The mind often wanders during the armpit of the offseason. And, if you’re like Travis and myself, whose baseball team’s irrelevancy will only be overshadowed by the heat during the dog days of summer, your mind REALLY starts to wander. About the Miami Dolphins, naturally.
While it’d be nice to have dreams of Brian Flores hoisting a Lombardi Trophy, that’s not where mind has gone. At least not yet, as I do really like Brian Flores and the staff he’s assembled. There are big concerns, of course: Is Steve Ross really going to see this rebuild through, or will the Dolphins be big spenders this offseason? Is our franchise quarterback on the roster now? What is really in a hot dog? Valid questions, yes, but mine are more precisely focused on the defensive side of the football.
I have specific concerns at each level of the defense and examining those is how I chose to cope with my football withdraw. Let’s look at each of them.
1) How many of Miami’s incumbent Defensive Linemen will take to the style of play in the Brian Flores defense?
Let’s start by acknowledging that the real strength of this defense is that it is amorphic. There are no defined personnel grouping or schematic packages that have to be played on a weekly basis. If you remember my deep dive piece, we detailed that in 2018 the Patriots most frequently used 4-2-5, 3-3-5, and 3-2-6 packages. None of those are the antiquated 4-3 or 3-4 packages, which the Patriots used a grand total of 97 and 13 snaps respectively.
Because of this change, Miami’s defensive linemen will be asked to play in multiple ways, not just attacking vertically up the field as Miami did in the Wide-9 under Vance Joseph and Matt Burke the past three seasons. Miami’s defensive linemen will, at times, have to play down (horizontally) the line of scrimmage. At times they’ll have to attack a gap vertically*. At times they’ll have to read-and-react. At times, a DE or NT may have to two-gap (not the whole line, just one or two players at a time, given the formation and play design).
*Quick aside. I feel like this is worth mentioning at this point. Samuel Gold (@SamuelRGold) did a FANTASTIC breakdown of the Patriots defense against the Rams in the Super Bowl. And yes, the Patriots did task their D-linemen with attacking vertically up the field. Pay attention to what they did, and how they did it, and who they used as an edge defender that wasn’t named Hightower or Van Noy.
I think by now 99% of Dolfans have seen just about every highlight clip of Christian Wilkins at Clemson, and we know he can likely do most what I listed above. Really, two-gapping is the one thing I’d question, but I don’t think he’s who they’d have in mind to ask to do that anyway. Personally, I think that role likely ends up belonging to Joey Mbu. I’m more concerned with Davon Godchaux, Vincent Taylor and Akeem Spence.
If you follow Travis on Twitter and/or read his piece about Vincent Taylor from earlier this week, there’s a great example of what it means to play horizontally down the line in one of his tweets:
In the clip Taylor is able to make the play on the screen despite lining up from the backside, playing 3-technique. This is a prime example of being able to play horizontally down the line.
I highlight this because of the contrast in styles from the Wide-9. Miami’s D-linemen will be asked to do this a lot more in this Patriots-rooted scheme. That’s not to say this is a 2-gap scheme, it isn’t, but there will be times that the 1-technique or nose tackle (shade/zero-technique) is asked to 2-gap. There will also be times when a 2-gap responsibility falls to one of the two linebackers likely to be on the field. More on that later.
In this clip below, from Pro Football Focus (@PFF), you’ll see one example of another concern. Davon Godchaux likely figures to be the guy tasked with replicating what Malcom Brown did for the Patriots as their primary 1-technique DT. In this clip, Godchaux slants at the snap into Detroit’s LG Frank Ragnow, a player that both Travis and I liked a lot and gets taken for a ride.
Also, note on this play that Jerome Baker is the SAM backer on the offense’s left side. He wins with is first step off the snap, but is easily stymied by TE Luke Willson, a foreboding sign of a concern we may be faced with this year.
