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Dolphins 4-3 defense is good, but is it better?

HOUSTON -- The Dolphins tonight will get their longest look of an outstanding opponent this preseason will offer because the playoff-good Texans are likely going to keep their starters in the game at least one quarter and probably longer.

And while many people will continue to focus on the offense because fans are interested in QB Ryan Tannehill's progress and his chemistry with new WR Mike Wallace and the progress of the running back competition that Lamar Miller has yet to fully win, I will also be looking at the defense.

Yes, the defense.

The Texans, you see, will provide the Miami defense its best test of the preseason. (New Orleans might have done so in the preseason-finale but everyone knows the starters in that game will play perhaps one series and be done).

So this will be Miami's longest view of a solid offense that not only has playoff potential but is considered among the elite units in the NFL.

So why my focus on defense?

Well, I have to admit sometimes when you cover a team, one can overlook the forest from the trees. I admit I did that with this defense. It wasn't until reader Kareen Troitino asked for a critical study of Kevin Coyle's defense that I began to really question this unit.

Now, let me be clear: Last season the Dolphins defense under Coyle as their first-year defensive coordinator was good. They were probably good enough to get a team to the playoffs and if it wasn't for an offense that was bottom-of-the league bad, the Dolphins might have ended up in the postseason.

But the Dolphins defense was good before coach Joe Philbin arrived and hired Coyle to turn the unit from a 3-4 scheme to a 4-3 scheme. And, in truth, the change in staff and scheme was actually a step backward last year.

That's not an opinion. It's fact.

In 2011, Miami's 3-4 defense was No. 6 in the NFL in scoring, allowing 19.6 points per game. Last year, the Dolphins 4-3 unit was No. 7 in scoring, allowing 19.8 points per game. Slight difference but ... Worse.

In 2011, Miami's 3-4 defense gave up an average of 345.1 total yards per game. That was No. 15 in the NFL. Last year, the 4-3 unit gave up an average of 356.8 yards per game. That was No. 21 in the NFL. Worse.

In 2011, Miami's 3-4 defense was No. 3 against the run, allowing 95.6 yards per game. Last season, the 4-3 was No. 13 in the NFL, allowing 108.4 rushing yards per game. Worse.

The 2011 unit had 16 interceptions. Last year's unit had 10 interceptions. Worse.

The 2011 unit had 19 takeaways. The 2012 unit had 16 takeaway. Neither is very good. But 16 is less than 19 so ... Worse.

The only area where Coyle's 4-3 defense showed improvement over the previous 3-4 defense was in passing yards per game and even then, the improvement was modest. The 2011 Miami defense gave up 249.5 passing yards per game, which was 25th overall in the NFL. The 2012 Miami defense gave up 248.4 passing yards per game, which was 27th in the NFL. So even as the pass defense got one yard better per game, it lost ground in the rankings.

The point?

I'm not convinced this 4-3 approach is an upgrade. It's good. But it was good before. And if the Dolphins are looking to be a "first in class organization" as owner Stephen Ross likes to say, the defense needs to be better than merely good. It needs to be great.

It needs to be better than it was.

It needs to be Super Bowl good.

By the way, last year's Super Bowl teams -- San Francisco and Baltimore -- employed a 3-4 defense. The NFL's No. 1 unit overall (yards per game) was Pittsburgh. The Steelers run a base 3-4.

I'm not saying the 3-4 is a better approach than the 4-3, but the facts suggest Miami's personnel might be better suited for the 3-4.

Remember: Paul Soliai went to the Pro Bowl while playing in the 3-4 as an NT, not the 4-3 as a DT. Randy Starks had his most productive season and went to the Pro Bowl playing in the 3-4 as a DE, not the 4-3 as a DE. Jared Odrick was drafted by Bill Parcells as a 3-4 DE.  Koa Misi was drafted for the 3-4.

Dannell Ellerbe played the 3-4 in Baltimore.

"I'm still getting used to being in the middle," Ellerbe said this week.

A good player is a good player is a good player. And many good players will be good regardless of scheme. 

Cameron Wake is good as a 4-3 defensive end although he started out as a 3-4 OLB for the Dolphins. And once he gets healthy, I assume rookie first round pick Dion Jordan will be comfortable as a 4-3 DE although at Oregon he was often utilized and seems tailor-made for 3-4 OLB work.

