Sports are the greatest thing in existence. Embedded life-lessons, the thrills of victory and the despair of defeat, competition compartmentalizes everything we love and loathe on this planet.
Some moments stand atop all the others. For fans of the Miami Dolphins, Sunday could be the current pinnacle. As a 31-year-old myself, I wonder if the way this week has unfolded is what it’s like to win a Super Bowl – only that feeling lasts for seven months opposed to seven days.
The moment Jimmy Cefalo shouts, “DRAKE,” in sudden realization that the third-year running back is going to beat Rob Gronkowski to the end-zone, still evokes an indescribable ecstasy.
By now, most of you reading this know how I experienced the Miami Miracle – in a way that would make any ‘Phins fan envious.
I’ll tell you my recollection of that exact moment, how I remember Jason’s reaction, and leave you with the rest of the staff’s memories of that special seven seconds.
I had just tweeted the ramifications of what that loss meant to the rest of the Dolphins season. It’s the greatest “this didn’t age well” tweet I have ever sent. I expected Stills to be tackled. I expected Drake to get caught from behind. But once he slipped that tackle, redirected inside and turned on the jets, it hit me.
Dolphins get 2 punts blocked, drop a crucial third down play, have a WR slide down short of the sticks costing another possession, and still came within a field goal of beating the Pats. Too bad moral victories don't count in the win column.
— Travis Wingfield (@WingfieldNFL) December 9, 2018
“HE’S GONNA SCORE! OH MY GOD, HE’S GONNA SCORE!”
We were in the same section of the usual suspects of beat writers. Everyone was searching around in a panicked disbelief of what they had just seen.
I couldn’t believe it myself. Jason (@MiamiDpunx) sure as hell couldn’t believe it. He was speechless. He struck the surrender cobra position with a blank canvas of a face as if he had just seen a ghost.
We reveled for a minute, then booked it down to the ground level to catch Belichick’s presser.
It wasn’t till about four hours later, after all of our work was done, when we got back to our rental house that we were able to properly reflect. We both agree, it would’ve been better to have been in the stands where we could’ve let loose our true emotions.
So no, that reporter was not referring to us regarding people cheering in the box. Frankly, I think he’s salty, because it was quiet in that box – outside of people expressing their disbelief just like the rest of us.
So there I was, chin in my hand, looking apathetically out the clear glass of the press box in front of me. The New England Patriots received the ball with about 4 minutes left and promptly drove up the field. I initially thanked them for giving me time to accept the fate that was to befall on the Dolphins 2018 season.
I could hear media pundits, NFL “experts” and various sports fans gloating about how they knew Miami wasn’t going to be a playoff team, despite most of these people picking the Dolphins to finish in the bottom tier of the league – alongside the likes of the Atlanta Falcons and Jacksonville Jaguars, eh……
This feeling of doubt was further reinforced when Kalen Ballage danced deep in Dolphins territory for 9 inexplicably arduous seconds, before gaining virtually no progress worth a damn.
So I sit there – head in my hand, watching the Dolphins offense muster one final play before packing in the 2018 season.
First Kenny Stills catches the pass and is nearly wrapped up – like Jesus Christmas, we couldn’t pick anyone who was actually open?
He escapes his man and pitches it to DeVante Parker; who, for whatever reason, decided to immediately pitch the ball to Kenyan Drake…..even though our 2nd highest draft pick on the field (behind Tannehill) had plenty of space in front of him in which he could have drawn a defender.
Nope. This son of a bitch wants nothing to do with the ball. I even let out an audible “Parker what are you doing” as I’m sitting in my seat because what did Parker not realize when he pitched the ball?
That Kenyan Drake had a defender right on his tail! Like broooo….our season was about to end because Parker didn’t take one second to analyze the field around him and Drake was about to get wrapped up.
But Drake is a real football player and shook that defender off almost as easily as the New York Jets screw up their draft picks.
So he gets a little open space, and at this point, people start to realize that something might actually happen. To my left, Travis is starting to say “oh my god”, and to my right, reporters are beginning to mumble excitedly.
But Drake was running sideways, not towards the end zone. He still wasn’t even in the red zone and the Patriots still had 3 defenders blocking his path to the goal line.
Then, Drake makes a quick cut up field. Now, I’m standing up and my mouth is wide open. Now, this fluke play has a chance of becoming a reality.
