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Kevin Dern’s Defensive Preview Part 1 – The Line

Travis Wingfield

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WRITTEN BY KEVIN DERN

I’m back for another year of my Defensive Preview.  As always, you’re being warned that this is a long-from piece and if that’s not for you, you should stop reading now. The 2017 season was basically over before it started the moment that Ryan Tannehill went down.  But we did see some glimpses of how good the defense can be during 2017.  We saw the defense play well during the first 5 games of the year, holding a 3rdin points allowed ranking and 5thagainst the run ranking.  Miami eviscerated Denver and New England in back-to-back weeks late in the season.  Miami played five different guys at safety next to Reshad Jones and played three different players at middle linebacker throughout the season.  All told, they finished 16thin total defense, smack dab in the middle of the league.  However, they finished 28thin points allowed.  But does that tell the whole story? What can we expect in 2018? Let’s dive in.

2017 Recap and 4-3 Wide-9 Overview
As you probably know by now, Miami runs the 4-3 Over Wide-9 front. This is the exact same defense that the Philadelphia Eagles rode en route to their Super Bowl victory last year. Most fans seem to dislike the wide-9 and cite giving up too many points as one of the reasons.  Let’s look at Miami last year.  Miami gave up 393 points, 29thin the league. However, consider that Miami’s defense wasn’t even on the field during 28 points scored:

– Two pick 6’s thrown by Matt Moore against Baltimore
– Fumbled kickoff in the endzone against Tampa Bay
– Jay Cutler pick 6 against Denver

You take off those 28 points, and Miami’s at 365 points, good for 20thin the league.  Not as bad, right? That’s not even considering several interceptions Cutler threw that put the defense in bad spots on the field.  Recall the picks against the Jets at home and at Carolina? That’s another 14 points allowed where the defense was in a tough spot through no fault of their own.  Take those away and you’re at 351 points allowed, 17thin the league. That’s right near the league average and sort of reflects their 16thin total defense ranking.  For the record, Miami was 14thagainst the run (110.5 ypg) and 16thagainst the pass (225.2 ypg).  Both of those totals are smack in the middle of the league.

Yes, Miami had some bad games defensively, I’ll be the first to admit that.  You can look at the home game against the Jets up until the 4thquarter, Baltimore, Carolina, the road game against New England, and they had bad moments at Buffalo and at Kansas City.  They also had some solid games against good opponents like Los Angeles, New Orleans, Atlanta, and who could forget the near dominant performance against the Patriots on Monday Night Football? In my opinion, one of the biggest hindrances to the Dolphins defense was the lack of complementary football played by the offense.

Miami were 22ndin the league in terms of average time of possession and were shut out twice – in London against the Saints and at the Ravens.  They also scored on the very last play of the game in week 3 against the Jets.  That’s not good.  Another factor in Miami’s being decidedly average were injuries.  Raekwon McMillan missed the entire season with a torn ACL and subsequently Miami played Mike Hull, Rey Maualuga and Chase Allen all at MLB during the season.  Miami played four, that’s right, four, different guys at safety next to Reshad Jones throughout the season in Nate Allen, Michael Thomas, Maurice Smith, and T.J. McDonald.  They also missed William Hayes, their best run-stopping DE, for 5 games.  Even Cameron Wake endured a slump in the middle of the season tallying just two sacks in seven weeks from the Baltimore Thursday Night Football disaster through the win over the Patriots on Monday Night.

Taking all this in, what exactly is the 4-3 Over Wide-9? Well, the easiest way to explain it is to defer you to one of its co-creators. Jim Schwartz, now the Eagles Defensive Coordinator, helped create it with Jim Washburn, Miami’s former D-line coach, when both were assistants with the Tennessee Titans back in the early 2000s as a way to stop Edgerrin James and the famous Indianapolis Colts zone-stretch play.  Before reading any further, it’s required watching to view this video of Schwartz at a coaching clinic.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gf0k47oGl7g

What Schwartz and Washburn came up with, and what Schwartz is still running in Philadelphia today, is what Miami is running under Matt Burke.  Burke was a coaching intern with the Titans under Schwartz and coached linebackers for him in Detroit from 2009-13.  The wide-9 nine looks like this and derives its name from the strongside DE lining up in a 9 technique.

https://cdn10.phillymag.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Wide9.png

