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Scouting Reports

The Rookies – Cornell Armstrong

Travis Wingfield

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The Dolphins are in the news this week for an alleged feud between ownership and the personnel department. Here on Locked On Dolphins, we detailed a potential changing of the guard via a Mike Tannenbaum departure at the conclusion of the 2018 season.

One of the creeds of the Mike Tannenbaum Team Building Philosophy is to construct a roster based upon the tenants of a preset prototype. The cornerback position offers a readily apparent distinction of traits admired by the current regime.

Xavien Howard is listed at six-foot, 201 pounds.

Cordrea Tankersley goes six-one, 190.

Tony Lippett towers over the rest at six-three, 192 pounds.

Bobby McCain is strictly an interior guy (my argument that he should never leave the field is for another column), hence the exception to the norm – he’s five-foot-nine.

Cornell Armstrong is a perimeter corner, he always was at Southern Miss. At five-foot-ten, those two inches shy of the cut-off may not cause the eyes to bulge, but it flies directly in the face of the template laid out by the Dolphins’ EVP. He does, however, fit the new mold of taking athletes over plodders.

Armstrong’s takeaway production doesn’t properly reflect his ability to play the ball. He’s feisty, a willing tackler and can separate his man from the football. His 29 passes defensed display an innate ability both to get into phase in man-coverage, but also fire his trigger in zone.

According to our friends at Pro Football Focus, Armstrong allowed a measly 52.5 passer-rating-against in 2017. Only 37% of the passes targeted in his direction were completed.

He’s a developmental corner with an opportunity to make the 53-man roster to provide depth. An impending battle with incumbents Torry McTyer, Jordan Lucas and a laundry list of others, will round out a young, aggressive cornerback group.

The fate of Armstrong’s rookie season depends on his ability to contribute on special teams. With 4.45-speed, and sheer will, Armstrong could challenge to be a gunner on the punt team and cover kickoffs.

@WingfieldNFL

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Ronald Hiatt Jr

    May 10, 2018 at 1:47 pm

    Very good article Travis it’s funny I see the Armstrong drafting in the same light as you do that he wasn’t a Mike T pick based on prototype for size but Armstrong does match the Man/Zone cover corner that gets hands on the ball Can tackle and is smart. I do think that Howard and Lippett have to be worried about Torry McTyer and Cornell Armstrong for roster spots. Howard is famous for slow starts and play that can only be described as barely hanging on. I like Lippett a lot but he wasn’t very fast before the achilles so I will be watching to see if he lost his smoothness. If 1 or both struggle the talent is there to make a seamless transition and in all likely hood Jordan Lucas won’t make it this year.

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Scouting Reports

Know The Enemy – Chicago Bears

Travis Wingfield

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As the NFL comes to its summer crawl, we’re going to be looking into each of the Miami Dolphins’ 2018 opponents leading up to training camp.

Go to:
Week 1 vs. Tennessee 
Week 2 @ New York Jets
Week 3 vs. Oakland
Week 4 @ New England
Week 5 @ Cincinnati

Chicago Bears – Week 6
2017 Recap: (5-11, 4thNFC North – No Playoffs)

While the results didn’t deviate from the recent norm in Chicago, hope sprang eternal. Making a move for a quarterback has a city that considers Jay Cutler the best in franchise history buzzing about the future.

Mitch Trubisky had the look of a one-year college starter in his debut season in the NFL. The offense was predicated around a pair of special backs in Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, and Trubisky was merely a caretaker that was asked to make one or two plays per game.

Defensively, the Bears have been stockpiling talent for what seems like ages. 2017’s stop unit finally began showing signs progress under Vic Fangio. Without a definitive household name in the bunch, the Chicago defense is predicated on depth and consistency across all three levels.

With seven losses in games where the defense surrendered fewer than 24 points, Chicago had one priority this off-season: remake the offense around their sophomore quarterback.

