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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.


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No team is a pure 4-3 or 3-4, typically you'll see different packages with teams essentially playing both..blah blah blah...Patriots switched from 3-4 to 4-3, guess their coach is a moran...you put the best players in given situations and the scheme suits their talents.

Excellent article Armando - although with Jordan in the mix, the Fins now can go from a 4-3, to a 3-4 by Jordan dropping back with LB

Jordan is injured.

can't fo mike cartridge to night game bcesae they had the injurys there also is this game in Texas??

Mando,or should I say Mr. Negative,I ,and and lot of other fans are getting pretty sick of your negative,half empty,crap writing. We had,and still do,a great defensive line. be it 3-4 or 4-3. Teams can't run on us but the past few years they could sure pass on us. Did Philbin and Ireland draft or sign, via free agents, as secondary or line backing personell? Your damm skippy they did. So let's see how they do with some fresh young studs that can cover receivers and tightends,before you throw them under the bus.

Jordan was drafted INJURED and we DON'T KNOW if
his shoulder is

Playing in the NFL may make it difficult for it to ever completely heal.

The First 4 series tonight WILL be a preview of
how competitive the 2013 Dolphins are.

Armandito, how dare you even question this organization?

Don't you understand that many drone fans on your blog are convinced being 7-9 is the way to spend their entire sad lives?

They thrive on being not good enough.

Please resort to telling us everything is peachy and keen and rosy and the losing is really a figment of their imagination.

By the way, great job asking hard questions!

Go Miami!

You don't speak for anyone titman. Go finger yourself.

Not even close to true @ 338


If your life is dependant on how the Miami Dolphins do on the football field 4-5months of the year...you got bigger issues than ridiculing others...

By the way, Mando, check out Miami's fourth-down defense which you did not include.

In 2011 it was 50 percent and ranked 15th in the NFL.

In 2012 it was 70 percent and ranked 28th in the NFL.

Coyle's D made fewer plays on big downs.

The stats you mentioned have a lot more to do with the team's secondary than with what the front 7 are doing! Some people believe that the 3-4 is better against the run because of the extra LB, and some consider the 4-3 can put more pressure on the QB because it usually gives the DE a half step. You can argue all of that until you're blue in the face. Yes, you need bigger tackles to play a 3-4 and more LBer's...etc.
But, the yards given up, the points given up, the turnovers, etc. all fall on the shoulders of the Cornerbacks and Safeties! Hopefully, we've upgraded this year and those stats will be better!

Jack! (@ 3:46PM)

if you're going to disagree with anyone on this blog...

Typical comment here translation...

I am so scared that the Dolphins might not do good that I fear speaking positive about them because my poor fragile delicate heart would be broken and I may never love again...


If you have no expectations you can exceed them every single time...coward...
High expectation without the fear of failure...living...

anyone or everyone???

just stating a fact...1 QTR in preseason week 2 is in no way a reflection of the rest of the season...Giants weren't doing too well when they went 9-7 in 2011...how'd that turn out???

Just because there are clouds in the sky today doesnt mean it's going to pour down rain next week!!! it may...it may not...

The Bucs aren't a good gauge to see where the Phins are...but Brady puts a score on the board and the Patriots and Brady are the greatest thing ever and are going to the super bowl again??? SMH...


New frog in jungle? I could be Pepsi!

I don't care if its a 3-4 4-3 or 5-2 the dolphins are a team of destiny and r going undefeated this year.thats a 1-9-7-2. 10-4

oh... dear Jack....But we're all so traumatized with being hurt.

We've felt such pain these past 15 years and we're all petrified if feeling that level of extreme sorrow again.

We're all so battered and bruised that we never may never
be able to 'LOVE' and 'TRUST' the way we used to :)

Hey guys, there isnt much positive when ya lose every friggin year. Dolphin fans are disgusted.

Oh Boy! Good point Armando, but scary. Remember if I'm correct, the Fins have yet to beat the Texans in what?, six meets? Don't understand, if the stats say 3-4 scheme is better than 4-3, why not stick to the 3-4? Well what can I say? All I know is that the offense has sucked so far in two pre-season games, but the defense has not really shown greatness yet. Like I said-SCARY!

Why not also point out two very important facts. How long was the D on the field and the strength of schedule of our opponents.

Jack (@ 3:59 PM)

I'm not talking about the natural ups and downs that a team experiences during a season or any of the "Any Given Sunday" stuff...

Tonight is simply a 'hint' of how well the DOLPHINS STARTERS can play and compete against a recognized talented Opponent.

Sure...how well they can play...TONIGHT...for 1 QTR...thats it...hell a team can play like CRAP for a QTR then get it together for the rest of the game and a W...a team can play like gold for 3 QTRS...then have the wheels fall off the bus in the 4th for a L...

Pray for new ownership.

