As we have been for several years now, we’ll break down the Pittsburgh Steelers’ opponent each week, telling you what to expect from a scheme and individual standpoint. Like last year, Josh Carney and I will cover the opposing team’s offense. I will focus on scheme, Josh on the players.
Back at it after the bye to check out the Miami Dolphins’ offense.
Alex’s Scheme Report
Dolphins Run Game
On the season, the numbers look ugly. But things have been better as of late, a statement you could apply to the entire organization. Here are the overall numbers.
Kenyan Drake leads the team with just 174 yards rushing, averaging 3.7 YPC. Mark Walton has gotten much more involved the last two weeks, outcarrying Drake 20-16, and is averaging a very good 4.9 yards per carry the past pair of games. He’s showing more burst and ability to create which Josh will touch on below and giving the offense some level of spark it desperately needs.
For the year, they’re 30th in runs of 10+ yards, just nine of them in seven games, but like I said, there’s been gradual improvement. They’ve added a fullback to their personnel. 7th round rookie Chandler Cox has just 30 snaps on the year but 18 of those came last week versus Buffalo.
Miami has a tendency to open the game with 6th offensive linemen. On the first play of the game and the first drive on 1st and 10. Rookie Isaiah Prince, #72, has manned that role.
Schematically, you get a lot of power runs from this group. Far from consistently effective, but they like to pull LG Michael Deiter (another rookie) left to right to try to get a numbers advantage to that side. Counter that by slanting and penetrating to blow the run up and force the puller to take a wider/longer track. Like here vs Buffalo.
They will use Pony and split back sets with two running backs, some combination of Drake, Walton, and 3rd stringer Kallen Ballage, too. They don’t mind going heavy and trying to play physical.
Injuries have made it hard for this already young group to develop cohesion. A whopping 11 offensive linemen have already logged snaps for Miami this year, only one has played above 90% of the snaps (Deiter) and only two others are higher than 70%. One of those is center Daniel Kilgore, who missed last week with a knee injury.
One other note. Watch out for some 4th down trickery. Week 6 versus Washington. RB jet sweep out a fake look, complete with the long snapper hiking the ball. With how close Miami’s been to a win the past two weeks and their willingness to use trickery throughout the season, I can see them adding in a wrinkle to try to make that *one* play that will send them over the edge and notch their first win.
Against Buffalo, they lost by just ten. Versus Washington, they fell by a point on a failed two-point conversion that would’ve won the game. Three weeks ago when they play the Chargers, they took an early lead and trailed by just seven at halftime. This is a team playing better, getting close to victory, and a group that can’t be taken lightly. Ignore the 0-7 record. The last two weeks, especially after switching to Fitzpatrick at QB, they’ve been competitive.
Couple other stats to throw at you. They’re terrible on third down, converting 29.9% of the time (28th in football) and below average once they get into the red zone, finding the end zone on exactly half their chances. Unfortunately, they don’t run many snaps inside the 20, just 35 for the season. The only team with less are the New York Jets.
Dolphins Pass Game
They’ve turned back to Fitzpatrick and for the short-term, are better off for it. He’s simply more productive than Josh Rosen across the board. After an ugly start that got him benched, almost a mandate any time Fitz enters the year a starter, he’s played well the past two weeks, completing 66% of his passes with two touchdowns, no picks, and no sacks. Like the team as a whole, better than aggregate numbers would suggest. Important to keep in mind.
UDFA rookie Preston Williams is the teams’ leader in receptions (23) and yards (314) while Devante Parker has three scores, the only Dolphin with 2+ receiving touchdowns. Both guys are tall, long, with the ability to win vertically. Williams was certainly a draftable receiver in terms of talent but character concerns caused him to fall out of April’s draft. Don’t overlook him.
Big plays have still been hard to come by through the air. Only 15 completions of 20+ yards, tied 25th in the NFL.
Predictably, they find themselves in a lot of “and long” situations. So they’re a heavy screen team on 2nd and long to put themselves in more manageable third down situations. Most of these RB middle screens come on 2nd and 5+ to the boundary side of the field (the second one here is to the field but most are to the boundary/closed side).
They also use swing/bubble throws to slot receivers and a healthy amount of RPOs to try and create space and more winnable matchups for a team lacking supreme talent.
With Fitzpatrick under center, they’re a little more open with the offense but Miami still seems to use more max protect than any team in the league. Try to protect their QB beyond a young, struggling offensive line by keeping backs and tight ends in. Makes blitzing tough to do but will lend itself to coverage sacks.
Some trickery with their pass game too. WRs Albert Wilson and Williams have attempted passes this year though both ended in sacks. Each came on the Dolphins first possession of the game. Wilson’s came on the first play of the game last week against Buffalo. It’s on tape, the Steelers have to be aware of it, but if you’re Miami, there’s nothing to lose by going for broke again.
Josh’s Individual Report
It’s Dolphins week, Steelers fans!
Coming off of the bye week, the NFL scheduling gods couldn’t have given the Pittsburgh Steelers an “easier” matchup on paper than the hapless Miami Dolphins, who ride into Heinz Field Monday night for a primetime game on national television.
Oh, the poor viewers outside of these two fan bases.
At 0-6, the Dolphins are as bad as their record and team statistics indicate. The defense is on pace to be one of the worst ever in league history, while the offense has shown some signs of life, yet still remains inept.
I’ve never really seen a franchise handle a potential long-term QB’s development as poorly as the Dolphins have with Josh Rosen, yet here we are. I feel bad for Rosen, who has shown serious flashes on a team not built to win.
