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2021 Opponent Scouting Report: Week 4 Dolphins Defense- Not the best unit the Colts have seen

Buffalo Bills v Miami Dolphins Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Overview

On September 26th, 2021 the Indianapolis Colts will take their talents to South Beach to face the Miami Dolphins. In this week four match-up, I sought to understand our opponent and get a better idea of how they may attack our Colts.

A year ago the Dolphins finished the regular season with a record of 10-6. They narrowly missed the playoffs and they expected to be in contention again this year. So far both the Colts and the Dolphins have been disappointments considering the hope that both fanbases had for each promising team and both have a chance to start to turn their seasons around with a win this week.

Let’s see what we can expect in week four.


Defensive System

Head coach Brian Flores spent the first 14 years of his NFL coaching career with the New England Patriots. At 23 years old he was hired as a scouting assistant, by 27 he was a special teams assistant, by 31 he was the safeties coach and at 35 he became the Patriots linebackers coach, a position he held for three years. The Dolphins then made Flores their head coach despite having never been more than a position coach under Bill Belichick. To his credit his Dolphins have always played like a very well coached team and the results have followed. Flores’ Dolphins had only their second winning season in a decade in 2020, in his second season at the helm.

Fun fact: Brian Flores had the same number of wins as an NFL head coach as Nick Saban through their first 32 games. Saban’s Dolphins got worse in his second year before he decided that college football was more his speed. We’re watching Urban Meyer experience something similar right now and it’s amazing. -UPDATE: we’re watching Urban Meyer implode in Jacksonville. If you haven’t heard about his recent viral video in a bar with a woman that is not his wife, you will soon. Worst case the Colts will win at least two games this season.

The names and faces are different for him now that he’s in Miami but the defensive system is rooted in the defense he spent 14 years watching Bill Belichick craft and call. At it’s core it’s based on 3-4 principals, most of the time they will have three down offensive linemen and between 2 and 4 linebackers. They’re most often in a 3-3-5 alignment but they will line up in 4-3’s, 3-4’s and 3-2-6’s. On the back end of their defense their coverage choices are interesting.

When you take away plays at the goal line and screens they’ve defended you’re left with a perfect 50-50 split of man and zone coverage. They blitz 40% of the time but interestingly they send at least five pass rushers 44% of the time they have called zone coverage on the back end and only 36% of the time they have man coverage called.

When in man coverage they have sent six pass rushers 16% of the time and just 8% of the time in zone, which makes sense as the more people you have rushing the passer the fewer you can have occupying zones downfield. They do blitz more often in the second half than the first, 47% to 31% respectively but they remain pretty consistent in their number of called man vs zone coverages, regardless of half.

Looking at their coverage distribution by down tells us even more. On first down they have called zone coverage more than twice as much as they have on second and third down, combined. On first down the Dolphins have been in a zone at a rate of 73% and they send five or more rushers 45% of the time off of those zone calls.

On second down the coverages flip but remain fairly even with zone only being called on 41% of snaps. Their blitz percentages out of man and zone on second down remain pretty consistent, only fluctuating by a few percentage points.

Third down is when things swing heavily to man coverage calls for these Dolphins. Man coverage is called 69% (nice) of the time. Third down is also the only time the Dolphins call more blitzes in man (50%) than they do in zone (38%).

So what does it all mean!?

It means that we can look for the Colts to try to beat zone coverage on first down, there are probably going to be a lot of designed, quick hitting passing concepts where the Indy receivers can find holes to sit down in, in coverage and I expect them to have success doing so.

Not the front you want to run in to

When the 2021 Miami Dolphins have some form of a 3-4 or 4-3 defensive front on the field they’ve allowed just 1.71 yards per carry, on 34 attempts.

I really hope Frank Reich, Marcus Brady, Carson Wentz, et al., realize they cannot run on this defense when they have seven defensive linemen and linebackers on the field. The Colts just can’t do it.

It’s just not going to happen

If you work for the Colts in any capacity, I don’t care what you do for the team, please, please make sure they’re not going to run into the teeth of this defense when they’re in a 4-3 or 3-4, front. There are better options.

Solid blitz here, but...

The Dolphins do like to send pressure from their secondary players and they have some good blitzers at the third level of their defense, but a corner or safety who blitzes well usually isn’t as effective as linebackers who blitz well.

Their blitzes aren’t that effective, usually

The Dolphins blitz nearly four times as often (40 for the Phin's, 12 for the Colts (adjusted)) as the Colts but their results aren’t that much different. Both teams have just two sacks on called blitzes. The Dolphins have hurried the quarterback 45% of the time, the Colts do it at a 42% clip. The Phin's pressure opposing QB’s 58% of the time with the blitz and while the Colts blow them out of the water getting pressure on 83% of their called blitzes, the Dolphins turn those hurries and pressures into hits 38% of the time while the Colts only get to hit that guy 25% of the time.