Suddenly someone on the Dolphins (later to be revealed as Ted Larsen) springs a block that trips up two Patriots….immediately taking out anyone who could catch Drake from behind.
Now, the reality is starting to look like a miracle. Now, Travis is getting hushed by Andy Cohen because his “oh my gods” have turned to “he’s going to score!”
Now my hands are on my head. Holy s***, this might happen. He just has to beat….HOLY S*** GRONK TRIPPED!
And as Drake passes Gronk the crowd begins to erupt. I don’t see a flag, I don’t think he stepped out of bounds, there are no whistles and players are running into the tunnel….Miami won, right? What just happened? What did I just witness?
Travis shakes me looking for any kind of reaction and all I remember is slowly turning to face him….my jaw still wide open….my hands still on my head….and I can’t mutter a word. I’m stunned silent.
I can’t believe I just witnessed one of the most historic plays in Miami Dolphins history. You’re telling me I have to go downstairs and professionally refrain from any biases as I head into the lockerroom? All we want to do is join every other fan and celebrate until the moon sets and the sun rises.
The professionalism (and desire to see Bill Belichick crushed during his press conference) kept me composed and allowed me to gather myself quick enough to catch the elevator filled with local and national writers who were all stunned.
This moment would have been amazing if I witnessed it on TV, but it was absolutely priceless being part of the Miami Dolphins as history unfolded. A huge thanks to everyone involved with the Miami Dolphins for making this moment one I’ll never forget.
I was at work and couldn’t find a stream of the game anywhere, so I was furiously refreshing Twitter to get updates on the game. The Patriots has just kicked the field goal to go up 33-28, and I was gutted. Miami had put forth perhaps its most complete game of the season, and were still about to lose to the mighty Patriots. I went to the restroom, and when I came back, the only words that came across my Twitter stream were “MIAMI MIRACLE!”. I sat and stared at my computer for a while, not really believing my eyes or my Twitter feed. It took about 30 seconds, and then I went NUTS. It was such a crazy swing of emotions, and I’m glad Miami was on the winning side of it this time.
With the recent addition to our family in a new baby boy, my Dolphins watching was reluctantly moved to our chilly Iowa garage due to excessive noise during the game, and on a day like Sunday, my banishment from the house now makes sense. A few friends who were both Dolphins and Chiefs fans came by, and with both being big games for each other’s teams, we thought it’d be a fun to fire up the heater and get together for the games.
After a mostly great game, when the Patriots made the field goal to go up 5 with 7 seconds left, depression set in, our heads buried in our phones. However, our mood quickly changed from depression to disbelief to irrational screaming and yelling in a matter of minutes. Needless to say, many victory shots and Busch Lights were had following the Miami Miracle.
Will Rogers @WDeMottRogers –
I’m currently in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and needed to find a place that would be playing the Dolphins game. I ended up finding a nice dive sports bar. I walked in expecting a wave of Panthers fans but was met with a handful of Patriots fans.
During the game we had some friendly back and forth after touchdowns. 4th quarter, seven seconds left, I’m finishing a beer to make a quick exit when the Miami Miracle happens. I don’t say a word and just raise my hands in the air. The gaggle of Pats fans exits the bar, passing behind me muttering under their booze-soaked-breath.
What a great Sunday it was.
Reading over those notes from the lads brought the warm and fuzzies right back. Hopefully the Dolphins pay us off with a similar miracle and make a post-season push.
Pillaging the Pats
Taking From the Rich and Giving to the Phins
De facto Patriots Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores is set to take over the big chair in Miami at the conclusion of New England’s 2018 season. Rumored to be coming with Flores are a pair of Pats staffers.
A master of delegation, Bill Belichick constantly maintains the smallest staff in the league. Flores’ intentions are to bring with him Pats’ Consultant Bret Bielema and Wide Receivers Coach Chad O’Shea.
*We’ll have a comprehensive breakdown of the offensive scheme that comes with O’Shea should this move push closer to official. And we’ll do so in the same capacity as the Defensive Crash Course piece.
If Flores is able to extract both Bielema and O’Shea, he’s plundering 16% of the 2018 Patriots’ staff (that includes Flores). Belichick’s coaching tree has yielded less than desirable results in their new destinations, but Flores is described as “different” from the rest.