Moving on from Suh
Moving on from 2017 and the basic look of the defense, let’s tackle the issues for 2018.  First and foremost, Miami lost arguably the best player on their team in Ndamukong Suh, choosing to shed his contract and cut him and Suh has since signed with the Rams. What does that mean? In short, you’re losing a 3-technique DT that can do this:

https://thumbs.gfycat.com/BelatedScentedItaliangreyhound-max-1mb.gif

Suh was superb at eating double-teams and using his brute power to be a force against the run.  Suh also played 84% of Miami’s snaps in 2017, an absurd number for a DT. And despite the high snap count, you’re losing consistency in the middle.  Suh contributed 47 tackles (29 solo) 4.5 sacks, 8 stuffs, and 2 forced fumbles for Miami last year.  That’s a pretty good season for a DT who is getting double-teamed as frequently as Suh is. Miami didn’t sign a DT in free agency. Miami also didn’t draft one either. Miami signed two UDFAs in Anthony Moten and Jamiyus Pittman before trading a 2019 7thround pick to Detroit for Akeem Spence.  Since both Davon Godchaux, in my eyes Miami’s best DT, and Jordan Phillips are both better suited at RDT, Akeem Spence, who played under Miami D-line Coach Kris Kocurek last year, figures to get the first crack to replace Suh at LDT.  I’d imagine Vincent Taylor, who was impressive in limited action, probably has an inside track, for now, on the back up spot there.

Dec 3, 2017; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (93) is introduced prior to a game against the Denver Broncos at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

But replacing Suh’s impact will take more than the efforts from Spence, Taylor and other DTs.  To borrow a phrase from the movie “Moneyball”, Miami are going to have replace Suh in the aggregate.  This means that Miami are going to have to count on better production from their linebackers, particularly against the run.  Getting a healthy Raekwon McMillan will go a long way toward ensuring that Miami’s defense doesn’t suffer a drop off after Suh’s departure.  So will improved play from Kiko Alonso, who figures to be the LB2 to start the season.  Hopefully whoever wins the competition for the LB3 job between Stephone Anthony and Jerome Baker, can provide something as well.  More about this competition later.  One top of the linebackers, adding Minkah Fitzpatrick to the secondary will figure to give Matt Burke more flexibility in terms of being able to play more dime packages (meaning less snaps for at least one LB), being able to play some big nickel packages (allowing Miami to have a bigger presence from their slot player and/or a faster presence at one LB spot), and allowing Miami to not rely on linebackers covering tight ends as frequently in base packages.  Keeping the ‘backers fresher will help all levels of the defense.

New Coaches
Another factor in helping to replace Ndamukong Suh is new D-line Coach Kris Kocurek, who like Burke, comes to Miami from Detroit.  Kocurek is joined by another former Detroit assistant in new Defensive Backs Coach Tony Oden.  Joining Oden to help with the secondary will be former Dolphin Renaldo Hill, who was at the University of Pittsburgh last year.

Starting with Kocurek up front, he’s know as an aggressive guy who coaches his players hard.  Miami can use that after they finished tied for 26thin sacks with 30 in 2017.  The 30 mark is a full 26 sacks behind the Steelers, who were tops in the league with 56. While I think his work will benefit individual players like Charles Harris and Andre Branch, I do wonder if we’ll see he and Matt Burke incorporate more stunts up front.  It’d also be nice to see if he can milk more consistency out of Jordan Phillips.  Phillips played really well the last six games of the season in 2017, but if he’s going to warrant a contract extension, we need to see that level of play for an entire year.

As for Tony Oden and Renaldo Hill, what they bring back to the coverage is going to relate to one name:  Nick Saban.  Tony Oden worked under Mel Tucker while he was an assistant with the Jaguars back in 2012. Mel Tucker came up under Saban and their time together dates back to when Tucker was a graduate assistant under Saban at Michigan State in 1997 and 1998.  One of the DBs on Michigan State’s roster that year was Renaldo Hill.  Saban then acquired Hill as a player when he was the Dolphins head man in 2005-06. Funny how that works.  But, what it’s going to bring – and this was confirmed by Minkah Fitzpatrick who said that Miami’s defense “is pretty much the same as Alabama’s” (it most certainly isn’t in the front seven, so we know he’s talking about the secondary here), is that we’re going to see pattern-matching coverage.

For a full brief on pattern match coverages, here’s Nick Saban to explain it himself:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kM21euJf74g&t=169s

The short-hand summary of match coverage is that it’s sort of like in basketball when a team plays man-to-man defense, but switches on every screen.  With match coverage, if there are two receivers to a side, the widest defender stays with the widest receiver, UNLESS the second receiver crosses his face before a certain landmark.  This varies, but I’ve seen teams use 7, 8, and 10 yards as those landmarks and depending on the depth of the CBs pre-snap.

