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Miami Dolphins

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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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Avatar

    David DH Holcomb

    May 20, 2019 at 6:48 pm

    I am already sick of this comment of Mimami adopting the patriot way. Miami already had a good team Tannehill kept them out of the playoffs.
    That is the only change that Miami needed to make. So stop this crummy patriots carp. We have someone in charge who may incorporate common sense now. And that is it. The cheaters will not take credit for the talent that was already on our team.

    • Kevin Dern

      Kevin Dern

      May 20, 2019 at 7:13 pm

      Well, that’s certainly an interesting take. Misguided, in my opinion, but a take nonetheless.

    • Avatar

      Phins29

      May 21, 2019 at 11:02 am

      Wow!

  2. Avatar

    PapaPickett

    May 21, 2019 at 7:57 am

    I think our Dline will be alright with the players we have but our Linebacker corps is miscast. Raekwan McMillan is soft and although he is big, he is the anti-Hightower. He cannot take on blockers and Flores will see that soon. Also it saddens me to see Baker play so well in the 4-3 last year and now be homeless. Hopefully they find a place for him because his speed and tenacity are outsanding, but because of his responsibilities in these new formations, he might be an outcast.

    His strength is his speed. Packing on weight and telling him to be somebody else will ruin his career.

    • Kevin Dern

      Kevin Dern

      May 21, 2019 at 8:53 am

      I disagree with your McMillan take, he’s plenty physical. I think he’ll be able to do what Hightower does between the OTs. As for Baker, It’s not going to ruin his career. I think they’ll find a role for him, I just don’t think it’s going to be what fans may expect in terms of snap counts.

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Scouting Reports

Face of the Franchise Series: Tua Tagovailoa

Travis Wingfield

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Two decades removed from his retirement, the Miami Dolphins are still in-search of Dan Marino’s replacement

Foreword:

7,091 days, 308 games. That arduous, ceaseless waiting period spans the time from Dan Marino’s last buckle of the chin strap, to present day. The Packers and Colts were fortunate enough to hand the ball from one legend to another without skipping a beat. For Dolphins fans, Marino’s retirement coincides not only with the turn of the century, but with the downturn of the once winningest franchise in professional sports.

Chad Pennington’s 2008 MVP runner-up season sits a mere blip on the radar of futility. Ryan Tannehill teased fans for five years before an injury brought all hope to a fiery end. Daunte Culpepper was the worst consolation prize ever contrived and John Beck, Chad Henne, and Pat White each qualify as second-round busts.

The misery feels perpetual yet, somehow, not defeating. At least the Dolphins got the bat off the shoulder this offseason by taking a crack at Josh Rosen, but his rookie tape leaves plenty to be desired. A first-round signal-caller is the odds-on-favorite for Miami in next April’s draft; a class brimming with quarterback talent.

If patience truly is a virtue, then Dolphins fans have waited long enough. The collective has earned the right to unanimously appoint the next hero of professional football in South Florida. No more arguments, no more debates; just an unequivocal beast of a quarterback capable of willing the aqua and orange to victory on any given Sunday.

The same way #13 did for so many years.

Over the summer we will look at the top quarterback prospects entering the 2019 college football season.

We start with the consensus number-one player, as we sit 10 months out from draft night, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa.

Tua Tagovailoa 2018 Film Study

Searching for a third consecutive appearance in college football’s championship game, Tua Tagovailoa enters his junior campaign as the most decorated quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck in 2012.

“He does a lot of things you can’t coach — [he] sees the field, throws accurately, [he’s] athletic. He’s got a really unique package.” An anonymous NFL scout told AL.com. “He anticipates throws. He can really visualize a throw. Guys don’t have to be open, he sees openings before they happen.”

Jim Nagy, the Director of the Reese’s Senior Bowl, made his proclamation that Tagovailoa would’ve been the first pick this April were he draft eligible. He was not. And so he returns to Tuscaloosa to pilot yet another loaded Crimson Tide team under the watchful eye of both Nick Saban and the entire NFL community.