But sometimes one scheme turns a good player into a dynamic one. Remember that Jason Taylor was an outstanding 4-3 defensive end. But his best season when he won the Defensive Player of the Year award came when Nick Saban used him in the 3-4 as an OLB.

My points is if the Dolphins are going to be a base 4-3 team, they need to prove that's really the best approach. They need to improve on what they were as a 3-4 unit not just keep pace or, as they did last year, lose ground.

The Texans last year scored 26 points per game and that made them the NFL's sixth-most productive offense. Tonight is a good night for Miami's defense to start showing it is ready to take another step.

Comments

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yes but you use a different personal when you do the switch. Our CBs were the problem because they weren't zone CBs. You have to compare the stats of this year or next and compare it to 2011.

Armando,

1st of all, you have to consider numbers change year to year simply because of fa, different schedule, and even hc and coordinator changes, even the offensive effectiveness and turnover allowed and given.

It's extremely rare, any team is the same exact team as they were a year before in today's nfl.

Actually, I believe the 4-3 defense is more suited to the now pass happy nfl. 3-4 defenses, by designed, are a little better geared towards stopping run 1st then pass.

The 4-3 is a god way to batter Brady. See what the Giants did? Shula says to build your team to win the division..

Armando,

Another thing you may forget to take glance, we have "HYBRID" personnel, we're neither pigeon-holed into 3-4 nor 4-3 defense.

I love the interchangeable parts. With the addition of Grimes, the rookie corners, and Marshall/Paterson. CB is one of the deepest units on the team.

Cant wait until Taylor is 100% healthy. Plays like Vonte, except, much smarter.......

I like when pointing out VERY similar stats in the scoring it's just...Worse..."In 2011, Miami's 3-4 defense was No. 6 in the NFL in scoring, allowing 19.6 points per game. Last year, the Dolphins 4-3 unit was No. 7 in scoring, allowing 19.8 points per game. Worse" Which is technically true...
BUT...
When pointing out another similarly close stat that shows improvement Armando has to call out how minute it was..."The only area where Coyle's 4-3 defense showed improvement over the previous 3-4 defense was in passing yards per game and even then, the improvement was modest. The 2011 Miami defense gave up 249.5 passing yards per game, which was 25th overall in the NFL. The 2012 Miami defense gave up 248.4 passing yards per game, which was 27th in the NFL. So even as the pass defense got one yard better per game, it lost ground in the rankings."

Try to paint a negative picture much???

I wish real football would get here I'm so tired of these "so called experts" making up crap to stir the pot with. It is amazing that we gave up 19.6 points per game in 2011 and 19.8 in 2012 but we were worse! However we gave up less passing yards and the improvement was modest! It was Coyle's first year and the defense had to learn his system! Compare this year with 2013 and if they are not better then you may have something. But don't compare a different system under a different coach. Apples and oranges, give him this year before you start all your would have, could have, should have, bull crap. Man you want to be "expert football writers/coaches" need to give it a rest. There is a reason you write about football and don't play or coach football.

Most of those stats are completely meaningless, and the switch from 3-4 to 4-3 is overblown.

First, the most important statistics (scoring defense and total yardage allowed) stayed virtually the same. The Dolphins last year allowed 0.2 more points per game and about 10 more yards per game. OH NO PANIC TIME!

Second, the Dolphins spend most of their time (roughly 60-70% of their snaps) in their nickel defense because the NFL is a passing league and most tight ends are glorified wide receivers.

Well, the nickel defense, under BOTH Mike Nolan and Kevin Coyle, has been a 4-2-5 front, meaning 4 down-linemen and just 2 linebackers.
Cameron Wake lined up as a DE in 2011 under Mike Nolan when the Dolphins were in the nickel, which is one of the reasons why Wake said from the start that he wasn't worried about transitioning from OLB to DE last year (2012). He already knew he could play with his hand on the ground since he had done so 70% of the time the year before.

TWERP4LIFE finally figured he was the only one still on the last blog. Yet, still comes here and 1st post I a put down of someone else.

Jokes always on him, he's always last to know.......

Just sayin.................................

Those always willing to put down others are those with the lowest esteem of themselves.

Got that Queens Clubbers?


Actually, I believe the 4-3 defense is more suited to the now pass happy nfl. 3-4 defenses, by designed, are a little better geared towards stopping run 1st then pass.

