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Scouting Report: Dolphins Defense May Build Picket Fence To Stop Kenny Pickett

As we’ve been doing 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. This year, Jonathan Heitritter and I will cover the opposing team’s defense. I will focus on scheme, Jonathan on the players.

Continuing things with the Miami Dolphins’ defense.

ALEX’S SCHEME REPORT

DOLPHINS’ RUN DEFENSE

A strong group. Better than the numbers indicate. The data has them allowing 4.2 YPC, tied 10th-best in the league while they’ve allowed eight rushing touchdowns, tied for the 27-th most. But they’re better than the data suggests and they do a good job minimizing big runs. Just 16 of them to go 10+ yards, tied eighth-best in football this year. It’s a 3-4 front with big people in the middle, highlighted by Christian Wilkins. Over the last two weeks, they largely bottled up Joe Mixon and Dalvin Cook. Cook was averaging under two yards per carry before a 53-yard touchdown.

Safety Brandon Jones leads the team with 42 tackles. The big man up front Wilkins has 32 tackles (6 TFL) with 18 solo tackles. A very talented lineman.

Miami’s front seven is built a bit like Tampa Bay’s. Strong defensive line with guys who are tough to move. They can play some traditional fronts and have a true zero-tech, we’ll talk about that in the pass game too, who aligns head-up over center with 4i or even 5T on the ends.

While they look old-school, they do a lot of slanting and shooting gaps up front. Defensive linemen trying to get penetration while linebackers shoot and scrape behind. The linebackers play the run aggressively and have quick triggers on run keys. That can work to their benefit. They get a lot of penetration on these reps.

But it can hurt them too. Their linebackers flow hard against the run and that can open up playaction. They were burned by it against the New York Jets. Here, watch them flow to the run side, opening up the dig route behind. And on the second play, the linebackers get eyes stuck in the backfield as the Jets run the wheel/rail route to Breece Hall, wide open down the left sideline who takes the ball to the one-yard line.

Still, this is a tough front to run on and the Steelers could again struggle. Miami’s linebackers aren’t as good as Tampa’s but an unblocked linebacker will still be a challenge. I can see this d-line getting penetration and blowing up a lot of blocking schemes Sunday night.

Some other defensive stats. They are allowing a lot of points, 25.8 PPG which ranks a paltry 27th. They’ve allowed 24+ points in four of their last five games. One reason for their problems is being very poor in situational football. 27th in the league on third down (44%) and 28th in the red zone (70%).

DOLPHINS PASS DEFENSE

Their defense is allowing yards at a higher clip, their 7.9 YPA against tied for 28th-worst in football. Opposing QBs are completing 67.8% of their passes, 25th worst, and their rush and coverage numbers aren’t looking much better. Just twelve sacks this season, same as the Steelers, with one INT from S Jevon Holland.

No Dolphin has more than two sacks. Tied at the top is ex-Steeler OLB Melvin Ingram and safety Brandon Jones with two each. It’s worth noting their DBs have a combined 3.5 sacks so they’re certainly willing and effective bringing DB pressure. Their pressure rate is low, 30th at 15.7%, but it’s far lower than their blitz rate, 8th-highest at 29.3%. Never want to see such a disparity between high blitz rate and low pressure rate.

They have done a decent job keeping a lid on things, allowing just 20+ passes of 20+ yards. That’s tied 9th-best in football.

Coverage-wise, they mix things up fairly well though they travel with the motion-man in coverage and the Steelers should get plenty of man/zone indicators with their pre-snap motion. I see them play more single high on early downs, 1st and 2nd down, and Cover 2 on 3rd down, but it’s far from 100% clear. They do a nice job rotating and holding coverages and I’m sure will do so again to try and confuse a rookie QB like Kenny Pickett. Watch them rotate into a Cover 3 variation with one of the CBs clouding the flat and both safeties playing deep 1/3. And in the second clip, they rotate from a 2-high look to play 1 Lurk.

Miami also drops eight into coverage a fair amount, more than most teams, which is one small reason why their sacks/pressures are lower. They want to force some tight window throws.