What Sets Tagovailoa Apart:

Accuracy and Natural Throwing Motion –

After just a couple of throws, it’s easy to decipher whether a passer is natural or conditioned. Whether on traditional drops and, or setting up on the move, Tagovailoa’s arm shows natural elasticity. This trait makes him a threat on structured set-ups, moving left or right, and when attacking the line-of-scrimmage.

The ability to drop the arm angle without sacrificing accuracy is what sets great quarterbacks apart from the good ones — especially in the modern NFL. Regardless of the circumstance, Tagovailoa finds his way back to proper mechanics, using his base to drive the football.

Everything is hard-wired across Tagovailoa’s mechanics. From his feet to his eyes, and his hips to his shoulders, his proper alignment creates impressive torque and spin on a variety of different throw-types (touch, drive, deep). Tagovailoa is the best deep ball thrower on the planet not named Russell Wilson.

Light Feet, Escapability, Poise Under Duress –

A lot of quarterbacks excel at the professional level without seamless weight-transfer. Legends like Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger make up for heavy feet with anticipation of the rush, landmark identification of the rusher, but also the poise to pick up the route progression under pressure.

Tagovailoa has that inherent poise trait, but he couples it with effortless capabilities to freely glide in crowded areas. His sound, initial lower-half mechanics put him in a position to drive off his plant foot. This puts him in a position to climb, or throw drive-leg out and flea the pocket laterally.

This marriage of exceptional traits makes Tagovailoa a difficult passer to sack, a legitimate big-play scramble threat, and most importantly, a dangerous off-script play maker.

Processing and Cerebral Aptitude within the Structure of the Offense –

Alabama’s offense is loaded across the board. Opposing defenses often have to send pressure packages to rattle Tagovailoa, but his skill set usually renders those attempts futile. The Bama offense is chocked full of NFL concepts with three-man combinations and full-field reads.

Tagovailoa not only identifies and understands most pre-snap coverages and post-snap rotations, he knows which route combinations are designed to attack those particular coverages. His photographic-like memory allows him to blindly read the backside of a play and rip through his progressions in a flash.

Designed-Run Package –

There aren’t many superlatives needed for this bullet point; Tagovailoa can scoot.

Focused Areas of Improvement:

Short Memory –

Tagovailoa’s shortcomings feel like nitpicking — he’s exceptional. One universal knock on his game is the back-to-back underwhelming showings in the two championship games this past season. Tagovailoa showed a minor penchant to let bad play cavalcade and attempted to press his way through some struggles.

This wasn’t frequent enough of an occurrence to call it a habit, and that’s to be expected from a 21-year-old, but it’s something to watch this upcoming postseason when Bama is inevitably in the hunt once again.

Drive Throws –

Tagovailoa’s arm isn’t on the level of Matthew Stafford, but it’s more than adequate for the professional level. His anticipation prowess helps mask the lack of velocity on field-side drive throws, but the difficulty of those throws increases at the next level (elite athletes all over the field will do that).

Again, this is nitpicking. A good coordinator can work around something like this, but it’s a common throw in the NFL that could potentially prove problematic for Tagovailoa.

Getting Healthy –

The biggest gripe I found with Tagovailoa’s poor performances (poor relative to his early-season magic act) was the limitations of nagging knee and ankle injuries. Tagovailoa hurt the knee mid-season, and the ankle injury in the SEC Championship Game required surgery. The lingering effects were apparent in the National Title Game against a ferocious Clemson defense.

Two injuries in one season is the beginning of a red flag. Another season of nicks and bruises could give scouts pause regarding Tagovailoa’s long-term durability.

Potential Fit with the Miami Dolphins:

Tagovailoa’s anticipation, processing, and recognition of leverage and soft spots in coverage makes him a fit in any scheme. Miami’s offense, under former Patriots Assistant Chad O’Shea, figures to feature a lot of variety devised to attack that particular week’s opponent.