As I mentioned before, there are going to be a lot of personnel packages and formations used in this defense, so it will be up to Patrick Graham and Marion Hobby to figure out which roles each player is suited for, and how they’re best used. At this point in time, if I were to create analogous roles, my guess would be:
Malcom Brown ==> Davon Godchaux
Lawrence Guy ==> Christian Wilkins
Adam Butler ==> Vincent Taylor, Akeem Spence
Danny Shelton ==> TBD out of a group of Joey Mbu, Jamiyus Pittman and Cory Thomas
Miami doesn’t have as much size and power as the Patriots across the board. The challenge for the players and coaches, once roles are determined, is how do they use a bit more athleticism and quickness to make up for a lack in power up front?
2) Can the Dolphins aggregately create analogs for Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy, or are we shopping aggressively in 2020?
If you’ve been paying attention this offseason, you’d know that John Congemi reported on “The Audible” that Raekwon McMillan told him that he met with Coach Flores and was instructed to watch film of Dont’a Hightower. You’d also know from a small cadre of sources that Jerome Baker has reportedly been told to watch tape of Kyle Van Noy.
On the surface most Dolfans appear to like and agree with this line of thinking permeating out of Davie. It makes sense, logically. Miami’s two up-and-coming young linebackers ready to be the key cogs on the second level of the defense. But, let’s examine those roles a bit closer. One adage that a lot of Dolfans have gotten used to over the past three seasons is that 3-down linebackers are guys who can stop the run and can cover. That’s not the case with this new defense. New England, at least in recent vintages, have used guys who can stop the run and can rush the passer. That’s not really Baker or McMillan.
Let’s start with the Dont’a Hightower ==> Raekwon McMillan comparison. Hightower is a big, physical, versatile player for the Patriots who is capable of playing off the ball as a MLB, on the edge as a SAM LB, and even playing as a stand-up or traditional DE with his hand in the dirt. I think that Raekwon McMillan is capable of fulfilling about 2/3 of this role.
We know he’s a pretty capable run-stopper as an off-ball MLB. Take your pick from this video from Young Mayo on YouTube. We know he can do that; he was one of the better run-stopping LBs in the league last year. He can also play inserted in gap, as you’ll see on this play against the Jets last year where he nets a TFL:
But we’ve seen the Patriots use Dont’a Hightower in a number of ways that we didn’t see McMillan in during the 2018 season. Here’s an example of Hightower pass-rushing when he’s lined up inserted in the B gap as essentially a 3-techinque against the Rams in the Super Bowl. This GIF is courtesy of SB Nation.
This is something that I think McMillan can learn/be taught to do. Same with this where we see Hightower closer to the line of scrimmage playing the run.
Where I think Miami will have to adjust is finding someone who can do the things Hightower can do as an edge player. In this GIF, again courtesy of SB Nation, Hightower is essentially a DE player. He uses a long-arm move to basically walk Rams RT Rob Havenstein back into Jared Goff’s lap and forcing Goff to hurry his throw into a bad incompletion. I DON’T think this is something Miami will do with McMillan.
So, what’s the solution? Well, this is where I think guys like Andrew Van Ginkel, Charles Harris, Jayrone Elliott and perhaps Nate Orchard could come into play. I think Miami can use Raekwon McMillan in some of the same coverage responsibilities. But I think Miami’s going to have to figure out an alternative to using McMillan as a 3rd down pass-rusher.
We’ve seen some things from Jayrone Elliott as an edge defender back when he was with the Green Bay Packers in 2014-16. He also led the defunct AAF in sacks earlier this year with 7.5 in 8 games. If Charles Harris is ever going to prove his worth, he’ll likely have opportunities as a stand-up pass-rusher in this defense. He said so himself on “The Audible” last week. More on Van Ginkel in a minute.