Posted by: LOVE FAKING 17-0-IN-YUR-ASS! | | August 17, 2013 at 01:33 PM

Easily the most A S I N I N E STATEMENT I've read on a supposed Football educated blog in a looooooong time!! It's actually the other way around BRAINIAC!! I will let you explain YOURSELF 1st Miss Moffett before schooling begins, this should be fun!

Will some please play with TWERP4LIFE. He's having a hissy meltdown all over the place.

Just saying...............................

KIH | August 17, 2013 at 01:43 PM


Very well said and 100% true.

Someone please play with TWERP4LIFE. He desperately needs attention.....

The numbers don't lie. Just saying......................

It is obvious Coyle wasn't happy with his defense last year which is the reason smith, burnett, dansby and others are gone.

You make great points, Mando. Last year's defense wasn't an upgrade.

here's hoping this year's unit is.


Will some please play with TWERP4LIFE. He's having a hissy meltdown all over the place.

Just saying...............................

Posted by: LOVE FAKING 17-0-IN-YUR-ASS! | | August 17, 2013 at 01:49 PM

OK, so you won't debate the merits of your statement, easy just admit you have little to know real knowledge or game instead of hurling insults and people woul respect you much more, just sayin as well...........

There are many reasons the Dolphins went to the 4-3 under coyle and philbin. I understand them all because they are logical.

But you know what?

I only care about results. And the defense, while solid, didn't get the results anyone wanted. So they deserve scrutiny.

Thanks for doing that Mando.

We'll see what happens this year.

Who had the #1 REDZONE defense in the league last year...OHH YEEAHH...
Forget to throw that one in there JA???

Interesting read. I have to kind of laugh when fans who haven't smelled a winning season in four years -- the worst four years in franchise history -- attack the author for reporting STATISTICS because they don't suggest that everything is wonderful.

SMH.

I think Dion Jordan would be a GREAT 3-4 OLB. Tons of speed. Maximizes his skills. Just sayin.

It's not about reporting STATISTICS genius...its about reporting STATISTIC and painting them as negative light as possible...all things can be interpureted in many ways...Armandos ways is NEGATIVE...or insignificant...as well as IGNORING the positive and writing about hats...
Just because some folks like to dwell in negativity and think they have it SO bad because a football team isn't performing up to their expectation...doesn't mean the rest of us want to swim in SHYT with you!!!

The 3-4 was an answer to offenses becoming more pass happy. It is harder for a RB to penetrate 4 men on the line than 3. The 3-4 gives the runner a better chance to get a few more yards, but puts the D in better protection against the pass. It is a trade off.

No question the 4-3 is better against the run.

Its a QB league. The D hardly matters in todays NFL.

See you guys.. Armando is a negative punk... I understand the point of the article.. But when he is quick to point out how much "worse" the team is dropping in the rankings.. but in the one are they improved on his words:
The only area where Coyle's 4-3 defense showed improvement over the previous 3-4 defense was in passing yards per game and even then, the improvement was modest.
However they dropped one ranking spot from 6 to 7 in scoring defense... his words.. WORSE...
It just gets to a point where bias and dislike for a team youre reporting for gets old.
So basically Armandos point was they switched from on style or defense to another and in year one of that switch it wasnt the #1 defense in the league...
They dropped to moronic and led handed cb's for Grimes, Davis, Taylor, and Patterson...
They dropped an over paid fat loud mouthed MLB for a SB winning LB and got younger at the position... THye got rid of injury plagued, fat, and lazy players that were content being 5-11 7-9 to get younger, faster, hungrier players and this reporter can only report on the negative to which he uses to support his bias..

dang sorry for the typos in that..

Arizona had a great red zone defense also and actually gave up 3 fewer TDs in red zone situations than Miami. And what was their record?

So red zone defense stat is for LOSERS.

I love the Phins as much as if not more than anyone...I just will never understand why folks associate...Love and Caring with...worry, anger, frustration and general negativity...everyone gets what they give...so keep handing out negative shyt and keep wondering why there are so many flys swarming your arse!!!

Two weeks ago many pundits were saying we closed the gap some. After seeing NE last night, you won't be hearing that anymore.

And so I dont get attacked by the "youre a homer" or homoerotic fins fan jackarss's, i realize they regressed one year after switching.


