff against the run.  I think there are a lot of responsibilities that Chung carries out for the Patriots that may prove challenging for Jones – covering backs in man-to-man coverage, covering tight ends, knowing when to buzz/drop late in the quarterback’s cadence, etc.

With this being the case, it would not surprise me one bit to see Miami cut their losses, eat some dead cap, and move on from one or both Jones and McDonald and look to acquire safeties in the Draft to team with Minkah Fitzpatrick. Two names I really like for Miami that you should keep an eye on are Johnathan Abram of Mississippi State and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson of Florida.  Those two names will be interesting to watch in the pre-Draft process, especially if Miami start lopping off pricey veterans.

The Fit Right Now

It should be noted that one of the things that surprised me with the Patriots is the sheer number of players that they play and how malleable some of those positions are.  Take their game against the Packers for example and we see the following players at these positions:

DE: Trey Flowers, Adrian Clayborn, Deatrich Wise, Keionta Davis, Dont’a Hightower, John Simon
DT: Trey Flowers, Malcom Brown, Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler, Deatrich Wise, Danny Shelton
LB: Trey Flowers, Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, John Simon, Patrick Chung
CB: Stephone Gilmore, Jason McCourty, Devin McCourty, J.C. Jackson, Keion Crossen
DS: Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon

Miami’s players and scheme weren’t even close to that flexible under the past two defensive coordinators.  Building this defense will be a project in and of itself, and in my opinion, will likely take more than just one offseason to really get it right.

As I mentioned, New England lists its own team depth chart as a 4-3 defense despite being in a base defense 12% of the time, and of that 12% it’s in a 4-3 most of the time, but not always.  In essence what you’re looking for purely from a positional standpoint is laid out below. I’ll spare you the details of looking into specific traits other than what Patrick Graham outlined last Friday in what he looks for in his front seven players:

1) Play with your hands/be heavy-handed.
2) Good knee bend and leverage
3) Eye discipline

In short this means fundamentally sound and smart players that fit the following roles:

DE: A bigger/longer player that’s likely going to be asked to play 5, 6, 7 and 9 techniques
NT: A nose tackle body type capable of playing 0, 1 (shade), 2i and 3 techniques (more 1 and 3 techniques)
DT: A true 3-technique style player who may also be asked to play 4i and 5 techniques
DE: A 3-4 OLB-esque style of player who can play 5, 6, 7, 8 (yeah, that’s a thing), and 9 techniques
OLB/LB:  A player capable of playing off the ball as a WILL LB or inside in a 4-2-5 or 3-3-5 front
MLB: A player capable of playing a traditional MLB or inside in a 4-2-5 or 3-3-5 front; may play some SAM
3-4 OLB:  Separate from the position above, but possibly able to be filled by the same player.  Someone who can set the edge from a stand-up position like a 3-4 OLB or play as an off-the-ball SAM

The secondary spots are pretty self-explanatory there, but I think Miami NEED to come out of this offseason with finding a second player that can play as a MOF FS in addition to Minkah Fitzpatrick. 

So, if we’re keeping score at home based solely on the guys that Miami have under contract on the roster right NOW you’re probably looking at going into camp with the following depth chart:

DE: Tank Carradine, Jonathan Woodard, Jeremiah Valoaga
NT: Davon Godchaux, Kendrick Norton, Jamiyus Pittman
DT: Vincent Taylor, Akeem Spence
DE: Charles Harris? Robert Quinn, Andre Branch
OLB/LB:  Jerome Baker, Charles Harris? Chase Allen? Kiko Alonso
MLB: Raekwon McMillan, Jerome Baker, Chase Allen, James Burgess, Quentin Poling, Samuel Eguavoen,
3-4 OLB/OLB:  Chase Allen?
CB1: Xavien Howard, Torry McTyer, Jomal Wiltz
CB2: Cordrea Tankersley, Cornell Armstrong, Dee Delaney
Slot: Bobby McCain, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Jalen Davis
FS: Minkah Fitzpatrick
SS: Reshad Jones, T.J. McDonald, Walt Aikens

Strikethrough = projected cut due to salary or poor fit reasons.

Italics = possible salary cap cut or questions about injury and/or fit concerns

Looking at the above, you can see Miami’s shopping list this offseason will be extensive.  I won’t dive into that right here right now, but I will be looking to put together a piece on players I think Miami will be likely to target.