To sum up McMillan, I think he’s got a chance to emerge as the leader of this defense and prove to be a key cog in the front seven. Things may not look pretty at the beginning – which will likely be the case with the whole defense (see Detroit’s defensive improvement over the course of 2018 under Matt Patricia for reference) – but I think Raekwon will ultimately become the player I think he can be. The caveat here will be that Miami’s staff will have to be okay with using multiple players to piece together that Dont’a Hightower role, which is something that wasn’t always in line with the corporate way of thinking in Foxboro. But I’m confident in McMillan’s abilities and that he’ll take a shine to this new defense.
As for Jerome Baker, he had an impressive rookie season last year. But this new role will likely prove to have some foreign aspects to it for him. Let’s get one thing out of the way quickly. If he’s being asked to replicate the things Kyle Van Noy does, he’s at a size disadvantage.
Van Noy goes 6’3” 250lbs and has 31 5/8” arms, whereas Baker is 6’1” 225lbs and has a similar arm length at 31 ½” arms.
There are formations, like the 3-3-5 with a Bear front, where the Patriots put Kyle Van Noy as an off-ball MLB (Hightower and John Simon are usually outside in this look). That role isn’t too dissimilar to how Miami used Jerome Baker last year, so there’s fit there. Same with a traditional 4-3 look, which the Patriots used a total of 97 times last year, so there’s some snaps for Baker. But Kyle Van Noy is often lined up on the edge, like a 3-4 OLB’s alignment. Can Jerome Baker do those things?
As we saw in the Davon Godchaux GIF earlier, Baker’s going to have to bring more to the party if he’s to set the edge when lined up on the LOS, as Van Noy does in these two examples. The first is from @PFF.
You can see Van Noy get a bit overwhelmed at the snap here, but he’s able to recover and make the tackle. Ask yourself. Can Jerome Baker do this?
Can Jerome Baker actually rush the pass from an inserted position or on the edge, or is he just an effective blitzer? That’s another question I wonder about with Baker as we’ve never seen him try and swipe hands, dip and rip, use a long arm or an arm-over, etc. You can see Kyle Van Noy get home for a sack in the AFC Championship Game here, courtesy of @PFF
Without diving in too deep, what I’m getting at is can we really rely on Jerome Baker to play a lot of snaps on the edge, as Van Noy did? I’m not so sure. But, there are workarounds for this. One of them is highlight in Evan Lazar’s brilliant piece about the Patriots use of simulated pressures.
You can read that piece here: https://www.clnsmedia.com/patriots-defense-simulated-pressure-renaissance/ and there are video clips within illustrate how Miami could get more of Baker in pass-rush situations when not inserted in a gap or lined up on the edge of the defense.
My concern here could be assuaged if Miami is able to find a palatable way to use Andrew Van Ginkel in a lot of the Van Noy 3rd down pass-rush roles. Andrew Van Ginkel played for Jim Leonhard at Wisconsin. Leonhard was a Jet under Rex Ryan, whose defense uses a lot of 3-man D-line pressures. Don’t ask how I got down this wormhole, but you can see a copy of the Jets playbook on Nick Saban’s desk in this video: https://youtu.be/Ne_Y_vXk6js?t=26 at the :26 mark. Kudos to Rob Ezell on his Saban impression.
What I’m getting at here is that Saban and Belichick are pals. I wonder if a lot of the pass-rush games we saw out of the Patriots late last year don’t have at least some roots in some of Rex Ryan’s pressure packages. I’ve seen a PDF of Rex Ryan’s 2011 Jets Defensive Playbook. A lot of their pressure packages are rooted in the 3-2-6 formation, something that New England commonly used last year under Brian Flores. Could Miami’s relationships to Belichick (Flores) and Rex Ryan (Patrick Graham who worked under Mike Pettine) and their scouting of Wisconsin products (Deiter, Van Ginkel) have helped them to unearth something here?
Back to Van Ginkel, perhaps he can tag-team with Jerome Baker to complete the Kyle Van Noy role. We’ve seen Kyle Van Noy cover the flats in similar fashion to this play.
