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Q: Rich, you always seem to favor the 3-4 defense over the 4-3. Any reason why it would work better for the Dolphins?
RICH: I'm going to preface this by saying that in order for the 3-4 to work, you need a nose tackle that can eat up 2-3 blockers in the run game consistently. Otherwise, a 3-4 gets run over. But if you think about it, you probably still need a similar player in a 4-3 to accomplish the same thing. Right now, the Dolphins are fielding a 3 man rotation at DT with guys that are barely over 300 lbs and are more athletic and quick than strong. Teams had success running right at the Dolphins, right at their athleticism and quickness because they could get pushed back.
So in order to stop the run, whether we run a 4-3 or a 3-4, you still need to have that big guy eating up blockers and we don't.
Also, a 3-4 is a base defense and teams that run a 3-4 base run all sorts of variations and fronts. They don't line up in a vanilla 3-4 all the time or even half the time. In fact, most teams spend a lot of time in nickel and dime formations.
That being said, if you look at the teams that are most successful at stopping the run, you always seem to see a decent sprinkling of teams that run a base 3-4. I'm not talking about just 2014, but year over year. Jets, Ravens, Steelers, Texans, 49ers, Browns, etc.
Yes, there are plenty of good 4-3 defenses, but the fact is when the Dolphins were running a 3-4, it worked better, much better, against the run. That's because you have one big plugger at NT, two athletic defensive tackles playing DE, and enough size and speed at OLB to both rush the passer and contain the run. Also, a 4-3 front is more static than a 3-4 front, therefore easier to decipher and predict.
The Dolphins ran a variation of the 3-4 defense this season in the form of a 5-2. The only real difference here is the two outside players out of the 5 man front were on the line of scrimmage rather than standing up, but it served the same purpose and it was probably the Dolphins most successful scheme against the run. The problem is they couldn't run it that often because they don't have a true nose.
But the Dolphins have enough players on the roster to shift to a 3-4 if they can find a nose. Starks and Odrick can play end in a 3-4. Wake was excellent as an OLB in a 3-4. I believe Olivier Vernon, while not ideal for it, can shed some weight and be an excellent "elephant" in the 3-4. Although given the sides he and Wake play, the defense would actually be inverted. I think Jenkins and Misi could be adequate ILBs in the 3-4. I know Jenkins doesn't have ideal size for the 3-4, but neither did Zach Thomas and he excelled in it when Miami ran it. It helped to have a much bigger ILB next to him in Channing Crowder. Misi could fill that role and Jenkins is bigger and faster than Zach was. You also have Dion Jordan, who IMO is a much better fit as a 3-4 OLB than whatever it is the Dolphins have him doing today.
The key again, and that player is not on the roster, is that nose tackle. Cannot run it without that bowling ball 320+ lbs guy that is hard to move.
Q: So in other words, the Fins currently have neither the players to run a 3-4 or 4-3. Which I totally agree. Seems like a lack of clear vision.
RICH: I think part of the problem is Coyle runs very complex schemes. His gameplans have too many what ifs and things are constantly changing on the field. Players have to think too much. Dan Quinn on the other hand runs a defense similar to what Wannstedt ran in Miami. 4-3, man to man with a cover 2 shell. Sometimes simpler is better.
Q: Is it difficult to find a good NT for the 3-4 defensive scheme?
RICH: And while I agree that finding a NT is hard, I wouldn't go as far as franchise QB. You've seen teams find good NTs late in the draft. That they took time to develop yes, you need to build A LOT of strength to play nose. But yes, they are top 5 as far as most difficult positions to fill because of the rare size and strength needed to play the position.
I also like a 3-4 more because of the number of tweeners that are coming out each year. You see a lot of 240-260 lbs defensive ends coming out of college and sliding them in at 3-4 OLB is a great way to get them on the field early without worrying about them being strong enough to set the edge against the run in a 4-3.
Back to my point about size though, remember when the Dolphins had Tim Bowens and ran a 4-3. He was essentially the "nose" in that defense and I think a guy like him would have fit in fine in a 3-4 as well. I think for either scheme, you need that big MFer to clog the middle. The one scheme that doesn't really heavily rely on big DTs successfully is the Tampa 2. But in that scheme your defensive ends can afford to cheat inside a little more because your corners usually play zones at the LOS to prevent short outside passes and outside runs.
