Is the Miami Dolphin Run Defense that Bad?
The 2017 season was such a weird season for the Miami Dolphins. We all know what happened, so i will save you from reliving that part. Equally as strange, was the up and down play of the Dolphins this season. As Dolphin fans know, the Dolphins have had moments in seasons of looking like a competitor and moments of looking like a bottom feeder. This season, the Dolphins had those moments during the same game. The Dolphins run defense was fairly inconsistent this season, but had shown flashes early on in the season.
The Run defense was not as bad as many think. Yes the Panthers game was ugly, as they torched the Dolphins for 294 yards on the ground, but they showed flashes in that game of being able to stop the run.
The first play below (2 pictures) is an inside zone, with a fake reverse to the slot receiver. In the first picture, Suh is holding up the double team evident by the triangle in the picture. The rest of the defense is flowing to the ball with Timmons and Mauluga flowing free to the ball carrier. Stewart is left with nowhere to run as TJ McDonald and Charles Harris crash in from the right side of the defense. Both McDonald and Harris did a great job of not falling for the fake reverse. Notice in the second picture, there are 7 unblocked Dolphins around the ball carrier, stopping him for no gain.
Picture 1: The next play shows a simple inside zone run with Christian McCaffrey. Notice that Ndamukong Suh and Jordan Phillips eat up double teams. The right guard and Right tackle take Suh. The center and left guard take Phillips. That leaves Wake one on one with a tight end and Branch one on one with the left tackle.
Picture 2: Reshad Jones, Lawrence Timmons, and Kiko Alonso are left unblocked, thanks to Phillips and Suh eating up Double teams
Picture 3: Notice there are 6 defenders closing off running lanes. Defender 2 (Jones) and defender 4 (Timmons) are already in perfect position to make a play on the ball carrier.
Picture 4: Timmons and Jones missile into the backfield to tackle McCaffrey for a loss.
Recap of the play: Suh and Phillips really set the play up for success by handling their double teams. Suh gets beats the double team across their face to the ball carrier, allowing Jones and Timmons to get a free shot into the backfield.
So what in the world caused the Panthers to run the ball down Miami’s throats? The Dolphins were holding up double teams and disrupting ball carriers in the backfield. It’s quite simple really. If one player, just one player is out of position, a run can turn form a two or three yard gain, to a big play. Keep in mind on these two plays I have shown, there are 6 defenders in the area of the ball carrier and at least one of the Defensive tackles took on a double team.
Let’s take a look at one more play, this time against the Saints.
Picture 1: Notice Suh and Godchaux both are holding up a double team keeping the Linebackers free. Cam Wake (LE) and Charles Harris (RE) are crashing the OL in. (25 is Xavien Howard coming off the corner)
Picture 2: This picture gets to be a mess. Notice the center from the Saints was able to get to Mike Hull the middle linebacker. (Not a good play on Phillips, but he did get penetration). Suh beat the double team to get into the backfield and Charles Harris is crashing in allowing Howard to clean up the edge.
Picture 3: Notice the 7 defenders in the box. I drew an arrow to Mark Ingram so there is a clear visual of the ball carrier. The defense swarmed to the ball and close in. There is nowhere for Ingram to run, as the defense swarmed and swallowed him up.
If I were to pull these three plays to show anybody that the Dolphins run D is an elite rushing defense, people may believe me. They have shown the ability to hold double teams up front, with Suh, Phillips and Godchaux. The ends have the ability to set the edge and contain the running back. The LBs have shown the ability to fill the running lanes when they are kept clean.
The problem I have noticed, is the inconsistency of the DL to hold up at the POA and keep LBs clean. Notice in the first two play, Reshad Jones and TJ McDonald were crucial in stopping the run. That is something to keep an eye on going forward, as they drift more towards a hybrid style defense. The run defense is all about the front 7 playing consistent and reading their cues. Yes cleaning up details is coach speak and boring coach speak, but it is the absolute truth. If Reshad Jones or Lawrence Timmons are out of place in the second play, the run goes from no gain to a big play.
The Dolphins run defense is not as terrible as many fans believe it to be. The problems can be fixed with quality coaching and scheme adaption. The growth of Davon Godchaux and Jordan Phillips will be a key factor in the run defense as well as the return of Raekwon McMillan. There really is not a major need to revamp the front 7, just continue to develop talent.
(Pictures are screenshots from NFL Gamepass. Illustrations are my own)