And this play here looks an awful lot like a lot of the pass-rush games we saw the Patriots use with Hightower and Van Noy during their playoff run. Also, it’s worth noting that Miami’s new D-line Coach Marion Hobby, who was in Jacksonville prior to heading south, coached a lot of E-T and T-E pass-rush games in Jacksonville. He also helped recruit Christian Wilkins to Clemson . But here are two examples of Van Ginkel pass-rushing that looks eerily similar to some things we saw the Patriots do with Kyle Van Noy this postseason.
So, you can sort of see some things piling up here in terms of how Andrew Van Ginkel could be used. And, honestly, I think a solution might end up being that Jerome Baker ends up playing 600-700 snaps and Van Ginkel ends up playing 200-300 snaps (assuming an average of 1,000 plays) throughout the year. While fans of “Bake” may not like to hear it, I think if the staff is willing to piece-meal together the Kyle Van Noy role as well, then this would be a viable solution in my opinion.
I think the ultimate question as it relates to both of the primary LB roles becomes, is this coaching able and willing to adjust and use multiple players, perhaps up to 4 different key players, to put these two roles together? If not, then Miami will have to overhaul the LB unit not too far down the road.
3) Who is Miami’s Patrick Chung?
“Patrick has always been really good — smart, works hard, does whatever you ask him to do, understands the team concept and is a versatile player, so he can do a lot of different things,” Belichick said.
“Whatever you ask him to do he embraces it and works at it and does the best he can. Obviously as we all gain experience it helps us going forward when we can build off those, and I think like any player that’s played a number of years like he has, you learn a little bit every year.
“I’m sure he has done that the last couple of years, but that was never an issue for him like having trouble learning or assignments or things like that. That’s never been an issue with him.” – This was Bill Belichick on Patrick Chung. Belichick also called him one of the best players in the NFL.
Chung is certainly a critical cog in the Patriots defense. He starts at strong safety, but also plays a lot as their third LB, plays in the slot, and has also at times been used as a free safety.
Courtesy of Anchor Sports Network, this GIF shows Chung lined up as the edge defender on the LOS against the Rams in the Super Bowl. Essentially he’s almost playing like a 3-4 OLB would, as he takes on the blocker and makes the stop on C.J. Anderson.
I wanted to show this first. I think Travis and I are in agreement that Minkah Fitzpatrick is probably slated to be more Devin McCourty than he is Patrick Chung, though there may be a few circumstances where it’s appropriate. In totality I feel like using Minkah in the way Chung was used in the GIF above, I don’t think you could say that you’re maximizing his skillset. Perhaps I’ll do a Devin McCourty è Minkah Fitzpatrick comparison before we get into the bulk of training camp and the preseason. We also have been learning that Bobby McCain is, for the moment, being tried in the Duron Harmon third safety role. This role is being a middle-of-the field 3rd down safety with occasional split-safety duties.
So, with that in mind, who is Miami’s Patrick Chung for 2019? Quite frankly, I’m not sure. Gun to my head I’d start with Reshad Jones. Contract and potentially being traded aside, I think Jones’s prior experience is something Miami might be able to lean on, having played in the box quite a bit under Matt Burke in 2018. My question with Jones would be is he assignment-sound enough?
For example, would Reshad Jones play the gap here and throw himself into an oncoming FB? After another shoulder surgery? GIF courtesy of Deadspin.
As much as I love Reshad Jones, I’m honestly not sure if you can rely on him to do those things. Jones can still certainly make plays and is nowhere near as bad as a lot of Dolfans make him out to be despite being on the “Back 9” of his career. If Reshad Jones isn’t in line to try and take on the Patrick Chung role, then perhaps he’s going to be more of a traditional split safety.
Is it T.J. McDonald? Barry Jackson reported back this spring that Miami had T.J. McDonald drop 15lbs to get down to 215lbs, which coincidentally is the same weight as Patrick Chung, and Reshad Jones for that matter.
McDonald, who played a lot more SS last year for Miami than Jones did, also has experience playing in the box as a LB for the Rams during the Jeff Fisher era, prior to joining the Dolphins.
