Nothing quite like a trip to Florida to escape the early December chill, right?
That’s one way to look at Week 13 as the New York Giants will travel to take on the Miami Dolphins in Miami. East Rutherford projects to be a damp 51 degrees with showers on Sunday. Miami, meanwhile, is forecast to be a mostly-sunny 80 degrees. Not bad for a business trip.
And this is a business trip. The Giants are looking to build on their win over the Philadelphia Eagles and improve on their 4-7 record. The Dolphins, meanwhile, are one of the hottest teams in football and are looking to extend their four-game winning streak.
Before we get into the matchups throughout the Dolphins’ defense, we need to at least ask the two big questions:
First, what will the Giants’ offense look like with Mike Glennon at quarterback>? The veteran will start in place of the injured Daniel Jones.
Second, which Dolphins team with the Giants see on Sunday? Will they see the team that lost seven straight to fall to 1-7? Or will they get the team that won their last 4 games and has emerged as one of the hottest teams in football to get to 5-7?
Young linemen stepping up
You know, for all the (well deserved) attention going to the young quarterbacks entering the NFL and the offensive explosion in recent years, it also feels like we’re living in a golden age for defensive linemen.
Well, maybe a silver age.
Perhaps this is just the way the Giants’ schedule has lined up this year, but it seems as though every time I preview an opposing defensive line, there are at least one or two pass rushers that just need to be highlighted. And while the Dolphins’ defensive front isn’t as fearsome as some the Giants have faced this season, they’re another one with some ascending young players of whom we should be aware.
The big name here is rookie EDGE Jaelan Phillips, who has absolutely caught fire over the last month. Phillips is coming off of a monstrous game against the Carolina Panthers which saw him notch 3.0 sacks, 3 more QB hits, 4 tackles for a loss and a pass defensed. Phillips was my top pure EDGE rusher, and he seems to be coming into his own. He is currently second on the team in sacks at 6.0, and has notched at least half a sack and a quarterback hit in each of the last four games. Phillips’ blend of speed, agility, length, flexibility, and technique make him a definite threat as he gets more comfortable in the NFL.
Phillips is paired with veteran lineman Emmanuel Ogbah and young defensive tackle Christian Wilkins.
Ogbah is the team leader in sacks at 6.5 on the season, and while he shouldn’t be overlooked, he might pose a (somewhat) favorable matchup for the Giants. Ogbah is a big, long defensive end at 6-foot-5, 275 pounds, and boasts 35 1⁄2 inch arms. He’s also a powerful, linearly explosive rusher who uses his length, strength, and first step to get blockers back on their heels.
The good news here is that while the Giants can struggle with speed off the edge, they’ve dealt relatively well with power rushers. The Giants should avoid trying to block Ogbah with just a tight end, and we could see him walk Nate Solder into the backfield if that’s where he gets lined up, but he’s unlikely to get quick pressure.
For once, neither of the Dolphins’ top EDGE defenders appears on ESPN’s top-10 Pass Rush Win Rate list. That being said, Miami’s defense as a whole ranks sixth in terms of team PRWR, so the Giants can’t afford to take this defense lightly.
On the inside is 2019 first round pick, defensive tackle Christian Wilkins. Wilkins has yet to live up to his draft pedigree as the 13th overall pick in the draft. He has just 6.5 sacks for his career and is hardly the dominant force he was for Clemson. That said, he is having the best year of his young career. As it stands now, he’s already set a career high in sacks (3.0) and matched his previous career totals in QB hits and tackles for a loss at 7 each.
While Wilkins isn’t nearly as disruptive some interior defenders, he is a well-rounded defensive tackle who shouldn’t be ignored. He’s also emerged as a solid run defender and currently ranks fourth in Run Stop Win Rate, just ahead of the Giants’ own Leonard Williams at fifth. Linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel, who is in his third year out of Wisconsin also makes the Top-10 among linebackers and EDGE defenders in RSWR, coming in at eighth.
Overall, the Dolphins’ defense has a similar 32 percent team RSWR as the Philadelphia Eagles, and slot in one spot ahead of them at 7th overall.
The Giants will likely want to lean into the running game this week, given all the injuries at receiver and Daniel Jones’ uncertain (as of this writing) status. However, they could find it tough sledding down in Miami.
A solid secondary
It shouldn’t really be much of a surprise that the Dolphins have built a solid a versatile secondary under Brian Flores. After all, he and Patrick Graham come from a similar background, have coached together, and share some similar philosophies.
Foremost among those philosophies is the importance of a good secondary. Both Flores and Graham use active and unpredictable blitz schemes, depending on their coverage players to allow them the freedom to dial up pressure.