The Patriots controlled, short passing game is indefensible at its peak, and that’s Tagovailoa’s true ceiling. His pre-snap prowess would help Miami attack vulnerable matchups and keep the offense on-schedule. Tagovailoa’s deep ball could finally unlock the true potential of Kenny Stills and Jakeem Grant.

In New England, the Pats built shot plays into the structure of the regular offense. Tagovailoa’s attention to detail and general feel for the flow of the game can give the play caller (O’Shea) a set of eyes on the field to relay tendencies and weaknesses.

Conclusion:

Tagovailoa is the apple of every scout’s eye this college football season. His first colligate action — as a true freshman — was a heroic, championship rescuing performance on the game’s biggest stage. Since that game, Tagovailoa’s ascension has continued on the track of a generational prospect.

Tagovailoa is going to be the first player to hear his name called next April, should he declare (he’s eligible to return to Alabama for 2020). The Dolphins will likely have to obtain the first pick to get a crack at the Heisman hopeful.

If they do, the fortunes of this Miami Dolphins organization will change for the foreseeable future.

@WingfieldNFL

Up Next: Georgia Junior, Jake Fromm

Additional Videos

Anticipation and recognition of three-man route combination

Perfect back-shoulder ball

Footwork to help mitigate immediate pressure

Off-script dynamics

Poor ball placement costs Bama a TD

Rare occurrence where Tua doesn’t account for backside robber coverage

Finds a passing lane, resets and throws a strike

Rare mental mistake

High-level anticipation

Aerial assault on display

One of Tagovailoa’s six interceptions

Push up, avoid pressure, throw an accurate ball

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Miami Dolphins

How did the Miami Dolphins shape up in Lindy’s NFL Preview?

Shawn Digity

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Miami Dolphins Xavien Howard USA Today Sports
Star cornerback Xavien Howard. Image courtesy of USA Today Sports

Lindy’s has released its annual NFL Preview. It not only covers each individual team but ranks all the best players at each position. There were some surprises, good and bad, but overall, the Miami Dolphins did not get a lot of recognition.

Lindy’s NFL Preview made its rounds on the Twittersphere on Wednesday, and with it came plenty of disagreement. The preview breaks down all the NFL rosters and ranks all the position groups of each team. So, did the Miami Dolphins fare very well with any of the position rankings? Let’s dive in and find out.

Let’s start with the quarterback. The list has three categories: Pocket Passers, All-Purpose, and Best of the Depth. I’ll give you second to think about which category might have a Dolphins QB.

Did you guess Josh Rosen in the Pocket Passer category? I hope not, because that’d be dead wrong. The winning answer is Ryan Fitzpatrick in the penultimate slot in Best of the Depth. In this case, he’s ranked fourth out of five in that category. He falls in between Jacoby Brissett and Blake Bortles.

Now, let’s move on to the pass catchers. The first ranked wide receiver on the list is Kenny Stills and he comes in at 15th on the rankings for the Deep Threat category. He’s tied with Pittsburgh’s JuJu Smith-Schuster and Kansas City’s Sammy Watkins, but at least Stills made the first tier (The Ones). The next tier (The Twos) starts at 16 with Oakland’s Tyrell Williams.

DeVante Parker is the next name to make it on the list. He’s listed at sixth in The Twos. Parker and Stills were the only two Fins WRs to make the cut, which shouldn’t come across as a major plot twist since the Miami Dolphins receiving corps isn’t full of world beaters.

The next position on the list was tight ends. You might already know which direction this is headed since the Dolphins currently have a dearth of tight ends that is made up of B-list veterans and untapped-potential second-year players on the depth chart. Neither Mike Gesicki or Durham Smythe were mentioned, which shouldn’t be a surprise.

