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2018 Opponent Scouting Report: Dolphins defense has some promising young players, will it be enough?

NFL: Chicago Bears at Miami Dolphins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports


On November 25, 2018 the Indianapolis Colts will host the Miami Dolphins. In this Week twelve match-up I sought to understand our opponent and get a better idea of how they may look to attack our surging Colts.

The last five matchups between these two teams have resulted in a 4-1 record for the Colts. The last coming in 2015 when Matt Hasselbeck and Charlie Whitehurst led us to an 18-12 victory. This Thanksgiving we should all feel very thankful that we will never see Hasselbeck and Whitehurst in a Colts uniform again, but hopefully the result this Sunday is the same as it was in 2015.

Let’s figure out what we can expect in week twelve.


Matt Burke took over the Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator role in 2017 after Vance Joseph became the head coach of the Denver Broncos. At the time the idea behind bringing in Burke was the continuity that hiring the teams linebackers coach could provide.

Burke brings with him, his take on the 4-3 defense. I went over to our counterpart at The Phinsider to get an idea of what, specifically, Burke will look to do:

The wide-9 part of the defense is something that has been discussed on the Phinsider a few times before. Defensive linemen put themselves on different spots on the line in accordance to the offensive linemen. 0 is over the center’s nose, and odd numbers are the gaps and the even numbers directly in front of a lineman. The spaces between the lineman are also known as gaps, either side of center is the A-gap. B-gap between gaurd and tackle. C-gap between tackle and TE and D-gap, or edge, is outside the TE to the sideline. In fact, there are two Phinsider Football 101 articles that detail all about Gaps and Techniques and about the wide-9 specifically.

With that said, the wide-9 is referencing where the DE is positioned. Just outside the TE is where the 7 technique resides. Therefore the 9 technique is even wider out than that, making for an easier shot for a speed pass rusher...

You may have heard of the 4-3 over or under. Well there is very little difference between the two on the surface. Miami plays a lot of over while the Seattle Seahawks and Pete Carrol favor the under package. The over package puts the 3 tech DT, Suh in this case, on the strong side of the formation. The strong side being determined by the presence of the TE. When your 3 tech is a good run defender you want to run the over. Suh is dominant at his position. A run play to the strong side is usually advisable to the offense, but by doing so Miami is forcing them to run directly at Suh. The other option being a run to the weak side, where the RB will find the NT or 1 tech, whom is traditionally one of the best run defenders on the team anyway. The D-line will look like this, in most base plays:

One interesting thing Miami does with the DT spot (besides swapping Suh to DE on occasion) is when they go into a sub package for obvious passing situations, they play what is known as Double 3’s or as you may have guessed... two 3 tech DT’s. Wide9-Double 3’s...That’s all pass rush baby.

So the Dolphins will look to spread their defensive line out and get upfield as fast as possible. Sounds familiar. We’re going skip forward to look at the coverage these Dolphins may deploy.

...what Miaimi did was fake a lot of cover 3 and drop into cover two. We have even seen examples of seeing the defense go into more Tampa 2 pass coverage shells which relied on Kiko Alonso to cover the deep seem.

We saw a multitude of different coverage schemes last season. However, I also noticed a lot of faking coverages and replacing them post snap. As Miaim’s personnel begins to line up more with it’s vision for the defense, I would expect less of this and more just forcing it’s will upon the offense. At least, that is the theory, after all.

Frankly I would have liked a more complete explanation but it seems that the Dolphins will use a multitude of coverages. I did a little more work and figured out that the Dolphins will not only use traditional coverages (cover 0-6) but will also use pattern matching. Pattern matching coverage looks like a zone at first and then quickly becomes man coverage after the wide receivers have shown their routes. It works much the same way switching on defense in basketball does. It’s such a simple concept that took football coaches decades to figure out. If you want to take a deep dive into this coverage concept this is a great place to start.

Matt Burke has yet to figure out a way to use the players he has available to create a good defense. The 2018 Dolphins have given up almost 28 points per game over the last five games, they’re also surrendering a lot of yards and just generally aren’t putting their offense in great positions, consistently. With that in mind I don’t think we will see much on Sunday that we will confuse for being innovative. Burke and his scheme just don’t have that ability.

Defensive Line:

Robert Quinn, Cameron Wake, Davon Godchaux and Akeem Spence make up the Dolphins four starters on the defensive line. So far this season the Colts have squared up against some very good defensive lines, this Dolphins line isn’t bad at all but if we’re being honest it isn’t on the same level as some of the teams Colts fans have seen so far.