I actually wrote a piece on Tony Oden for Locked On Dolphins back when Miami first hired Tony Oden.  You can find that here:  https://www.lockedondolphins.com/dolphins/tony-odens-potential-impact-on-the-defense/

The gist of what that piece says is that we’re going to expect to see Miami use more than just standard nickel coverages in 2018 – this is a nice step forward for Matt Burke and the defense! Miami will likely still employ Cover 1, 2-man, Cover 3, Quarters, and press man, like they did in 2017. But the addition of match coverages, which I think well see a considerable amount of, will help Miami’s slot defenders, linebackers and box safeties, particularly in dime packages when guys like Howard and Tankersley are able to play press outside with a deep safety in the middle third of the field.

With the addition of Minkah Fitzpatrick, I think it will allow Miami to get more creative with how they use their personnel packages.  We’ll cover this when previewing the secondary in a bit.  But to sum up what Tony Oden means for Miami, it means you’re going to see more varied personnel groupings, more defined roles for each player in the back seven, and various combination coverages throughout the game. I think this will still fall under Matt Burke’s overarching philosophy of being more flexible on early downs, meaning he’ll play zone or combo coverages, and wanting to play more man coverage on 3rddowns.  All of this is good news.  It means we won’t have to see Kiko Alonso manned up on a tight end as much or see he and Stephone Anthony trying to drop into zones against speedy running backs because Miami’s beholden to the nickel formation.  In my opinion, varying up what Miami does in the secondary will help to make the defense better as a whole.  Considering where they were last year in terms of being middle of the pack and seeing just how good they were in certain games, that’s encouraging to me. Let’s move onto the position groups.

Defensive Line
“It all starts up front” so I’ll start there as well. I know OTAs and mini-camps only provide a glimpse of what we’re going to see once training camp and preseason games come around, but Charles Harris and Kris Kocurek both talked about Miami wanting to rotate their Defensive Line groups like Philadelphia, “like a hockey team”, by keeping fresh guys rotating into the game frequently.  Harris revealed after one OTA session that Kocurek called the groups Alpha, Bravo and Charlie.  Now, Miami’s not going to be keeping 12 defensive linemen (3 full units) on the 53-man roster, the math just doesn’t work that way.  But I think we could realistically see 10 guys in the D-line room come week 1.

Going by pictures and the brief two and three minute highlight videos Miami’s media team, which is excellent by the way, put together, going into camp one of the units consists of:

RDE Robert Quinn
RDT Jordan Phillips
LDT Akeem Spence
LDE Cameron Wake

Again, going into camp, this would strike me as the Alpha unit; the starters.  All four guys are vets so in my head it makes sense.  What I think will end up happening is that Davon Godchaux will prove that he’s ultimately the best DT Miami is carrying on the roster and he’ll work his way onto this line in some fashion.  After all, Jordan Phillips did play some LDT later in 2017, so he’s not averse to playing there.  The second line we saw consisted of:

RDE Charles Harris
RDT Davon Godchaux
LDT Vincent Taylor or Gabe Wright
LDE Andre Branch or William Hayes

People forget that Andre Branch played 2 years as a primarily LDE in Jacksonville before he came to the Dolphins in 2016 so he’s not completely foreign to that side.  But, he’s been more productive on the right side of the defense, which gives Miami three guys in Quinn, Harris and Branch who are suited to that side. It gives Miami two guys in Wake and Hayes suited to playing on the left.  And they have another guy in Cameron Malveaux, who played both sides and inside.

Aug 11, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Akeem Spence (97) reacts to a stop against the Philadelphia Eagles during the first half at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Miami and Cameron Wake have both made it known that they may look to reduce his snaps this year to help keep him fresh.  To me, that’s a good thing, if they can get the rotations right.  Given that William Hayes is as good against the run as he is, I think Kocurek could look to bolster the run-stopping abilities of both the Alpha and Bravo units by inserting Hayes when the situation calls for it.  Hayes is also the only DE Miami has that’s capable of playing in a tighter alignment than normal.  He’s played some true 5 and true 6 technique, which allowed Miami to play some Under looks when the felt they needed to play hard against the run. Traditionally Miami’s ends are in a 9 technique on the strongside and in what Jim Schwartz calls a “wide 5” technique (which is really a ghost 7 technique alignment) on the weakside (no TE).

Ultimately, Miami can’t move on from Andre Branch due to his contract, so I think they’re going to have to try and get him to improve his play from 2017.  Yeah, he had an undisclosed knee injury, which makes the whole situation seem murky, but he’s had a nice bull rush ability and maybe Kocurek can get more out of him that way.  Robert Quinn being back in the wide-9 is a natural fit and we’ve heard Miami’s beat reporters all rave about him so far this offseason.

https://espngrantland.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/quinnrip.gif

One thing that really jumps out at you is Robert Quinn’s ability to dip and rip and turn the corner.  Laremy Tunsil commented on that after getting beat by Quinn for a sack in a minicamp practice.  The other thing that intrigues me is that as a former state champion wrestler Quinn is pretty strong despite being 257lbs.  You’ll also notice some nice change of direction here.

https://cdn.bleacherreport.net/temp_images/2013/11/05/Quinn.gif

Cameron Wake is an elite pass-rusher.  That hasn’t changed.  So if you can keep his snaps limited, relatively speaking, he may be more productive this year than he was in 2017.  What’s worth noting is that 2017 was the first year in his career he’s followed up a double-digit sack season with another double-digit sack season. Impressive.