Long story short, neither team is that effective when rushing the passer but at least the Phin's are averaging five QB hits per game off of blitzes.

A story as old as time

Throwing “at” the blitz is usually effective because the blitzer has just voided that area of the field and another defender has to try to fill it to replace him. Because of that, if you can convince your quarterback to take the short throw right behind wherever the blitz came from, you’ll be moving the ball all day long. You will have to watch for pesky defensive tackles dropping into coverage on occasion, but they’re 300 pounds, they can’t cover anyone if you just don’t throw it directly at them.

You can do it, Carson. I actually do have faith in you.

This is when you run against the Miami Dolphins

In the first quarter in week two against the Bills the Dolphins came out on second and 10 with three down linemen, two linebackers and six defensive backs. They only showed a single deep safety.

When the Miami Dolphins come out with three down linemen and two linebackers, they have allowed opponents to rush for 130 yards on just 13 carries.

Even if you take this 46 yarder away, when in this 3-2-6 defense the Dolphins have allowed 7.0 yards per carry.

You’re probably wondering how often will they be in a 3-2-6, I mean it can’t be that often if they’re so bad against the run with it, right? So far this season they’ve lined up in a 4-3 and a 3-2, 13 times each on plays that turned out to be runs. The difference is they’ve given up 102 yards more with the 3-2-6. And this might all sound obvious- have bigger players on the field, stop the run better, but the Phin's keep getting caught in this front.

The other time the Colts have to run the ball this weekend is when the Dolphins come out in a 3-3-5 alignment. Again, we’re back to that obvious “big guys = no runny”, thing. I get it. But the Dolphins have seen 32 rush attempts in their 3-3-5 set vs 21 attempts in their 3-4. Opponents have rushed for 170 yards against that 3-3-5 set good for 5.31 yards per carry as opposed to the 30 yards and 1.43 yards per carry they’re allowing in that 3-4 set.

So yeah, it’s kind of obvious if a team is in a base alignment they’re going to stop the run better than if they have five or six defensive backs on the field, but the Dolphins are abusing the privilege.

You’re probably going to hear about the “streak” this weekend

Everyone talks about how rare it is that a defense can consistently create turnovers, Flores’ Dolphins have a streak going that predates Covid. It’s a good streak for the Colts to try to end this weekend.

Man coverage on third down

The Dolphins do have good defensive backs, we’ll talk about that later, but they struggled against the Raiders.

Hopefully Wentz can move this week

I hope Wentz can move this week for two reasons, the first is probably more obvious but the Colts offensive line is destroyed. Quenton Nelson is headed to IR, so I assume he needs to have his entire leg replaced as nothing else would keep Nelson out of three games in a row. Braden Smith hasn’t played in what seems like forever and Eric Fisher still doesn’t look like he’s all the way back from his Achilles tear (not that anyone could blame him and he’s still lightyears ahead of the other options the Colts have at the position). Carson Wentz might need to run for his life.

But also, if he can extend some passing plays there will be opportunities downfield for Colts receivers this weekend.

The penalties

Dolphins fans weren’t happy with the officiating against the Raiders. To be fair there were a lot of flags thrown and the Dolphins racked up a lot of 15 yarders. As an unbiased observer, I didn’t think the calls were that bad.

This Dolphins defense can be very good but they also have their issues, one of them has been their undisciplined play that has drawn a lot of flags. Another issue is their ability to stop the run in the defensive alignments we discussed above and the final is that they only have five sacks on the season, the same number the Colts have which is a seven way tie for 23rd best in the NFL.


Defensive Line

Names to know: DE- Emmanuel Ogbah, DL- Christian Wilkins, DL- Adam Butler, NT- John Jenkins, DL- Zach Sieler.

Wilkins, Butler and Sieler could all see snaps at various spots along the defensive line. John Jenkins is playing on what feels like his 37th team in his 45th year and I doubt we’ll see the big guy lined up anywhere but at nose. Ogbah is more of a pass rusher than the other names on this list but at 275, he is versatile enough to move around some on passing downs if the Dolphins feel they have a matchup they might want to exploit.

Stunts

Coming into last week’s matchup they were likely prepared to see a lot of stunts from the Titans as they love to do it. They might see it a few times this week as well.

Ogbah

Ogbah finished last season with 9 sacks. This year he only has half of a sack but, unfortunately I believe he will improve on that number this weekend.

Could have blamed a lot of people here

You could blame the linebackers or even the DB’s on this play but I went with Emmanuel Ogbah, he got blocked down to the inside and didn’t fill his gap, Peyton Barber took the ball into scoring range on a long run that would eventually win the game for the Raiders in overtime.

