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Miami Dolphins

Winning and Rebuilding Are Not Mutually Exclusive

Travis Wingfield



The Alternative to the Tank

Adam [Gase] wants to win now.”

Perhaps unintentionally, that comment, during Chris Grier’s introductory presser from Owner Stephen Ross, was the most telling tidbit from the 12-minute Q&A session.

“Hopefully it’s not 3-13, but whatever it takes to build a winning team that can sustain success is the goal,” Ross said.

Reading the tea leaves, it becomes rather apparent that Dolphins intentions are to rebuild the program this spring. Just because the dreaded “R” word is probably the correct course of action doesn’t mean the team can’t still win games in the interim.

Granted, the most glaring hole on the roster is at the most important position in all of sports, but there are options to either 1.) Bridge the gap to the future, or 2.) Accelerate the future to the present via the draft.

We have months to debate the merits of Teddy Bridgewater, Nick Foles, Dwayne Haskins and the ultimate dream – Kyler Murray, but this column isn’t just about the quarterback.

Nov 4, 2018; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross (left) celebrates with Dolphins president and chief executive officer Tom Garfinkel (right) after a game against the New York Jets at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

It’s about the current make-up of the roster. A roster who’s 2018 production was largely established on the work of cheap, young players not yet old enough to rent a car (under 25).

Teams in worse-off positions have made jumps that would reinvigorate a fan base starved for a winner. The 2018 Bears turned things around overnight. The 2016 Rams were the biggest train wreck in the league – now they’ll host a playoff game in the NFL’s “elite 8” after their second straight division title. The Texans went from last-to-first with a roster riddled with question marks.

Again, for disclaimer purposes, each of those teams made dramatic changes at the quarterback position. Which sets up nicely for my position that, dropping an all-star in at the quarterback position can suddenly turn a lackluster roster into an enticing one.

Whether it’s Kyler Murray, Dwayne Haskins, Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbet, Jake Fromm, Trevor Lawrence – whoever you’re partial too, getting that pick right will change the perception of the rest of the roster.

Because, frankly, the rest of the roster is a lot better than it’s been given credit for.

Just because Ross himself says they’re going to do things the “right way,” doesn’t mean the team can’t play good football en route to building an annual championship contender.

The owner said he doesn’t want to continue to flush resources into “older” free agents; patch the roster in hopes of sneaking in as a wildcard.

Great! Most of the production on this roster came from the young guys any way. So when the word “purge” is floated, it’s not referring to your all-pro, 25-year-old, league-leading intercepting cornerback. It’s not in reference to your already-elite left tackle – age 24. It’s about the pushing-30 veteran commanding a percentage of the salary for minimal contribution.

The savings are going to be massive. And while Miami might not be interested in going the way of the high-priced free agent ala Mike Wallace, Brandon Albert or Ndamukong Suh, the flexibility is there. Hell, using that money to keep their own established stars is the best organizational shift the franchise could undergo.

Miami is about to create a gaping hole at the defensive end position. Rather than paying Robert Quinn, the team could hand his annual salary to Frank Clark – the impending free agent of the Seattle Seahawks.

But it doesn’t have to be Frank Clark. It could be “Place Holder” for the purpose of the exercise. There is about to be an entirely fresh canvas in Miami. And that means the opportunity to change the narrative, or perhaps the earned reputation of this once-proud franchise is entirely existent.

Let’s lay the cards on the table and evaluate this team at present date – a state of the franchise, if you will.

We’re going to categorize team roster in four ways: The core, the cuts, the needs, and the priorities.


*Players age refers to age on opening day 2019

The Core:

Xavien Howard – Cornerback
Age: 26.2
2019 Cash Owed: $1.3 M
Club Control: Through 2019

For the second straight year Howard picked off seven passes. In 2018, however, he did it in just 12 games. He’s a physical specimen capable of locking down the game’s best receivers. He’s a safe bet to get a massive contract extension before the 2019 season kicks off – the superstar of this team.

Over the final four games, when Howard was sidelined with a knee injury, the Dolphins defense surrendered 134 points. He is the glue that held the defense together and a player capable of shutting down an entire side of the field on defense.

Howard’s passer rating against was a paltry 69.4 on the season.

Xavien Howard Film Study

Laremy Tunsil – Left Tackle
Age: 25.1
2019 Cash Owed: $2.1 M
Club Control: Through 2019

Another safe bet to see a big extension coming his way (elevating Chris Grier all but locks Howard and Tunsil into long-term deals with the Dolphins), Laremy Tunsil didn’t allow his first sack of 2018 until week 16.

The offense consistently trusted Tunsil to handle the opposition’s best pass rusher one-on-one, sliding the protection away from the game’s premier left tackle. Tunsil shut down the likes of Jadeveon Clowney and Khalil Mack with utter brilliance in pass protection

He’s an effective run blocker too; be it gap, zone or on the pull, Tunsil can do it all.

Laremy Tunsil Film Study

Minkah Fitzpatrick – Free Safety
Age: 22.9
2019 Cash Owed: $1.2 M
Club Control: Through 2021

Fitzpatrick’s rookie year was a smashing success. His production tailed off towards the end as the season submerged beyond reprieve, but he was fluid and an asset at multiple positions.