Nick O’Leary didn’t make the list, either, but Dwayne Allen did. Allen landed on the list at third on the Best of the Depth portion of the list. Allen falls between Virgil Green at two and Cameron Brate at four. The upper echelon rankings featured 16 other tight ends, which leaves an overall ranking of 19 for Dwayne Allen.

Don’t get bent out of shape from the first three categories, the best is yet to come. But not for the running backs. There was no mention of a single Miami running back in any of the three groups: The Ones, All-Purpose, Ground-Based, and Best of the Depth. That doesn’t speak well of the Kenyan Drake and Kalen Ballage duo.

On to the offensive line, the rankings were separated into five categories: center, left and right guard, and left and right tackles. The Dolphins had two total representatives in those five categories. And one of them wasn’t even on the team a month ago.

Laremy Tunsil is the obvious one and he made it to number 13 on the left tackle list. That seems criminally low to me. Tunsil was behind the likes of Carolina’s Taylor Moton, Atlanta’s Jake Matthews, and New Orleans’ Terron Armstead.

The only other entrant on these rankings was Jordan Mills, who was signed earlier this year after the Buffalo Bills let him hit free agency.

Lindy’s Preview also ranks the top five passing games, running games, and offensive lines for both the AFC and the NFC. I’ll just rip this bandaid off right now; the Dolphins weren’t in any of them.

Let’s move on to the defense; that ought to lighten the mood, somewhat. There’s not anything to mention in the 3-4 Ends/Tackles, Nose Tackles, 4-3 Ends, 4-3 Tackles, 3-4 Inside Linebackers, 3-4 Outside Linebackers, 4-3 Middle Linebackers, or 4-3 MIKE Linebackers

Let’s just skip ahead to the WILL Linebacker rankings to get our next Miami Dolphins plug. And in this case, we’ve got two names: Kiko Alonso at five and Jerome Baker at nine. That’s an encouraging thing to see after going nine categories without seeing any Dolphins. I’m also surprised that I didn’t see any mention of Raekwon McMillan, but I’ll take what I can get at this point.

Another surprise was that there was no Miami safety named, either. Neither Reshad Jones nor Minkah Fitzpatrick made the cut, but I expect the latter to make his presence felt in the near future.

The biggest, and essentially only, bright spot in the Lindy rankings was Xavien Howard coming in at number one for all the corners. You read that right. While it’s certainly up for a lot of debate whether Howard is truly the best corner in the game right now, I’m not going to argue with it. I’m just going to rest on my laurels on X being recognized as the best by someone and be on my merry way.

Another smaller and less-expected surprise was the Dolphins being ranked in the AFC Best Linebackers. They came in at fourth in the conference and nine overall. That speaks volumes of the potential of the position group, namely Jerome Baker and Raekwon McMillan.

 

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Miami Dolphins

Ranking Miami Dolphins Starting Quarterbacks (since Dan Marino) #10-1

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

With Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh Rosen both likely to start for the Miami Dolphins this year, we’re about to scream “blackjack!” when it comes to how many starting quarterbacks the Dolphins have had since Dan Marino retired.

No, this doesn’t win you any kind of jackpot, nor does it pay out 3-2 odds if you’re ever-so-lucky. This just means that the Dolphins have yet to solve the elusive quarterback riddle since they used to be the best quarterback-centric team of the 20th-century.

As we depicted in our #19-11 starting quarterbacks list, below is a basic chart of every starting quarterback Miami has had since that fateful 1999 season.

Note: Games Started, Starting Record and Winning % only depict regular season #s (not like there are too many playoff numbers to add). Passing TDs, INTs, Passing yards and Completion % take into account every regular season throw by that quarterback, whether they were a starter or if they came in as a backup.