I’m in Foxboro reporting on Patriots’ game, so I’ve gotten to chat with people about Dolphins target Brian Flores. One thing nobody exactly says but stands out: This is not your usual Belichick disciple. Disciplined, yes. Stoic even. But not as… how should I put this… rigid?
— Jeff Darlington (@JeffDarlington) January 12, 2019
By now Dolphins fans are tired of lip service. If Flores is the exception to the many before him, great – we’ll find out on Sundays. Flores is, however, off to a unique beginning compared to the lackluster rest.
|Coach (Year Left New England)||Additional Migrating Staffers|
|Charlies Weis (2005 – Notre Dame)||0|
|Romeo Crennel (2005 – Cleveland)||0|
|Eric Mangini (2007 – NY Jets)||0|
|Josh McDaniels (2009 – Denver)||0|
|Bill O’Brien (2012 – Penn State)||0|
|Matt Patricia (2018 – Detroit)||0|
Goose eggs. I didn’t expect that when I began this study, hence the table. Interestingly, the greatest dearth in the Patriots run came between the 2008-2010 seasons. That sentence is a house of cards for two reasons:
1.) It’s sort of hilarious to call two playoff appearances and a combined record of 35-13 a dearth. Those three seasons were the last time New England weren’t participating in the Conference Championship – they’ve qualified for eight consecutive title games since.
2.) It’s something of a strawman to suggest New England’s 14-2 season was cut short at the divisional round because of a loss of coordinators. Not to mention the 2008 season that brought back 11 wins despite starting Matt Cassel for 15 games.
That three-year stretch did come after New England lost its offensive and defensive coordinators, and then Crennel’s replacement at DC (Mangini) two years later. No one is mistaking Flores, Bielema, and O’Shea for Weis, Crennel, and Mangini, but this would be a similar exodus – the difference being all at once opposed to three years.
It’s no secret that Belichick is a ruthless competitor that has no qualms about making enemies. The Patriots have blocked coaches from interviewing for outside positions in the past. Clearly, New England doesn’t block assistants from taking head coaching jobs, but the fact that zero staffers jumped ship might insinuate staffers are held hostage.
Maybe that’s where the idea that Flores is different from the rest comes from. His ability to separate himself from the Pats’ program. His intentions to implement his own initiative that doesn’t try to form as a carbon copy of Belichick’s well-oiled machine in Foxboro.
There are a million ways to splice this, but it all comes back to one conclusion: Brian Flores is beloved by everyone that knows him – even the heartless Hoodie.
Crash Course On 2019 Dolphins Defensive Scheme
For a publication based primarily on analysis, these last two weeks have been a bit of a drag for content. We know the potential names but, as they say, potential doesn’t play on Sundays. In this case, the reference refers to the rumors and names linked to various positions with the Dolphins – rumors, meaning anything but finalized.
Enter Patrick Graham.
It has been reported that Miami, under Head Coach to Be Named Brian Flores, will tag the former Green Bay Packers assistant as the Defensive Coordinator position with the Dolphins in 2019.
Graham, a former staffer alongside Flores in New England, spent the 2018 season coaching the linebackers on Mike Pettine’s defense.
Another name linked to the vacant DC job is Bret Bielema. The former Wisconsin and Arkansas Head Coach spent the 2018 season working hand-in-hand with Bill Belichick as a Consultant to the Head Coach.
And so, from this, we glean some potential defensive structures, schemes and principles that figure to be migrating south this winter along with Flores.
For Flores, Graham, and potentially Bielema, the task is tall. Redirect a unit that ranked 29th in points allowed each of the last two years under the inexperienced watch of Matt Burke.
We start first in New England. After all, Flores will be a master of delegation, but he knows this scheme as well as anyone. Few teams mix up their fronts with more frequency than the New England Patriots.
The prevailing theme among these slight variances of defensive schemes is the “Bear” front. A Bear front simply refers to six defenders up around the line of scrimmage. Two of those players are positioned in a linebacker technique while the other four are down linemen.
This variation of the Bear front is a 3-3 look using three down-linemen, two outside ‘backers shaded off the 9-technique alignment.
— James Light (@JamesALight) February 5, 2018
In this image provided by the Twitter account of James Light, we can see the variations from the nickel and dime packages (yes, Miami will FINALLY be running some dime defense in 2019).
The more traditional look aligns those six players in a 4-2 set.
