Miami’s defense had a breakout year in 2020. Exiting the 2019 season, Miami was the worst defense, according to EPA in the league. Dead last at #32, with an EPA of .126. 2020 would see the Dolphins ascend to one of the NFL's best overall defenses, backed by a dominant pass defense. Early in the year, the Dolphins made noise with the implementation of “Zero” pressures to confuse opponent QBs. They weren’t a one-trick pony.
In terms of overall EPA, the ‘20 Dolphins finished the year as the #7 overall defense at -.022. Miami earned their reputation as one of the better defenses in the league was in the passing game, where they finished #4 in overall Dropback EPA at -.027 behind the Rams, Steelers, and Washington. Miami would finish tied first in opponent interceptions with 18 and middle of the pack in sacks (34 total).
On late long-yardage downs (2nd/3rd), Miami was dominant through the air. The Dolphins would come in at third in Dropback EPA behind the Rams and Washington on 2nd Down. On 3rd Down, the Dolphins were the best, with a Dropback EPA of -.324 (only New England coming close at -.316). The ability to rush the passer effectively and take the air out from the WRs gave the Dolphins the ability to get creative on passing downs.
Though the 2020 Miami Dolphins will go down as the “Zero” pressure team, their use of mug fronts was just as deadly. The Odd Mug or 505 look with “mugged” 'LBs on the Guards is nothing new. This is a standard 3rd Down front and one I featured in my latest book, Anchor Points. It’s a “best practice” front because it gives the illusion of pressure while still giving the defense the ability to manipulate the pass-protection with athletic LBs on the Guards. In this particular pressure, the Dolphins use their Odd Stack package to attack Seattle's 11 pers.
2nd & 13 is a definite passing down for the Seahawks and allowed Miami to bring in their 3-3 sub-package. With mugged LBs on the Guards, Seattle will either have to slide the protection or man-block the front. Regardless, Seattle opts to play-action the Miami defense utilizing a Stretch action to combat the defense. This action basically simulates slide protection but doesn’t account for the edge defender as the RB is simulating a Stretch.
Miami attacks the long-yardage down with a simple Nickel (Ni) edge pressure. In my language, I call this STUN. The Ni will blitz from width as the contain pressure. Seattle attempts to run a Waggle or Boot action away from the play-action without a puller. Pressuring 3x1 formations, especially ones with the RB set to the three WR side, has been a standard practice by many defenses. On 2nd and Long, the Seahawks were hoping to catch Miami in an aggressive pressure, using the play-action to create windows for Russel Wilson to attack downfield. Below is the blitz diagram.
Seattle’s plan is disastrous. First, the LT slides to take the mugged LB in the “B” gap. The issue here is the LB is in charge of the RB and begins to sink for depth tracking his target. That sudden down movement allows the DE to work off the LT’s back as the flexed TE attempts to block him down or cut him off. This is an evident miss-match.
Second, the pop-out “Rat” player does his job to perfection. Though there is no crosser for him to take, the LB gets into the window of Wilson’s initial read, the X on a “sit” route (if the DB is on top, sit in the window). As Wilson turns his attention to the field, the LB in charge of the TE drops into coverage. In many cases, a defense can tag him to green-dog, or add-in, to the pressure. Miami opts to flood the coverage. As the Ni careens towards the QB, the LB is now in his line of sight. There is nowhere for Wilson to go.
The result is an obvious sack. Wilson works back into the box, the DE who was being cut-off by the TE climbs and meets the QB in the backfield. This is simple and effective pressure. One unique thing about the Miami STUN pressure is the Nose. Instead of “feeding” the pressure or working opposite of the insert, the Nose charges the “A” gap to the pressure. This might be an attempt to occupy the O-line to that side, leaving the Ni, at worst, to beat a RB standing still.
The coverage piece behind this simple Simulated Pressure is a 1 Rat concept, but from a two-high presentation. As the Ni inserts for contain, the field Safety will drop down and outside the Slot, funneling him to the Post-Safety in the middle of the field (MOF). Both CBs are locked on #1 and will take them where ever they go. As illustrated earlier, the box LBs are responsible for the RB and TE, with the Lou (L) “stabbing” the Guard before sinking as the Rat. This holds the Guard and allows him to ensure the ball is not handed off. With the TE blocking, the Rob can flood the coverage.
Sometimes, the best pressures on early downs are four-man rushes that allow the defense to play coverage with eyes on the box. Though Miami is playing man coverage, they are utilizing a Rat concept. This keeps an extra eye on the box.
When developing pressures like the one illustrated, it is important to have different ways to tag how the defenders near the line of scrimmage react to their man blocking. In many cases, a defense can have that defender add-in when their man blocks (green-dog). This gives the defense extra pressure, but against QBs that can run, they can get lost near the LOS.
Miami uses the extra defender as another Rat player and closes outlets for the QB. Either way is great, but on early downs, it may be more advantageous to get your defender to read the mesh (similar to HOT/EYES) instead of insert on a green-dog.
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