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Inside the Film Room – Dolphins New Defensive Scheme

Kevin Dern

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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 ThePhins.com 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.

Overview

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.

Personnel

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 ThePhins.com 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

EDGE LINEBACKER – 19
LINEBACKER – 226 (this is essentially lining up as a slot safety in dime packages)
STRONG SAFETY – 27 (box safety)
STRONG SAFETY SPLIT – 96
SLOT CB – 143
BOUNDARY CB – 143
FREE SAFETY – 354
FREE SAFETY SLIT – 257

Patrick Chung
EDGE LINEBACKER – 152
LINEBACKER – 376
STRONG SAFETY – 2
STRONG SAFETY SPLIT – 28
SLOT CB – 276
BOUNDARY -120
FREE SAFETY – 15
FREE SAFETY SPLIT – 62

Duron Harmon

EDGE LINEBACKER -14
LINEBACKER -69
STRONG SAFETY -12
STRONG SAFETY SPLIT – 52
SLOT CB – 27
FREE SAFETY – 230
FREE SAFETY SPLIT -296

***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.

@KevinMD4

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Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins Week 9 Monday Morning Thoughts

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Tua Tagovailoa has IT.

Brian Flores is THE guy.

And I have to admit, Chris Grier has done a phenomenal job.

After an exciting 34-31 victory over the Arizona Cardinals (5-3), the Miami Dolphins (5-3) solidified themselves as a legitimate playoff team in the AFC. Sure, you can say we’re getting a bit cocky – we’ve watched our team falter plenty of times before. But do you get the sense that these are the same Dolphins we’ve been watching this century?

Right now, are you skeptical or optimistic?

Do you have butterflies because you’re nervous or because you’re excited?

Do you think the Dolphins are trying to survive each game or do you have confidence that they’ll win?

Coming off of 4-straight victories, it’s easy to feel like we’re on top of the world, but this team looks different. It feels different. They act different.

Below are a few thoughts following Miami’s promising 34-31 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

Monday Morning Thoughts

Tua Tagovailoa is the franchise quarterback we’ve been waiting for

Admit it, when they originally ruled that throwaway an interception, you saw shades of every failed quarterback to come since Dan Marino.

That play was so comically bad that it easily could have defined Tua’s career if it didn’t pan out. Thankfully, it was ruled that the receiver’s foot was out-of-bounds and it was an incomplete pass – but imagine the memes that would have been unleashed if Miami lost this game and that play counted.

But, it didn’t count….and the Dolphins didn’t lose….and Tua Tagovailoa out-dueled Kyler Murray when it mattered most.

When the Dolphins needed a game-winning drive, Tua delivered. When Kyler Murray had an opportunity to tie it, he didn’t (along with an obscure Zane Gonzalez kick).

Tua’s elite pocket presence, accuracy, decision-making, and ball placement were all on display. And none of that accounts for the plays he made with his legs.

If you’re a Dolphins fan, you’re thrilled with what you saw. And though it’s only a small sample size, I think we can all exhale – he looks like he’s the guy.

Byron Jones is still a damn good Cornerback

After three-straight dominant performances, Byron Jones was a bit humbled this game. We’re so used to watching him shut down opposing receivers that a game like this really sticks out.

He was absolutely burned by Christian Kirk on a beautiful deep ball from Kyler Murray late in the first quarter, but that wasn’t his worse play.

Dolphins fans and Byron Jones both thought he hauled in his first interception since October, 2017. Instead, Darrell Daniels’ first career touchdown reception is one of the highlights of the year as he snatches the ball right out of Jones’ hands.

I mean, Byron Jones had that ball in his hands for an interception, and before they hit the ground Darrell Daniels steals it into his possession. AND somehow had his knee down so it would count as a catch. Crazy.

Miami’s (really, it’s Brian Flores’) now infamous “zero” boom-or-bust scheme is susceptible to the long-ball, as our corners are expected to cover their receivers 1-on-1; with no safety help behind them. So far this season, it has worked tremendously to their advantage (as seen below)

But, if your coverage isn’t on par, this will happen:

With all of that said, Byron Jones is still a great cornerback in this league. Was this a bad game? Definitely. But I don’t expect this to become a trend. Lets not take for granted the elite secondary we currently have.

Christian Wilkins should NOT stop celebrating

Just please celebrate responsibly.

One of the reasons Dolphins fans adore Christian Wilkins is because of his infectious personality. He’s notoriously running in and celebrating every offensive touchdown with his team. His trash talking is innocently intimidating. The way he pumps his team up is perfect for any locker room culture. On top of the fact that he’s a pretty good defensive tackle.