2017 League-Ranks:

 

Scoring Offense 29th
Rushing Offense 16th
Passing Offense 32nd
Scoring Defense 9th
Rushing Defense 11th
Passing Defense 7th
Turnover Differential 15th

 

2018 Coaching Changes:

The Chicago Bears celebrated the New Year by relieving John Fox as head coach of the organization. He was replaced by former Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator, Matt Nagy.

With the Head Coaching change came a snowball of additional moves.

Nagy hired ex-Notre Dame offensive line coach Harry Hiestand as his assistant head coach as well as the team’s offensive line coach. He then hired former Oregon Ducks head coach, Mark Helfrich, as the team’s offensive coordinator. Helfrich replaced Dowell Loggains, who was subsequently hired by Adam Gase and the Miami Dolphins to be their offensive coordinator.

Though he was originally set to retire after the 2017 season, Nagy was able to persuade Brad Childress to join him in Chicago to be the team’s senior offensive consultant. Childress was the Chief’s co-offensive coordinator (along with Nagy) in 2016.

Some minor additions to the Bear’s coaching staff include Chris Tabor replacing Jeff Rodgers as the team’s special team’s coordinator, Kevin Gilbride replacing Frank Smith as the team’s tight ends coach, Charles London replacing Curtis Modkins as the team’s running back’s coach, and Mike Furrey replacing Zach Azzanni as the wide receiver’s coach. Brock Olivo was also hired to be the assistant special teams coordinator.

Despite a new coach, the entire defensive coaching staff (which was ranked 10thin the league in 2017) was retained. Vic Fangio, the team’s defensive coordinator in 2017, interviewed to be the team’s head coach, but was passed on for Nagy. Fangio signed a 3-year extension shortly thereafter to remain the team’s defensive coordinator.

2018 Notable Roster Changes:

 

Newcomer Role / Projected Snap Count
WR Allen Robinson (Jacksonville) Primary WR / 90%
TE Trey Burton (Philadelphia) Starter / 80%
WR Taylor Gabriel (Atlanta) Starter / 70%
DE Aaron Lynch (San Francisco) Rotational / 50%
WR Bennie Fowler (Denver) Backup / 30%
QB Chase Daniel (New Orleans) Backup

 

Newcomer Role / 2017 Snap Count
OG Josh Sitton (Miami) Starter /  72.06%
OLB Pernell McPhee (Washington) Starter / 36.39%
LB Christian Jones (Detroit) Rotational / 58.88%
WR Kendall Wright (Minnesota) Starter / 58.7%
WR Markus Wheaton (Philadelphia) Backup / 18.93%
QB Mike Glennon (Arizona Backup / 26.72%
DE Mitch Unrein (Tampa Bay) Rotational / 36.77%
OT Tom Compton (Minnesota) Swing Tackle / 34.62%

 

Projected Cornerstones (75%+ snap takers) – 2017 PFF Positional Rank:

QB Mitch Trubisky – 28th/ 40
WR Allen Robinson – DNP 2017 – 2016 – 56th/ 119
TE Trey Burton – 14th/ 72
DE Akiem Hicks – 16th/ 124
OLB Leonard Floyd – 28th/ 46
ILB Roquan Smith – Rookie
CB Kyle Fuller – 36th/ 120
CB Prince Amukamara – 41st/ 120
CB Bryce Callahan – 35th/ 120
S Eddie Jackson – 51st/ 89
S Adrian Amos – 2nd/ 89

The Other Key Contributors:

Using snap counts as the cornerstone player requirement is disingenuous when a team is loaded in the backfield in the way Chicago is currently stocked. Jordan Howard is one of the game’s best zone runners and Tarik Cohen is a human-joystick capable of scoring from anywhere on the field.

The Chicago skill set is flush with talent for the first time in forever. Anthony Miller was arguably the most polished receiver in this year’s draft class and Adam Shaheen made impressive strides as a rookie. With proven talent ahead of them, there’s no pressure to make an immediate impact.

Eddie Goldman isn’t going to light up the stat sheet, but he’ll eat up snaps and blockers on the nose. Danny Trevathan and Sam Acho likely see their roles reduced in lieu of rookie Roquan Smith, but both are sound tacklers and quality players.