Q: Can the Dolphins develop AJ Francis into a good NT? Can't say I've seen or noticed much of him but I've seen his name come up a quite a few times from the beat writers.
RICH: Francis is 6'5". That's a little tall for a NT. Soliai was also a little tall for a NT and he struggled at the position early on.
Ideally you want a 6'1-6'2 mountain of mass that can stay lower than offensive linemen. When you get a little tall offensive linemen can get under your pads more easily. Lowest man always wins.
Q: I don't necessarily agree with that. It's all about technique. A taller guy can be taught to play with better leverage. Daryl Gardener was one we had here.
RICH: I was referring to NT in a 3-4. Gardner was 6'6 295 lbs. In a 3-4, he would be a terrible NT. He was more of a penetrator while Bowens was more of the nose tackle/plugger. And Gardner was eventually moved from DT to DE because instead of using technique he relied on strength at DT and back issues started flaring up. His career was actually shortened because he relied too much on his strength and not enough on technique.
There's a reason most teams deploy guys 6'3 and under at the 3-4 nose tackle position. Because what I said holds true. Lower man always wins and when you're anchoring at the point of attack, getting lower is crucial.
We come to the end of the 2014 season, one in which Dolphin fans hoped would be a playoff season for our 8-7 Miami Dolphins. But just as it has the last 5 years, Miami will once again be home for the playoffs after today's game against the 3-12 New York Jets in Miami.
As you all may know by now, the Dolphins have announced that HC Joe Philbin will be back along with GM Dennis Hickey for the 2015 season, but the coordinators status is uncertain. I have to believe that new OC Bill Lazor will be back in 2015. He has help QB Ryan Tannehill and the offense in general take a step in the right direction. The Dolphins are coming into the game today averaging 24.3 points a game, which ranks 12th in the NFL. Tannehill has improved his game as well and comes into the game completing 67.0% of his passes for 3,786 yards, 26 touchdowns to only 12 interceptions as we head into this last game. I though Lazor did a nice job of using Ryan's athletic ability will the read option and run game, as Ryan also has 311 yards rushing for the season. He got more out of WR Mike Wallace, who has 10 touchdowns and has a chance to break the 1,000 yard barrier with a game of 132 yards today. Miami used a wide range of weapons, from leading WR Rookie Jarvis Landry to TE Charles Clay. Miami had 5 players with 30 or more catches in 2014, and I see Lazor back in 2014.
DC Kevin Coyle leads a defense that will put up good numbers in 2014. The Dolphins are giving up 333.3 yards a game, which ranks 8th in the NFL. 211.1 yards per game passing, which ranks 4th in the NFL. But the Dolphins are also giving up 122.2 yards a game rushing, which ranks 24th in the NFL and rank 17th in the most important one to me, giving up 22.4 points per game. This has been a deffense that has not been CLUTCH. The defense had chance to win games against Green Bay and Detroit and gave up the winning score in both games in the last 20 seconds of the ball game. Miami had a double digit lead against the Broncos in the 4th quarter, but the defense could not get key stops, a theme for this defensive team in 2014. Championship defense get stop at key times. The numbers look nice, and Philbin and Coyle will likley point to the fact that this was a defense that was top 10 from a total yardage standpoint, but points allowed and getting key stops is how I measure great defense. This unit FAILS from that standpoint. Not sure if Coyle will be back or not, as he has the backing of his players. It will be interesting to see what owner Stephen Ross does.
Moving forward into 2015, areas that Miami will need to address is OL, LB, S, WR, RB, CB & DT. Getting OLT Brandon Albert back for 2015 will be HUGE. He came in and was a ROCK on the OLT side, and was all that the Dolphins thought he would be. The biggest issue for this Dolphins OL is the interior. ORG Billy Turner will be given an opportunity to earn the spot, but the Dolphins will need to fortify the OG spot. I think Mike Pouncey at this point is a better fit at OC. Rookie ORT Ju'Wuan James played well at ORT, but did have his struggles at OLT once Albert went down. That said, I thought he played well and had a solid rookie season. This unit showed improvement in 2014, but once Albert got hurt, it showed the lack of more quality depth that is needed and pieces that still need to be added. Championships are won in the trenches, and the Dolphins still need to build on this unit.