Which is why I want him to keep celebrating – and I want him to continue celebrating excessively.

Preston Williams‘ unfortunate injury during a touchdown celebration is a huge reason why professional coaches like to contain their million-dollar players. Not just on the field, but off the field as well. It makes sense, they’re valuable commodities, but Wilkins’ spirit is too valuable to douse.

If something like this happens again, then we can talk about stifling his excitement, until then….celebrate smarter.

Xavien Howard’s “penalties” tell half the story

Xavien Howard was tasked with shadowing DeAndre Hopkins, and he ended up accounting for more penalty yards (43) than receiving yards against him (30).

The real testament to Howard’s coverage throughout the game? DeAndre Hopkins, one of the best wide receivers in the league, didn’t see a single target in the first half of the game.

A couple (terrible) penalties shouldn’t overshadow the fact that Xavien Howard and Byron Jones may be the best cornerback tandem in the league.

The Miami Dolphins need a Running Back in the worst way

Jordan Howard‘s 8-yard run on the last drive of the game – which helped seal the victory – was his biggest play as a Miami Dolphin. Up to that point, I was kind of rooting for Howard to continue his 1 YPC average. If you take away that 8-yard run (EASILY his longest of the year), Howard has gained 25 rushing yards on 27 rushing attempts (0.93 YPC).

Rookie Salvon Ahmed had a solid game, with 7 carries for 38 yards (5.4 YPC). I’m not sure how reliable he is, but he can’t be worse than Howard. If Matt Breida is available for next week’s game against the Los Angeles Chargers, I’m sure Howard will once again be inactive, giving Ahmed another shot to prove himself.

We probably should have given Austin Jackson the week off

Austin Jackson returned to the lineup for the first time in 4 weeks (due to a foot injury) and was “ok”. He was beat on a few plays, but it’s evident he wasn’t 100%. I wouldn’t make any presumptions based off of this game; if anything, the reps help from an experience/mental perspective.

Jason Sanders is a stud

Jason Sanders connecting on 56 and 50-yard field goals are that much more impressive when you take into account that weird Zane Gonzalez miss (where he was short from 49 yards).

The conspiracy floating around is that the ball died (on Gonzalez’s kick) because the roof was open. Yet, Sanders made his 50+ yard field goals with room to spare.

Today’s the day we will never take Jason Sanders for granted as he surpassed Olindo Mare‘s franchise record of 19-straight field goals made.

The Miami Dolphins are going to “have to” extend Emmanuel Ogbah

I think we all would love to see a contract extension, but it’s bordering on a “necessity” at this point. Not just because we want to lock up a top-notch defensive end, but because he’s going to (rightfully) demand more financial security.

Though it always felt like he was on a one-year deal, this is technically the first year of a 2-year, $15m contract for Emmanuel Ogbah, but there’s no guaranteed money tied to 2021 – and there’s no way he’s playing like a $7.5m defensive end.

Jordan Phillips averages $10m a year with his recent contract, and I think it’s fair to say that Ogbah is worth more than that. Expect a holdout if the Dolphins don’t give him a raise and an extension this offseason. That’s not to say we should be concerned – I think Miami will look to make this extension a priority – but if they don’t see eye-to-eye expect a holdout to occur.

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Miami Dolphins

The Miami Dolphins – A Tale of Two Franchises

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Football is a team sport.

Wins don’t individually define a quarterback’s success.

Yet everyone agrees that the only way to win in the NFL is to have a quarterback that is better than (just about) every other franchise in the sport.

Once you have an upper-echelon quarterback, then you can talk about the nuances of creating a team. Whether it’s surrounding that quarterback with the proper talent, ensuring you’ve built the right scheme around them, or complimenting them with a staunch defense to complete a championship run, developing an entire roster means nothing if you don’t have a quarterback that can lead you to the playoffs.

38 years ago, the Miami Dolphins selected a quarterback that would revolutionize the NFL.

A man decades before his time, the immediate success Dan Marino brought us – after 13 championship-caliber years with Bob Griese – shielded us from the horrors of football purgatory. Maybe it’s this curse of #13 that has us clamoring for football relevance after almost 50 years without a Super Bowl Championship.

We watched our franchise devolve from the model of perfection to a team without an identity; floundering desperately to find a viable quarterback for two decades.

And with one swift decision, the Dolphins simultaneously expunged their football idiocy of years past and exhibited the type of football prowess that should lead them to salvation.