A couple things to keep in mind with this list:

  • Rankings are based on a multitude of aspects:
    • What did the player cost?
    • What was their lasting impact with the team?
    • Their overall statistical performance and starting record with the team

Check out who cracked the list of top-10 “best” starting quarterback since Marino retired. Take note of the fact that it’s pretty freakin’ easy to accomplish, all you needed was a winning record (in just 40% of the cases, that is) and a positive TD/INT ratio to do so. Yeah, it’s been that bad, Dolphins fans:

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Whether it’s losing records, terrible completion %, pathetic TD/INT ratios or overall incompetence, these quarterbacks are the reasons we have so many nightmares when we think of the starting quarterback position as a whole. It’s thanks to them that we believe less-than-stellar quarterbacks are the best “solutions” we’ve had this 21st-century.

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10) Chad Henne

Chad Henne doesn’t crack the top-10 because he was good. In fact, the only positive highlight I can remember is him throwing a perfect touch pass to Ted Ginn Jr. over three New York Jets defenders.

Outside of that one touchdown pass, as well as the “duel” he had with Tom Brady to open the 2011 season – when Brady (517 yards) and Henne (416) broke the NFL record for most combined passing yards between two starting QBs in a game with 933 (ironically enough, they broke the record previously held by Dan Mario and Ken O’Brien – 927 passing yards) – Henne was a lost cause in Miami.

Essentially destined to be a backup, Henne never amounted to much. Rumor has it, the Dolphins wanted to grab Joe Flacco in the 2008 draft, but ended up getting outsmarted by Ozzie Newsome and the Baltimore Ravens. Leaving Miami with the next-best option (and apparently, an option they didn’t really want).

As a “waste” of a 2nd-round pick, Henne finds himself below most of these journeymen, even if he accumulated more starts and starting numbers than the rest.

9) Jay Cutler

Smoking Jay Cutler.

He was entertaining for the rest of America, but in the eyes of every Dolphins fan, he was a waste of $10m. It’s one thing if the team “had” to spend the money, but Miami could have carried over that $10m and set themselves up for a better 2018 season. Instead, Adam Gase thought he could salvage the season by luring Cutler out of retirement.

What a mistake.

Cutler was just as good as he was with the Chicago Bears and Denver Broncos. That is, he was completely underwhelming. Outside of outdueling Tom Brady in Week 14 of the 2017 season, Cutler is best known for not giving a single ***k during his Dolphins tenure. And why would he? Why risk injury when you can ride off into the sunset with an easy 8-figure paycheck?

You could have given me $10m and I would have been just as successful as Jay Cutler was. In fact, I would have won 0 games for the Dolphins, and that would have actually been more productive than Cutler’s 6-8 starting record.

The world thanks you for existing, Jay Cutler. Miami Dolphins fans do not.

8) Joey Harrington

At the expense of a 5th-round draft pick, the Miami Dolphins acquired one of the biggest draft busts of all time.

As if his 18-37 starting record with the Detroit Lions wasn’t enough to deter the Dolphins, it seemed like Miami really wanted to overpay for mediocre starting quarterbacks in the mid-2000s. What started with A.J. Feeley eventually took them down the path of Joey Harrington and Trent Green.

There’s a reason why these quarterbacks were available, and it’s not because their trade partners had someone like Philip Rivers waiting in the wings.

Harrington could land anywhere on this list and you wouldn’t be wrong with your placement. Accumulating a 5-6 record during his time as a starting quarterback with the Dolphins, Harrington threw 12 touchdowns to go along with 15 interceptions and a 57.5% completion percentage. He wasn’t as bad as he was in Detroit, but he was just as worthless to this organization as he was to the Lions.

That is, he was a complete waste of time.

Harrington was actually one of the most controversial placements for me. I could have placed him somewhere in the bottom-10 and it would have been justified. My main reason for including him this high has to do with the overall number of games he started. If any of the quarterbacks below him had started 11 games, I feel like their statistics would be even worse than they already were (a big assumption to make, I know).

Jay Cutler and Chad Henne get lower ranks due to their cost, not their overall numbers.