As noted by his two sacks, they blitz S Brandon Jones a fair amount. Field-side safety blitz most commonly on 2nd and long (11+). Saw it on 2nd and 12 and 2nd and 15. On 3rd and long, they will build a “picket fence’ by having all their coverage guys line up at the sticks. See this a little bit more in today’s game. Basically force the underneath throw. Pittsburgh may want to develop some shallow drive WR screens like they used to run with Antonio Brown because they’ll need blockers to move the chains.

Last note. On third down/obvious pass situations, watch for the head-up NT. If he’s directly over center, Miami is running a twist/stunt. So interior o-line has to look alive. Miami got a ton of pressure this way against Minnesota last week with rookie Jaelan Phillips aligning inside instead of on the edge and looping through the A gap.

Jonathan’s Individual Report

The Pittsburgh Steelers won in surprising fashion last Sunday, beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20-18. While Pittsburgh was able to relish the victory at home, they have a tough test the coming Sunday night against an up-and-coming Miami Dolphins squad down in South Beach. The Dolphins figure to have QB Tua Tagovailoa back after missing the last two weeks while in concussion protocol, strengthening that offensive unit that has speed at all levels with the likes of Tyreek Hill, Jalen Waddle, Mike Gesicki, Raheem Mostert, and Chase Edmonds.

While the offense can be deadly is given space, the Dolphins defense has become a stingy unit themselves under the watchful eye of former Miami HC and current Steelers Senior Defensive Assistant Brian Flores. Flores is now in Pittsburgh, but Miami’s defense is still running hot under a new coaching staff, having talented players at every level to form a cohesive unit.

Defensive Line

The Dolphins boast a stout defensive front that has the big bodies to make running the ball difficult. In the middle, Miami relies on #98 Raekwon Davis to as a physical run plugger at the point of attack, often commanding double teams due to his impressive play strength. Standing at 6’7, 330lb with long arms, Davis is a handful for opposing offensive linemen who are tasked with blocking him 1-on-1 as he will often chuck them to the side and get into the backfield to clog up the run or put pressure on the QB. Behind Davis is another large human being, #77 John Jenkins who at 6’3, 335lb is also a chore to displace when he subs in.

 

The base 3-4 DEs for Miami are #94 Christian Wilkins and #91 Emmanuel Ogbah. Wilkins is a former first round pick out of Clemson that was lauded for his fluidity and movement skills for being 6’4, 310lb. Wilkins is a dancing bear that wins with his quickness and hand usage at the LOS, often shedding blocks quickly on the snap of the ball with an inside swim or two-hand swipe, clearing the block to chase the ball. He also has a fair amount of play strength, making him a well-rounded defender who doesn’t rack up a lot of sacks, but can generate pressure on the passer.

 

Ogbah is the more accomplished pass rusher of the two, having recorded back-to-back nine sack seasons in Miami. The 6’4, 275lb defender uses his length well to beat opposing OL by keeping them off his frame, paired with the athleticism that most IOL can’t match. Ogbah is also a respectable run defender and is backed up by #92 Zach Sieler that compliments the starting DL as a rotational player that can play up-and-down the LOS. Sieler, Ogbah, and Wilkins are all questionable for Sunday night’s matchup, but all played last weekend against Minnesota and seem to have a chance to suit up for this one.

EDGE

The Dolphins have plenty of viable options on the edge one being former Steeler #6 Melvin Ingram. Ingram’s stay in Pittsburgh was short as he got traded to the Chiefs after playing in just six games with the team, but he made an impact thanks to his grown man strength and disruptiveness. While not at the height of his powers like back in his Charger days, Ingram is still a disruptive player, setting the edge well against the run as well as being a handful for OTs as a pass rusher thanks to his stocky build and ability to win with leverage both inside and on the edge.