Image Credit: South Florida Sun Sentinel

As we’re destroying the team for wasting 2nd & 5th-round picks on Josh Rosen, we’re praising them for building the foundation for future success. Gone are these false prophets of yesteryear, as the real prodigy we’ve all been yearning for is one step closer to leading the helm.

Once Tua Tagovailoa was selected 5th-overall in the 2020 NFL draft, Rosen’s exile was cemented. He was never going to have an opportunity to make it here, it was always going to be Tua Tagovailoa backing up Ryan Fitzpatrick. The grizzly, 13-year veteran handles the nuances of a young football team while the young, energetic and extremely talented rookie spends valuable time learning and developing.

That move…that single transaction…will forever symbolize the moment the Miami Dolphins transitioned from football purgatory to football relevance.

The Purgatory We Built

No one remembers the cost of a successful trade.

Off the top of your head, what did the New York Giants trade to swap Philip Rivers for Eli Manning? How much did Carson Wentz cost the Philadelphia Eagles when they traded up for him? I bet you all remember the litany of picks the Washington Football Team paid for Robert Griffin III, or how badly the Chicago Bears missed on Mitch Trubisky when they gave up a bunch of picks to move up from #3 to #2.

It’s because mistakes are always magnified for franchises that fail. As a fan base, we’ve been groomed to remember all the negative aspects of our favorite football team, because that’s all we’ve known for the better half of our adult lives.

After trudging through this wasteland for so long, we are finally ready to move past all of the detrimental mistakes that have cost us 20+ years of our lives – including the Josh Rosen trade.

Sure, you have your classics like failing to draft (and then sign) Drew Brees, drafting Ronnie Brown over Aaron Rodgers with the 2nd-overall pick, drafting Jake Long over Matt Ryan with the 1st-overall pick, and trading a 2nd-round pick for A.J. Feeley.

It’s not that the Dolphins haven’t tried, it’s just that they have failed almost mightily when doing so.

I respect that Miami was aggressive in their pursuit of Josh Rosen – or for any of the other quarterbacks they’ve attempted to put under center – but their aggression was either misguided, ill-informed, or even desperate at best.

A year prior to Rosen’s draft-day trade, another draft-day trade was occurring – one that would transcend the Baltimore Ravens organization for the prolonged future. With the 32nd pick in the draft, the Ravens selected Lamar Jackson – a quarterback some Dolphins fans wanted with the team’s 11th-overall pick.

To move back into the first round and secure a quarterback with the 5th-year option, all Baltimore had to give up was an additional 2nd-round pick (see the full trade at the end of the article).

With their draft-day trade, the Baltimore Ravens landed an MVP.
With their draft-day trade, the Miami Dolphins landed a quarterback that was released for nothing.

Again, I don’t fault the Dolphins for being aggressive, but their pursuit was often awry.

The frustrating part of all of this may be that this team actually “spent” both in assets and money, they just didn’t seem to take that extra step at the right time.

Spending 2nd-round picks was fine 3 years in a row (with Chad Henne, John Beck and Pat White), but spending 2nd-round picks then became “too much” when they could have moved up in the 2017 draft to select Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson – instead, they stayed put at #22 and drafted Charles Harris.

Think about it, Miami’s best quarterbacks since Dan Marino were:

  • Castaway by the New York Jets (and subsequently got his shoulder destroyed like everyone predicted)
  • (Allegedly) Forced upon us by Stephen Ross because he knew what a new quarterback would inject into a flat-lining brand (ie: making $$)

Between Chad Pennington and Ryan Tannehill there is 1 playoff appearance and 0 playoff wins.

There are definitive reasons why the Dolphins are executing a rebuild in 2019-2020 – after attempting to rebuild numerous times already this century – and you can say that lots of it has to do with the Head Coaches that have been in place.

Watching Ryan Tannehill lead the Tennessee Titans to the AFC Championship came was the most-conflicted I’ve felt in a long time as a Dolphins fan. I was thrilled he was able to prove himself, but frustrated that my team was once again watching from the couch.

Heck, for all the praise we give Brian Flores, he couldn’t get Minkah Fitzpatrick to buy into his system – ultimately losing a near-Defensive MVP player to an organization that has been breathing success since the Dolphins’ perfect 1972 season.

Miami hasn’t lacked talent – it’s why they’re constantly hovering around 8-8. The problem is, they lack the most important piece on the football field combined with the right leader to mold them. Which explains why they constantly sit around 8-8.