Inside, as I mentioned before, I think Davon Godchaux is the best DT Miami has.  He was impressive as a rookie and yours truly got to see him live when he was at LSU back in 2016.  I think if he can be relied upon as a “starter”, Miami’s run defense can be expected to be about where it was in 2017 even without Suh.  If Jordan Phillips can produce more plays like this one, then he and Godchaux will seemingly have the RDT spot locked up well.

https://cdn.vox-cdn.com/uploads/chorus_asset/file/9024043/PhillipsTFLVsNE.gif

At LDT, the newcomer Akeem Spence seems to fit the mold that Miami’s been looking for in DTs.  Other than Jordan Phillips, who goes 6’6” 341lbs, all the other DTs Miami has on the roster are guys between 6’1” and 6’3” and 300-315lbs.  Spence falls in there at 6’1” 307lbs, so he’s a fire hydrant, but he can move a little.  I’ll refer you to Travis’ piece on Spence here:  https://www.lockedondolphins.com/dolphins/akeem-spences-fit-in-miamis-defense/

We also know that William Hayes will be playing some DT this year.  That figures to likely be in the nickel and dime packages, obvious pass-rush situations, so snaps may still be challenging to come by for the fourth DT, who I think will be Vincent Taylor.  Taylor saw something like 150 snaps as a rookie because Ndamukong Suh played so many snaps on a per game basis.  But, Taylor was pretty stout against the run.

Rounding out my D-line group is Cameron Malveaux, who tallied 1.5 sacks and was solid against the run when he got a late-season call up from the practice squad after William Hayes was IR’ed.  I think there’s still some potential in there; more than there ever was with Terence Fede, so I think Miami would be wise to keep him on the roster.  I don’t think they’ll keep a 10thguy active on game days, but he’s valuable depth and can play some on special teams.  However, until there’s another domino that falls in relation to the numbers game in front of him, Malveaux is 10thout of 10 in line in the D-line room.

Going with my gut, here’s how I’d predict the opening day D-line depth chart to look:

Right DE Robert Quinn Charles Harris Andre Branch
Right DT Davon Godchaux Jordan Phillips
Left DT Akeem Spence Vincent Taylor
Left DE Cameron Wake William Hayes Cameron Malveaux

I am intrigued by UDFA DT Jamiyus Pittman. Chris Kouffman had some good things to say about Pittman after Miami signed him and from the limited number of snaps I’ve seen of his, he seems a pretty savvy player.  He’s not a massive guy, nor is he explosive, but he has good recognition skills and I think he’s a guy I’d love to see on the practice squad this season.  I think there’s potential to develop him for down the road.  Let’s be honest, I don’t think Miami gives Jordan Phillips an extension unless he takes another BIG step in 2018.

@KevinMD4

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Miami Dolphins

Fins Fall to Rivals, Officials – Dolphins Jets Week 14 Recap

Travis Wingfield

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Dolphins, Jets, officials all struggle Sunday in a walk-off winner for the home team

The decision to reverse an uncalled defensive pass interference on Cornerback Nik Needham is the story from an otherwise sloppy, forgettable game between two of the NFL’s oldest rivals. Yet, that call wasn’t even the most egregious decision adjudicated Sunday at the Meadowlands.

 

Stat Dolphins Jets
Total Yards 362 374
Rushing 122 112
Passing 240 262
3rd / 4thDown 4/13 (30.8%) 5/14 (35.7%)
Penalties 5 (48 yards) 5 (88 yards)
Sacks For 1 2
TOP 30:06 29:54

 

One of the just two touchdowns scored by either team was incorrectly ruled as such. Overturning an incompletion in which Demaryius Thomas failed to complete the catch on the way to the ground — because of a Needham pass break up — gave the Jets an extra four points and, ultimately, a victory.

The foul on Needham was confirmed as the correct decision by the league. It probably was, but it bailed the undeserving Jets out of a certain loss. New York was stuck in 3rd and 18 from its own 44-yard-line after Andrew Van Ginkel’s first career sack. With only 60 seconds remaining, a reception there puts the Jets into a long field situation, at best. Instead, New York were awarded a fresh set of downs and would inch closer before a 44-yard winner from Sam Ficken.