7) Brock Osweiler

Here’s a man who nearly saved a Dolphins season after Ryan Tannehill injured himself (yet again).

Though his play was erratic, and each throw was an adventure in-and-of-itself, Brock Osweiler was (almost) what you wanted in a backup quarterback. A guy who wouldn’t sink your season if he had to spot-start a few games, and costing just $880k against the cap, his value is what propels him above most of these other starting quarterbacks on the list.

His stats don’t tell the entire story of how his starts went, but the only negative here is his 2-3 record. Everything else? Like I said, just what you want out of your backup.

Due to the Houston Texans vastly overpaying him, Osweiler has turned into a league-wide joke, but that shouldn’t nullify his admirably average performance with the Dolphins in 2018.

Any excuse I get to include this video in a post, I will take advantage of it every. single. time:

6) Damon Huard

Like Jay Fiedler, Damon Huard is a product of having a phenomenal team around him.

That 5-1 record is a sick joke when you look at the potential those Dolphins’ teams had. And when it comes down to it, it was pretty evident that the Miami Dolphins didn’t have much potential to work with at the starting quarterback position.

Huard infamously replaced Dan Marino in that fateful 62-7 playoff loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars – Marino’s last game in a Dolphins uniform. Ironically, Jay Fiedler replaced Mark Brunell during that game and had a better statline than Marino and Huard combined (click here at your own risk).

Huard was essentially a holdover until the Dolphins found a new franchise quarterback (which they still haven’t found). It’s not that Huard did anything wrong (which is why he’s #6 on our list), it’s more the fact that he didn’t do much right.

Place Huard on the same teams Ryan Tannehill had, and you’re looking at a much lower ranking.

5) Matt Moore

The golden boy for much of the Dolphins fanbase, Matt Moore was never anything more than an overhyped backup quarterback.

Clamoring for Moore to start is all the evidence you need to notice how far this franchise has fallen since Dan Marino retired. It was more-than-evident that Moore wasn’t the answer at quarterback, but the backup quarterback is always the most popular player on your football team.

Moore didn’t offer us much hope, but he did solidify the Miami Dolphins playoff berth during the 2016 season. Taking over for an injured Ryan Tannehill after the former 1st-round pick led the team to a 8-6 record, Moore was tasked with keeping the Dolphins afloat for the final 3 games of the season.

And by George, he did just that. Winning 2 of the final 3 games of the season, Moore helped the Dolphins earn their first playoff berth since the 2008 season.

The thing is, Miami most likely would have made the playoffs if Ryan Tannehill remained under center, bringing forth the question whether or not Moore was worthy this entire time or if he was just in the right place at the right time.

Retrospect tells us, he was definitely in the right place at the right time.

4) Gus Frerotte

Gus Frerotte is probably the most-boring quarterback on this list.

Not speaking personality wise (RoboHenne was a thing for awhile), but Frerotte was just a generic starter for this team. Accumulating a 9-6 record as a starter the one year he was with the Dolphins, Frerotte was just another journeyman quarterback making a pit-stop in Miami.

Throwing for 2,996 yards, 18 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, a 52% completion percentage and a 71.9 quarterback rating, there’s really isn’t much to say about Frerotte. He wasn’t horrible, and his starting record reflects the last remnant of those stellar Dolphins teams from the early-2000s.

3) Jay Fiedler

The main reason Dave Wannstedt and his Ron Jeremy mustache failed as the Dolphins head coach.

How do you establish one of the greatest defenses since the Chicago Bears’ 1985 Monster’s of the Midway team and not advance to the AFC Championship game at least once? Answer: Jay Fiedler is your quarterback.

Forever underwhelming Dolphins fans and eternally wasting the early-2000s Dolphins teams, Fiedler was a “competent” quarterback that prevented Miami from reaching their well-deserved apex as an organization.