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Miami Dolphins

Patriots-Dolphins Scheme Brief and Player Analogs

Kevin Dern



With the Draft complete and undrafted free agents added, with a few other moves in the mix, we’ve finally got our first glimpse of Miami’s 90 (really 91) man roster as we head into summer OTAs and mandatory mini-camp.  If I were a betting man, I’d guess that Miami may not be quite done with roster additions.  I imagine we’ll see something between June 1st and the start of Training Camp.  With all that in mind there’s been a lot of speculation about Miami’s defense and how it will look.

This offseason has provided us with a few interesting bits about what we’ll see.  John Congemi state on “The Audible”, the Dolphins own podcast, that Raekwon McMillan asked Brian Flores about watching film and was told to look at Dont’a Hightower.  Eric Rowe also said that the scheme is the same as what he ran last year with the Patriots.  We also had Brian Flores answering a question during his OTA media availability saying that the formatting of defense would be different.  I would expect that answer given the personnel differences, perhaps better spelled “deficiencies” that Miami has in comparison to the Patriots defense from a year ago.  This is why I wanted to put together this piece – to examine what we’re likely to see and who from Miami’s roster is an analog of a Patriot defender from 2018.

The Scheme
Let’s get something out of the way right off the bat.  This isn’t a 4-3 defense.  This isn’t a 3-4 defense.  Forget about those ideologies.  This defense is multiple.  Very multiple.  As I detailed in my piece earlier this year, New England is in a sub-package more than anything.  The top three personnel groupings the Patriots used last year were all sub-packages sets:  4-2-5 (307 snaps), 3-3-5 (226 snaps) and 3-2-6 (162 snaps).  The Patriots were in a 4-3 (97 snaps) and 3-4 (13 snaps) much, much less.

Looking at the Pats top two formations, I think we’re likely to see these used by the Dolphins as well.  A good barometer for how the Patriots used them would be that if they were facing 12 or 21 personnel, they were in a 4-2-5 with three safeties instead of a slot corner.  If they were facing 11 personnel, they were in a 4-2-5 with two safeties and a slot corner or used a 3-3-5 formation.  Often times that formation saw one of the linebackers, often Kyle Van Noy, walked-up on the line of scrimmage effectively playing as a stand-up defensive end.

This defense will be versatile in that we’ll see some different things than what we saw under Matt Burke and Vance Joseph.  We’ll likely see more even fronts.

We’re likely to see their Diamond (nickel – 3-3-5) and Ruby (dime – 3-2-6) fronts quite a bit.  (Courtesy of James Light – @JamesALight)

Coach Flores has often talked about wanting to see what players can and can’t do, and slot them into roles based on those results.  Rather than trying to find prototype players, the Patriots have searched for phenotypes – particular skillsets that players possess – and have plugged them into their scheme.  For example as it relates to Miami, there really wasn’t a player in this year’s Draft that was a direct analog of Kyle Van Noy.  There just wasn’t.  Jahlani Tavai was probably the closest and Detroit snatched him in the second round.

With that let’s take a look at the various positions Miami will use and who might be fits – and those who are close analogs with Pats players.  To help digest this I’ll break it down into:  Position – what they ask those players to do; Analogs – if any; and Players – guys Miami has on the roster that will likely get a crack at the role.

PositionDefensive Ends – Let’s start here.  Miami’s defense has undergone a seismic shift philosophically.  What was once the focal point of the wide-9, Miami’s no longer going to be in the market for defensive ends that could potentially hit double-digit sacks on a regular basis.  The Patriots have used different body type over the years, ranging from Rob Ninkovich to Chandler Jones to Trey Flowers to Deatrich Wise all in order to help set the edge against the run and be cogs in the machine in the pass-rush scheme, not the focal point.

Analogs:  Miami doesn’t have a guy who can replicate what Trey Flowers offered the Patriots.  It’s why Miami were in on him in free agency and were outbid by Detroit, where another Belichick disciple resides as head coach, in free agency.  They do have several guys who can be used the way Adrian Clayborn and Deatrich Wise were used, but until we see it on the field, I’m not comfortable labeling any as direct analogs.

Players:  For this defense, I think we’re likely to see guys classified as “Closed Ends” and “Open Ends” rather than left and right.  Closed meaning the strongside end, often with a LB outside or playing off of that player, and open side meaning the guy on the weakside of the formation, sometimes with no one outside of him.