 

Opposite of Ingram is former first-round pick #15 Jaelan Phillips who is coming into his own as a pass rusher, Phillips posted 8.5 sacks as a rookie last season and may only have 1.5 sacks in 2022 but is still generating plenty of pressure off the edge. His pursuit of the QB is impressive, having the speed and explosiveness off the edge in a 6’5, 266lb frame to put stress on opposing OTs who must keep him from getting around the corner.

 

I cannot write about the Miami Dolphins defense without highlighting my former high school teammate, #43 Andrew Van Ginkel. “Gink” is a jack-of-all-trades player that is utilized all over the defense, whether it be on the edge rushing the passer or setting the edge, off-ball in zone coverage or being tasked with covering backs and TEs or shining as a special teams ace. A high-effort player with a nonstop motor, Van Ginkel has made a name for himself as a former fifth-round pick, epitomizing the gritty nature of the Miami defense.

 

Linebackers

The Dolphins have #52 Elandon Roberts and #55 Jerome Baker manning the middle of the defense in the box. Roberts is your classic downhiller thumper, coming over with Flores to Miami from New England back in 2020 and has been a mainstay in the defense ever since. An effective blitzer, Roberts also is capable in zone coverage, recording four PBUs and a pick six last season. Baker fits the mold of the NFL’s new age sideline-to-sideline linebacker. Standing 6’2, 225lb, Baker has great play speed and explosiveness to cover ground in a hurry in pursuit of the ball as a run defender and has the athleticism to run with backs and tight ends in coverage.

Behind Roberts and Baker are #45 Duke Riley who has bounced around the league as another uber-athlete at off-ball backer that can struggle to get off blocks against the run as well as #49 Sam Eguavoen and rookie #51 Channing Tindal who is a twitched-up backer but has only logged four defensive snaps thus far in 2022.

Cornerbacks

The Miami secondary is headlined by #25 Xavien Howard. A three-time Pro Bowler and first team All-Pro back in 2020, Howard is a big-bodied cover corner (6’1, 203lb) that has become a ball magnet for the Dolphins defense. Howard picked off ten passes back in 2020 and has 27 INTs in his career to go along with 76 PBUs. Howard’s long arms, instincts, and big body allow him to battle receivers at the catch point and contest jump balls, often coming down with his fair share. Still, Howard isn’t as fleet of foot as some cover men, lacking the hip fluidity to open and run with quicker receivers that run crisp routes and generate separation, making Diontae Johnson an advantageous matchup for Pittsburgh.

Along with Howard in the secondary, Miami relies on CBs #9 Noah Igbinoghene, #28 Kader Kohou, and #20 Justin Bethel. Igbinoghene is filling in for Byron Jones who is on IR and has struggled to live up to the first-round selection Miami spent on him back in 2019 in terms of staying sticky in coverage and having the awareness to contest passes in close quarters with the opposing WR. Kohou has been a surprise find for the Dolphins, manning the nickel and providing a physical presence as a run defender as well as a feisty cover man against slot receivers. #27 Keion Crossen also provides depth at CB for Miami.

Safeties

Representing Miami at S is #8 Jevon Holland who has quickly become one of the league’s best young players at the position the 2021 second-round pick plays all over the place as a Swiss Army Knife type of defender, having recorded 69 tackles, three TFLs, 2.5 sacks, ten PBUs, two INTs, and three fumble recoveries as a rookie last season. Holland has good range in coverage as well as a run-and-chase defender, arriving on the scene with the intention to seek and destroy the ballcarrier on impact. This leads to big hits, but also the occasional over pursuit by Holland looking for the light up shot.

 

Beside Holland at safety is #29 Brandon Jones who has come into his own as a former third-round pick back in 2020. He became a full-time starter last season and does his best work as a strong/box safety, bringing a physical presence against the run while also being utilized as an effective blitzer with five sacks last season and two thus far in 2022.

The Dolphins also have versatile DB #21 Eric Rowe who also came over from New England and has played CB, SS, FS, and in the slot during his time with the Dolphins and Patriots. He’s playing less snaps this season, but Rowe matches up well with TEs in coverage and provides Miami with a third safety for sub package situations.

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