The Dolphins had many chances to overcome the hometown help, but failed to do so repeatedly. Stunningly short-handed on the offensive side (each of Miami’s top four wide receivers were out for one reason or another) Ryan Fitzpatrick couldn’t get it going on four separate trips inside the Jets 10-yard-line.

Miami entered the week as the third best red zone outfit, but followed up last week’s perfect 4-for-4 showing with a goose egg in the game’s most critical area.

With drives spanning 92, 67, 65, 62, 45, 36, and 56 yards, Miami’s ability to move the ball was rather astonishing. If we’re talking about the starting lineup the team entered training camp with, the Dolphins were on running backs number 4 and 5 Sunday, and wide receivers 5-7. One of those receivers arrive in Miami this past Thursday.

Concussions knocked Devante Parker and Albert Wilson out of the game. Michael Deiter played, but didn’t start the game, and Patrick Laird and Myles Gaskin are making a case for more significant roles in 2020.

The defense executed a bend-but-don’t-break game plan. New York put together drives of 74, 77, 62, 51 and 49 yards, but Miami also forced three punts (two three-and-outs), a turnover-on-downs, and picked off Sam Darnold for the eighth time in four career head-to-head games.

For the second time this season, Miami and its band of misfits outplayed a New York roster that was assembled for playoff contention. This time, however, Miami came up short, and it’s probably for the best. The Dolphins retain the fourth position in the 2020 NFL Draft, where a victory would have seen Miami slide all the back to the eighth spot at the close of week 14 business.

Let’s get to the individuals.

Quarterbacks

This was the worst game Ryan Fitzpatrick played in several weeks, even after it started off so strongly. Fitzpatrick was constantly under duress, and was forced to create improvisational success.

Fitzpatrick led the way in rushing with 65 yards on the ground. That brings his season total to 186 yards, just 15 behind the team’s leader in Mark Walton. Fitzpatrick aside, Miami’s three leading rushers on the season won’t contribute another yard (Kenyan Drake, Kalen Ballage and Walton) for the Dolphins this season.

Accounting for 16 of the offense’s 22 touchdowns, the only things Fitzpatrick isn’t doing are cooking the meals and flying the plane. Still, this was not his best showing. He was late and off-target on several occasions, and threw a number of interceptable passes.

The creativity off-script kept Miami in the game, just as did Fitzpatrick’s ability to quickly process the coverage, and make the corresponding play. He recognizes man coverage and a free rusher well enough to make the opposition pay with his legs, and he’s very deadly against zone looks. More on this in the wide receivers portion.

Running Backs

Patrick Laird has been a welcomed shot in the arm to a running game that’s dead on the vine. Miami’s run blocking leaves plenty to be desired, but The Intern (A.K.A. White Lightning) put together 48 yards on the ground. But he was also in the air, and everywhere, to the tune of 38 receiving yards, including an ankle-breaking sluggo route.

That was the only set of ankles Laird broke — quite literally.

Myles Gaskin didn’t have the production this week, but he showed the patience, vision and burst that made him a four-time 1,200-yard rusher at Washington. He’s a viable option next year as a change-of-pace back that can correctly identify the lanes on outside or inside zone.

Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

Devante Parker helps Fitzpatrick beat man coverage with his leaping and big-play ability, which was on display for Parker’s second and final catch of the game. When Fitzpatrick can identify his matchups, it makes the passing game dangerous against any coverage. But when the offense is down so many players, the matchups become few-and-far between.

Parker would leave the game after his head slammed to the turf. Devante tried to shake it off, but he was clearly woozy, and would not return.

Allen Hurns is the usual security blanket for Fitzpatrick against zone coverage, and he made a number of big plays despite playing through an ailment of his own. Hurns piled up 68 yards on five catches.

Isaiah Ford received an unexpected opportunity this week and ran with it. He made some noise after the catch and picked up 92 yards on six receptions. He displayed strong hands and toughness on a number of bang-bang receptions.

Mike Gesicki did not do well to follow up his career-day against the Jets in November, but that was more of a function of New York’s defense. Gesicki ran into brackets throughout the game, and Fitzpatrick missed him the one time he uncovered in the end zone.

Offensive Line

Michael Deiter saw his 100% snap record broken Sunday by losing the starting job to Keaton Sutherland. Sutherland had some moments in the run game; he shows a penchant for engaging, turning and sealing off some nice gaps in the run game.

Deiter returned to the lineup and got some work late, including a big hold that momentarily backed Miami out of field goal range.

Jesse Davis had his best game at right tackle last week, and did not put together back-to-back performances. He struggled once again to wall off the edge in the passing game, but he did seal the edge in the ground game a few times.

Evan Boehm was back in at right guard for Shaq Calhoun, but he had his worst game as a Dolphin. Boehm was constantly over-powered or beaten with quickness.