Miami has the makings of what could be a very good wide receiver group with WR Mike Wallace and Rookie WR Jarvis Landry. Landry is that guy that you can line up in the slot or even out wide and he will make a play for you. Tough as nails, he leads the Dolphins with 79 catches for 703 yards and 5 touchdowns, with sure, reliable hands. When you need that tough catch in the middle of the field, Juice is your guy. Wallace is that guy that teams HAVE to have a guy over the top for. He can take the top off of your defense, and while he and Ryan did not connect as much as you would like to see, there was progress made with the deep ball. Wallace has 67 catches for 832 yards and 10 touchdowns. He not that guy that has that big catch radius or the best of hands, but I saw improvement in Wallace, as he did a much better job of competing for balls and winning those battles, as he did agains the Patriots and Vikings the last 2 weeks. That said, a BIG WR that can be a threat in the Red Zone would be a nice weapon to have for Ryan, and I hopefully the Dolphins will look to add a player that fits the bill. WR Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson are players I don't expect to be back in Miami.
RB Knowshon Moreno gave Miami that physical, inside run threat that they needed, and you saw what he could do in the very 1st game of the year against New England. Unfortunately for Miami, Moreno missed a majority of the season with an elbow injury and eventually tore his ACL. A physical, inside run threat to go with smooth RB Lamar Miller and Rookie Damian Williams would be a plus. Miller has done a nice job this year and I believe if Lazor would have gotten him the ball more, Miller would already have over 1,000 yards. He has a chance to get there today with 79 yards against the Jets. Williams has been a nice surprise as an undrafted FA that has come in and been very good out the backfield in the passing game. Moreno could be an option, but once again, he is coming off the ACL.
Defensively, the LB group for Miami leaves a lot to be desired. 2nd year LB Jelani Jenkins has been a pleasant surprise and is the leading tackler on the team. ILB Koa Misi has been solid for the Dolphins in his 1st year at ILB, but he has also had to battle injuries. OLB Phillip Wheeler has been a HUGE disappointment and I believe he is gone along with the other high dollar free agent that was signed 2 years ago, OLB Darnelle Ellerbe, who has been out most of the season with an injury. Rookie Jordie Tripp will be given a look next year and I think there is a good chance that Dion Jordan will be the starting OLB in 2015. He has the size and athletic ability to be a difference maker,and the Dolphins need their former #3 pick to become a factor. Many that believe that it is the play of this group that has a lot to do with the decline of the run defense for the Dolphins. It has to improve.
Brent Grimes is a rock and Pro Bowl player on one side, but Courtland Finnegan is talking about retiring and he missed time in 2014 as well due to injury. You finally got to see 2nd round pick Jamar Taylor contribute, and while he had his struggles, I thought he showed promise as well. His partner from the 2013 Draft, CB Will Davis got hurt and missed a good portion of the season as well. You can NEVER have enough good CB, and the Dolphins will need to add to this group.
S Louis Delmas played pretty well for Miami, but he tore his ACL in the New England game and he was signed to only a 1 year contract. S Jimmy Wilson is a HUGE liability in my eyes and he is a FA as well. Reshad Jones came back from his 4 game suspension to begin the season and was ROCK solid and is a playmaker for the Dolphins, but he needs a running mate. Addressing the safety position and addind depth will be a priority.
There is talk that DT Randy Starks will not be bought back, as his play against the run suffered in 2014. DT Jared Odrick is a FA, and I believe the Dolphins will resign Odrick. A big body added to the defensive front could not hurt. While I do beleive the LB play has hurt the run game, I thought the DL got manhandled at the end of the key game the Dolphins lost to Baltimore. Miami had a stretch of games against the Jets, Ravens & Broncos where they gave up 180 yards or more rushing. It not all on the linebackers. Repeating what I said about the offensive line, Championships are won in the trenches.
Disappointed in having to write this blog knowing the Dolphins are out of the playoffs again, but there is hope for 2015. While I would not have mind Philbin being gone, I can understand the thinking in regards to having continuity. To have QB Ryan Tannehill having to learn another offense after coming off such a solid year and making solid improvement would have been a step back in my mind. I thought GM Dennis Hickey did some solid work in regards to adding pieces via the free agency and doing a very good job with the draft. He will have to have a repeat performance for this team to continue to move forward. As Dolphin Fans, we have to HOPE that this staff and management will continue to build to what is a solid, young talent base.
Let's end 2014 with a win and momentum going into 2015. 9-7 sounds better than 8-8, and sending the reeling Jets to another lost is ALWAYS A GOOD THING.
Let's Go Miami.