Fitzpatrick’s 2018 rep count was as follows:

Perimeter Corner: 281
Slot Corner: 380
Free Safety: 166
Box Safety: 94

Without Fitzpatrick, a depleted secondary could’ve entered the depths of 2007 defensive backfield. A full year in the program, a chance to rest after a 2018 without an off-season (from National Championship game to the Scouting Combine right into mini-camp), Fitzpatrick’s sword will have sharpened and he’ll be ready to make a major impact on the defense.

Kenyan Drake – Running Back
Age: 25.7
2019 Cash Owed: $810 K
Club Control: 2019

One day, some coach, be it in Miami or otherwise, is going to base his offensive attack around Kenyan Drake and the Alabama product is going to produce mega-numbers. His 2018 season was right in line with his young career marks – highly efficient, a big-play machine, but not given an appropriate amount of work.

At 4.5 yards per carry, 1,012 total yards on just 173 touches, nine touchdowns (six coming from 20+ yards), Drake took advantage of minimal opportunities.

Now that Miami is set to turn the offensive reigns over to a new play caller, 2019 will be a statistical explosion for the former four-star Bama recruit.

Albert Wilson – Wide Receiver
Age: 27.2
2019 Cash Owed: $7 M
Club Control: Through 2020

One of the outliers, as far as salary goes, Wilson was on track for a record-setting year before a season-ending knee injury hit in week seven. Like Drake, Wilson is a threat to score every time he touches the football (evidence by his effort single-handedly winning the Bears game).

Heading into that game with the Lions, Wilson led the league in yards-after-the-catch and YAC average. He moved the chains as a ball carrier, provided a decoy on misdirection plays, lined up split wide, in the slot, nasty, in the backfield and even threw a touchdown pass.

Wilson was the Dolphins gem of the 2018 off-season – the only thing that can slow him from picking that pace back up, is a rather serious hip injury.

Vincent Taylor – Defensive Tackle
Age: 25.7
2019 Cash Owed: $640 K
Club Control: Through 2020

One of Chris Grier’s late-round gems at the position in 2017, Taylor has developed his game at a more rapid pace than anyone anticipated. Like too many others on this list, Taylor’s 2018 season was cut short by an injury.

Prior to the injury, few DTs were stuffing the run with greater frequency. Taylor added another blocked field goal to his resume, a pair of sacks and a handful of additional pressures.

Jakeem Grant – Wide Receiver/Return Specialist
Age: 26.9
2019 Cash Owed: $720 K
Club Control: Through 2019

The only player in 2018 to return a kickoff and a punt for a touchdown, Jakeem Grant continues the theme of young, electrifying game-breakers on this offense. Criminally under-utilized, Grant’s impact was rounding into form late in 2017 and in the beginning of 2018, before being banished to back-up duty in an unwarranted fashion.

After Wilson was lost with an injury, Grant’s workload went down. Inexplicable.

Jerome Baker – Linebacker
Age: 22.8
2019 Cash Owed: $654 K
Club Control: Through 2021

With three sacks, three passes defensed and an interception brought all the way home for six, Baker’s play making prowess took off immediately in his rookie season. He’s athletic, savvy and a sure-tackler.

As a blitzer, Baker is effective taking proper angles and maintaining gap integrity. As a run defender, he’s aggressive and seeks out contact. In coverage, he’s athletic enough to match any tight end across from him.

Davon Godchaux – Defensive Tackle
Age: 24.8
2019 Cash Owed: $645 K
Club Control: Through 2020

A sturdy run-stuffer, Godchaux has been eating up double teams since the day he arrived in Davie. With an extremely low pad-level and tree trunks for legs, Godchaux can control the point of attack, disengage from blocker and make stops at the line of scrimmage.

Raekwon McMillan – Linebacker
Age: 23.8
2019 Cash Owed: $892 K
Club Control: Through 2020

After tearing his ACL on the first play of the 2017 pre-season, it was a slow climb back for McMillan. As the trust in his lateral movement returned, so did his instinctive and explosive nature. McMillan is a between-the-tackles banger that, along with Davon Godchaux, can provide solid run defense in base downs.

Bobby McCain – Slot Cornerback
Age: 26.0
2019 Cash Owed: $5.6 M
Club Control: Through 2022

After McCain’s breakout 2017 season, 2018 brought about new challenges – challenges he, perhaps, wasn’t cut out for. Injuries forced McCain to move around the secondary and out onto the perimeter. There, the skillset that made him one of the game’s premier slot corners did not translate.

Fighting through injuries and playing out of position might have fans down on McCain, but he is an unquestioned leader of this team. He plays with his hair on fire and is more than willing in run support. McCain will be fine, just put him in the slot and leave him there.

Kenny Stills – Wide Receiver
Age: 27.5
2019 Cash Owed: $8 M
Club Control: Through 2020

Stills’ dip in production can be attributed to two factors – 1.) A mid-season injury and, 2.) An abject disaster at the quarterback position. When Stills had his QB1 with a healthy throwing shoulder, he was producing right on par with his career average through the first month of the season.