Tale of the Tape:

Offense:

The theme of the early opponent’s on Miami’s schedule is the influx of new coaching staffs. Occupying the big chair is a pupil of the innovative Andy Reid – Matt Nagy. Nagy’s fingerprints are all over the remade offensive personnel. The key will be accelerating the learning curve for Trubisky in year-two.

Drafting James Daniels to pair with Kyle Long and Cody Whitehair on the interior offensive line signals that this offense still flows through the ground game – and why wouldn’t it? Howard and Cohen are complete backs that can beat defenses in a variety of ways.

Just as the running back position goes, the tight end group is flexible and deep. Athleticism, length and the desire to play inline, each of the Bears three tight ends (Burton, Shaheen and Dion Sims) can contribute.

Allen Robinson was the Bears’ homerun of the off-season – health will be the biggest obstacle for the former pro-bowler (returns from a torn ACL).

Without a clear picture of Nagy’s own adaptation of the Andy Reid offense, it’s difficult to predict exactly what the scheme will look like.

A smart gambler would roll the dice on a match-up based offense that can use tempo and mask personnel groupings through versatility. Flexing backs and tight ends to the perimeter, running the zone-read and run-pass-option looks, and the occasional 13-personnel grouping to pound the ball down the opponent’s throat, this offense will take on the shape of its counterpart’s weaknesses. 

Defense:

As has become the trend in the NFL, the Bears defense is built through the secondary. The emergence of Adrian Amos, the opportunistic nature of Eddie Jackson’s game and the steady corner play from all three starters affords coordinator Vic Fangio a lot of ingenuity.

Fangio has been constructing this defense since 2015, and he might finally have the personnel for the rocket to officially launch. Fangio built a juggernaut in San Francisco with similar personnel and the varied fronts to confuse and frustrate opposing quarterbacks.

Akiem Hicks acts as Justin Smith in this iteration of the Fangio D, and the hope is that Leonard Floyd can fill the role of Aldon Smith pre-rap sheet. The weak link of this group is in the lack of depth up front.

Generating pressure via the scheme (blitzes, stunts, twists, etc.) is the blue print. The skill on the back-end allows Fangio to commit more rushers than the league average.

Ideally for Chicago, the defense will be a bend-don’t-break unit that capitalizes on mistakes and creates a lot of turnovers yet again in 2018.

Match-Up with Miami:

Chicago are liable to light the Dolphins run defense up at a moment’s notice. Miami has struggled immensely in dealing with a similar set of backs featured by the New England Patriots (James White and Dion Lewis). To boot, the Dolphins have struggled with tight ends just about on a weekly basis.

Ryan Tannehill had one of the best games of his career in Chicago in 2014. Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Chicago could, for all intents and purposes, hide Trubisky in this contest. Hitting the ‘Phins D with a steady dose of the running game, boots and play-action would make for a long day. Miami made a concerted effort to upgrade the depth and second level of the defense, but the Bears can hit defenses in waves.

Matt Nagy’s evolving offense will likely employ plenty of 12-personnel in this game to take advantage of the mismatches caused by Burton and Shaheen. Forcing the Dolphins to keep additional linebackers on the field (Kiko Alonso, for instance) could open up the Bears deadly screen game.

Offensively for Miami this game is going to fall on the shoulders of the quarterback. With a variety of blitz packages and one-on-one match-ups in the secondary, it’ll be paramount for Ryan Tannehill to identify the soft spots in coverage and get the football out of his hands as quickly as possible.

Creating penetration and running lanes will prove difficult. The Bears offer a lot of beef up front, something the Dolphins offensive line is not equipped to deal with. 

Trap Game Potential:

Chicago is coming off its bye week prior to this game. Nagy’s preparation, and the team’s rest should be firing on all cylinders. The ability to break some early tendencies, along with devising some clever screen concepts, could put the Dolphins up against it early.