The same was true of Daniel Kilgore at center. Kilgore is asked to reach a lot and it’s a 50/50 proposition if he’s going to get there on any given play.

Defensive Line

Just as the run game got going for the first time since October, Miami had its best run-defense day of the year. The Jets ran the ball 32 times for an average of 3.5 yards per rush.

Davon Godchaux was at the forefront of the quality day from the front. He continues to overpower guards and centers in one-on-one situations and hold the point against doubles. He also walked the Jets guards into the quarterback a couple of times.

Christian Wilkins was in on five stops, but had a lot of bad reps getting rolled out of the gap.

Gerald Willis was involved a few times putting together his best showing in his young Dolphins career. He added his first QB hit.

Charles Harris still isn’t playing very much, but he made a play possible for Vince Biegel with a strong edge forcing the split zone tight end into the ball carrier.

Linebackers

Raekwon McMillan was back to doing his thing in this game. McMillan played his best, fastest game in a number of weeks. He constantly timed up the Jets snaps and knifed into the backfield to blow up a lead block, or go directly to the source and get the ball carrier.

Jerome Baker was off to a miserable start, but really turned things around in the second half. He took after McMillan with the aggressive, reckless abandon flying in against the run and blowing up blocks.

Vince Biegel has been the most pleasant surprise to this Dolphins team. He was in on nine stops, closed down the backside on runs away from him, and held the point on runs in his direction.

Andrew Van Ginkel showed the type of rush traits this scheme calls for on his first career sack. He worked up field, engaged the blocker, kept his eyes on the quarterback, and came off to get Sam Darnold to the ground when he tried to escape.

Defensive Backs

Nik Needham was involved on two plays that arguably proved to be the difference in the game, which is unfortunate because he was excellent otherwise. Needham was involved as a tackler, he undercut routes for big break ups on third down, and he played the ball extremely well.

Steven Parker made two huge plays in this game — one for the Dolphins, and one for the Jets. He picked off Darnold driving out of his deep half position for Miami’s lone takeaway. He also inexplicably gambled on the play that put the Jets in position for a game-winning field goal.

Ken Webster had a difficult day. The Jets went after Webster relentless and he was regularly a step late.

Jomal Wiltz continues to tackle efficiently, but he too was often a step late in coverage. The same was true of Ryan Lewis.

Recap

The passion Brian Flores showed at the end of the game is difficult to ignore. Far be it from me to compare myself to Coach, but passion has fueled the entire Locked On Dolphins venture and watching that man bear his heart and soul into this is the most admirable trait I’ve seen in a Dolphins Head Coach since the Don.

Flores cares. This stuff matters to him. It effects his pride and his spirit with the Dolphins lose games, and that personality is rubbing off on his team. This Miami Dolphins squad, the one that is comprised of nearly 50% undrafted free agents — because of shipping off or losing almost half the original starters to injury — is a two-point conversion and botched officiating away from a 5-4 record post-bye.

There are still a lot of areas to fix on this roster, especially to fully execute the defensive vision of Flores, but once he gets those parts, this will be a fun team to watch.

The Dolphins are already tough, smart, and disciplined. The last piece of that puzzle is some more talent.

With 14 draft picks (6 in the top 60) and nearly $130 million in cap space, those final ingredients will arrive in March and April.

@WingfieldNFL

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Miami Dolphins

The Miami Dolphins had a huge week of roster moves

Shawn Digity

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Isaiah Prince Miami Dolphins
Image courtesy of USA Today Sports

MIAMI (Locked On Dolphins) – Miami Dolphins make a myriad of roster moves

The Miami Dolphins made another handful of roster moves, which has been par for the course this year.

The Miami Dolphins have not been shy about their presence on the waiver wire. And leading into Week 14’s games, the team has once again claimed several new players to add into the mix.

Let’s address the moves in chronological order.

The first flurry of transactions included claiming and being awarded wide receiver Trevor Davis from the Oakland Raiders and running back Zach Zenner from the Arizona Cardinals.

The Green Bay Packers drafted Davis in the fifth round of 2016’s draft out of California, and he spent three seasons with the Packers before being traded to the Raiders for a 2020 sixth-round pick.

The Raiders waived Davis earlier this month.

Zenner, on the other hand, went undrafted in 2015, coming out of South Dakota State. He spent a bulk of his five-year career with the Detroit Lions but also spent time with the New Orleans Saints and Cardinals.

In the corresponding moves, running back Kalen Ballage was added to the Injured Reserve list, thus ending his season, and safety Montre Hartage was waived.

The Miami Dolphins Twitter account confirmed these transactions (and all others mentioned).

The league ratified the moves on December 3.

On December 4, the Miami Dolphins continued their roster churning with another claim and a practice-squad poach.

