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Pinpointing Causes for Concern on Defense

Kevin Dern

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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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qLmyRYJHt4o&t=135s

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:

https://twitter.com/i/status/1145796652545916928

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.

https://media.profootballfocus.com/2019/07/RagnowCropped.gif

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:

https://youtu.be/b-nrMx1YLiw?t=167

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.

https://cdn.vox-cdn.com/uploads/chorus_asset/file/13739637/2_56_3rd_Q.gif

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.

https://www.bostonglobe.com/rw/Boston/2011-2020/WebGraphics/Sports/BostonGlobe.com/2018/gifs/patriots/lbs/NED4.gif

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.

https://cdn.vox-cdn.com/uploads/chorus_asset/file/13739613/8_55_3rd_Q.gif

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.

https://media.profootballfocus.com/2019/01/VAN-NOY-2.gif

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?

https://thumbs.gfycat.com/DefinitiveTenseEarwig-size_restricted.gif

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

https://media.profootballfocus.com/2019/01/VAN-NOY-1.gif

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.

https://youtu.be/J7FT-EPIRYQ?t=18

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.

https://youtu.be/J7FT-EPIRYQ?t=72

https://youtu.be/J7FT-EPIRYQ?t=91

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.

https://media.giphy.com/media/2uIf3dleVOOhHjZBKY/giphy.gif

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.

https://i.kinja-img.com/gawker-media/image/upload/s–NH_pvRlj–/c_fit,fl_progressive,q_80,w_636/xss2izyvcvqv5bafuggd.gif

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.

https://i.imgur.com/pZLSMon.gif

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.

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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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