I think Dion Jordan would be a GREAT 3-4 OLB. Tons of speed. Maximizes his skills. Just sayin.

Posted by: Giants Stink | August 17, 2013 at 02:01 PM

Couldn't agree more! I like going 3/4 with personel as well.............

FROM LEFT TO RIGHT...

DL....Starks, Solia, Odrick

LB's.. Jordan, Wheeler, Ellerbee, Wake

The problem is we have to trade or cut some guud players aquired resently who don't fit, so I guess we give this scheme a shot which someone suggested was a better fit, taking a LB off the field for a DE that is?

...I have to strongly disagree that the 3-4 is a run stopping defense. It was designed to rush the passer. If you don't believe me just read anything written about the creation of this defense. We may have had a good run stopping defense in the 3-4 days. But no doubt the 3-4 was designed around getting to the passer.

The thing is now...Who cares. We are going to be in nickel-dime 50 percent of the time anyway. I know this doesn't dictate the defensive front. But The question should be which of these fronts(of which we can play both) will help the guys in the secondary? We may play 4-3 on more downs one week, we may play 3-4 as a base another. The beauty of our front 7 defenders is that we have that luxury.

Giants...if the only thing that matters is WINNING...then all stats are pointless except the SCORE BOARD...and this article is as pointless as your existence around here...

Hey, Jackhole, maybe you should get a refund for all that money you pay on this blog to read it.

Or maybe you should just get a clue that this team has stunk for a looooong time and it deserves a critical view until it stops stinking.

By the way, the stats are the stats. If the words get your panties in a bunch, wear thongs.

Armando is the best Dolphin writer on the planet. Great insight and timely info. He also has great connections inside the Dolphin organization. And thats why he has the best blog also. Keep up the great work, Armando!


The 3-4 was an answer to offenses becoming more pass happy. It is harder for a RB to penetrate 4 men on the line than 3. The 3-4 gives the runner a better chance to get a few more yards, but puts the D in better protection against the pass. It is a trade off.

No question the 4-3 is better against the run.

Posted by: Physics 101 | August 17, 2013 at 02:03 PM

Not entirely true given you have 2 MLB's shooting the gaps across the line and on O your Guards have to be agile enough in todays game to contend with the usually 250 Pd plus LB's. You can justify an argumen any which way but the 3/4 is a better fit in the pass happy ERA or till the rules committee decides they want to see better D play again. There was an earlier post about the team (every team today) needing the best personel to fit nickle and dime packages given their the ones who make or break you today.

Elii,

In most cases, it is the QB that makes the receivers look great. No way the Marks Bro's would have been anything special without Marino. Elway made Sharpes career. Peyton had one of his best passing seasons on a brand new team. Fitz was great with Warner, not so great with anyone else. Now we have seen Brady can make any average receiver look like a star.

Great receivers never make a QB look better than they are. Great QB's always make their receivers look better than they are.

Armando,

In 2012, the Dolphins yielded 87 converted third downs. That was 26th in the NFL.

In 2011, the Dolphins yielded 74 converted third downs. That was 9th in the NFL.

So they regressed there also.

mattybfromnc is an out of touch out of towner that doesnt understand the game of football. He'll tell you how much he knows but he ia known for being clueless.

Excellent blog! Haven't read this anywhere else.

It desrves a critical view until it stops??? What a bunch of spoiled little pansies you are...They don't OWE you shyt...be a fan and watch the games or be a beetch and cry cry cry...past is past...get over it...do you still call and torment that girl that dumped you in high school??? Loser... This team has made upgrades all over the field...but fans aren't suppose to be excited because..."we" haven't won a lot of games for a long time...:(...you have won and contributed to ZERO Ws or Ls...so just sit back in on your couch and STFU...

In 1972 the Miami Dolphins went 17-0 in 1973 they went 15-2 they got WORSE

Armando trolling his own blog...TOO FUNNY!!!

Another point Mando could have made to help prove his point:

First downs allowed in 2011: 310 for 15th in NFL.
First downs allowed in 2012: 320 for 19th in NFL.

They played more bend but don't break under Coyle.

Hey Dalton,

Put down the Twinkies, son!
165 freakin pounds a the beginning of 6th grade,are you kidding me!

Try losing 30 lbs of that blubba!