The Future We Created

But thoughts of perpetual 8-8 seasons are a thing of the past. The Dolphins may have drafted their future franchise quarterback back in April, but they officially rolled out their #1 prize just a few days ago. Coincidentally, just 3 days after Rosen was released.

The timing is likely coincidental, but who says omens have to be a bad thing?

This Dolphins team is young (thanks to Chris Grier), determined (courtesy of Brian Flores’ mindset), talented (after accumulating so many draft picks) and they’re wise beyond their years.

With a bounty of draft picks at their disposal once again in 2021, and with a franchise quarterback seemingly set to take over by season’s end, the future for the Miami Dolphins looks EXTREMELY bright.

After most “experts” predicted the Dolphins would go nearly winless – some even calling for criminal investigations to be conducted – Flores showed off his leadership and led Miami to a 5-11 record.

If the worst roster in the NFL can win 5 games, what can an improved roster accomplish?

Last year, there were too many holes on the roster to count. Now, you’re desperate to find a missing piece. In 12 months, we’ve gone from cringe-worthy to dynasty-bound in some expert’s eyes.

So have the Dolphins finally returned to football relevance?

If this team really identified the right Head Coach, and if Tua’s hip can stay healthy, then there’s no reason why the Miami Dolphins aren’t about to embark on a successful crusade that takes the rest of the NFL by storm.

Earlier this year, we lost one of the greatest leaders to ever bless our organization. In honor of the all-time wins leader, the Miami Dolphins will wear a patch signifying Don Shula’s record-setting 347 career wins.

And who knows, maybe this renaissance is Shula’s last gift to an organization – and a community – that he spent his life already giving so much to. The symbolism would be all-too coincidental otherwise.

The Baltimore Ravens/Lamar Jackson Trade:

Yes, I understand every other team passed on Jackson. I also understand the Ravens passed on him once when they selected Hayden Hurst with the 25th-overall pick that year, but Baltimore has built a championship-caliber organization over the past two decades, while the Dolphins have accomplished one playoff win – I think they’ve earned the benefit of the doubt here.

The Lamar Jackson trade can be broken down like this:

  • Baltimore traded pick 52 (2nd-round) to move up to 32nd-overall (1st)
  • Baltimore also sent Philadelphia pick 125 in the deal, but they received pick 132 in return – a downgrade of 7 spots in the 4th-round.
  • Otherwise, all Baltimore spent was a 2nd-round pick in 2019 (which ended up being pick #53).

Full trade:

Eagles Receive Picks: 52 (2nd), 125 (4th) and pick 53 (2nd) in the 2019 draft
Ravens Receive Picks: 32 (1st) and 132 (4th)

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Miami Dolphins

There’s A Fine Line Between Being A Genius & Being Dumb in the NFL

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Think Brian Flores & Chris Grier aren’t smart?

After successfully navigating through all of the pre-draft smokescreens better than teenagers can survive the high school rumor mill, the Miami Dolphins are in a position to flourish for the next decade.

Yes, it’s something we’ve said before almost annually, but this time, there’s a clear foundation that will allow the roots of this franchise to prosper.

We’ve Heard This Before

Tony Sparano blossomed under the Bill Parcells‘ coaching tree in Dallas, bringing with him an aura of prominence and a pedigree for smash mouth football.

After a miraculous 10-game turnaround that took Miami from #1 overall in the draft to division winners, fans felt they had the proper leadership in place.

That was soon debunked when the Dolphins followed an 11-5 (2008) season with 7-9 (2009), 7-9 (2010) and 6-10 (2011). It’s not that any of us feel that Sparano was a bad coach, but it was more-than-evident that he was handicapped at the quarterback position.

The Dolphins go 11-5 in 2008 because their quarterback was the runner-up in the MVP race, and they falter to 7-9 after that because they decided to build around Chad Henne.

Good coach, but poor coaching decisions.

From there, the Dolphins hired one of the best human beings on the planet – Joe Philbin. The notorious problem with Philbin was: he couldn’t lead a football team.

Failing to rein in Vontae Davis‘ hangovers, everything regarding Richie Incognito, the Chad Ochocinco saga (check out this damning ESPN article from 2012, which gives you a glimpse into how the player’s felt about Philbin early on), and all of the Mike Wallace drama. Those football teams had some decent talent, yet were never better than a mediocre 8-8 in Philbin’s 4 years.

Great person, but terrible with people.