New England Patriots 4-3 Even Front I just talked about vs Titans. 2 Gap & 1 Gap Hybrid. Very tough to run the ball against. First example is with Tampa 2 Coverage. Second is with 3 Buzz Coverage (SS Buzz). pic.twitter.com/dnskxkrgFp
— James Light (@JamesALight) January 16, 2018
Bret Bielema last coached (on the field) in 2017 at Arkansas, so he’s no stranger to the evolution of the college game and its integration into the NFL. There, Bielema’s defense was based in the traditional 3-4, but the tight splits inside look an awful lot like the classic Bear front (nose tackle over the center and two fellow linemen in a variance between 2i and 4 techniques). Bielema helped institute some of these principles in 2018 – his one season with the Patriots.
The common theme between all of these looks is to prevent specific run plays. The inside run becomes increasingly difficult with all the bodies down around the line of scrimmage. The even bigger factor (both literally and figuratively) is the beef inside.
Vincent Taylor gon’ eat in this new defense. Miami didn’t two-gap at all, but he’s capable. pic.twitter.com/m7nfBdbVoU
— Travis Wingfield (@WingfieldNFL) January 16, 2019
Davon Godchaux has the power to play a true nose or the 2i/3 in the 3-3 Bear Front. Here he is showing us as close to nose alignment dominance as we’ll find from 2018 in this D. pic.twitter.com/Ylc4wt86Di
— Travis Wingfield (@WingfieldNFL) January 16, 2019
Lining up with three down-linemen (pushing 300 pounds a pop) and defending one gap makes it nearly impossible to pull, which means the end of any gap-scheming.
The scheme is also designed to shut down inside zone, but also free up the linebackers with fewer keys and responsibilities. Instead of asking the defensive ends to set the edge on the way to their pass rush (the design of the wide-9) this alignment puts that responsibility on the outside linebackers.
The widened pre-snap alignment gives the linebackers a quicker, unimpeded path to outside runs. Only the Mike Linebacker has to weed through trash and take on blocks in this defense. Raekwon McMillan would likely serve as the Middle Linebacker. McMillan’s instincts and physicality at the point-of-attack would capitalize on the things the former Buckeye does well.
No false steps, clean diagnosis, knifes in and makes the TFL. This new defense wants to free up its LBs, which could make a word of difference for the emerging Raekwon McMillan. pic.twitter.com/MHDja6ebtM
— Travis Wingfield (@WingfieldNFL) January 16, 2019
Then there’s the influence of the actual Titled-Defensive Coordinator, Patrick Graham. Working under Mike Pettine, Graham absorbed the principles of the Bear front and the 46 defense. Pettine spent time with Rex Ryan in Baltimore and with the New York Jets and, as we all know, Rex’s Dad Buddy was the originator of the 46 defense.
The imagine comes from the Patriots defense, but it’s along the lines of what you see in Green Bay with Pettine (and Graham). Four down-linemen condensed to create space off the edge of the linebackers. This means more pass rushing opportunities from linebackers.
Jerome Baker working as an outside rush backer off the weak side – a role he will see plenty of in 2019 in Patrick Graham’s defense. pic.twitter.com/SVzKXuyc8T
— Travis Wingfield (@WingfieldNFL) January 16, 2019
Later, as it inches near official status in the way it has with Graham, we will dive into the potential principles and concepts of Jim Caldwell’s offense in today’s NFL. Much like the Dolphins inclination to bring an experienced consultant along with the young defensive boss, the play on the attack unit is heading in that direction as well.
These consultants figure in as prominent fixtures early in this experimental tenure of young coaches. Caldwell (63-years-old with 41 years of coaching experience) and Bielema (48-years-old with 22 years of coaching experience) can ease the transition to the Flores/Graham grouping along with whomever (possibly Chad O’Shea of the Patriots) Flores chooses as his Offensive Coordinator.
The offensive crash course will be posted just as soon as we have more concrete news.
Miami Dolphins Mock Draft Roundup: A Kyler Murray Sighting
It is that time of year again. Yes, the time of year where we all jump to immediate conclusions, argue and judge each other on projections that, statistically speaking, have a less chance of happening than winning the lottery or being struck by lightning multiple times.