In this GIF, courtesy of Steelers Depot, you can see McDonald (#25) lined up on the edge, taking on the block and making the tackle against Washington.
Of course, we’ve also seen T.J. McDonald take a lot of poor angles, especially in run defense. He’s also not as athletic as Reshad Jones is, even when playing in the box, Jones is noticeably faster. So, there’s a give and take with each one. Jones is more dynamic, but less assignment-sound in my opinion, where McDonald will do what he’s asked, but the athleticism isn’t always there.
Long-term, I think this is a position Miami will have to address via free agency or the Draft. For this season, we may very well see all three safeties – Fitzpatrick, Jones and McDonald – get reps doing things that Patrick Chung did for the Patriots.
Overall, these three concerns stick out the most to me in terms of what Miami’s defense could have to deal with this season. The whole team is in a transition year in Brian Flores’ debut season. With that in mind, I wouldn’t be surprised if Miami’s defense gave themselves a “transition” season. It’s imperative that Miami sift through the defensive players on the roster and determine which ones are going to be parts of the future and which ones aren’t. There’s also a possibility we see a transition with the scheme itself.
Miami’s got some personnel deficiencies. We don’t know if Raekwon McMillan and Jerome Baker will be our version of Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy respectively. Nor do we know who will be our Patrick Chung. And we clearly don’t have a Trey Flowers. With those things factored, perhaps we’ll see Miami play more Diamond/Ruby looks (image courtesy of @JamesALight)
These fronts are pretty similar to what Miami’s Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham was versed in last year with the Packers. But, I think more use of the 3-3-5, 3-2-6, and 2-4-5 formations – all which can be executed out of different personnel groupings, as the Patriots frequently displayed last year – may provide a good springboard in a transition year until Miami can further beef up it’s defensive line, defensive ends in particular.
In the end, these are my personal points that could become concerns during the season. Time will tell if these are real, or if I’ve spent too much time in the sun during the dog days of summer.
Taco Charlton: New Acquisition Analysis
Dolphins go back to the 2017 first round defensive end well, claim Charlton from waivers
The 2017 Dolphins were, sadly, one of the more anticipated teams this organization has assembled in recent memory. Fresh off a surprise 10-win season, heading into year-two of the new system, and bevy of players returning from injury had fans feeling optimistic.
Patching up the perceived holes on the roster — like the defensive end position — started with an atrocious Andre Branch extension, and ended on the draft’s opening night with a handful of edge rusher prospects ripe for picking.
Derek Barnett came off the board before Miami could pluck the future Super Bowl hero, but everyone else was available. Jonathan Allen was selected five picks ahead of the Dolphins, but he was billed more as a three and five-technique inside player, not a true edge rusher.
That left Charles Harris, Taco Charlton, Tak McKinley and T.J. Watt. Two of those players are off to sterling starts in their young careers — the other two are nearing their respective last legs, and both are now Miami Dolphins.
Charlton received his release from the Cowboys earlier this week after an under-whelming 34-game stay in Big D. Taco’s snap count is revealing of the feeling about the player among the Dallas staff.
|Year||Taco Charlton Defensive Snaps Played (% of Cowboys’ Defensive Snaps)|
A 40-percent snap-taker is typically indicative of one of two things for an edge player. He’s either a situational savant — whether that’s to support the run game or pin his ears back and get after the quarterback — or that he’s the second option in the rotation, A.K.A. a backup.
Charlton’s production suggests that he was the latter, and only because of his draft status. His descent into a game day inactive signaled the end of his time with the club that drafted him.
Rumors of a trade were speculated as the reason Charlton was a healthy scratch for the season’s first two games, but Head Coach Jason Garrett referred to the numbers game. “We have 10 guys on the active roster on the defensive line and we dressed eight for the game. It felt like the guys we had up there gave us the best chance,” Garrett said via a report from Bloggin’ The Boys.
