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Film Room: Dolphins’ Defensive Scouting Report

This year, Matthew Sottile and I will break down the opposing team’s defense in our weekly scouting report. Like last year, I will be looking at the opposing team in a more broad, scheme-approach. Matthew will have a closer eye on the individual players.

Today, the Miami Dolphins’ defense.

Alex’s Scheme Report

Front Seven

You can debate quality but the Dolphins sure have quantity along the defensive line. My gosh, this might be the heaviest rotation in football. On the season, eight defensive linemen have played at least 20% of the defensive snaps. Last week against the Tennessee Titansnine defensive linemen saw at least 15% of the time.

They were…

#93 Ndamukong Suh
#94 Mario Williams
#97 Jordan Phillips
#98 Jason Jones
#50 Andre Branch
#91 Cameron Wake
#52 Chris Jones
#78 Terrence Frede
#73 Julius Warmsley

Side note: the Dolphins sure search high and low for talent. Frede is from Marist. On the entire team, they have players from Liberty, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Shepherd, Towson, and Fordham.

Suh, Phillips, Jones, Frede, and Warmsley are tackles.

Suh leads the team with 2.5 sacks. But I’m going to say something here and in Dolphins’ circles, this is probably a hot take. So I hope you’re sitting down. I think nose Jordan Phillips is playing better football this season than Suh. They are two different body types and two different roles but Phillips consistency stuck out and I love his motor. He is what the Steelers hoped Daniel McCullers would be.

Williams is a LDE, Branch RDE, Wake more on the right side, and Jones is a chess piece. He’ll play inside/out, on ball or off it. They show some different fronts and walk people around to mix up their looks. I dig it.

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They like their D-line so much, or it was to combat the Titans’ “exotic smashmouth” that they opened up in a 5-2 look last week. Yup, five defensive linemen. Yolo.

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Sack wise, the entire team has 10 this year, about middle of the pack. Seven different players have at least one. So they are getting pressure from a variety of places.

Run wise, their YPC allowed is just average but they got gashed something fierce against the Titans a week ago. Allowed 5.7 yards per carry and over 250 yards on the ground. Couldn’t get a stop. They’ve given up the second most 10+ yard runs (21) and tied for the 6th most 20+ yard runs (four).

So happy Roosevelt Nix is back this week. Especially given the injuries at receiver, I’m running a lot of 22/12/13 personnel and seeing if the Dolphins can get a stop. I have my doubts.

They’re generally a one-gapping team that looks to penetrate. I’d look to get the ball on the perimeter against those types of teams like the Titans did here.

Kiko Alonso is their mainstay on this defense and the only guy to play every single snap this year. He’s their MIKE linebacker. Donald Butler is the SAM and Neville Hewitt is the WILL. Spencer Paysinger often comes on the field with Alonso in nickel. Again, lots of moving parts.

Jelani Jenkins will likely start at WILL if he can play. He’s missed time with a groin injury.

Dolphins’ Secondary

Another area undergoing a lot of changes so it’s hard to get a read on them. Last week, Byron Maxwell returned from a benching – rookie Xavien Howard is hurt – and started at LCB. Tony Lippett is on the right side. Lippett has only been playing CB for two years, converting from WR at Michigan State. The conversion hasn’t gone well. Lippett has a lot of length and can play some short stuff but I’d look to go vertical on him. Really test his technique and recognition. Antonio Brown is going to toy with this dude.

Bobby McCain will play in the nickel. Don’t forget they just claimed Bene’ Benwikere off waivers and given how bad this situation is, he might see work in the slot. He wears #33.

At safety could be Reshad Jones, one of their best players, but injury could keep him out. If he misses, I am guessing Michael Thomas will play. Isa Abdul-Quddus, a favorite of mine in free agency this year, is opposite. Liked the signing and he’s seemed to play pretty well.

The defense has only one interception, by Abdul-Quddus, tied for worst in the league. Maxwell is credited with two forced fumbles.

