This is my annual plea (rant?) about the Dolphins defensive scheme and how what they currently run probably isn't as good as what they could be using. Ready?
The Dolphins, under defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle, run a 4-3 defense. It was that in 2012, again last year, and throughout training camp and the preseason this year. And no one seems to mind this because the Dolphins have a decent defense -- eighth in the NFL in points allowed last year, 16th against the pass and 24th against the run.
But I contend it is not good enough and not as good as it was in 2011 when that Dolphins 3-4 defense, with a similar core of players, finished sixth in points allowed, 25th against the pass and fourth against the run.
And yet with that previous success and a roster built for the 3-4, this coaching staff still committed to the 4-3. Well, here we are three years later and, guess what, I still believe the Dolphins would be better as a 3-4 front than a 4-3.
I think the personnel is better suited to 3-4. I believe the results would be improved with a 3-4. I don't get the love affair with the 4-3.
Consider this potential 3-4 lineup:
DE Jared Odrick ... He was drafted in the first round by Bill Parcells (who knows the 3-4 as if he invented it) to play the five technique.
DE Randy Starks ... Um, Parcells signed him to be a five-technique and he went to the Pro Bowl playing the five technique. Hello?
NT Earl Mitchell ... Well, the Dolphins signed him to be a 4-3 defensive tackle. But in doing that they are converting him to that position. He's been a nose tackle in Houston's 3-4 defense the past four seasons. Hello again? Is nobody home?
OLB Cam Wake ... The outside linebackers in the 3-4 are your playmakers. They rush the quarterback. Cam Wake's first job in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins? 3-4 OLB.
OLB Olivier Vernon or Dion Jordan when he returns from an NFL mandated four-game suspension ... Vernon is more than smart and athletic enough to play the position. Jordan, meanwhile, was drafted to be a SAM LB in the 4-3 and, if that didn't work, a hybrid who could put his hand on the ground. Well, the hand on the ground thing hasn't worked so well yet. But last year he made people notice when he ran step for step with New England tight end Rob Gronkowski in the game at New England. He played OLB at Oregon. So why are the Dolphins insisting he's a 4-3 hand-in-the-dirt DE? Let him play OLB in the 3-4.
Dannell Ellerbe played ILB in Baltimore and was actually so good at it in that scheme the Ravens for a minute considered him the likely successor to Ray Lewis. Ray Lewis is probably going to be elected to the Hall of Fame. Anyway, the Dolphins signed Ellerbe for the equivalent of the gross national product of a small country. They thought him a middle linebacker in the 4-3. That failed. So now they're making him a WILL in the 4-3? Wrong. Not going to work either. He's a 3-4 guy.
The Dolphins are going to try Koa Misi at middle linebacker this year. Koa Misi has never played MLB. But they somehow like him there more although he would be better as a 3-4 ILB than a 4-3 MLB because suddenly he doesn't have the entire field to worry about. The Dolphins, I remind you, drafted Misi with the 3-4 in mind.
And finally Phillip Wheeler ... I have no honest opinion about Wheeler in the 3-4. I assume he could play ILB. That is not the point. I know he was not completely comfortable in Miami's 4-3 last year and have doubts that has gotten significantly better this year with new emphasis on defensive holding coming into play. So why is he in an uncomfortable situation?
This preseason Wheeler showed he's proficient at rushing the quarterback via the A-gap blitz. What better way to use him then than as an ILB in the 3-4?
Obviously this is about the defensive front. The secondary remains the same in the Salguero 3-4 as it is in the Coyle 4-3. Anyway, this is about getting to the quarterback and stopping the run. And stopping the run is an increasingly serious issue for the Dolphins, or at least it has been the last couple of years when the team's ability to do it has gotten progressively worse.
There is also a football reason for using the two-gap defense of the 3-4. As most teams have to outnumber the offense to stop the run with the 4-3, they sometimes give up something in the back end when the offenses spread them out. But in the 3-4, if you have linemen that can make plays off of two-gapping, so to speak, a team can get away with one less player in the tackle box.
So against team that spread the field (oh, hey, like the Patriots) you can defend against the run better with one fewer player in the box.
So this is where I suggest compromise:
Since I obviously know much less about football than Coyle or any of his coaches, perhaps the Dolphins could do something crazy like not necessarily adopting my suggestion but at the same time adopting part of my suggestion.
Perhaps the Dolphins would be served using their so-called hybrid or part-time 3-4 more often against the Patriots in the regular season opener on Sunday and other opponents as situations warrant. That system, touted by Coyle, is actually quite rare to see on tape as Miami doesn't use it nearly enough for my taste. The Patriots know the Miami defense. They know that this defense, unlike the Miami offense, has not undergone any coordinator change.
So the Pats are expecting the same old Dolphins 4-3 defense. Freak them out! Come out in a 3-4. Or shift to the 3-4 during a key drive. Or for several key drives.
Once upon a time the Dolphins beat the Patriots by springing a surprise on them called the Wildcat offense. Obviously shifting to a different and unexpected scheme is cool but does not rise to the heights of pulling out an offense from the 1930s on an opponent.
But with talent that suggests it will work, why not try it? Why not?