Still, we have 800 reps to look at to figure out where it went wrong for Charlton, and if he possesses a legitimate shot to fit this scheme and carve out spot in the future plans of the NFL’s most steadfast rebuild operation.
First, let’s start with the type of player Charlton was supposed to be coming out of Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan program.
The Dolphins are a team that adheres strongly to prototypes all over the field, but particularly in the trenches. Explosive metrics aren’t nearly as important as length, strength, read-and-react skillsets, intelligence to process and execute a variety of roles (stunts, twists, slants, picks), and most importantly, playing with heavy hands.
His fit begins with his build. At 6’6’’, 270-pounds with 34.5-inch arms, Charlton looks like plenty of defensive ends in a Brian Flores (Bill Belichick defense) before him. Charlton doesn’t check off all those boxes from the previous paragraph, but he hits enough of the buzz words to justify a flier.
This from Lance Zierlein of NFL Media.
That immediate get-off and quickness would’ve suited him better in Miami’s wide-9 alignment under Matt Burke. The length will benefit him, especially as he forces tackles to quickly get into their pass sets. The challenge will be developing a secondary move to work back inside and underneath the tackle.
The glowing praise for his twist, bend, and lower-body control will serve him well in a defense that will stunt, stunt, and stunt some more.
Most of all, the length will help him excel in this scheme as a run defender. To lock out and hold the point of attack are keys, and those are areas that put Charlton on the map as a first-round prospect.
The weaknesses from that blurb are alarming. Getting washed out of his gap by power and allowing blockers into his frame will earn him a quick ticket right out of town — those are the departments where the surprise cuts in Nate Orchard and Dewayne Hendrix struggled.
Lack of consistency, takes plays off, needs a coach that will push him — those are the final takeaways from Zierlein’s conversation with an anonymous AFC Executive.
If there’s any one thing you can point to with Flores as far as his football acumen — this excludes leadership and communication — it’s his ability to coach football (novel idea, huh?) This feels like a Flores pet project.
Let’s get into some of Charlton’s Dallas tenure, starting with his metrics from Pro Football Focus.
Charlton has 38 total pressures in his two years as a pro (4 sacks, 8 hits, 26 hurries). He compiled those numbers on 464 pass rush reps, a pressure on 8.2% of his pass rush snaps — not good. His 4.1 weighted pass rush productivity mark in 2018 ranked 132ndamong all edge rushers.
Charlton missed four tackles on 34 opportunities — an 11.8 missed tackle percentage, also not good. He made 23 run-stops on 346 snaps against the ground game. That mark — 6.6% — landed Charlton at 73rd among edge defenders in 2018, and 143rd in 2017.
The majority of Charlton’s work came from the right side of the defensive line (position vacated by Robert Quinn, currently held by a cast of many in Miami). Charlton lined up for pass rushing situations on the right side for 67.3% of his total reps.
Now, for the tape.
Quick Taco Charlton film thread. Looking at the applicable traits that make him a potential fit in Miami’s scheme, where he needs to get better, and why coaching can make a difference.
First, the get-off paired with lateral agility will suit him well in a stunt-heavy defense. pic.twitter.com/Qgd0kzPzlp
— Travis Wingfield (@WingfieldNFL) September 19, 2019
If Charlton can piece together the finer points of his game and develop a better arsenal or rush moves, he’ll stick as a building block. The decreased workload this year, his lack of production dating back to college, and inconsistencies makes one wonder about the drive and work habits.
We’ll quickly find out about the character of Charlton. If he embraces this opportunity, it’s a great landing spot for him. If not, he’ll be back on the unemployment line in short order.
Josh Rosen Named Starting QB vs Cowboys; Claim DE Taco Charlton
Only minutes after the Miami Dolphins’ Week 2 loss against the Patriots, Head Coach Brian Flores maintained that Ryan Fitzpatrick was the starting quarterback… “Right now”.