With three touchdowns and 184 receiving yards through the Dolphins 3-0 start, Stills became a forgotten man when Brock Osweiler took the reins.

There is an out in Stills’ contract for a small dead cap hit, and a trade is worth exploring, but unless it’s a considerable offer, Miami would be wise to retain the services of this big-play, locker room leader.

Kalen Ballage – Running Back
Age: 23.7
2019 Cash Owed: $480 K
Club Control: Through 2021

Ballage certainly doesn’t have the resume as everyone else on the list. But it was the flashes of potential late in the season that reminded folks why he was so highly thought of coming out of Arizona State.

With 5.3 yards per carry, and a role as the trigger man in the wildcat, Ballage showed the versatility that made him a standout at last year’s Senior Bowl.


Of the 13 players listed, 12 would be expected starters in 2019. That doesn’t include the veterans on the other side of the age paradigm (Reshad Jones, the biggest name of note).

A lot of Jones’ veteran counterparts, however, figure to follow Adam Gase with a one-way ticket out of town.

The Cuts:

Andre Branch
2019 Cash Due: $7 M
Cap Hit: $2 M

After robbing the Dolphins, via Mike Tannenbaum, for $18 million the last two years, Miami can get away from their overpaid rotational rusher for a minimal loss. Branch sacked the quarterback just six times in the first two years of his big contract extension ($3 million per sack).

Devante Parker
2019 Cash Due: $9 M
Cap Hit: $0

Still waiting on Parker’s breakout season, the Dolphins have an easy decision to make on their 2015 first round pick. Parker scored only one touchdown in each of the last two seasons, took on multiple injuries and still doesn’t seem to understand what being a professional is all about.

Kiko Alonso
2019 Cash Due: $7.9 M
Cap Hit: $5.7 M

Dirty hits, embarrassing spy efforts, shooting the wrong gap, woeful coverage, there isn’t much else Alonso could do to earn his way onto this list. He made the big play early in 2018, and there’s value in that, but his mental lapses were evident by the number of poor run fits on the defense, but also by his inability to learn the new rules in football (spearheading sliding quarterbacks – not too smart).

Robert Quinn
2019 Cash Due: $13 M
Cap Hit: $0

This one is the trickiest of the bunch. Quinn didn’t produce like a $13 million sack-master, but six of his seven sacks came in the back half of the season. He was a quality run defender more times than not, he’s still just 29 and it’s not likely you’ll find better value on the open market.

Danny Amendola
2019 Cash Due: $6 M
Cap Hit: $0

Now that Gase is gone this shouldn’t be a concern, but let’s not give the new HC any opportunity to give Grant and Wilson’s snaps away to an inferior player. Amendola was a progress stopper to two of the most talented skill players on the roster, not to mention a lackluster season in his own right.

Ryan Tannehill
2019 Cash Due: $17.5 M
Cap Hit: $13 M

Miami could try to trade their quarterback, but those contract figures could make that difficult. Even if the Dolphins are send Tannehill elsewhere for a conditional pick, it would be wise to pull the trigger.

Ted Larsen
2019 Cash Due: $1.9 M
Cap Hit: $400 K

This requires no explanation.


That’s nearly $50 million in savings on a sextet of veterans providing very little by way of production. When Stephen Ross mentioned the free agent stop gaps, those are the players he was referencing.

The Needs:

Quarterback: Pro Football Focus claims Ryan Tannehill was the worst quarterback in 2018. That’s absurd. But he did regress in a way that was rather unexpected. Now, the Dolphins look to find the future in a class that doesn’t offer many options.

Dec 29, 2018; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Kyler Murray (1) runs against the Oklahoma Sooners during the third quarter of the 2018 Orange Bowl college football playoff semifinal game at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Kyler Murray is far-and-away the best potential option, but his future is unclear at press time. Dwayne Haskins has yet to declare, but he’s the clear QB1 when he does. Beyond those two, it’s a lackluster crop of free agents and middle round prospects. Teddy Bridgewater or Nick Foles, coupled with a second round pick on Drew Lock, might be the best route.

Defensive End: Cam Wake is set to hit free agency and the 37-year-old future Hall of Fame pass rusher will have a market. He doesn’t want to leave Miami and would probably come at a reduced rate.

Even with Wake, Miami has some serious work to do at the position. Branch and Charles Harris were abject failures, Quinn might be too expensive and this draft class is littered with elite edge rushers. The Dolphins figure to double down at this spot, as well as attack the interior DL position.

Cornerback #2: Playing Torry McTyer, Cordrea Tankersley and Cornell Armstrong for stretches spelled bad news for the Dolphins record setting defense – and not the kind of records you want to break.

If Fitzpatrick moves back to safety, Howard and McCain take two of three corner spots, there is one clear void in an otherwise solid group.

Offensive Line: This two-decade-long need might not be as bad as perceived. Tunsil and James (we’ll get to that shortly) give Miami a pair of bookends as good as any. If Josh Sitton returns to play left guard, and Jesse Davis at right guard, center is the only glaring need.

However, Miami would be foolish to usher out that group of five and call it good. Depth would be paramount behind Sitton and at tackle. Miami has to hit on an interior lineman in this draft – they just have to.