The hope, for Miami, is that this team traveling from the Midwest down to muggy Miami will pull the cord out of the Bears’ proverbial backs in the fourth quarter.

Fresh legs vs. a weather advantage – those are the miscellaneous factors in this one.

Week-Six in a Nutshell:

These team’s seasons might mirror one-another. There is a lot of talent at key positions, quality depth all across the board and a pair of young coaches hoping to find their way.

The biggest concern for Miami, the strength of the Bears offense (the running game) can attack the Dolphins’ biggest weakness, the run defense.

In even match-ups, it typically comes down to quarterback play. Mitch Trubisky should have a better season, but he’s not close to Ryan Tannehill’s level… yet.

@WingfieldNFL

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Scouting Reports

Know The Enemy – Cincinnati Bengals

Travis Wingfield

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As the NFL comes to its summer crawl, we’re going to be looking into each of the Miami Dolphins’ 2018 opponents leading up to training camp.

Go to:
Week 1 vs. Tennessee 
Week 2 @ New York Jets
Week 3 vs. Oakland
Week 4 @ New England

Cincinnati Bengals – Week 5
2017 Recap: (7-9, 3rdAFC North – No Playoffs)

Like the Dolphins, Cincinnati has been stuck in something of a perpetual cycle. The five consecutive trips to the post-season from 2011-2015 did not yield a single playoff victory. Since, the Bengals have toiled to just 13 wins over the last two seasons.

Marvin Lewis (a.k.a. Teflon Marv) survived his fifteenth season with the team despite accruing eight losing campaigns in his unparalleled tenure. 2017 was punctuated with back-to-back wins over a lifeless Lions team and division rival (Baltimore) that had everything to play for.

A.J. Green missed some time with an injury, the offensive line was a tire fire and Andy Dalton continued the sporadic arc of his dubious career.

Perhaps the silver lining: the Bengals uncovered one of the game’s best cornerbacks in William Jackson and the defensive line room continues to churn out productive pass rusher.

2017 League-Ranks:

 

Scoring Offense 26th
Rushing Offense 31st
Passing Offense 27th
Scoring Defense 16th
Rushing Defense 30th
Passing Defense 8th
Turnover Differential 27th

 

2018 Coaching Changes:

Bill Lazor took over the offense and play calling duties after an atrocious start that saw the Bengals fail to reach pay dirt in back-to-back home games to start the year. He remains in that position with Alex Van Pelt taking his previous digs as the quarterback coach. Bob Bicknell supplants James Urban in the wide receiver room, and Frank Pollack now mans the offensive line position previously held by Robert Couch.

Teryl Austin will now coordinate the defense previously coached up by Paul Guenther. Joining him is Daronte Jones taking over for Kevin Coyle in the secondary.

2018 Notable Roster Changes:

 

Newcomer Role / Projected Snap Count
LT Cordy Glenn (Buffalo) Starter / 100%
DT Chris Baker (Tampa Bay) Rotational / 50%
LB Preston Brown (Buffalo) Starter / 100%
QB Matt Barkley (Arizona) Backup

 

 

Departed Role / Snaps Played
C Russell Bodine (Buffalo) Starter / 100%
QB A.J. McCarron (Buffalo) Backup / 2.7%
LB Kevin Minter (NY Jets) Depth / 17.28%
RB Jeremy Hill (New England) Depth / 8%
DE Chris Smith (Cleveland_ Rotational / 34.99%
RT Andrew Smith (Arizona) Starter / 55.72%

 

Projected Cornerstones (75%+ snap takers) – 2017 PFF Positional Rank:

QB Andy Dalton – 16th/ 40
WR A.J. Green – 17th/ 118
DT Geno Atkins – 2nd/ 124
DE Carlos Dunlap – 17th/ 64
LB Preston Brown – 63rd/ 90
CB William Jackson – 7th/ 120
CB Dre Kirkpatrick – 94th/ 120
CB Darqueze Dennard – 22nd/ 120
S Georg Iloka – 53rd/ 89
S Shawn Williams – 48th/ 89

The Other Key Contributors:

Joe Mixon enters year-two as the clear-cut number one running back. Mixon offers a rare blend of speed and power along with the traits that make him a coveted option on all three downs. Running behind rookie center Billy Price and new left tackle Cordy Glenn could lead to a breakout sophomore season.