It's simple....
Miami's strength is its defensive line!
We have more (and better) players that play the DT & DE positions...
The 4-3 puts more of our better players on the field at the same time!
If our strength was Linebackers....we'd play the 3-4...
Besides, Miami plays a HYBRID 4-3!!!
All of this means nothing when you consider the nickel & dime packages!!!

The 1st quarter is all that counts. Thats the starting units.

"Although the 4-3 is our base defense we played it less than 60% of the time last year", Coyle.

Mando continues his attempts at creating controversy over nothing hoping that will give him something NEGATIVE to write about the Miami Dolphins! And, he's still upset that the national media didn't pick up on the Pouncey Hat Scandal!!! Mando was sure he could win a Pulitzer Prize on that one! If only he could get one of those....(sigh)....but, he'll never get one writing about the boring Fins and their boring practices and their boring games...

Would someone please help Little Mando get his Pulitzer? Someone please find something controversial about Miami for him to write about! Someone? Anyone? Bueller?

They'll be switching to 'Shock Troops' after the First Quarter Jack...
(...I just want to see how the Starters do.)

Yesterday I brought up that Mando told us we had the number 8 D last season but when I went on CBS Sports they said we were ranked 21 on defense.

Today Mando is here with all of the facts on defense.

Once again I exposed it first, Mando gets his stories from me.

We get the feeling that most Fans don't trust the current Dolphins organization. We neither. Yet.


Don't know if you're still around.

The 3-4 defense, though a greater run defense, is only as good as the NT in stopping the run.

Remember, in the 3yds and a cloud of dust days, teams predominantly ran the 4-3 defense. It was also the day when passing attacks were fairly limited. I wonder why?

Also, great mlb's began to be more and more difficult to find. A great mlb is the main stay of the 4-3 run defense. This is also the primary reason for the evolution to the 3-4 d. If you don't have that sideline to sideline run stopping mlb. You need the extra ilb to make up the difference.

I may have stated it a little wrong, but, basically both defenses are only as good as the personnel you have executing them.

I just say the 3-4, with the proper nt, is a little better run stopping defense because of the bigger ilb's and de's. Its a better suited matchup to offenses with power running games. Those with the hug mammoth linemen seeking to out-physical the opponent.

STOP exposing yourself Fraud...

Chad Henne came off the bench in week 10 last season against Houston.

He threw 4TDs and 395 yards.

That was against the Texans top defense in a game that was very inportant to the Texans. It was in Texas.

2 QBs in the history of the NFL have come off the bench and thrown 4 TDs:

Steve Young and Chad Henne

Hey Abbottt

YES !!!:)

I hate that guy...

The 4-3 basically came about out of the shortage of great mlb's. Without a great mlb, your run stop game was basically mince meat.

We haven't had a great mlb since Zach. Cant yet say with 100% accuracy Ellerbee is a great mlb yet. He didn't start enough games with the Ravens, and the Ravens played some 3-4/4-3 last season too......

Lou pay the man.

With the 3-4, you don't have to have a great mlb, just 2 very good ilb's.

The bottom line for tonight's game is this:

Can Tanne move the ball up and down the field against a playoff team?

We play 4 playoff teams in the first 5 weeks so this is important.

Very good defense have 3 Ellerbee's at LB.

Shhty defenses have 3 Misi's at LB.

John Jerry returned to the OL this week and so we have no more concerns about the OL.

In today's nfl, it's still very rare to find a truly great mlb. I doubnt if there're more than 5 of them playing in the nfl right now today.

Exactly why the nfl has become a 3-4 defense dominant league. However, many teams are incorporating personnel to play a little both, to throw off the run and pass blocking schemes of olines.

If nothing else, it gives oc's and their olines a little something extra to prepare for during game week.....

If, If, JJ Watt plays(he has a bad elbow) from a 3-4 LDE he will put pressure on Clabo and Samuda. Has Clabo ever faced him before?

3-4 or 4-3 isn't the issue. It's wins and losses. I don't care what scheme they are running. It's all about the wins and losses.

Once again all 3 QBs that Ireland drafted will be playing this weekend.
The Jags are on NFL network live tonight.
The'Skins are on MNF.

I got news for ya. we run a 4-4 defense

reshad jones dion jordan

Back in the early 70's, Shula's strategy would have been to run right at JJ Watt to wear him down a little.

Once you wear the d-linemen down a little, it also will begin to increasingly affect their pass rush ability too. Exactly why Tannehill needs to sustain drives.

You'll never wear any defense down going 3 and out, or when not mostly 3 and out, 6 and out.....

Just saying....... keep the damn ball!

Pats always have a crappy defense. Yet, they always in the playoffs

effect, not affect........

Wouldn't neccessarily call a defense leading the league in takeaways crappy.......

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

Just crap then

What defense led the leagus in takeaways? Hosuton?

EJ Manuel had knee surgery this afternoon.

There is no doubt they are going to cause some turnovers from us. We have to do the same thing to them.

Why will Samuda be playing?
I thought we released him when John Jerry heroically returned to save the OL.

Fascinating practice.

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