Closed Ends:  Tank Carradine, Jonathan Woodard, Jonathan Ledbetter
Open Ends:  Charles Harris, Dewayne Hendrix, Jayrone Elliott*

*Jayrone Elliott may be more of a pass-rushing specialist in the mold of John Simon, whom the Patriots listed as a LB but played as a defensive end, sometimes standing up.  This is where I think Elliott slots in and he very well may have a shot to earn a roster spot.  He’s #91 for the Packers in the GIF below.

Position:  Defensive Tackles – The Patriots last year under Brian Flores used a rotation of four primary guys.  They also used DEs Trey Flowers and Deatrich Wise as 3-techniques quite a bit, but the primary four were Malcom Brown as a 1-technique and shade NT, Lawrence Guy as a 3-technique, Danny Shelton as a true 0 and shade NT, and Adam Butler as a 0, 1, 2i or 3 technique – he was involved in a lot of the Pats’ pass-rush packages.  The Patriots would also use some packages with 3 DTs on the field at the same time, often having Lawrence Guy play as a “Big DE” as Brian Flores labeled it last week.

Analogs:  Davon Godchaux compares pretty favorably to Malcom Brown, in my opinion.  He’s country strong and has been Miami’s primary 2i-technique the past two seasons.  That’s not much of a variation from playing the 1-technique NT spot, which many fans seem to forget Godchaux played at LSU for two seasons before switching to 3-4 DE his final year in Baton Rouge.

Players:  For Miami, I think Davon Godchaux slots in as the primary 1-technique player.  Christian Wilkins and Vincent Taylor figure to handle the 3-technique snaps of Lawrence Guy, as well as potentially doing some of the 4i and 5-tech stuff, especially Wilkins.  Miami at the moment has setup a nice competition for that true NT spots.  They don’t really have a guy as yet but figure on a competition between Jamiyus Pittman, Joey Mbu, Kendrick Norton and Cory Thomas.  I think Wilkins will likely eat up the snaps that Adam Butler took, but Miami may keep Akeem Spence for that role.  Remember, Akeem Spence was traded to Miami last year by Matt Patricia because he didn’t fit the defense.  That’s Miami’s defense.

I do think there’s an opportunity for both Wilkins and Taylor to grab some snaps at 3-technique in the 3-3-5 “Bear” front with New England runs quite a bit *IF* Miami can find the OLBs to make this work.*VBysJsaw3lxF0Mduc7-Ueg.png

Position:  Linebackers – The Pats primarily used two linebackers on the field in most of their packages, except on third downs.  Those two guys were their Mac (Mc) and Money ($) LBs – Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy.  Their responsibilities vary by formation and personnel grouping.  They’ll also use a Buck (B) when they have three linebackers on the field.  I’ll be working on a preview article as we get into Training Camp and preseason where I’ll do a deep dive on how they use these positions in each personnel package.  For now, I’ll summarize these parts.

Mac – This is Dont’a Hightower’s spot.  In the 4-2-5 and any 4-3 formations, Hightower is an off-ball LB or MLB in the 4-3 most of the time.  There are various formations, like the 3-3-5 picture above (see OLB Lee as Hightower was injured for this game), will line up on the ball in a position akin to where a 3-4 OLB would be, even though there’s only 3 LBs on the field.

$ – This is Kyle Van Noy.  Van Noy will line up off the ball in 4-3 formations or will be the SAM if they use an Under look – which is rare.  In the 4-2-5 groupings he and Hightower are the two main off-ball linebackers.  In the 3-3-5 “Bear” fronts, Van Noy is often at the MLB spot, with Hightower and John Simon as the OLBs.  However, he will also line up on the line of scrimmage as a stand-up DE in their Diamond and Ruby sets that were shown before.  In these spots, he’ll 1) pass-rush 2) cover a RB or TE 3) cover the hook, curl or flat, or 4) act as a blitzer – either in a green dog capacity, or as looper coming through the backside A or B gap.  See the formation below:

Notice that Hightower is off-the-ball as it looks like a 4-2-5 formation.  This is one of the subtleties that the Patriots will use.

Buck – This role is sort of two-fold.  It is essentially the WILL LB in 4-3 spots, but can be an off-ball ILB in 4-2-5 fronts, and on the line of scrimmage edge rusher in the 3-3-5 and other sub fronts.