The Bengals are flush with options off the edge every year it seems. Jordan Willis is an astute rusher as an end, but quasi-SAM backer Carl Lawson had an even bigger impact as a rookie. His role should expand in year-two – especially now that he’s working under Teryl Austin.

Vontaze Burfict is a bonehead, but he’s still a highly productive player. After serving his annual suspension, he brings a level of intensity and play-making to a Bengals defense that is lacking in that regard at the linebacker position.

Tale of the Tape:

Offense: 

As cliché as it sounds, everything starts up front for the Bengals. The tackle play was positively horrendous in 2017. Cedric Ogbuehi and Andre Smith were replaced, but Cincinnati will gamble that Jake Fisher can get it figured out in year-four.

Billy Price will serve as the lynchpin inside. The most important player for a zone-blocking scheme, Price displayed elite movement and technical traits at Ohio State. Price’s immediate emergence and the volume and deception of Lazor’s offense are keys to this group coming back from the dead.

After a start that had his future in jeopardy, Andy Dalton rebounded under Lazor’s tutelage. Dalton’s penchant for preparation and advantageous match-ups dictated by scheme allowed for the rhythm passer to go on a completion-percentage tear.

Then A.J. Green went down. And as has been the case for far too long in Cincy, Green is the engine that drives that offense. Without the blazing, leaping Green, the Bengals attack is devoid of play makers that can create separation and command the defense’s attention.

Cincinnati did very little to mitigate that issue this off-season. Brandon LaFell, Tyler Eifert and Tyler Boyd are being counted on to give Lazor substantial snaps.

On paper, this group has mega-implosion potential. Dalton is one of the game’s most inconsistent passers. Playing behind a leaky offensive line with minimal impact players on the edge is the recipe for another season of offensive ineptitude.

 Defense:

A surprisingly stingy defense is being built in the Queen City. Geno Atkins is the focal point of a defensive line that consistently creates pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Assuming improvements in their sophomore seasons, Carl Lawson and Jordan Willis provide Teryl Austin a bevy of pass-rushing lines.

Sep 29, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap (L) tips the ball from Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) as Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Will Clarke (93) defends in the first half at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The primary ends, Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap, are incredibly disruptive in the passing game. Tampa Bay defect Chris Baker gives the Bengals another interior pass rush option. Baker figures to replace starting nose tackle Andrew Billings on passing downs.

Austin’s claim to fame is turning the Lions secondary into a ball hawking nightmare for opposing quarterbacks. In William Jackson, Darqueze Dennard and Dre Kirkpatrick, Austin has a trio of athletic marvels that can make plays on the football.

The issue with the Bengals is going to be the run defense. Slight at linebacker, and a wide-open scheme, there isn’t a lot of hope as far as filling the B-gap-to-B-gap weakness of Austin’s system.

If teams are able to line up and run it down the Bengals’ throats, and Dalton’s offense sputters yet again, the pass rush will prove irrelevant.

Match-Up with Miami:

This Bengals team could mirror the Dolphins in a few ways. Both teams want to create pressure on the quarterback and take the football away with a feisty secondary. It’ll be crucial for the Dolphins receivers to get off the early jams and disruption efforts of the Bengals’ stout secondary.

Dennard emerged in the slot just as Jackson did on the perimeter, but Kirkpatrick might be the area Miami can pick on. Despite his 6-2 frame, he tends to shy away from contact and could get bodied out by larger receivers like Devante Parker.

Miami has to handle Geno Atkins inside – he’s a game-wrecker. The issue there will be committing extra bodies with an edge rush that is entirely capable of doing the same.

As is normally the case, the Dolphins will want to get the football out of Ryan Tannehill’s hands early and establish a running game. Alleviating some of the pressure provided by the Bengals edge defenders will be paramount.