The team could use another wide receiver, linebacker and probably a tight end, but those are bridges to be crossed after the above has been resolved.

The Top priorities:

Kyler Murray – Stay with me here. I realize he isn’t even committed to football at the time of this posting, but practically everyone outside of his baseball agent thinks he’s choosing football. If he does, he’s the one ticket this off-season that can reshape the complexion of this franchise immediately in 2019.

Re-Sign Ja’Wuan James – He stayed healthy from camp through the end of the season (sans one missed game week 10). He has stretches of dominance in pass pro, and he consistently gives the Dolphins an edge-seal in the running game. He can pull to the play side and erase linebackers (the Dolphins averaged seven YPC running behind James) in the ground game.

Sink Multiple Resources into Edge Rushers and Interior DL – We’ve already saved millions of bucks by trimming the fat. If Miami wants to spend free agent money, this is the position where that should happen. Maybe not the bell of the ball in Frank Clark or Demarcus Lawrence, but a reclamation project like Ezekiel Ansah or Dante Fowler could be a bargain.

Additionally, this draft class is ultra-deep all along the defensive line. If the QB plan doesn’t work out, this is likely the position Miami targets in round-one.

Whichever of the six coaches gets the gig, it’s a busy off-season ahead for [enter coach’s name here] and Chris Grier. Another year of significant roster turnover means fans will have to get to know a lot of new names, but it doesn’t mean the team has to bottom out.

The attraction of the bottom-out, the “tank” if you will, is the illustrious glimpse of the 2020 NFL Draft class at quarterback.

Perhaps, for the first time in a long time, Miami are in a win-win situation.


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Miami Dolphins

Patriots-Dolphins Scheme Brief and Player Analogs

Kevin Dern



With the Draft complete and undrafted free agents added, with a few other moves in the mix, we’ve finally got our first glimpse of Miami’s 90 (really 91) man roster as we head into summer OTAs and mandatory mini-camp.  If I were a betting man, I’d guess that Miami may not be quite done with roster additions.  I imagine we’ll see something between June 1st and the start of Training Camp.  With all that in mind there’s been a lot of speculation about Miami’s defense and how it will look.

This offseason has provided us with a few interesting bits about what we’ll see.  John Congemi state on “The Audible”, the Dolphins own podcast, that Raekwon McMillan asked Brian Flores about watching film and was told to look at Dont’a Hightower.  Eric Rowe also said that the scheme is the same as what he ran last year with the Patriots.  We also had Brian Flores answering a question during his OTA media availability saying that the formatting of defense would be different.  I would expect that answer given the personnel differences, perhaps better spelled “deficiencies” that Miami has in comparison to the Patriots defense from a year ago.  This is why I wanted to put together this piece – to examine what we’re likely to see and who from Miami’s roster is an analog of a Patriot defender from 2018.

The Scheme
Let’s get something out of the way right off the bat.  This isn’t a 4-3 defense.  This isn’t a 3-4 defense.  Forget about those ideologies.  This defense is multiple.  Very multiple.  As I detailed in my piece earlier this year, New England is in a sub-package more than anything.  The top three personnel groupings the Patriots used last year were all sub-packages sets:  4-2-5 (307 snaps), 3-3-5 (226 snaps) and 3-2-6 (162 snaps).  The Patriots were in a 4-3 (97 snaps) and 3-4 (13 snaps) much, much less.

Looking at the Pats top two formations, I think we’re likely to see these used by the Dolphins as well.  A good barometer for how the Patriots used them would be that if they were facing 12 or 21 personnel, they were in a 4-2-5 with three safeties instead of a slot corner.  If they were facing 11 personnel, they were in a 4-2-5 with two safeties and a slot corner or used a 3-3-5 formation.  Often times that formation saw one of the linebackers, often Kyle Van Noy, walked-up on the line of scrimmage effectively playing as a stand-up defensive end.

This defense will be versatile in that we’ll see some different things than what we saw under Matt Burke and Vance Joseph.  We’ll likely see more even fronts.

We’re likely to see their Diamond (nickel – 3-3-5) and Ruby (dime – 3-2-6) fronts quite a bit.  (Courtesy of James Light – @JamesALight)

Coach Flores has often talked about wanting to see what players can and can’t do, and slot them into roles based on those results.  Rather than trying to find prototype players, the Patriots have searched for phenotypes – particular skillsets that players possess – and have plugged them into their scheme.  For example as it relates to Miami, there really wasn’t a player in this year’s Draft that was a direct analog of Kyle Van Noy.  There just wasn’t.  Jahlani Tavai was probably the closest and Detroit snatched him in the second round.

With that let’s take a look at the various positions Miami will use and who might be fits – and those who are close analogs with Pats players.  To help digest this I’ll break it down into:  Position – what they ask those players to do; Analogs – if any; and Players – guys Miami has on the roster that will likely get a crack at the role.

PositionDefensive Ends – Let’s start here.  Miami’s defense has undergone a seismic shift philosophically.  What was once the focal point of the wide-9, Miami’s no longer going to be in the market for defensive ends that could potentially hit double-digit sacks on a regular basis.  The Patriots have used different body type over the years, ranging from Rob Ninkovich to Chandler Jones to Trey Flowers to Deatrich Wise all in order to help set the edge against the run and be cogs in the machine in the pass-rush scheme, not the focal point.