Analogs:  None.  The closest one, in my opinion, is Raekwon McMillan to Dont’a Hightower.  As indicated by John Congemi, McMillan was told by Brian Flores to watch film on Hightower.  I think McMillan will likely fill the Mac role in the 4-2-5 and he had some experience playing SAM at Ohio State, so we may see him as a stand-up on the LOS edge LB in some of the 3-3-5 “Bear” fronts.  Though the fit in the “Bear” package may be dubious at best.  I do, however, think that Raekwon can line up as an on the line of scrimmage or “mugged up” ILB in the Patriots sub-fronts.  He’s got some familiarity with this playing “Nose-backer” in the wide-9 at times last year under Matt Burke.  I think Raekwon is big and strong enough to be used as a blitzer and “pin” player on stunts, much like this GIF of Hightower below, courtesy of Pro Football Focus:

Notice the stunt by Adrian Clayborn following Hightower, essentially a T-E stunt.  Miami’s defensive line coach Marion Hobby gives a great breakdown of those stunts here:

I included this here as Miami will likely have some of their linebackers playing on the edges or mugged up inside executing these pass-rush games and blitzes.

Players:   Separating these by position for simplicity:

Mac – Raekwon McMillan is your starter here.  As far as depth goes, I think we could see Chase Allen, Tre’ Watson and Quentin Poling compete here for the reps that are between-the-tackles.  I think guys like Charles Harris and Andrew Van Ginkel could very well get opportunities for some of the stand-up edge reps.  That said, the Patriots have always liked to find guys who can fulfill the entire role rather than piecemealing it.  Miami may not have that player in this case, but I think McMillan can handle the bulk of these duties and should thrive in this defense.

$ – Jerome Baker is likely who Miami starts with at this spot.  Baker recently reported on The Audible he’s trying to bulk up to 230lbs after playing last year at 220lbs.  This fit is dubious, in my opinion.  I know many Dolfans won’t like to read that, but it is what it is.  I think Baker can likely handle this role in the 4-2-5 looks and would likely be the lone off-ball MLB in the 3-3-5 “Bear” fronts.  But Baker is more of a blitzer than true pass-rusher.  He’s also 6’1” and 227lbs currently.  Kyle Van Noy is a full 6’3” 250lbs.  Perhaps Baker’s speed is the equalizer here, but that length will be important.  I think this is where Andrew Van Ginkel could absolutely thrive.  He did the on the line of scrimmage stuff all the time at Wisconsin.  Charles Harris should, in my opinion, get a shot here with the edge stuff; Miami might be able to squeeze some football out of him this way.

Buck – Travis and I discussed this on the podcast on Sunday.  If Miami had limited Kiko Alonso’s role in last year’s defense he’d have been a pretty effective, albeit overpaid, third linebacker.  I see him here, though perhaps not right away.  The new staff may be more inclined to give him a shot at the $ linebacker spot given his veteran experience.  That’d be regrettable in my opinion.  If they can pare down his snaps, he could likely handle a lot of the duties the Buck LB spot handles on first and second downs…that is for what snaps there are.  The Patriots would often use John Simon in this role for their 3rd down packages or as an extra DE.  This is where I mentioned Jayrone Elliott fitting in, purely in the pass-rushing role.

In short, Miami just doesn’t have the horses that the Patriots have at linebacker, and though they may not want to, I think the coaching staff will be forced to piecemeal these LB roles with multiple parts.  Gun to my head, I’d expect we’ll see McMillan, Baker, Alonso, Van Ginkel all playing at least solid snaps, with perhaps Charles Harris and Jayrone Elliott having niche roles.

Position:  Safety – I’m skipping the corner position for right now as I want to do a little more research on that.  Let’s just get this out of the way, Xavien Howard looks like an analog for Stephon Gilmore.  X got the bag, deservedly so, and will hopefully be around to see this rebuild take flight.

At Safety, Miami have some fits, but I’m very, very curious to see how the players are slotted into roles.  New England often employs three safeties in their 4-2-5 looks, most often against 12 and 21 personnel rather than playing a third linebacker.  Those roles seem to stack up in the following spots:

SS – Strong safety – This is Patrick Chung, and he’ll often be lined up on the edge or in the box, where a linebacker would often be.  They’ll also use him as a robber in split safety looks, or in disguised looks with a deep safety dropping bac.