Defensively for Miami, it’s all about which Andy Dalton shows up. He’s liable to throw inaccurate passes all over the field and put the ball in the opposition’s hand. A.J. Green torched the Dolphins last time, though Xavien Howard wasn’t the accomplished player he became last season. That’ll be a crucial match-up and one that Howard can win. 

Trap Game Potential: 

Cincinnati hosts its most hated rival in week six (Pittsburgh), so a peak ahead is a possibility. However, with a coach on thin ice, a shaky roster and a tough opening slate, the Bengals could have their backs up against the wall early on. A desperate team is usually a good team.

The Dolphins will be fresh off a showdown in Foxboro and on their second consecutive trip to the Northeast/Midwest.

A clear advantage does not exist in this match-up as far as trap game scenarios go.

Week-Five in a Nutshell:

This game has the potential to provide either team with a springboard into the middle portions of their season. The Bengals are breaking in a new defensive coordinator and a re-made offensive line while the Dolphins are still trying to uncover its own identity.

Nobody on the field is better than A.J. Green in this game, and if Xavien Howard can frustrate him the way he did with Julio Jones in the second half of the Atlanta game in 2017, Miami will get out with a victory.

Playing on the road is never an easy task, but the Dolphins have enjoyed quite a bit of success in Cincinnati over the years. Perhaps the Bengals will be entering a rebuild with a slow start to the season.

Then again, Marvin Lewis has survived this long.

@WingfieldNFL

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Scouting Reports

Know The Enemy – New England Patriots

Travis Wingfield

Published

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As the NFL comes to its summer crawl, we’re going to be looking into each of the Miami Dolphins’ 2018 opponents leading up to training camp.

Go to:
Week 1 vs. Tennessee 
Week 2 @ New York Jets
Week 3 vs. Oakland

New England Patriots – Weeks 4 (Foxboro) and 14 (Miami)

2017 Recap: (13-3, AFC East Champions – Playoffs 2-1; Beat TEN and JAX, lost to PHI)

Writing a New England Patriots blog must be the most redundant job in sports. Off-season adversity, .500 record in September, rip off wins in bunches and eventually find yourself still in contention in Late-January.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

2017 was a microcosm of the Bill Belichick Patriots. Panic erupts over one or two losses before the greatest coach-quarterback-pairing in the history of the sport find themselves playing on the game’s grandest stage. The only relatively dubious feature of the Patriots unprecedented run is the record in Super Bowls – which fell to 5-3 five months ago.

You don’t arrive in the land of nitpicking a .600 winning percentage in the most difficult football game ever conceived without playing terrific defense. Despite some moving parts and challenges with personnel in the front-seven, Belichick and Matt Patricia’s defense found a way to keep points off the scoreboard, as is annual practice.

On the other side, Tom Brady continues to defy the laws of time – he’s playing the best football of his career in tandem with arguably the NFL’s all-time greatest tight end, Rob Gronkowski.

2017 League-Ranks:

 

Scoring Offense 2nd
Rushing Offense 10th
Passing Offense 2nd
Scoring Defense 5th
Rushing Defense 20th
Passing Defense 30th
Turnover Differential 11th

 

2018 Coaching Changes:

 A winning environment cultivates successful individuals. As it has done so many times before, the Bill Belichick coaching tree grew when Matt Patricia was hired for the big chair in Detroit. It was set to double before Josh McDaniels weaseled out of his commitment to Indianapolis in the 11thhour.

McDaniels is back with the offensive staff unchanged. Patricia’s vacated position remains unfilled with the rest of 2017’s defensive staff intact as well.