They’ve allowed 18 passes of 20+ yards, tied for 7th most, and three of 40+ which is about middle of the pack.

Their red zone defense is in the bottom third but their third down defense is strong, 33.3%. That’s 6th best, right behind Pittsburgh.

Scheme wise, it’s a lot of man coverage. Cover 1 and 2 Man. Sometimes that’ll get them into trouble when they defend shallow crossers by receivers with reduced splits. Like A.J. Green’s catch here.

If I’m Todd Haley, I’m leaning on one of his favorite calls, 62 Indy Z Post. It is going to stretch the safeties vertically with two deep routes on the outside and a rub route underneath that gets a couple of crossers. Eli Rogers could do some damage.

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Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, the Cincinnati Bengals’ former DBs coach,  is a relatively aggressive blitzer. Secondary will come a lot, usually in tandem with a linebacker. Ran it in different distances and field position. 2nd and goal from the 5, 1st and 10, 1st and 19, 2nd and 3. Don’t see a lot on third down though.

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One check might be bringing the CB on a run blitz when he’s “free,” when there’s no one eligible to his side. As Lippett does here.

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Dolphins’ Special Teams

On the punt coverage team, Bobby McCain and Damien Williams are the left and right wings, respectively. Safety Michael Thomas is the upback. Thomas has never recorded a rush in the NFL but ran the ball a couple times his freshman year at Stanford and tests well. I could see Miami trying a fake to jumpstart their offense this week.

Thomas and DB Walt Aikens lead the Dolphins’ in special teams’ snaps.

Matthew’s Individual Report

The Pittsburgh Steelers take on the Miami Dolphins in Florida, and I don’t want to jinx anything, but it may be yet another offensive display for the men in Black & Gold- the Dolphins’ defense is ranked 28th overall according to pro football focus. Struggles exist in both facets of the game, as the ground in addition to the aerial attack has given them fits thus far into the season.

The line of their base 4-3 defense is anchored by the likes of Ndamukong Suh and Jordan Phillips. Some may claim that Suh’s fallen from his once dominant days in Detroit, but that’s not entirely true. He’s leading the team in tackles behind the line of scrimmage (19), sacks (2) and has only registered a single missed tackle.

Again, are these dominant numbers we’re used to seeing from Suh? No; they’re in no way bad- maybe just a bit below par for Suh-like expectations. His run defense is where he’s done well, eating double teams on a regular occasion and swallowing the ball carrier in the process.

Conversely, Jordan Phillips has done very little since entering the league in the second round of the 2015 draft. He’s graded horrifically low against the run in his rookie year, and that trend has continued into this season. He currently has no tackles behind the line of scrimmage, registering only 7 tackles; he’s accounted for 3 penalties as well.

It’s clearly Suh who does a lot of the “heavy lifting” on the defensive line, as he doesn’t have much help down there. It’s easy to understand why the Dolphins are allowing over 100 yards rushing/game so far. Le’Veon Bell and the offensive line should be licking their lips. If we’re looking for positive, Phillips is still able to use his weight from time-to-time to push downhill (forgive me for highlighting their bright orange color rush jerseys).

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Even though the line may seem weak, Foster & co. cannot take them lightly. They are still very, very large men who would like nothing more than take a shot at Ben Roethlisberger if nothing else.

On either side are Cameron Wake and Mario Williams. Once upon a time this would be one heck of a duo, but in 2016, they’ve lost a bit of their pop. That being said, they still account for one of the few bright spots on this defense, as Wake has already accumulated 15 quarterback hurries- best on the team. His pass rushing is still better than most out there, although his lone sack on the season says otherwise.

It seems that age has caught up with Williams more than it has with Wake, as his pass rush received a negative grade last year for only the second time. And when I say negative, I mean extremely poor. He’s off to a mediocre start, as he’s also accumulated quite a few hurries (11), but also has a lone sack.

They’re throwing off a few passes, but they need to get there half a step sooner. Let’s hope they don’t find their stride on Sunday. If we take a look below, he does flash some of that late 2000s power we’re so used to seeing.