* – Star – This is Devin McCourty.  He’ll line up EVERYWHERE.  He’s often a FS in split safety looks, but he’ll find his way to the slot as an overhang defender. He’ll cover Flexed tight ends man-to-man.  He’ll cover them split out wide.  He handles a lot of the single-high safety responsibilities when they have two safeties on the field, but on 3rd downs, he’s often lined up in the slot or in the box with a coverage responsibility close to the line of scrimmage.

FS – Free Safety – this is played by McCourty in two safety looks, but is also played by Duron Harmon when they bring a third safety onto the field.

This video, courtesy of Samuel Gold, is required defensive study viewing.  Samuel does an outstanding job of breaking down how the Patriots shut down the Rams in the Super Bowl.  You can see a lot of the versatility among the safeties in this video.

Analogs:  Minkah Fitzpatrick is our second true analog.  While we haven’t seen him do everything that the Patriots ask Devin McCourty, in large part due to Matt Burke using Minkah at three different spots as a rookie, if you view his Alabama tape and Dolphins tape, it’s not hard to see the match here at all.  While most football fans acknowledge that Derwin James was just a freaking monster as a rookie, he was used EXACTLY has he should have been.  Kudos to the Chargers for doing so.  Minkah Fitzpatrick was, well, not used that way.  He was still outstanding but received much less notoriety.  That should change in 2019.

Players:  Reshad Jones caught a lot of flak for “quitting” on the team during the Jets game last year.  I don’t care.  He’s been one of the top two or three Dolphins players since 2012.  He should be in the Ring of Honor, and if you’re in favor of putting Ricky Williams there, you damn sure better vote for Reshad.

SS – That aside, I’d like to think that if Reshad’s fully recovered from offseason shoulders surgery – he was boxing in a video on Instagram last week – that he’d be the strong safety.  He did a lot of what Patrick Chung does in 2017 and had a Pro Bowl season.  He’s best attacking downhill or playing close to the line of scrimmage, so I think he fits that role well.  However, if his shoulders are still balky, we may see T.J. McDonald here.  I have another theory on him.

* – We already talked about Minkah Fitzpatrick filling in this role.  It’s his.  Leave him in this role.  Watch him flourish.

FS – This should really be spelled out as third safety.  My guess for now is that T.J. McDonald is penciled, lightly, into this role.  Barry Jackson reported a while back that T.J. wanted to drop weight from the 230lbs he played at a year ago and get down to 215lbs.  He had a little bit of success as a deep safety in 2017 when he came back from suspension.  That being said, I don’t think he or Reshad Jones, again if Jones’ shoulders are balky, are great fits for this role.  Their contract situations are, how to put it…not team friendly.  So, unless there’s a trade that develops, I expect they’ll be given opportunities

Also in consideration for this role should be Maurice Smith and Walt Aikens.  One has been a fringe roster player and the other is our best special teamer (and one of the top 5 special teamers in the entire NFL – Walt’s really good), but I’d imagine they’ll get a trial run here.  Aikens looks the part and is athletic, but wasn’t able to put it together when given a shot as a starting safety back in 2015 when Louis Delmas tore his ACL in preseason.  I do wonder if safeties coach Tony Oden may try to convert one of the myriad cornerbacks Miami have on their 90 man roster to safety.  He did so with Charles Washington while with Detroit in 2016.  The Patriots did it with Teez Tabor last year.  Perhaps someone will emerge for Miami here if McDonald or Jones falter.

We’ve covered quite a lot of ground in this piece already, so I’m going to wrap this up without taking up any more time until my next piece.  Overall, Dolfans are going to be wide-eyed trying to catch up with the philosophical seismic shift we’re going to see with the defense this year.  It’ll be multiple.  It’ll use a lot of players.  It’ll be different in some capacities on a weekly basis given opponents’ strengths.

All of this should be welcomed with open arms.

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Miami Dolphins

Josh Rosen 2018 Passing Chart – Week 17 at Seattle

Travis Wingfield



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

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

Jump To:

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

Week 17 at Seattle –

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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Miami Dolphins

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

Travis Wingfield



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

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

Jump To:

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


Week 16 vs. LA Rams –

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

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


11-personnel 30 snaps
12-personnel 1 snap


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

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

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

Rosen’s depth splits were as follows:


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


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

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

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


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

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


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