Analogs:  Miami doesn’t have a guy who can replicate what Trey Flowers offered the Patriots.  It’s why Miami were in on him in free agency and were outbid by Detroit, where another Belichick disciple resides as head coach, in free agency.  They do have several guys who can be used the way Adrian Clayborn and Deatrich Wise were used, but until we see it on the field, I’m not comfortable labeling any as direct analogs.

Players:  For this defense, I think we’re likely to see guys classified as “Closed Ends” and “Open Ends” rather than left and right.  Closed meaning the strongside end, often with a LB outside or playing off of that player, and open side meaning the guy on the weakside of the formation, sometimes with no one outside of him.

Closed Ends:  Tank Carradine, Jonathan Woodard, Jonathan Ledbetter
Open Ends:  Charles Harris, Dewayne Hendrix, Jayrone Elliott*

*Jayrone Elliott may be more of a pass-rushing specialist in the mold of John Simon, whom the Patriots listed as a LB but played as a defensive end, sometimes standing up.  This is where I think Elliott slots in and he very well may have a shot to earn a roster spot.  He’s #91 for the Packers in the GIF below.

Position:  Defensive Tackles – The Patriots last year under Brian Flores used a rotation of four primary guys.  They also used DEs Trey Flowers and Deatrich Wise as 3-techniques quite a bit, but the primary four were Malcom Brown as a 1-technique and shade NT, Lawrence Guy as a 3-technique, Danny Shelton as a true 0 and shade NT, and Adam Butler as a 0, 1, 2i or 3 technique – he was involved in a lot of the Pats’ pass-rush packages.  The Patriots would also use some packages with 3 DTs on the field at the same time, often having Lawrence Guy play as a “Big DE” as Brian Flores labeled it last week.

Analogs:  Davon Godchaux compares pretty favorably to Malcom Brown, in my opinion.  He’s country strong and has been Miami’s primary 2i-technique the past two seasons.  That’s not much of a variation from playing the 1-technique NT spot, which many fans seem to forget Godchaux played at LSU for two seasons before switching to 3-4 DE his final year in Baton Rouge.

Players:  For Miami, I think Davon Godchaux slots in as the primary 1-technique player.  Christian Wilkins and Vincent Taylor figure to handle the 3-technique snaps of Lawrence Guy, as well as potentially doing some of the 4i and 5-tech stuff, especially Wilkins.  Miami at the moment has setup a nice competition for that true NT spots.  They don’t really have a guy as yet but figure on a competition between Jamiyus Pittman, Joey Mbu, Kendrick Norton and Cory Thomas.  I think Wilkins will likely eat up the snaps that Adam Butler took, but Miami may keep Akeem Spence for that role.  Remember, Akeem Spence was traded to Miami last year by Matt Patricia because he didn’t fit the defense.  That’s Miami’s defense.

I do think there’s an opportunity for both Wilkins and Taylor to grab some snaps at 3-technique in the 3-3-5 “Bear” front with New England runs quite a bit *IF* Miami can find the OLBs to make this work.*VBysJsaw3lxF0Mduc7-Ueg.png

Position:  Linebackers – The Pats primarily used two linebackers on the field in most of their packages, except on third downs.  Those two guys were their Mac (Mc) and Money ($) LBs – Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy.  Their responsibilities vary by formation and personnel grouping.  They’ll also use a Buck (B) when they have three linebackers on the field.  I’ll be working on a preview article as we get into Training Camp and preseason where I’ll do a deep dive on how they use these positions in each personnel package.  For now, I’ll summarize these parts.

Mac – This is Dont’a Hightower’s spot.  In the 4-2-5 and any 4-3 formations, Hightower is an off-ball LB or MLB in the 4-3 most of the time.  There are various formations, like the 3-3-5 picture above (see OLB Lee as Hightower was injured for this game), will line up on the ball in a position akin to where a 3-4 OLB would be, even though there’s only 3 LBs on the field.

$ – This is Kyle Van Noy.  Van Noy will line up off the ball in 4-3 formations or will be the SAM if they use an Under look – which is rare.  In the 4-2-5 groupings he and Hightower are the two main off-ball linebackers.  In the 3-3-5 “Bear” fronts, Van Noy is often at the MLB spot, with Hightower and John Simon as the OLBs.  However, he will also line up on the line of scrimmage as a stand-up DE in their Diamond and Ruby sets that were shown before.  In these spots, he’ll 1) pass-rush 2) cover a RB or TE 3) cover the hook, curl or flat, or 4) act as a blitzer – either in a green dog capacity, or as looper coming through the backside A or B gap.  See the formation below:

Notice that Hightower is off-the-ball as it looks like a 4-2-5 formation.  This is one of the subtleties that the Patriots will use.

Buck – This role is sort of two-fold.  It is essentially the WILL LB in 4-3 spots, but can be an off-ball ILB in 4-2-5 fronts, and on the line of scrimmage edge rusher in the 3-3-5 and other sub fronts.