Adam Gase then took a 1-4 season and made the playoffs at 10-6. All the optimism surrounding Ryan Tannehill seemed justified, and we were ecstatic for the future. But we came to learn that Gase’s coaching talents resembled more of a glorified offensive coordinator, which left players feelings ostracized and without a sense of direction – especially those on defense.

Like Philbin, Gase wanted a group of players that followed him, rather than developing a strategy that tailored to his players’ strengths. He traded away (or failed to re-sign) productive players drafted by Grier in years past, just because he couldn’t handle them.

After a 10-6 start to his coaching career (2016), we watched our hopes dwindle to 6-10 (2017) – accompanied with $10m worth of embarrassing Jay Cutler highlights – and then 7-9 (2018) after the “quarterback guru” couldn’t get any production out of a 2019 Pro Bowl & AFC Championship quarterback in Ryan Tannehill.

Offensive visionary, but he couldn’t see past his own shortcomings.

So Why is This Different?

This would be the definition of insanity….if it meant that we were following the same trend.

Yes, we understand the eternal caveat that we won’t know for sure until we see the results, but after a successful 2019 – and a stellar 2020 draft that features plenty of starting potential – we’re not going too far out on a limb to say that they have our trust.

Going into a vital 2020 NFL draft where the team held 3 first-round picks, the Miami Dolphins’ future rested solely on the leis of Tua Tagovailoa. For months we were on edge, because, as Dolphins fans, we just figured they would screw it up. But once they secured their quarterback of the future, the plan was simple: protect him.

Not only was the plan to build a wall in front of him, but Grier and Flores identified that some of these positions take more time to develop than others. Rarely do offensive and defensive linemen jump right in and become dominant players. The difference between pancaking teenagers in college to moving a mountain-of-a-man in the NFL is colossal.

Rookies go through such a strenuous process to improve their draft stock – immediately after completing a full college season – that they are burned out by the time their rookie year is over. That’s exactly what happened to Michael Deiter towards the end of last season; it’s no surprise we see their performance start to slide after putting in so much work throughout the year.

Drafting Austin Jackson (18th-overall pick), Robert Hunt (39th), and Solomon Kindley (111th) means Miami is giving their rookies time to grow before being asked to protect their most-important asset since Dan Marino.

Instead of a trying to learn the nuances of the NFL with a rookie quarterback, they can learn how an offensive play is properly setup, executed and audibled under a veteran, Ryan Fitzpatrick.

When it comes time to protect Tua Tagovailoa in 2021, they won’t have to worry if they understood the protection, if they’ll make a rookie mistake, or if they’ll naively and unintentionally do something embarrassing or costly. They’ll be able to focus on executing the play properly, giving Tua an ample amount of time to handle his own “rookie” adjustments.

With Raekwon Davis, the Dolphins acquire another player at a position that tends to need some time to grow. This move makes me wonder what the future holds for Davon Godchaux, who is expected to receive a very nice payday in free agency after this season, but for now, Miami can rely heavily on Godchaux and their 2019 1st-round pick, Christian Wilkins. Davis has the opportunity to learn under these two as he prepares to take on a much bigger role in 2021.

With their final 1st-round pick, Miami selected another young player at a cornerstone position. The adjustments rookie cornerbacks need to make when guarding an NFL receiver are somewhat substantial, and Noah Igbinoghene will be able to learn and make these adjustments while covering the opponent’s third or forth receiver – with the added security that he has an array of established and Pro Bowl veterans behind him.

This might hint at an ugly and somewhat inconsistent 2020 season, as roughly half of this roster is new to the team, but all of these young players will start to excel as Tua begins to transition into our full-time starting quarterback.

Which means the Miami Dolphins are ready to make a legitimate playoff run in 2021.

Is it possible all of these risks falter? Of course! Austin Jackson just turned 21 years old, and he wasn’t viewed as the best left tackle in college last season – he is a projection. Noah Igbinoghene wasn’t viewed as a 1st-round caliber cornerback, as most “experts” think he’s restricted to covering the slot rather than becoming a boundary corner. And then you have the general, inevitable fact that some of these picks just won’t pan out.

But we watched players like Mike Gesicki, DeVante Parker, Raekwon McMillan, Vince Biegel and Nik Needham take the “next step” under Brian Flores stewardship. It only makes us wonder who he’ll coach up next.

Now that Flores is more-comfortable as a sophomore coach, and the team understands his “win no matter what” philosophy, Miami should naturally thrive in year two….right?

Like all of these other coaches before him, Flores is an absolute genius after year one. And like all those coaches before him, he’s one season away from looking like a dunce.

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