The Dolphins have flipped back to Ryan Fitzpatrick under center, shunning Rosen to the bench once again. Credit to Fitzpatrick, who has given the Dolphins some life in the last 6 quarters of action. However, he’s a journeyman gunslinger for a reason, and shouldn’t be counted on.
Yes, he’ll make some incredible throws, but he’ll also come through with the absolute boneheaded turnover, which is incredible for a Harvard graduate.
Miami has the No. 31 offense in the NFL, and are the worst offense in the league in the red zone, scoring at a 37 percent clip inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. That’s horrendous.
While the numbers look downright awful and the games are hard to watch, Miami does have some talent on offense, namely at wide receiver. The trio of DeVante Parker, Preston Williams and Albert Wilson is pretty solid, honestly. On a competent team, that receiving trio would be getting a ton of love.
Parker has been on a terrific run in the last month, scoring a touchdown in three of his last four games. He’s still that big, physical talent that he was coming out of Louisville a few years ago.
What I like about him right now is his route running, which has gotten much better compared to years past. He’s still going to win in contested situations, but his route running and attention to details has open things up for him.
He’s really learned to sell himself on routes, meaning he’s bought into the minor details in each route. They’re much crisper at this point in his career.
Somehow, despite his size and speed, defenses lose him in space.
Here against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 4, Parker works out of the slot and sells the speed out. As he sells that, the defender keeps his eyes locked on Rosen in the backfield, which allows Parker to turn his route up the field on the out and up, leading to an easy throw from Rosen for the touchdown.
Aside from Parker’s overall growth as a receiver, the Dolphins have done a nice job scheming things up in spurts, getting guys open for easy throws.
I love this play. Nearly every team in the league has a variation of it, but the Dolphins added a little wrinkle for Parker as a receiver, lining him up as an offset tight end, running him across the formation in front of the play-action fake, which allows him to slip into the flat wide open, giving Fitzpatrick an easy toss.
Parker does the rest, lowering his shoulder at the goal line for the touchdown.
I guarantee we see a variation of this play at some point on Monday night.
Along with Parker, Williams has really emerged as a strong No. 2, and maybe even a future No. 1 and star in this league. Williams was a former 4-star recruit at Tennessee that was ranked the No. 38 player in the ESPN 300 in 2013. After just two years at Tennessee, Williams transferred to Colorado State.
Williams went undrafted due to a physical altercation with his then-girlfriend. He was supremely talented in college and is putting those talents display week after week.
The undrafted rookie is really good at getting off the line of scrimmage quickly, allowing him to stack on top of defensive backs when working down the field. He does a really good job slipping inside of Buffalo cornerback Levi Wallace, before then pushing back outside. This is also a great hole-shot, from Fitzpatrick too.
In the backfield, former Cincinnati Bengals running back Mark Walton has emerged as the workhorse, which is surprising, considering he isn’t even the best back on the roster.
That distinction belongs to Kenyan Drake, who appears to be on the trade block and won’t play Monday night. Walton though, he reminds me a lot of Giovani Bernard, honestly. He has good hands, runs with great balance and power, and is very patient.
You can see the vision and patience here with Walton on this run against Buffalo. He sticks his foot in the ground, gets small in the hole, and then has the explosiveness to get upfield in a hurry.
If you watched any of Week 7’s Buffalo-Miami game, you saw this a lot from Walton against the Bills. When focused and healthy, he’s a competent running back in today’s game.
With Drake out, expect Kalen Ballage to pick up the slack. Ballage is a big, lumbering back with good hands. He’s not fast and not very explosive, but he consistently falls forward and makes things happen on screens and short swing routes.
At tight end, Mike Gesicki has been a major disappointment in Miami. A lot of that has to do with the incompetence of his two coaching staffs he’s played under. Gesicki is a true move tight end that can stretch the field, but Miami traditionally lined him in tight and rarely let him work down the field.
Nick O’Leary and Durham Smythe are the other two tight ends that Miami deploys. O’Leary has made some plays this year, while Smythe appears to be a true blocking tight end so far.
The offensive line might be the worst starting offensive line put together in the modern era. That’s not hyperbole. That might be cold, hard facts.
Left to right, this is how I expect them to line up on Monday night:
LT — Ja’Marcus Webb
LG — Michael Deiter
C — Evan Boehm
RG — Shaq Calhoun
RT — Jesse Davis
The interior of the offensive line has played well in recent weeks in the run game with Boehm stepping in for injured center Daniel Kilgore, pushing the rookie Calhoun into the lineup.
The edges are horrendous though. Webb can’t block anyone without holding, and Davis is a turnstile. This group overall really struggles to protect anyone behind center. Even 2004 Michael Vick would have major trouble back there.
On special teams, punter Matt Haack is really solid, and that’s about it for the Dolphins. Haack is averaging nearly 47 yards per punt.
Kicker Jason Sanders is one of the worst kickers in the NFL and has missed far too many kicks this season.
Jakeem Grant is the punt returner and kick returner. He’s electrifying, but the Dolphins simply can’t block for him.
Side note: Dolphins special teams is so bad, Smythe – a tight end and upback (!!!!) returned a kickoff, backpedaling to step in front of Grant to field the kick.
The Dolphins are desperate for a win and will pull out all the stops on special teams, including a fake field goal run with Haack.
Hey, it worked and led to a touchdown.
Just don’t ask the Dolphins to onside kick the football, because chances are that will result in a touchdown the other way.