Notice how many defensive linemen and linebackers there were on that play?


Linebackers

Names to know: Jerome Baker, Elandon Roberts, Andrew Van Ginkel, Brennan Scarlett, Samuel Eguavoen and Jaelan Phillips.

Scarlett and Eguavoen will see more snaps on defense but they’ve logged almost as many snaps on special teams.

Van Ginkel is mostly used as an Edge defender, meaning that he’s listed as a linebacker but I don’t expect to see him drop into coverage on Sunday. He’s a solid player with an amazing head of hair. Once see his flowing locks on the field, that’s how you’ll know you’re looking at Andrew Van Ginkel.

Baker has played more snaps than anyone else on this Dolphins defense and you can expect to see him out there all day on Sunday. Dolphins fans might take issue with this but knowing Baker’s name I expected more out of him. Based on what I saw so far in 2020, he’s just a guy starting at linebacker for the Dolphins. He’s a very physically gifted player and because of that can make a splash play here or there in coverage but he just didn’t present as a real difference maker on tape. Hopefully for the Colts sake, I’m right.

Elandon Roberts, everyone:

Watching these Dolphins I saw #52 all over the field. The guy can really fly and he was the guy in that pick-six clip I posted in the section of the article on their defensive system. Roberts was all over the field and the guy can run but at least Jerome Baker is a productive tackler. Other than the pick this was the only specific thing I remember from Roberts against the Raiders and it was really dumb.

Count the LB’s and DL

This is the 3-3-5 front that a lot of teams are using. In traditional defenses you want to try to force the ball carrier back inside where the rest of your teammates are waiting to try to make a tackle. I need to make myself more familiar with this front (as everyone is using it) but if I remember correctly, at least some coaches, want to get the ball carrier to bounce runs to the outside so that they have to take on their athletic linebackers and defensive backs who are probably going to be less than well blocked.

It’s an interesting concept that seems to work for a lot of teams.

The Dolphins haven’t quite mastered it yet.

I haven’t mentioned Jaelan Phillips yet and it’s because he hasn’t shown much. The Dolphins have really only brought him in on passing downs and he has yet to register a sack. He was taken three picks before Kwity Paye and they were the first two pass rushers taken in the 2020 NFL draft. I feel like, for some dumb reason, that fact will always link these two players and there will be talking points over who the “better” player turned out to be. It’s a silly argument regardless of when you have it but it’s especially silly to judge either player off of what they’ve put on tape through three games in each of their rookie years.

But let’s be real, it’s Paye. -THIS IS A JOKE, RELAX


Defensive Backs

Names to know: CB- Xavien Howard, CB- Byron Jones, DB- Eric Rowe, DB- Nik Needham, CB- Justin Coleman, S- Jason McCourty, S- Brandon Jones and S- Jevon Holland

I expect to see Howard and Byron Jones on the field all day long. Both are very good defenders. Howard had 10 interceptions a year ago and has one so far in 2021, the Colts and Carson Wentz know more than I do but if I were the guy calling the shots, we would only throw where Xavien Howard wasn’t this weekend.

Eric Rowe and Jason McCourty will see the most time at safety this weekend and while they’re not at the same level as Howard and Jones are, they’re still a formidable duo.

Brandon Jones, Jevon Holland and Nik Needham might be the best blitzing defensive back trio in the NFL.

Seriously, just don’t throw at him

The throw was slightly behind Steffon Diggs but Howard still made an insane play to undercut the route and get the pick. He’s really good.

Blitzing DB’s right on cue

They like to send those three.

The Raiders game was rough for these DB’s

This Dolphins DB group is really good but they didn’t play like it against the Los Vegas Raiders. Time will tell if that game was an anomaly or a sign that this group has reached its peak and is on the other side.

There’s no defense for a perfect pass

The entire Miami Dolphins franchise struggled against the Bills but there wasn’t much that could have been done to stop this throw and catch. Just a fantastic play from the offense.

This defensive backs group is very good. The Colts receivers best bet against them will be on first down when they’re most likely to be in zone coverage where they will have the chance to work open in space and overload some of their zones. I don’t have much faith the Colts receivers will find consistent success winning against this group in man coverage.


Final Thoughts and a Prediction

This game is going to be really ugly. The Colts know Jacoby Brissett’s flaws better than Jacoby Brissett does and their defense will be ready to confuse and punish him all day long. The Dolphins defense has the tools to make it a tough day for a struggling Colts offense.

Ultimately this game is going to come down to Carson Wentz’s ankles. If he can move around and play the game the way he’s used to playing it, the Colts will have a strong chance to win this game. If he can’t do that, the Dolphins will come out on top.

Either way, I expect it to be ugly.

Colts 17

Dolphins 13


Go Colts