The team signed interior offensive lineman Evan Brown from the New York Giants practice squad.

Brown is in the midst of his second season in the NFL after the Giants originally signed him an undrafted free agent in 2018.

The Dolphins were also awarded wide receiver Mack Hollins from the Philadelphia Eagles.

Hollins spent his college career at the University of North Carolina before the Eagles drafted him the 2017 Draft’s fourth round.

To make room for Brown and Hollins, cornerback Ken Crawley, who was awarded to the Dolphins off the waivers at the end of October, and interior offensive lineman Chris Reed were waived.

The most recent move occurred on December 5 and included the release of sixth-round rookie offensive tackle Isaiah Prince.

The Dolphins drafted Prince out of Ohio State.

This move was made to clear a spot for another claimed player, Zach Sieler, from the Baltimore Ravens.

Sieler is a defensive tackle and was initially taken by the Ravens in the seventh round of the 2018 Draft.

All these moves, which featured four players being claimed and won off the waiver wire, are apropos of the Dolphins’ 2019 season.

The team has scoured the waiver wire every week with a fine-tooth comb, looking for hidden gems that could be developmental investments.

 

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Miami Dolphins

Dolphins Jets Week 14 Preview

Travis Wingfield

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Dolphins seek to make it five straight over rival New York

Who: Dolphins (3-9) at Jets (4-8)
When: Sunday December 8, 1:00 East
Where: MetLife Stadium — East Rutherford, NJ
Weather: 42 degrees, partly cloudy
Vegas Slant: Dolphins +5.5

DolphinsJets

In the most Adam Gase event imaginable, the Jets followed up a three-game winning streak with an embarrassing, resounding defeat at the previously winless Bengals. Gase has been assured of job security until at least opening day 2020, but another run of losses to close out the season might change that thought.

The very fact that the Dolphins can leapfrog the Jets in the AFC East standings with a win — which would count for back-to-back sweeps of the Jets — is an indictment on the Gase program in New York. The Dolphins, a team made-up of 42% undrafted free agents, are within striking distance of a team that planned the offseason around the idea that they were a playoff outfit.

For the Dolphins, a victory over 8.5-point favorite Philadelphia Sunday has folks thinking Miami could rattle off a win streak down the stretch. A win could cost the Fins several spots in the draft next April, and three more December victories will take Miami out of the top 10 altogether.

With the once promising quarterback class inching closer to last year’s futile crop, maybe the best thing for Miami is to prove that they can beat these bad teams with their own short-handed roster.

Brian Flores has already won his rookie season with three victories. Miami’s preseason win-total projection from the books in Vegas was 4.5, and that was before the Laremy Tunsil and Minkah Fitzpatrick trades. With three victories to his credit, Flores has already exceeded expectations by developing talent, getting resurgence from several veterans, and improving this team nearly across the board from the first month of the season.

The key to a potential winning streak, is to do it convincingly. If Miami whips up on the Jets, Giants and Bengals, then Miami will be an offseason destination that attracts free agents. It will prove that Flores is capable of going 6-10 with indisputably the NFL’s worst roster, and provide the fan base with oodles of hope heading into the 2020 season.

The Scheme:

Offense:

This portion of the preview serves as a pleasant reminder that we don’t have to dissect Gase’s system any longer — at least not for the home team. The story is the same; minimal utilization of analytics, a conservative approach that replaces creativity in the run game with screen passes, and an offense that constantly throws the football short of the sticks.

All offseason, Gase talked about the abilities of Sam Darnold and how his presence afforded the coach to be more aggressive. Still, the Jets offense ranks near the bottom in air-yards, and every major offensive category.

Gase’s run scheme became more diverse in 2018 when the Phins hired Eric Studesville to coordinate the rushing attack, but with Le’Veon Bell in New York, Gase reverts back to exclusive zone concepts. Plenty of outside zone, complemented by split-zone, the Jets have operated in two-back sets this year, but mainly in short-yardage. That’s also the situation where the Jets unveil some gap-scheme runs.

The passing game will feature a lot of three-by-one alignments where the Jets will try to capitalize on backside isolation, and three-man combinations to the play-side that are designed to free up one receiver.

Late last season, Gase started deploying more 12-personnel, but was almost exclusively an 11-personnel offense prior to the bye week. This year, with the Jets, he’s back to the nearly-exclusive 11-personnel approach using one back and one tight end on 80% of the Jets snaps.

The Jets rank 31st in total offense, 30th in rushing, 31st in passing, and 28th in scoring offense.

Defense:

Gregg Williams might be the only NFL personality more stubborn than Gase. Operating primarily from a traditional 3-4 base, the Jets will often leave two or three linebackers on the field regardless of the offensive personnel.