By Thursday afternoon, it became clear that “right now” had passed as Josh Rosen was announced to take over the starting QB position ahead of Miami’s first road trip this Sunday against the Cowboys.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) September 19, 2019
Fans had caught intermittent glimpses of Rosen’s abilities through the preseason and he has seen the field during replacement duty in Weeks 1 and 2, so far completing 8/21 passes for 102 yards, 2 INTs and a 38.1% completion percentage.
While Rosen has not yet led the Dolphins to regular season points, the second year passer will find his opportunity to do so in Dallas and the Dolphins will be able to make further evaluation of 2018’s tenth overall pick.
Ryan Fitzpatrick’s veteran standing and experience had given him the early advantage, but the time has arrived in for the Dolphins to see what the future may bring – if anything – for Josh Rosen in Miami.
Whilst the national attention seems to be focused on Chris Grier’s rebuild of the roster, the Dolphins have claimed former first round pick, DE Taco Charlton, released by the Cowboys on Wednesday.
Dolphins have claimed former Cowboys DE Taco Charlton, source confirms. Charlton was Dallas 2017 first-round pick who the team waived Wednesday.
— Cameron Wolfe (@CameronWolfe) September 19, 2019
The Dolphins are getting Taco Charlton for a bargain: 2 years, $2.5M.
— Adam Beasley (@AdamHBeasley) September 19, 2019
Charlton was the Dallas Cowboys’ first round selection in 2017, having played in 27 games (7 starts) and registered 4.0 sacks and 47 combined tackles.
Dolphins Cowboys Week Three Preview
Dolphins Search to Stop the Bleeding in Big D
Who: Dolphins (0-2) at Cowboys (2-0)
When: Sunday September 22, 1:00 PM East
Where: AT&T Stadium — Arlington, TX
Vegas Slant: Dolphins +21
The hits keep coming for Miami. Another prominent fixture of the roster has been jettisoned, and another loaded team is on the docket for the downtrodden Dolphins.
This current iteration of the Dallas Cowboys is akin to what Miami hopes to build in a couple years’ time — stout trench play, emerging young quarterback, and star-studded skill positions.
Three touchdown underdogs for the second consecutive week, the Dolphins are introducing college point-spreads into the National Football League. Miami’s 19-point home handicap last week was the biggest such spread for a host team since the 2007 season, and the Dolphins are now channeling the 2013 Broncos-Jaguars game that climbed up over 25 points before betting closed.
The Dolphins were far more competitive last week, even if the scoreboard didn’t show it. Contributions from star Cornerback Xavien Howard, upstart Linebacker Jerome Baker, and surprising recent addition Vince Biegel were the silver linings in the 43-point thrashing; we’re looking for more of those in Dallas.
The switch from Scott Linehan to Kellen Moore might’ve been the biggest upgrade in the NFL this offseason. Moore, a coach’s son that made it to the NFL for his cerebral prowess at the quarterback position, is dressing up Dallas’ offense with disguise, misdirection, and tendency breakers.
Dallas varies it’s running scheme, but the talent to execute simple gap-schemes and power concepts allows Moore to get creative with the play action game. Cowboys players praise Moore for his nuance and emphasis on getting players in position to exhibit their best traits.
Scheming chunk-plays in the passing game, running the football to keep the offense on schedule, and devising red zone concepts to free up pass catchers in the condensed area already has Moore’s name circulating as the next hot head coaching candidate.
On top of impeccable front-seven talent, the Cowboys borrow concepts from some of the most accomplished, revolutionary defensive schemes in the history of the league. Rod Marinelli still carries the title of Defensive Coordinator, but it’s a co-op with he and the up-and-coming Kris Richard.
With elements of the Tampa-2 from Marinelli’s days with the Bucs — and more recently in Chicago — fused with Richard’s rendition of the wildly popular scheme originated by Pete Carroll, Dallas is successful in a multitude of packages and pre-snap disguises.
Creating one-on-one rush opportunities from their elite pass rushers, while playing a variety of cover-3, 2, and 1 on the back-end, the Cowboys can apply pressure while dropping seven — the ultimate goal of every NFL defense.