2018 Notable Roster Changes:

 

Newcomer Role / Projected Snap Count
DE Adrian Clayborn (Atlanta) Starter / 60%
RB Jeremy Hill (Cincinnati) Backup/Short-Yardage / 20%
WR Jordan Matthews (Buffalo) Backup / 30%
TE Troy Niklas (Arizona) 3rd TE / 20%
DT Danny Shelton (Cleveland) Starter / 43.73%
WR Cordarrelle Patterson (Oakland) Backup/Return-Specialist / 42.66%
OT Trent Brown (San Francisco) Starter / 60.91%

 

 

Departed Role / Snaps Played
CB Malcolm Butler (Tennessee) Starter / 97.83%
LT Nate Solder (NY Giants) Starter / 97.81%
RB Dion Lewis (Tennessee) RB 1b / 35.56%
OT Cameron Fleming (Dallas) Swing Tackle / 32.4%
WR Danny Amendola (Miami) Starter / 49.87%
S Johnson Bademosi (Houston) Backup / 20.19% (62.97 special teams)

 

Projected Cornerstones (75%+ snap takers) – 2017 PFF Positional Rank:

QB Tom Brady – 1st/ 40
WR Julian Edelman – DNP (2016 – 44th/ 119)
TE Rob Gronkowski – 1st/ 72
DE Trey Flowers – 28th/ 110
LB Dont’a Hightower – DNP (2016 – 14th/ 88)
CB Stephone Gilmore –  31st/ 120
CB Jason McCourty – 17th/ 120
S Devin McCourty – 31st/ 89
S Patrick Chung – 28th/ 89
S Duron Harmon – 23rd/ 89

The Other Key Contributors:

Continuously ahead of the curve the Patriots rely on rotation more than any team in the NFL. Half of their cornerstone players are in the defensive backfield, a consequence of the plethora of dime packages employed.

Duron Harmon, the team’s dime safety, took 66.2% of the defensive snaps. While that number is shy of the requisite 75% cornerstone percentage, he’s a starter in this defense. Eric Rowe will compete with Jason McCourty for the other perimeter corner job and rookie Duke Dawson could win the nickel job and play extensively right away.

Fellow rookies Sony Michel and Isaiah Wynn figure into the running back and offensive line equations respectively. Michel is a shifty, pass-catching dynamo that offers a glove-like fit for the match-up-centric offense of the Pats and position-diverse Wynn has a tough line-up to crack in front of him.

Newcomers Adrian Clayborne and Danny Shelton figure heavily into the defensive line rotation with Malcolm Brown and Lawrence Guy. Elandon Roberts and rookie Ja’Whaun Bently will get a crack of a share of reps at linebacker.

This team is full of hockey-line style position groups that are greater than the sum of their parts.

Tale of the Tape:

Offense: 

The first scheme on the schedule that won’t be entering year-one, the Dolphins can go back into the archive to study the Patriots. However, no team reinvents itself quite like Belichick’s Pats.

Dec 11, 2017; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) leaves the field after a game against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Seemingly constructing variations of previous offensive schemes every year, one thing remains constant: New England loves to create and exploit match-ups. Not afraid to nickel-and-dime a defense, Tom Brady can kill the opposition with a million cuts.

The ability to remain versatile across all personnel packages creates issues in communication and conditioning for unsuspecting defenses. Stuck in base? Brady flexes out his back and throws a five-yard hitch for an easy completion. Bring on the sub-packages? He’ll run the football right at you.

All of this ingenuity and mastery from the quarterback, then you factor in one of the league’s most uncoverable weapons and the offense is nearly unstoppable.

To play running back in this scheme requires pass catching prowess. The stable was already crowded with cross-trained skilled players, then it added Sony Michel. Michel is my pick for offensive rookie of the year for the same reasons I selected Alvin Kamara for the same award last year.

Julian Edelman is difficult to cover in a short-areas, but he will miss the first meeting with Miami due to a suspension. The Dolphins solved the puzzle to the Pats receivers last year in the Monday night win. Pressing to disrupt the timing and creating early pressure on Brady are the keys.

Offensive line coaching legend Dante Scarnecchia built a fortress in front of Brady. The tackle positions are solid, but the trio in the interior (Joe Thuney, David Andrews and Shaq Mason) is among the league’s best (14th, 4thand 8thamong their position groups on PFF).

