Week 14 proved to be one of the most memorable in Dolphins history, as the “Miami Miracle” propelled the Dolphins to a dramatic victory over New England.
As memorable as it was, the only other favorable result around the league was the Ravens losing to Kansas City, as the Colts and Titans also kept themselves in playoff contention by notching wins.
Week 15 is a critical week for much of the NFL, as many teams are still alive in their respective playoff races. In the AFC specifically, there are five teams vying for the final two playoff spots. Who should you root for in these matchups? Here are the games to keep an eye on, with the team Miami should root for in bold for emphasis.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Baltimore Ravens, 1 p.m. EST
John Harbaugh announced Lamar Jackson will start over a healthy Joe Flacco on Sunday, which means this could be the official passing-of-the-torch moment for the Ravens (7-6). Tampa Bay is still mathematically in the NFC playoff race at 5-8, but facing a focused Ravens team at home is a tall order.
Dallas Cowboys at Indianapolis Colts, 1 p.m. EST
The Cowboys are coming off an intense divisional win over the Eagles, and the Colts (7-6) are hot after a huge win over the Texans. The Dolphins would benefit greatly if the Cowboys came away from Lucas Oil Stadium with a victory, dropping the Colts to 7-7. The Cowboys could control their own destiny by winning the NFC East, something they are in prime position to do.
Tennessee Titans at New York Giants, 1 p.m. EST
This is a potential trap game for the Titans (7-6), as the Giants have improved steadily as the season has gone on. Even without Odell Beckham Jr., the Giants can win with a good running game and just enough defense. The Titans are coming off an impressive win over the Jaguars and will also likely try to establish their running game early. This one could go either way, but let’s hope the Giants find a way to win this one.
Miami has a tough game this week, as playing in Minnesota is no walk in the park. The Vikings fired offensive coordinator John DeFilippo this week after an ugly performance on Monday night vs. Seattle, which could benefit the Dolphins. How will the game turn out? Our staff takes a shot at predicting it:
After the Miami Miracle I, like many Dolphins fans, am still somewhat on a high. That high has me feeling that the Dolphins can do no wrong but I know I cannot be that naive.
When the Dolphins play the Vikings in Minnesota it’s going to be a true test for the Dolphins defense. It’s looking like Xavien Howard will not play so the guys next in line really need to step up to stop the powerful Vikings offensive weapons.
This matchup could go either way but like I said I’m riding that high. I believe that the Dolphins can win this one and the taste of the playoffs will become sweeter.
Prediction: Dolphins 28, Vikings 24
Since Tannehill has returned, this offensive is firing on almost all cylinders averaging the 8th most points per game in that span. However, this will be the best defense this offense has seen in that span. Add in the offense averaging nearly 8 points less on the road this season, it’s hard to feel great about this matchup.
Minnesota is currently ranked 5th in yards allowed and 11th in points allowed. When you watch this team and look at them on paper, the talent on this defense certainly illustrates these ranks are no fluke.
The reason Minnesota isn’t winning as much as last year is due to their offense, and more so their offensive inconsistencies. Like Miami, Minnesota fans know all too well what it’s like to have a sub-par (at best) offensive line and the effects it has on an offense.
In attempt to salvage their offense, Minnesota fired their supposedly up-and-coming offensive coordinator, John DeFilippo, this last week.
It’s easy to think Miami won’t score many points in this matchup given their success on the road and against a defense this stout. What is difficult to predict in this matchup is how this Miami defense will hold. Minnesota running back, Dalvin Cook, has been scripted out of most games, which is odd considering he’ll be one of the more talented backs Miami sees this year. If Minnesota’s new offensive coordinator features a heavy run attack, it may be hard for Miami to stay in this game.
I have hard time going against what I’ve seen all year from this Miami Dolphins team, especially with the absence of Xavien Howard for another week.
Prediction: Vikings 20, Dolphins 17
Coming off last weeks Miami Miracle game has spirits and confidence high. Which immediately worries me because we know how this can go sometimes.
Ryan Tannehill has looked stellar in his return and the play-calling has been much improved as well. While the offense has seemed to find their groove, they still are not as dominant as needed to offset our shaky defense.
However, the defense has been playing the best it has all season and that trend MUST continue as they head to Minnesota.
The Vikings have been underwhelming this season after signing Kirk Cousins in the offseason. They just recently fired John DeFilippo, the highly regarded OC they snagged from the Eagles in the offseason.
Unfortunately, this isn’t what Miami wants, if only they had kept him for one more week.
Given our defensive performances on the road and an offense looking to get on the right track, I can’t help but feel Miami falls short this week. I hope I’m wrong.
Prediction: Vikings 31, Dolphins 23
The Dolphins got the kind of emotional win that can turn a whole season around vs. the Patriots last Sunday. The “Miami Miracle” is a play that will go down in NFL history, and could possibly propel the Dolphins into the playoffs if they handle their business the last three weeks of the season.
The Dolphins have been pretty bad on the road this season, and unfortunately I don’t see that stopping this week, especially not without Xavien Howard. The Vikings have a deep stable of receivers, and that matchup really worries me.
The Dolphins can win if they run the ball well and control the clock, and defensively they must get pressure on Kirk Cousins.
After a stinker on the road last week, the Vikings will also be motivated to play well in front of their home crowd, with a new offensive coordinator, with their playoff dreams potentially on the line.
Miami keeps it close, but I think Minnesota wins it late.
Prediction: Vikings 24, Dolphins 21
To see Travis’ analysis and predictions, click here: https://www.lockedondolphins.com/dolphins/dolphins-at-vikings-week-15-preview/
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.