NFL

Dolphins Defense Will Confuse Rams Rookie QB Jared Goff

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The Miami Dolphins have put together a four-game win streak and are in the running for a Wild Card spot. There are a few hurdles to get over—injuries to Branden Albert and Mike Pouncey once again threaten to derail the offensive line—but the core team seems to have found some rhythm.

Especially on the defense which, after three rocky quarters, clamped down on the San Diego Chargers and forced Philip Rivers to make some awful throws and decisions.

Let’s take a look at his fourth quarter meltdown and see what the Dolphins did and how they can replicate it against the Los Angeles Rams and rookie quarterback Jared Goff.

Overview

According to Pro Football Focus’ grades on the game, Rivers was actually less accurate when there was no blitz. Let’s read that again, together, because it seems backward.

charts and stats via Pro Football Focus.com

charts and stats via Pro Football Focus.com

Now, that’s not to say he didn’t have issues when pressures, as he clearly did according to the chart. However, when he was getting regular pressure—for example, a four or five-man pass rush with no extra blitzer—he struggled quite a bit.

The Dolphins fared very well when they had an extra player in coverage, whether it be a linebacker dropping back or a safety over the top to help.

Miami also played very smart football. As we will see in a moment when we break down Rivers’ first interception, they didn’t allow themselves to get baited into making a wrong move. They stayed in position and didn’t commit too early.

Finally, they were able to create pressure without having to blitz, which is one of the reasons they blitzed just ten times. When you can leave defenders floating in coverage, and still pressure the quarterback, you’re in good shape.

How does all or any of that translate to the Rams? Well, as Mike DiGiovanna of the LA Times reported this week, they expect the Dolphins to bring the heat.

“Knowing he’s a young quarterback, they’ll probably blitz us a little bit more to try to get him out of rhythm,” left guard Rodger Saffold told DiGiovanna. “They’ll hide coverages more, change his reads on the snap.”

While the Dolphins might blitz if they can naturally create pressure, they will absolutely hide the coverages just like they did at times to Rivers.

The Rams’ line hasn’t played well either, and they know it.

“We weren’t performing offensively, and a lot of that comes down to how we’ve been playing as an offensive line,” right tackle Rob Havenstein said to DiGiovanna. “I think a lot of us guys take a lot of it personally, so we’ve been working on it. We’re going to get it right.”

The Dolphins have an advantage here and they can exploit it, just like they did against Rivers.

2-2-MIA 2 (12:42) (Shotgun) P.Rivers pass short left intended for Ty.Williams INTERCEPTED by T.Lippett at MIA -8.

image via NFL Game Pass

image via NFL Game Pass

This was an excellent example of the Dolphins being careful and not jumping too early on a route. It’s very clear that Rivers assumed that  cornerback Tony Lippet (No. 36) would stay in to cover Griff Whalen (No. 83) who stays at the line of scrimmage for a screen pass which is never going to come.

There are a few issues here beyond the fact that Lippett wasn’t buying what the Chargers were selling.

The intended receiver is Tyrell Williams, who runs right at the spot where Lippett is standing. There’s no fake to Whalen to pull Lippett in, nor does Whalen back up to try and draw Lippett in.

So when Williams runs his route, Lippett just has to wait.

Rivers is very clearly going to Williams from the beginning as well.  He never even looks at Whalen. So if Lippett is watching the quarterback at all, it’s clear from the snap that Whalen is not getting the ball and Williams is.

Rivers probably never should have thrown the ball at that point. He has to have seen Lippett there, and it’s second down. There was no reason to force the play. That’s on Rivers and nobody else.

1-10-MIA 30 (7:09) (Shotgun) P.Rivers pass deep right intended for A.Gates INTERCEPTED by B.Maxwell at MIA 14. 

image via Game Pass

image via NFL Game Pass

Again, there is little to no pass rush for Rivers to contend with so some of this blunder is on him. The idea is that the outside or “Z” receiver is going to push Byron Maxwell deep. Unfortunately, like Lippett, Maxwell fails to take the bait. The Dolphins have a safety deep who Maxwell can pass his receiver off to the moment he reads Rivers as throwing to Antonio Gates on an underneath out route.

On top of that, it’s an awful pass. Either Rivers thought Gates was running a deeper cut or more of a corner route and was going to be heading downfield at more of an angle. The reason isn’t all that critical, as the result is the same—interception.

Again, the Dolphins don’t require any added pass rushers. Even though they don’t get a lot of pressure, the tradeoff of extra defenders pays off anyway.

1-10-MIA 42 (1:13) (Shotgun) P.Rivers pass short left intended for Ty.Williams INTERCEPTED by K.Alonso [I.Abdul-Quddus] at MIA 40. K.Alonso for 60 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

image via NFL Game Pass

image via NFL Game Pass

Here’s the game-killer and it happens in part because this time the Dolphins bring pressure. The Dolphins have six pass rushers, leaving two corners in single coverage, a safety deep and two linebackers in coverage as well.

Whalen is the distraction again as he lines up in the slot on the left side of the formation and again he doesn’t get the defender to bite. On this particular play, linebacker Kiko Alonso shifts over to cover Whalen. However, his read is the quarterback and it appears that his coverage responsibility is the short left (from the offense’s point of view) side of the field.

Alonso immediately peels off, leaving Whalen to the cornerback and safety who are set up further downfield.

Once again, Rivers seems to fail to avoid staring down his receiver, though given how locked in to Williams Alonso was, it might not have mattered. As with the interception in the end zone, it’s hard to fathom how Rivers missed the defender. On 1st and 10, with more than a minute to go on the clock, another choice would have been prudent.

That said, the Dolphins were in Rivers’ face quickly on this play and he rushed. In this case, attacking created the mistake and the Dolphins took advantage.

Watch out, Goff

As some of his linemen mentioned above, the Rams expect the Dolphins to try and disguise coverages while also attacking the rookie quarterback. If the offensive line cannot protect Goff, the Dolphins will be able to have more defenders in coverage and that will make things much harder on Goff.

More than anything else, what Goff has to do is be smart with the ball. He has to avoid the big mistakes which plagued Rivers in the fourth quarter of the loss last weekend and protect the ball.

The Dolphins have the advantage though, and if they can play the same disciplined brand of football to bear on the Rams which we saw them execute against the Chargers, Goff and his team are in for a long day.


About Andrew Garda

Andrew Garda is a freelance writer primarily covering NFL football, with frequent side trips to everything else. A member of the Pro Football Writers Association, he is a contributing writer for Sports on Earth and Pro Football Weekly. He also covers fantasy for Footballguys.com. Garda is the host of the At the Whistle podcast and has been credentialed for many NFL drafts, Senior Bowls, pro days and various NFL events.