A 66/63 TD/INT ratio says virtually all you need to know about Fiedler’s potential. Every time you thought the team would take a step forward, you’d come to realize that they were just stuck in neutral.

Fiedler has the honor of being the last Dolphins quarterback to win a playoff game, but was it really Fiedler that earned that honor, or was it the phenomenal teams he was playing with? (rhetorical question, we all know it was the teams he played for).

And the most disappoint part is, when all is said and done, he’s the 3rd-best starting quarterback this team has had in the 21st-century. Ouch.

2) Ryan Tannehill

We all want to bury Ryan Tannehill as a starting quarterback for this team, but is it because he was such a terrible player? Or is it because we are dealing with 20 years of futility and he was just another failed “answer” at the position?

Tannehill cost this team a 1st-round pick, but drafting him really wasn’t the wrong decision. Yes, Miami should have went with their gut and drafted Russell Wilson, but we can’t fault the team for trying to solve the most important position on the gridiron. Since Marino, Tannehill was the first (and only) quarterback the Dolphins have drafted in the 1st-round. If you’re going to be cheap with the most-vital position on the team, you deserve all the failures that come with it.

Tannehill is easily the second-best quarterback the Dolphins have run out there since Marino retired, and it’s not even that close. If Tannehill played with the same teams Jay Fielder had, he would be staring at a better starting record and a much better statline than he currently has. Truth is, Tannehill is the unfortunate byproduct of a franchise that has been inept for so long.

We have rightfully concluded that you can’t bring back a quarterback who has “failed” for 7 years, but is it entirely his fault? Yes and no.

Yes, Tannehill wasn’t “good enough” to lead the Dolphins to the promise land that is productive postseason football, but he wasn’t all that detrimental to the franchise either. The most detrimental thing you can say regarding RT17 is that the team took too long to move on from him. Not his fault.

A b******t tackle during the 2016 season meant Tannehill was unable to “lead” the team to the 2016 playoff berth. Allowing him to reaggravate the knee injury in 2017 was both the fault of the team’s medical staff and his own doing for insisting he avoid surgery and heal his knee naturally (this is the same medical staff that convinced Nick Saban that Daunte Culpepper was a better option than Drew Brees; exactly how much trust do you have in them?).

If it weren’t for the fact that Tannehill’s Dolphins’ career was simply average, he would be the number one quarterback on this list. And that says all you need to know about the team’s anemic answer(s) at the position.

Tannehill threw for 20,434 yards, 123 touchdowns and just 75 interceptions – all while accumulating a 62.8% completion percentage – better than every quarterback on this list except for Chad Pennington‘s 67.6% completion percentage (known for his ability to be a game-manager, and his ineptitude to throw a deep ball) and Brock Osweiler’s minimal playing time (63.5% completion percentage). Thank you bubble screens.

1) Chad Pennington

Here you have it, Dolphins fans. The only glimmer of hope we’ve experienced over a two-decade stretch. Unless you count Jay Fiedler failing to bring Hall of Fame talent far into the playoffs during the early-2000s, we all clamor to that one season Chad Pennington had.

We easily forget that Pennington was on the Dolphins’ roster for 3 years of his career, mainly because his deteriorating shoulder prevented him from playing meaningful football throughout that time.

Instead, the best quarterback the Dolphins have had since Dan Marino retired gave us one magical season. ONE!

Don’t get me wrong, going from 1-15 to 11-5 is one of the most impressive story lines any team experienced in the 21st-century, but it wasn’t enough to solidify the quarterback position for this team. It wasn’t even enough to earn the Dolphins a playoff win – losing to the Baltimore Ravens in the Wildcard game that 2008 season.

The runner-up MVP – and one of the most-accurate passers in NFL history – threw 4 interceptions that Wildcard game, giving the Dolphins virtually no chance at succeeding. That playoff game epitomizes the Dolphins 21st-century. Just when you think we’ve taken the next step, we get smacked in the face and put back in our place.

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