Defense:

Just like the offense, the defense mixes it up as well as any program in the league. Playing with light fronts and loaded backfields, the Patriots scheme is built around corners and safeties that can cover and tackle.

Getting the glue to the front-seven back in 2018 should improve the worst yards-allowed-rank in the Belichick era. Dont’a Hightower is a unique blend of an off-the-ball ‘backer and a polished edge-rusher. His return allows the Pats to vary coverages between their big-nickel and dime packages.

Going back to the days of Vince Wilfork, Belichick loves plopping beef at the nose tackle position to disrupt the point-of-attack. Malcom Brown is something of an immovable object. Adrian Clayborne and Danny Shelton jump into the rotation looking to bolster the New England interior pass rush.

The defensive ends in this scheme are diluted a tad. With the variety of fronts, their jobs are typical of an interior defensive lineman – eat up blocks and sustaining gap-integrity. Trey Flowers is the front-man of a group that gets Derrick Rivers back from an injury that took away his rookie season.

No one does more with less than Belichick. No matter how many yards it allows, the Patriot defense always limits red zone production and takes the football away. With reinforcements on the way in 2018, there is no reason to expect that to change.

Match-Up with Miami:

The Dolphins were essentially the only team to figure out the Patriots offense in 2017. Playing a more physical brand of football on the perimeter and the spacing of the wide-9 created tougher passing lanes for Brady.

As always, the key is to create pressure from multiple channels on number-12. The Dolphins supped-up defense could get more creative with a Patriots-like blueprint of putting more defensive backs on to the field.

Opposed to allowing the likes of Kiko Alonso to become isolated on a back, perhaps T.J. McDonald sinks into a quasi-linebacker role. The problem most teams run into with this plan is the negative hit to the run-defense. Miami’s larger, more physically imposing DBs can support in the run game just as well as they defend the pass.

With the Patriots offensive line stout in the middle, a heavy-rush off the edge with Cam Wake, Robert Quinn and Charles Harris, while challenging the quick-hitting passing game, is the best recipe for success. And blitzing Brady remains out of the question – that’s when he’s at his best.

Jan 1, 2017; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins cornerback Bobby McCain (28) and free safety Michael Thomas (31) provide pass coverage on New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman (11) on a pass play in the end zone during the second quarter of an NFL football game at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Bobby McCain versus Julian Edelman in the second match-up figures to be the headliner. Minkah Fitzpatrick could potentially be the answer to the decade-long question of ‘who’s got Gronk?’

Offensively, for the Dolphins, the key is Ryan Tanenhill not taking the cheese. Mixing up coverages requires the quarterback to prep a little extra, but identifying post-snap rotation and the Patriots’ penchant for under-cutting routes becomes paramount – giving Brady extra possessions by turning it over is not an option.

Kenyan Drake was key to victory in the 2017 meeting in Miami. Creating balance and throwing the football to the back is a viable option to get the Patriots out of their comfort zone.

Miami can handle the pass rush of the Patriots, but Tannehill has to be on his A-game to beat this team.

Trap Game Potential:

The Patriots have a game four days after the first match-up with Miami. But playing the lowly Colts, off a non-conference game in Detroit, should hone New England’s focus into where it needs to be.

This game is sandwiched between the Oakland and Cincinnati games for the Dolphins. There’s no reason to look ahead.

The week-14 match-up is conveniently scheduled between games with Minnesota and Pittsburgh for the Patriots – there’s Miami’s chance to catch the Pats napping in South Florida yet again. 

Week-Four in a Nutshell:

While the Dolphins have more success against the Patriots than any other team, beating Brady in Foxboro doesn’t happen. Literally. Ever.

And while the best time to pick off the Pats is early in the season, playing against that quarterback, that coach and the “atmosphere” of New England never bodes well for the road team.

Miami will be severe underdogs in the week-four game and have to play perfect to win. As for the December game in Miami, crazier things have happened.

And they seem to happen just about every year when these two teams get together.

@WingfieldNFL

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