Analogs:  None.  The closest one, in my opinion, is Raekwon McMillan to Dont’a Hightower.  As indicated by John Congemi, McMillan was told by Brian Flores to watch film on Hightower.  I think McMillan will likely fill the Mac role in the 4-2-5 and he had some experience playing SAM at Ohio State, so we may see him as a stand-up on the LOS edge LB in some of the 3-3-5 “Bear” fronts.  Though the fit in the “Bear” package may be dubious at best.  I do, however, think that Raekwon can line up as an on the line of scrimmage or “mugged up” ILB in the Patriots sub-fronts.  He’s got some familiarity with this playing “Nose-backer” in the wide-9 at times last year under Matt Burke.  I think Raekwon is big and strong enough to be used as a blitzer and “pin” player on stunts, much like this GIF of Hightower below, courtesy of Pro Football Focus:

Notice the stunt by Adrian Clayborn following Hightower, essentially a T-E stunt.  Miami’s defensive line coach Marion Hobby gives a great breakdown of those stunts here:

I included this here as Miami will likely have some of their linebackers playing on the edges or mugged up inside executing these pass-rush games and blitzes.

Players:   Separating these by position for simplicity:

Mac – Raekwon McMillan is your starter here.  As far as depth goes, I think we could see Chase Allen, Tre’ Watson and Quentin Poling compete here for the reps that are between-the-tackles.  I think guys like Charles Harris and Andrew Van Ginkel could very well get opportunities for some of the stand-up edge reps.  That said, the Patriots have always liked to find guys who can fulfill the entire role rather than piecemealing it.  Miami may not have that player in this case, but I think McMillan can handle the bulk of these duties and should thrive in this defense.

$ – Jerome Baker is likely who Miami starts with at this spot.  Baker recently reported on The Audible he’s trying to bulk up to 230lbs after playing last year at 220lbs.  This fit is dubious, in my opinion.  I know many Dolfans won’t like to read that, but it is what it is.  I think Baker can likely handle this role in the 4-2-5 looks and would likely be the lone off-ball MLB in the 3-3-5 “Bear” fronts.  But Baker is more of a blitzer than true pass-rusher.  He’s also 6’1” and 227lbs currently.  Kyle Van Noy is a full 6’3” 250lbs.  Perhaps Baker’s speed is the equalizer here, but that length will be important.  I think this is where Andrew Van Ginkel could absolutely thrive.  He did the on the line of scrimmage stuff all the time at Wisconsin.  Charles Harris should, in my opinion, get a shot here with the edge stuff; Miami might be able to squeeze some football out of him this way.

Buck – Travis and I discussed this on the podcast on Sunday.  If Miami had limited Kiko Alonso’s role in last year’s defense he’d have been a pretty effective, albeit overpaid, third linebacker.  I see him here, though perhaps not right away.  The new staff may be more inclined to give him a shot at the $ linebacker spot given his veteran experience.  That’d be regrettable in my opinion.  If they can pare down his snaps, he could likely handle a lot of the duties the Buck LB spot handles on first and second downs…that is for what snaps there are.  The Patriots would often use John Simon in this role for their 3rd down packages or as an extra DE.  This is where I mentioned Jayrone Elliott fitting in, purely in the pass-rushing role.

In short, Miami just doesn’t have the horses that the Patriots have at linebacker, and though they may not want to, I think the coaching staff will be forced to piecemeal these LB roles with multiple parts.  Gun to my head, I’d expect we’ll see McMillan, Baker, Alonso, Van Ginkel all playing at least solid snaps, with perhaps Charles Harris and Jayrone Elliott having niche roles.

Position:  Safety – I’m skipping the corner position for right now as I want to do a little more research on that.  Let’s just get this out of the way, Xavien Howard looks like an analog for Stephon Gilmore.  X got the bag, deservedly so, and will hopefully be around to see this rebuild take flight.

At Safety, Miami have some fits, but I’m very, very curious to see how the players are slotted into roles.  New England often employs three safeties in their 4-2-5 looks, most often against 12 and 21 personnel rather than playing a third linebacker.  Those roles seem to stack up in the following spots:

SS – Strong safety – This is Patrick Chung, and he’ll often be lined up on the edge or in the box, where a linebacker would often be.  They’ll also use him as a robber in split safety looks, or in disguised looks with a deep safety dropping bac.

* – Star – This is Devin McCourty.  He’ll line up EVERYWHERE.  He’s often a FS in split safety looks, but he’ll find his way to the slot as an overhang defender. He’ll cover Flexed tight ends man-to-man.  He’ll cover them split out wide.  He handles a lot of the single-high safety responsibilities when they have two safeties on the field, but on 3rd downs, he’s often lined up in the slot or in the box with a coverage responsibility close to the line of scrimmage.

FS – Free Safety – this is played by McCourty in two safety looks, but is also played by Duron Harmon when they bring a third safety onto the field.

This video, courtesy of Samuel Gold, is required defensive study viewing.  Samuel does an outstanding job of breaking down how the Patriots shut down the Rams in the Super Bowl.  You can see a lot of the versatility among the safeties in this video.

