Miami's 7-O look is more than just a "cool" pressure.
The Dolphins used perceived pressure and catch coverage to create mayhem on 3rd Downs.
Miami made waves in 2020 with its brand of aggressive defense. The Dolphins would finish 10-6 but narrowly missed the playoffs. Former Head Coach Brian Flores, a long-time New England assistant, stems from the Bill Belichick tree, yet in Miami has created his brand of defense that features aggressive blitz structures and man coverage. With man coverage specialists in Byron Jones and Xavien Howard, Flores utilizes perceived pressure to force short throws where his DBs can really to underneath throws or break on the ball near the sticks. Howard even had 10 interceptions in the ‘20 season.
Fast forward to 2021, and the Dolphins didn’t change their tune. Flores put together another Top 10 defense, and though the win column didn’t show it, the Dolphins were a team to watch on Sundays when it came to defense. In short, they were fun to watch. Really disappointing he didn’t get a fourth year in Miami, as most are now familiar with his current lawsuit against the NFL.
Aggressive defense on 3rd Down is a staple of Flores’ defenses, and the “TAG” pressures as I refer to them are an integral part of his system. The concept is designed to force the offense into Slide protection. By placing six to seven defenders on the line of scrimmage (LOS), the Dolphins can dictate protection with perceived pressure (below). Flores can either send all the defenders with the edge rusher to the RB in a PEEL technique to handle any Flare or run his TAG pressure that uses the Slide against the offense.
Last year I detailed how Miami attacked Empty formations on 3rd Down or 2nd & Long. Though the Dolphins used multiple alignments to hide intentions or match the field personnel, below is the most frequent alignment. The front is what I call NIC or two 2is (below) and places two interior D-linemen stacked on the Guards and tilted towards the Center. Another D-linemen with an EDGE (OLB hybrid) opposite is to one side. In the B-gaps are the two ILBs.
Versus the Saints four-open alignment, the DB responsible for the RB aligns on the edge of the box and will peel if the RB flares. Against a 10 personnel look, the front shows a “7-O” presentation. The offense only has six blockers to protect the QB. Flores has created a simple math problem for the offense; the Dolphins have one more defender than the Saints have blockers - someone is going to come free.
The offense will slide to the defense’s left in the image above. Though the pressure looks like chaos post-snap, the madness has a structure. The four interior defenders read the Slide, mainly numbers or butt, as the O-line slides. Both edge players will COP (contain rush) no matter what.
If the numbers flash to the defender, they will drop out with eyes on the QB, with the interior D-linemen dropping back in the direction of the Slide and the LB into the “HOT” alley to the Slide.
The pressure design ensures that a defender(s) will come free while “wasting” two O-linemen in protection. The drop-outs use vision to get into the quick-release lanes. The QB has to make a quick decision with a defender in his face and two defenders dropping into lanes with vision on him.
In the secondary, the DBs play “catch” coverage and align near the sticks. Everything is kept top-down, and the DBs do not pedal out, rather scootch or “prop” on the sticks. With the QB under duress, he has to make a quick throw which the DBs trigger on once the ball is thrown.
Replacement and Simulated pressures are a great way to keep a defense’s coverage ability intact while applying direct pressure on the offense. The ability to maintain coverage integrity is crucial in the NFL, where the average QB can carve up basic coverage structures. Flores mixes perceived and max pressure from his 7-O look to keep offenses honest and QBs under stress.
The NFL is a protection game, and Flores has done an excellent job designing a simple yet highly effective concept. When the Dolphins run their TAG pressure, the coverage is sacrificed as the DBs play catch coverage. Though some WRs look open to the untrained eye, the perceived pressure eliminates one side of the ball with pressure.
The QB has to understand his protection and still deal with an unblocked defender. The added value of vision players forces the ball into a tight window. What looks like mass chaos is a choreographed dance with the offense’s protection. Not everything has to be exotic or complicated to be effective in the NFL. Flores illustrates this fact with his TAG pressures.