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Regardless of who’s starting right tackle for the Steelers come Sunday, they better be ready for an occasional bull rush from Mr. Williams. Like I said before- he seems to have been hit with the age bug, but can still flash from time to time.

The linebackers consist of Donald Butler, Kiko Alonso, and Jelani Jenkins. Let’s start with the polarizing central defender, Alonso. His rookie year of 2013 saw him strive in pass coverage, which is where he became dominant and useful. After battling a few injuries, his game began to grow weary; it seems as though he never found that 2013 form again, as he’s struggled ever since, being tossed around the league in key blockbuster deals.

Recipient teams have hoped that he would reclaim that dominance, but his most recent suitor, the Dolphins, have found that not to be the case. He’s been beat-up in the air, but has shockingly found his stride against the run. Will that continue throughout the season? Who knows. But 5 games in, it’s fair to say he’s been holding his own (although he did get destroyed last week against the Tennessee Titans– let’s call that an anomaly for argument’s sake).

Donald Butler has been quite disappointing; he flashed glimpses of promise during his first two seasons. Since then, he’s consistently struggled in all facets of the game, and has continued to do so in 2016. Look for the Steelers to pull guards toward his direction on Sunday, as Ramon Foster and David DeCastro should have a field day.

If you’re waiting for me to say “but to compensate for all of this mediocrity is their third linebacker, who’s an impeccable defender against both the run and pass”, then you’re out of luck. Jelani Jenkins is yet another player who hasn’t showed much promise since entering the league back in 2013, as he struggles more in the run than the pass (although still struggles mightily in the air). He’s good for a missed tackle/game, but facing up against Bell in the backfield may quadruple that number.

Taking a look at last week’s contest against the Titans, we see that their secondary isn’t much better. Yet another castoff from the Philadelphia Eagles, cornerback Byron Maxwell (known for once being part of the Legion of Boom in Seattle), hasn’t showed much. Which has now become one of his better games, he allowed 3 receptions on 5 targets for 22 yards and a touchdown; a quarterback rating of 110.0 to go with it.

Opposite Maxwell is usually Xavien Howard, who looks as though he may miss Sunday’s game. Thus, the ex-wide receiver-turned-cornerback Michigan State product Tony Lippett will more than likely fill in. Oddly enough, he hasn’t played that bad. Last week, he did however allow last week’s 8 targets to translate into 7 receptions for 51 yards and a touchdown. Taking a look below, you’ll see what I mean.

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Lippett breaks towards AJ Green as soon as he recognizes the quick pass. He whiffs badly (literally legs in the air) as AJ waltzes into the end zone. This is all lining up for a potential beat-down. Do I dare say worse than what the Kansas City Chiefs and New York Jets faced? Antonio Brown is somewhere licking his chops, as Steelers fans are used to seeing such plays.

The safeties consist of Isa Abdul-Quddus and Reshad Jones, although the latter may not play because of a groin injury. That being said, Adbul-Quddus racked up a few tackles behind the line of scrimmage to go with his 5 tackles, but did struggle when the run was deployed. Historically, he’s thrived in pass coverage, but has yet to have found his stride in 2016.

Reshad Jones was 1-of-2 players who graded positively during last week’s contest, doing so against the pass. He’s possibly the brightest spot on the defense, as he routinely thrives against aerial attacks, and even throws his body around against the run (sometimes even more successfully). It would spell terror for the Dolphins’ defense if he was unable to go, as he missed practice on Wednesday- either way, a 70% Jones may be their best defender on the field come Sunday.

Punter Matt Darr has kicked 30 balls thus far, averaging 48.7 yards with a long of 66. I guess all the practice he gets with that stuttering offense yields good results. Twelve of those were inside the 20-yard line, with 14 returned. Conversely, opponents have punted 24 balls for an average of 40.1 yards with a long of only 51. Of those 24, 10 were within the 20-yard line and 10 were turned- those went for an average of 14.4 yards and a touchdown.

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