As a team they currently rank 29th with 17 sacks on the year while also ranking 29th in the league in rushing yards given up. Pro Football Focus seems to love 36 year old Cameron Wake but he’s come away with only 3.5 sacks through 10 weeks, which also happens to lead the team. Despite his low sack totals Wake has generated pressure on nearly 19% of his pass rush attempts, which is very good.

Stats without context don’t mean much, but when you consider the fact that this defense is based around getting up field and causing disruption, you should expect to see more production. Robert Quinn has 2.5 sacks on the year, Godchaux has shown some promise while Spence hasn’t been great.

Second year defensive end Charles Harris hasn’t played since week five, missing time with an injured calf. Harris hasn’t show much promise since the Dolphins selected him in the first round out of Missouri in 2017.

Here Cameron Wake demonstrates why you can’t block him with poor technique from a tight end. I mean that should be common sense but Wake is able to slip this block and make a play on the ball carrier. Had Wake not made this play it’s hard to say what would have happened but it looks like number 93, Akeem Spence is going the wrong direction and this play would have gone for more than it did.

This is what the Dolphins are hoping to do with the wide-9. They hope to beat tackles around the edge. This is their goal but only three teams have gotten home less than these Dolphins in 2018.

Cameron Wake is going to present a real challenge to Braden Smith. Outside of that matchup I don’t think the Colts have much to worry about. The loss of Ryan Kelly will be huge as he has been playing at a very high level, but assuming Evan Bohem can play at a passable level, the Colts sackless streak wouldn’t seem to be in serious jeopardy. With that said, they play the games for a reason, anything could happen. Just know this is a positive matchup for our Colts.


Kiko Alonso, Raekwon McMillan and Jerome Baker will be the names to know this week.

Kiko Alonso is a really interesting linebacker. Dolphins fans seem to like him as a player and I understand why. He’s a really athletic sideline to sideline guy who makes some big plays. With that said I come away after watching him and I believe his inconsistency will be key for Andrew Luck targeting his tight ends. Alonso doesn’t have great instincts and often takes himself out of the play. Alonso isn’t terrible but he’s a very good athlete that just never developed into the type of player a lot of people thought he could be.

Raekwon McMillan has come on strong this season after missing his rookie year with a torn ACL. He has played well and looks to be at his best defending the run. A few times on tape I saw McMillan get lost in coverage, other times he read plays perfectly but that can be expected in what is essentially his rookie season.

Jerome Baker is actually a rookie and is proof that the Dolphins really like Ohio State linebackers. Baker is a sideline to sideline athlete with a similar build to our own rookie linebacker, Darius Leonard. The difference between Leonard and Baker, in my opinion, are their instincts. Baker is in no way a bad player, to the contrary I think he has been excellent, especially for a rookie. The things Baker needs to improve on are things that will come with time. Sunday I expect he’ll be involved in a lot of plays and he is a guy that could have a big impact.

Kiko Alonso. If Kiko could have anticipated the left tackle coming downhill and avoided that block this is a much different play. Instead Alonso got sucked up inside and the play went as well as possible for the Texans.

Alonso is once again the culprit on this play. He takes a false step and fails to get proper depth in coverage. As a result this is a big play for the Jets.

The Dolphins have two young, very promising linebackers and an inconsistent athlete in Kiko Alonso. This isn’t the best linebacker group the Colts have seen this season but hey have the potential to make some plays on Sunday.

Defensive Backs:

During the game you’re likely to hear or see Xavien Howard, T.J. McDonald, Reshad Jones, Bobby McCain and Torry McTyer. The guy you’ll absolutely hear about is Minkah Fitzpatrick.

Howard, McDonald and Jones are all decent players. McCain and McTyler, by all accounts are not. Fitzpatrick, on the other hand looks like a superstar. Minkah has lined up all over the defense and has found success where ever he’s been. He has been a league leader, giving up a QB rating of less than 50 when targeted.

Last week our Colts targeted Adoree Jackson a very good defensive back, with that said we may not have the same success against Fitzpatrick.

Yes, there were only two routes run down field, but that crossing route in man is tough to cover.

This is just an interesting coverage look. It’s tough to know who exactly was at fault here, it’s either the slot corner or the linebacker just didn’t get over in time. My money is on Kiko Alonso but that’s a tough ask with the wide receiver coming from the outside in. Either way there was a hole in the zone and Sam Darnold found it.

This is a decent group of defensive backs that is made much better with Minkah Fitzpatrick on the field.

What to Expect from the Colts Offense:

I feel like I could just copy this section from weeks past but I expect to see the Colts go uptempo and spread the defense out to try and stress multiple defenders at once. I expect to see the tight ends used quite a bit and I see no reason the Colts couldn’t come out and play like they’ve played in the last few weeks. Marlon Mack could have a nice day running inside and Andrew Luck has a real chance to continue his streak of three touchdown games.