We’ll get to the pressure in a minute, but let’s get acquainted with the Dolphins’ coverage schemes first.
The watchword here is “aggressive”.
As you can see, Brian Flores loves to call man coverage, usually a Cover 1 or Cover 0 scheme. A couple weeks ago the Dolphins used a hyper-aggressive Cover 0 blitz scheme to to disrupt and contain Lamar Jackson on the way to a 22-10 win over the Baltimore Ravens.
Flores will also call other coverage shells, but for the most part he is playing man coverage or disguising his man coverage with a Cover 3 shell.
It would make sense to see the Giants attempt to use pre-snap motion to try and force the Dolphins to show their hand. Likewise, we will likely see the team resort to screens in the face of pressure packages to get the ball in space and behind blitzers. While Mike Glennon doesn’t have anything like Jones’ athletic ability, his experience as a veteran could help him identify blitzes and audible to man-coverage beaters.
But X’s and O’s aside, the Dolphins’ personnel go a long way toward allowing them to play such aggressive coverages.
Both cornerbacks Byron Jones and Xavien Howard are known to be really good cover corners, and both are having strong seasons in 2021.
So far this year, Jones has only allowed 61.6 percent of the passes in his direction to be completed, with 8 passes defensed. Jones is a big, long, athlete at the cornerback position and generally does a good job of getting — and staying — in phase with receivers. However, he has never been a threat to pick the ball off, as evidenced by his 0 interceptions this year.
Howard is allowing an even better (for the defense) 54.5 completion percentage, and has proven to be a very dangerous player to target. Not only does he have 13 passes defensed, but he also has 3 interceptions and 2 forced fumbles.
The Dolphins also field a pretty good group of safeties in rookie Jevon Holland, second-year player Brandon Jones, and veteran Eric Rowe.
Each of these safeties see a significant number of snaps, and each has the ability to be a disruptor, if not a playmaker.
Jones is second on the team in total tackles and is a frequent blitzer in Brian Flores’ scheme. So far he has 11 total pressures ( 4 hurries, 4 knockdowns, and 3.0 sacks), a forced fumble, and 4 tackles for a loss. Rowe, on the other hand, has been pretty solid in coverage, with 4 passes defensed, 3 forced fumbles, and has allowed just 67.3 percent of the passes targeting his man to be completed.
Holland is quickly emerging as the most well-rounded safety in the group and a potential star. So far this season he has 7 passes defensed, 2 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles, 2 tackles for a loss, 5 quarterback hits, and 2.0 sacks. While none of those numbers are particularly massive, the fact that he’s making plays all over the field as a rookie is impressive. Like Jaelen Phillips, Holland had a big day last week, notching an interception, a pass defensed, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery against the Panthers.
Another blitz-happy defense
As I mentioned above, the Dolphins have one of the highest pass rush win rates in the NFL despite neither of their primary pass rushers having particularly high win rates themselves.
I also mentioned that the Dolphins simply love to run man coverage blitzes.
In fact, Brian Flores calls blitzes at one of the highest rates in the NFL, second only to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Dolphins blitz on 38.4 percent of passing downs, per ProFootballReference, which only slightly trails the Buccaneers’ rate of 38.8 percent. But while the Dolphins trail the Buccaneers’ pressure rate slightly (27.3 percent to 27.0 precent), they actually lead the Bucs — and the rest of the NFL — in QB knockdown rate.
One of the things, other than a willingness to send aggressive (and risky) man coverage blitzes, that separate the Dolphins’ blitz scheme is just how many players they will use as a pass rusher.
If there’s a defender on the field and he isn’t an outside corner, odds are he’s going to get to rush the passer at some point.
The Giants have had mixed results against the blitz this season. They managed to counter the Philadelphia Eagles’ blitzes with well-timed screens, scrambles, and passing concepts designed to quickly beat the coverages being played behind the blitzes. However, we’ve also seen the Giants’ offense completely derailed by an aggressive blitz scheme as recently as their game against the Buccaneers.
How the Giants’ deal with Brian Flores’ blitz-happy defense could come down to three factors.
The first isn’t really in the control of the Giants’ offense: Will the Dolphins’ offense put points on the board? The Giants have been able to move the ball when they have the ability to play within the structure of their game plan. Things spiral out of control when they are forced to play catch-up and press to keep pace with the opposing offense.
are the answers to the two big questions facing the Giants’ offense: Which Dolphins team will show up this weekend? Will they execute on the back end while the rookies stay hot, or will Miami regress and cool off? Likewise, which quarterback plays for the Giants will likely determine how (or if) Freddie Kitchens approaches the Dolphins’ blitz packages.