Posted by: Xerxes | August 17, 2013 at 02:15 PM

Here comes the tards that state bc you dont live in Miami you are clueless about football... clues native

clueless

Tannehill's excessive number of 3 n outs last season put intense pressure on a pretty good D. If Tannehill cant improve his time of possesion it could be a long season again.


Great receivers never make a QB look better than they are. Great QB's always make their receivers look better than they are.

Posted by: Spike | August 17, 2013 at 02:13 PM

Great point and happy to agree outside of the early 80's Chargers. Dan Fouts threw alot of passes that were well over his WR's heads or underthrown or bad passes along sidlines that his (well before there time) REC. core with Charlie Joyner, Wes Chandler, John Jefferson and T.E. Kellen Winslow would catch for him making the GOOD Fouts GREAT!

..If you want to learn about why the 3-4 is a better pass rush base front 7 over the 4-3 go read Pat Kirwan. He breaks in down really simple. It is all about numbers and angles. You have more options in the 3-4 then you do in the 4-3. In the 4-3 you have more "hat to hat" matchups. It just makes it easier form the lineman to block. Anyway check him out He knows what he is talking about.

Let's see. The Fins go 3-4...the opponent comes out in 11 Personnel, a LB comes off and it is nickel time. Much to do about nothing, Mando.

3 of the past 4 Super Bowl Champions were 4-3 teams. Give me a break.

I like the 4-3 with two absolute beasts in the middle. We are kind of running that now with Soliai in there sucking up blockers. Back when we ran the Cover 2 we had Bowens and Chester in there engulfing Olinemen.

The defense you run should suit your personnel, you may notice. If Dick Lebeau ever retires I sincerely doubt the Steelers change to a 4-3, they have been drafting 3-4 players for a long time. That change over can be rough.

If you notice Mando writes an article and then the other papers writers write the exact same thing 24-48 hrs later.

I feel like this is really kind of academic, it amounts to whether Cam Wake plays in a 2 pt or 3 pt stance.

The personnel is going to be the same, the only real difference is the amount of coverage responsibility that Cam Wake has as a LB versus purely pass rushing as a DE. Doesn't the DE role play more to his strengths?

He's our best defensive player, and a scheme that allows him (and hopefully Vernon/Jordan) to lay back in the cut and tee off on QB's all the time is probably to our advantage.

And the comparison between 2011 and 2012 is moot - the D-line could play either, but Ellerbe and Wheeler are fundamentally different from Dansby et al. The improvement is going to come from having versatile linebackers who can cover the middle of the field and let Cam do his thing. That is a critical difference.

.Hayden I agree we will be in nickel and dime a greater percent then any other formation. To your point about the Super Bowl champs..So what? This doesn't mean that one front is better then the other. The debate is which one is better against pass. If you want to argue for the 4-3..fine. The Stats from the past 10 years will not back that up if you look at sack numbers and then compare that to which teams were 3-4..4-3.

Nobody has said you can't win with a 4-3..With the right personel(See Giants) you can do it. which formation is better suited to rush the passer?? I would say 3-4all day long

The thing about the Super Bowl..Teams have 2 weeks to scheme for each other. It does give the offensive teams a bit of an advantage. Not an excuse for the 3-4..But how many teams in the final 4 in that time were 3-4 teams and how did their sack totals compaire to those of the eventual Champs?

Cadillac, why do you constantly bring up ridiculous stats when you know we had the
worst receivers in the league?
If he scores against the Texans will you promise to shut your pie hole?

A bunch of fans with a below average understanding of the game trying to argue the nuances between 2 different formations...

Here go negative Armando again.

DD it still depends on personnel more than formation. You can have an aggressive pass-rushing 4-3 (Giants) or a run stuffing 4-3 with edge rushing (Dolphins). Just depends on the athletes you have to use. Some 3-4s are awful at pass rushing, I think we may see that in New Orleans this year as Rob Ryan pounds the square peg into the round hole there personnel wise.

You naked again little walker?
That's a side effect from your medication.
You taking too much..
Probably headed to Montes baby mommas house again.
Because 2 watt having lunch the Blue Oyster.

Overall, 4-3 is a better D. 95% of schools run a 4-3 so, you have a D-line, LBs/DEs that don't have to re-train. Also in a 3-4, you have to be hitting on all cylinders. If you have one single weak link, it hurts big time.

As for Coyle, the jury is still out.

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