The way Williams diversifies his proverbial portfolio comes through pressure packages. He’s going to blitz, blitz, and then blitz some more. Sending an extra rusher at a 38.4%-clip, only the Ravens, Browns, Cardinals and Bucs blitz more than Williams. He’ll dial up zero-pressure (no safety help), and use his best player (Jamal Adams) in a variety of roles down around the line-of-scrimmage.

Using edge pressure will create one-on-one opportunities inside for Quinnen Williams. Jordan Jenkins gets plenty of opportunities as the overhang, outside backer in odd fronts.

The Jets rank 6th in total defense, 1st in rushing, 19th in passing, and 19th in scoring defense.

The Players:

Offense:

Sam Darnold entered the NFL with the label of turnover prone quarterback. With 25 career interceptions and 10 fumbles, Darnold averages 1.59 potential turnovers per game. Seven of those interceptions came against the Dolphins, including an egregious decision inside the five-yard-line that led to a Jomal Wiltz interception in the first meeting this season.

Still, Darnold offers a sharp post-snap mind. Despite seeing ghosts against this same defensive scheme as Miami in that notorious Monday night New England game (with the opposite end of the spectrum from a talent standpoint), Darnold’s next good game against Miami will be his first. He’ll have to displace the Miami defenders with his eyes and body-positioning in the pocket, something he’s more than capable of doing. The Dolphins inability to create pressure all year should serve the Jets offense well.

The Jets are one of the few offensive lines in the league that makes Miami look decent up front. Adding three, past-their-prime veterans to the group was the most Adam Gase special, and he’s paid the price. Kelechi Osemele was cut after the team tried to force him to play through a serious shoulder injury, and Ryan Kalil and Alex Lewis are proving why they were cut (or about to be cut before a trade) by their former teams. Chuma Edoga is a rookie, so he has an excuse, but Brandon Shell has been a bad tackle for years.

Jamison Crowder had the best day of all Jets receivers last time around, and he figures to be in a position to do the same Sunday. He’s a shifty, savvy route runner from the slot and Miami’s secondary continues to lose players each week.

Defense:

Jamal Adams is New York’s best player, but he’s questionable for this game. Adams is a game-wrecker. He changes the way teams call protection up front, and acts as an additional ‘backer in the run-game. Ryan Fitzpatrick will have to I.D. Adams on every play.

Adams’ counterpart, Marcus Maye, has had a strong 2019 season. Teams are finding little success when targeting him in coverage, but he will miss his fair share of tackles.

Quinnen Williams and Steve McClendon are both mountains in the middle of the Jets defense. Daniel Kilgore is not a good matchup for these two players, and things could get dicey for Miami up the gut. Kilgore has always struggled with power and that pair for the Jets provides plenty of it. Miami will have to double either of these guys to move them off the point.

Rookie Folorunso Fatukasi has been one of the Jets quality acquisitions of the offseason. The 2018 sixth-round pick has been a rotational player, but he’s been among the Jets most efficient run defenders.

Trumaine Johnson and Daryl Roberts make up perhaps the league’s worst perimeter tandem, but Brian Poole has been one of the best in the league in the slot, but he’s in the concussion protocol.

The Medical:

Update Friday

The Opportunities:

It would be foolish to do anything other than going back to the well from last week, or the previous Jets game for that matter. The Jets perimeter corners and linebackers can’t cover, and with a hobbled — if at all — Jamal Adams, Devante Parker and Mike Gesicki are in for big days once more. Keep an eye on Allen Hurns as well. Gregg Williams is going to blitz a lot and Hurns’ ability to uncover quickly inside could be valuable to Ryan Fitzpatrick.

On the other side, getting Darnold to do what he does — turn the ball over — will be the key for Miami. Perhaps this is a chance for the Dolphins pass rush to get healthy, they sacked Darnold three times last go-round.

The Concerns:

The Jets run defense is stout and Miami can’t run the ball on anyone. That’s been the case all year, however, and that one dimensional offense won’t work weekly. Fitzpatrick has done well to protect the ball since the bye week, but poor weather has a way of bringing out the not-so-fun aspect of Fitzmagic.

If Darnold is afforded the opportunity to stand in the pocket and survey the Dolphins defense, it’ll make for a long day. The Jets line and Dolphins pass rush is the antithesis of an immovable object up against an unstoppable force.

The Projected Outcome:

Expect Gase to pull out his best game plan of the year. We thought that might be the case in Miami, but that was a road game, and we all know how Gase teams perform on the road. The Jets last home date was a drubbing of the Oakland Raiders, and Miami’s reliance on the passing game in cold weather could prove problematic.

This game could turn into another shootout with neither pass defense offering much resistance.

Dolphins 28
Jets 30

@WingfieldNFL

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