It’s mock draft season! Well – it’s been mock draft season since December 30th but who’s counting…
Let’s get started on what I hope becomes a weekly (or bi-weekly depending on how many updates are made) mock draft roundup for Miami’s 13th overall pick:
Bleacher Report: Greedy Williams – CB – LSU
Greedy Williams, arguably one of the top corners in this draft — right up there with Washington corner Byron Murphy. Someone to pair with all-pro corner, Xavien Howard, is a need for this Miami defense. Drafting or bringing in a reliable #2 corner also allows Miami to play players like Bobby McCain and Minkah Fitzpatrick in their proper roles, slot corner and safety respectively.
Williams is a tall corner, measuring in at 6’3”. Add in the speed he possesses and simply looking at the metrics, he has what you want, physically, for a corner.
CBS Sports: Greedy Williams – CB – LSU
Right off the bat, two mocks having Miami select LSU corner, Greedy Williams. It’s hard to argue against this pick when you watch Williams.
For those looking for a quarterback, this mock draft saw four — yes, four — quarterbacks go before Miami’s selection. In between those selections saw a lot of the top defensive line players taken – both edge and interior. Assuming this is the case, a player like Williams would be a solid pick as far as value and need go.
The Draft Network: Kyler Murray – QB – Oklahoma
Now it’s getting exciting! There isn’t a player in this draft with more hype than Kyler Murray. As written here at Locked on Dolphins, Murray has the answers for this Miami team.
Kyler Murray will now get feedback from NFL scouts regarding his draft position and many scouts estimate he’ll be a 2nd or 3rd round pick. He also has millions from baseball waiting for him. Big decision still looms.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) January 14, 2019
Some question if he will be available at #13. As Ian Rapoport reports, maybe that idea isn’t so far-fetched. Maybe it’s just early smoke-screens or maybe teams are actually concerned about his size. Make no mistake, despite the round 2 or 3 grade, quarterbacks always find their name called much earlier. Murray will be no exception.
2019 still may be a “rebuilding” year, but I promise drafting Murray would produce a season defined as anything but boring. If you’re hoping for Miami to make a splash in the draft, drafting Murray would certainly be the biggest play.
Drafttek: Dexter Lawrence – DT – Clemson
Dexter Lawrence did not play in Clemson’s final two games, which ultimately resulted in a national championship. Although Lawrence wasn’t on the field, don’t misunderstand the impact Lawrence had on this Clemson team.
Lawrence has the size to play on the interior of a defensive line, coming in at 6’4” and 340 lbs. He isn’t the quickest tackle in the world, but he can stop the run with the best of them and bring interior pressure to disrupt the quarterback. Although I feel this is high for Lawrence and there may be more impactful positional prospects available at this pick (e.g. defensive end Jachai Polite, Montez Sweat), he would be a safe pick who would contribute day 1 for this Miami defense.
Pro Football Focus: Dexter Lawrence – DT – Clemson
This now makes two choices for Clemson star interior defensive lineman, Dexter Lawrence.
What is interesting, in this mock, players like Houston’s Ed Oliver were still available. Oliver, also an interior defensive lineman, has a different skillset than Lawrence, obvious by Oliver coming in measured at 6’3” and 292 lbs.
Is Miami looking for that big man in the middle who doesn’t get moved around (like Minnesota defensive tackle, Linval Joseph), or the quick tackle, more built for pass-rushing (like Los Angeles defensive tackle Aaron Donald). Who knows, but if both are in the board, Miami’s plan for the future at defensive line will be clear with this pick.
SB Nation: Daniel Jones – QB – Duke
It’s no secret Miami is in the market for a quarterback. Although Duke quarterback, Daniel Jones, has potential, this would be a reach. Jones doesn’t seem to have the high ceiling other quarterbacks slotted in the first round do, so why reach on a player who at best may be a slightly better version of Ryan Tannehill? There are other options out there at a cheaper price.
When you thrown in Miami is supposedly eyeing the 2020 draft class for their franchise quarterback with the 2019 draft geared towards fixing the trenches, it only raises more questions at why this may be the pick.
All that said, it’s the NFL draft. Smoke screens are a plenty and no one really knows what a team is going to do and how a player will or won’t turn out. Pulling the trigger on your franchise quarterback is certainly alluring, but why not put your chips all in on a player who has the franchise-altering potential? I just don’t see it with Jones.
I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on who Miami should take at #13. Follow me on Twitter @skylertrunck and let’s discuss.