Look for Chad O’Shea to attack this defense with more in-breaking routes. That means high-low and drive concepts (designed to displace zone coverage and attack the middle of cover-1 and Tampa-2 defenses) and seam shots with the Cowboys drop two deep.
Dak Prescott is off to an MVP-caliber beginning to his 2019 season. Prescott handles pressure in two ways — the type of pressure applied by ferocious fronts, and the pressure of big moments. He’s accurate, creates opportunities off-script, and allows Kellen Moore to utilize designed runs.
Then there’s Zeke Elliot, who’s just getting rolling. Zeke, behind arguably the NFL’s best offensive line with the healthy Travis Frederic, Zack Martin, Tyron Smith and La’El Collins, Dallas can line up and push teams off the football.
The Dolphins must get big showings from Davon Godchaux and Christian Wilkins to hold the point-of-attack and free up Jerome Baker and Raekwon McMillan to meet Zeke in the hole.
Amari Cooper is one of the game’s best route runners, and he pairs that with size and speed. He’ll be a tough matchup for Miami, unless Xavien Howard wants to travel with the Cowboys play maker. That opens up another bag of worms, especially as Miami will be working in a new safety alongside corner-convert, Bobby McCain.
Jason Witten is back, but he serves mostly as an additional lineman and the forgotten man in the red zone (as far as the defense is concerned, Witten has two touchdowns already on plays that schemed him wide open). Michael Gallup will miss this game while the resurgent Randal Cobb will help keep the Miami defense honest horizontally in the misdirection game.
Jaylon Smith leads the defense with his instinctive, urgent playing style that pairs well with uncommon physical traits. He and Leighton Vander Esch set the tone in the middle of the Dallas defense, and a lot of the scheme is designed to free these two up to wreak havoc. Smith’s athleticism allows Marinelli to keep the Tampa-2 concept alive.
Demarcus Lawrence is set to have a field day. Miami haven’t been able to block anybody this year, and now will have to handle one of the game’s best pass rushers against deafening crowd noise.
Byron Jones has fallen out of favor in Dallas. The dependable Jeff Heath, and the underrated Xavier Woods make it so, while Chidobe Awuzie locks down the opposition’s number one receiver. Dallas’ vulnerability in this position group from the perimeter corner position opposite Awuzie. Jones has been playing corner to pair with slot specialist Jourdan Lewis and Awuzie.
If Miami can create one-on-one passing opportunities into the boundary, look for O’Shea to attack vertically and hope to steal some points — the best bet here is likely Preston Williams.
— mike fisher ✭ (@fishsports) September 18, 2019
Quite literally all over the football field. Dallas can line up with power and milk the Dolphins defense dry. They can attack vertically, or in the controlled passing game with well-timed shot plays built into the offense, all on top of exceptional red zone production in the early going of 2019.
Demarcus Lawrence leads the team in pressures, but he’s only pulled the quarterback down once — that ties the team lead. This Cowboys pass rush is going to be champing at the bit to pad those stats, and there’s no reason to think Miami can handle the relentless pressure, even without blitzing.
Special teams might be the one area Miami can spark some magic. The Dolphins are off to a slow start in this department as well, but Jakeem Grant’s big-play ability will be needed if Miami are to pull the miracle upset.
Finding vertical shots — whether it’s Mike Gesicki splitting the Tampa-2, Preston Williams winning an outside release into the boundary without safety help, or getting a fly-by from Grant, Miami needs some fireworks.
The Projected Outcome:
The game plan came together defensively in the first half against the Patriots, but it’s a challenge for even the league’s best stop-units to carry a lifeless offense. Unless the Dolphins can finally sustain some drives and convert in the red zone, this game will get out of hand. It’s doubtful Miami can do that, so look for an aggressive offense that tries to hit the big play.
Dallas just has too much star power and excellent coordinators for Miami to pick them off — or even cover.
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