Analogs:  Minkah Fitzpatrick is our second true analog.  While we haven’t seen him do everything that the Patriots ask Devin McCourty, in large part due to Matt Burke using Minkah at three different spots as a rookie, if you view his Alabama tape and Dolphins tape, it’s not hard to see the match here at all.  While most football fans acknowledge that Derwin James was just a freaking monster as a rookie, he was used EXACTLY has he should have been.  Kudos to the Chargers for doing so.  Minkah Fitzpatrick was, well, not used that way.  He was still outstanding but received much less notoriety.  That should change in 2019.

Players:  Reshad Jones caught a lot of flak for “quitting” on the team during the Jets game last year.  I don’t care.  He’s been one of the top two or three Dolphins players since 2012.  He should be in the Ring of Honor, and if you’re in favor of putting Ricky Williams there, you damn sure better vote for Reshad.

SS – That aside, I’d like to think that if Reshad’s fully recovered from offseason shoulders surgery – he was boxing in a video on Instagram last week – that he’d be the strong safety.  He did a lot of what Patrick Chung does in 2017 and had a Pro Bowl season.  He’s best attacking downhill or playing close to the line of scrimmage, so I think he fits that role well.  However, if his shoulders are still balky, we may see T.J. McDonald here.  I have another theory on him.

* – We already talked about Minkah Fitzpatrick filling in this role.  It’s his.  Leave him in this role.  Watch him flourish.

FS – This should really be spelled out as third safety.  My guess for now is that T.J. McDonald is penciled, lightly, into this role.  Barry Jackson reported a while back that T.J. wanted to drop weight from the 230lbs he played at a year ago and get down to 215lbs.  He had a little bit of success as a deep safety in 2017 when he came back from suspension.  That being said, I don’t think he or Reshad Jones, again if Jones’ shoulders are balky, are great fits for this role.  Their contract situations are, how to put it…not team friendly.  So, unless there’s a trade that develops, I expect they’ll be given opportunities

Also in consideration for this role should be Maurice Smith and Walt Aikens.  One has been a fringe roster player and the other is our best special teamer (and one of the top 5 special teamers in the entire NFL – Walt’s really good), but I’d imagine they’ll get a trial run here.  Aikens looks the part and is athletic, but wasn’t able to put it together when given a shot as a starting safety back in 2015 when Louis Delmas tore his ACL in preseason.  I do wonder if safeties coach Tony Oden may try to convert one of the myriad cornerbacks Miami have on their 90 man roster to safety.  He did so with Charles Washington while with Detroit in 2016.  The Patriots did it with Teez Tabor last year.  Perhaps someone will emerge for Miami here if McDonald or Jones falter.

We’ve covered quite a lot of ground in this piece already, so I’m going to wrap this up without taking up any more time until my next piece.  Overall, Dolfans are going to be wide-eyed trying to catch up with the philosophical seismic shift we’re going to see with the defense this year.  It’ll be multiple.  It’ll use a lot of players.  It’ll be different in some capacities on a weekly basis given opponents’ strengths.

All of this should be welcomed with open arms.

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Miami Dolphins

Josh Rosen 2018 Passing Chart – Week 17 at Seattle

Travis Wingfield



Football, more so than any other sport, requires context to tell the full story. Box scores provide the casual fan with a general idea of the cumulative result of any given game, but without isolating each player’s performance, many details go unnoticed.

This project is entirely based around isolating the play of Josh Rosen. Traditional data points will tell you that his rookie season was one of the worst in the history of the league. Watching each drop back multiple times over, breaking down the most impactful plays, and charting the data that tells the true story, this is the 2018 Josh Rosen charting project.

Jump To:

Week 4 vs. Seattle
Week 5 at San Francisco
Week 6 at Minnesota
Week 7 vs. Denver
Week 8 vs. San Francisco
Week 10 at Kansas City
Week 11 vs. Oakland
Week 12 at LA Chargers
Week 13 at Green Bay
Week 14 vs. Detroit
Week 15 at Atlanta
Week 16 vs. LA Rams
Week 17 at Seattle

Week 17 at Seattle –

By the time this season finale came to an end the entire Cardinals operation had to breathe a sigh of relief. A disaster season, that came to a crashing conclusion, was finally in the rearview. For Josh Rosen, the last month of the season was a recurring nightmare. Rosen threw 146 passes in December and the only one that crossed pay dirt was a busted coverage in this Seattle game.

Some of Rosen’s strong suits didn’t travel to the Pacific Northwest. Throwing into contested windows, play-action passing, and third down conversions each brought back less than satisfactory returns.

The Cardinal passing offense converted 3-of-14 3rd downs. Rosen was 2-of-14 for 23 yards on contested throws and 5-of-10 for 56 yards on play pass.

Rosen was chucking-and-praying once again. The average air yards per throw tallied 10.8 yards, while the Arizona receivers only amassed 51 yards after the catch (34.2% of Rosen’s passing total).

The short passing game was far more fruitful than the vertical attacks.


Portion of the Field Accurate Pass/Number of Passes
20+ yards 0/3 (0%)
11-19 yards 0/3 (0%)
0-10 yards (or behind LOS) 11/16 (68.8%)


The game was littered with mistakes from the Cardinals QB. Rosen registered 14 mistakes (11 from accuracy, 2 ball security issues, and 1 poor read). Rosen lost two fumbles and had two would-be interceptions dropped by the Seattle defense.

