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Patriots-Dolphins Scheme Brief and Player Analogs

Kevin Dern

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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.

https://docs.google.com/drawings/d/sSpkRMR5QZSgWDvC-RHR8Hw/image?w=624&h=352&rev=5&ac=1

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

https://pbs.twimg.com/media/DVOxHjUW0AE-_sj.jpg  (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.

https://i2.wp.com/titletownsoundoff.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/12_elliott.gif

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.

https://cdn-images-1.medium.com/max/1200/1*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:

https://media.profootballfocus.com/2019/02/HIGHT-GIFY-3.0.gif

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:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n2X2HjiynI0&t=5s

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qLmyRYJHt4o&t=202s

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

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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