The personnel deployment featured more versatility than recent weeks. Rosen’s passes were supplemented by the following personnel packages.


11-personnel 31 snaps
12-personnel 3 snaps
21-personnel 4 snaps


As has been the case all season, Rosen was under frequent pressure. Seattle arrived for 11 pressures (6 sacks, 3 hits, 2 hurries) at an average time from snap-to-pressure of 2.19 seconds.

The busted coverage touchdown was Rosen’s one red-zone completion (1-of-3). He was in the gun for 25 snaps and under-center for 13.

Another week, another low conversion rate. The Cardinal passing game converted 8-of-38 plays into first downs (21.1%)

It’s difficult to imagine a more trying rookie season than the one Rosen experienced. The offensive line play was poor, the only consistent pass catcher was Larry Fitzgerald, and Rosen had his own share of rookie mistakes to compound things.

This game goes into the losing performance category marking eight consecutive games that Rosen failed to reach the winning performance category.


2018 Performance Results Number of Games
Winning Performance 2 (SEA, SF)
Inconsequential Performance 3 (@MIN, @LAC, @ATL)
Losing Performance 7 (@SF, DEN, @KC, OAK, @GB, DET, LAR, @SEA)

Winning Performance – The QB played well enough to garner a victory. He limited mistakes and made plays in crucial situations.
Inconsequential Performance – More of a game-managing role, the QB didn’t have the big plays, but mistakes were limited.
Losing Performance – The QB limited his team’s ability to win the game with his performance.


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Miami Dolphins

Josh Rosen 2018 Passing Chart – Week 16 vs. LA Rams

Travis Wingfield



Football, more so than any other sport, requires context to tell the full story. Box scores provide the casual fan with a general idea of the cumulative result of any given game, but without isolating each player’s performance, many details go unnoticed.

This project is entirely based around isolating the play of Josh Rosen. Traditional data points will tell you that his rookie season was one of the worst in the history of the league. Watching each drop back multiple times over, breaking down the most impactful plays, and charting the data that tells the true story, this is the 2018 Josh Rosen charting project.

Jump To:

Week 4 vs. Seattle
Week 5 at San Francisco
Week 6 at Minnesota
Week 7 vs. Denver
Week 8 vs. San Francisco
Week 10 at Kansas City
Week 11 vs. Oakland
Week 12 at LA Chargers
Week 13 at Green Bay
Week 14 vs. Detroit
Week 15 at Atlanta
Week 16 vs. LA Rams
Week 17 at Seattle


Week 16 vs. LA Rams –

For the second consecutive game Josh Rosen didn’t finish under-center for the Cardinals. In a blowout loss, where it seemed like the entire game plan revolved around making life easy on Josh Rosen, Arizona still managed to get ran out of the building. Mike Glennon completed the final series for the Red Birds offense.

Rosen threw the ball only 23 times, but scrambled more than he has all season. The game plan also featured the least amount of variety, from a personnel grouping standpoint, all season.


11-personnel 30 snaps
12-personnel 1 snap


Rosen’s typical third down heroics didn’t show up. The Cardinals converted only 2-of-10 third downs in the passing game (one a QB scramble). Converting, as it has been all season, was a challenge in general — Arizona converted just 6-of-31 drop backs (19.4%).

Rosen was in the shotgun almost exclusively (3 under-center, 28 in the gun). This led to a limited play-action passing game (only one throw from play pass).

The four mistakes attributed to Rosen were largely deep shots. He missed on short pass, but two of the three inaccuracies came on balls down the field. One of those deep shots was an ill-advised throw into coverage despite a wide open Larry Fitzgerald coming across the formation (seen in the video thread).

Rosen’s depth splits were as follows:


Portion of the Field Accurate Pass/Number of Passes
20+ yards 0/3 (0%)
11-19 yards 0/3 (0%)
0-10 yards (or behind LOS) 11/16 (68.8%)


More than half of Rosen’s 87 passing yards came from YAC (54%). The average depth of Rosen’s passes was 9.22 air yards per throw.

Throwing into tight window was a futile effort. Rosen completed 1-of-7 contested throws for 7 yards. Pressure was a regular fixture, yet again, as Rosen was under duress on 11 drop backs (4 sacks, 5 hits, 2 hurries). The average time from snap-to-pressure was 2.30 seconds.

The war of attrition seems to have finally broken the Cardinals spirit. The team’s execution was lacking all year, but this game was something of a “white flag” effort from the coaching staff. Rosen gets tabbed with a losing performance for a lack of big-time plays, a few mistakes, and an awful holistic result.


2018 Performance Results Number of Games
Winning Performance 2 (SEA, SF)
Inconsequential Performance 3 (@MIN, @LAC, @ATL)
Losing Performance 6 (@SF, DEN, @KC, OAK, @GB, DET, LAR)

Winning Performance – The QB played well enough to garner a victory. He limited mistakes and made plays in crucial situations.
Inconsequential Performance – More of a game-managing role, the QB didn’t have the big plays, but mistakes were limited.
Losing Performance – The QB limited his team’s ability to win the game with his performance.


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