Miami Dolphins' "Plug" blitz
There is beauty in the simple.
Though former Miami Defensive Coordinator Josh Boyer was released after a Wildcard Round loss to the Bills, his defenses were always a must-watch. One element that endeared his scheme to defensive coaches and fans alike was its overt aggressiveness. Most defensive coaches want to live by the mantra of “Solve your problems with aggression” (thank you, Don Brown), but few adhere to it, and even fewer live by it in the NFL.
The Dolphins finished at a respectable 15th overall in Football Outsiders DVOA metric. Though finishing in the mid-tier range, the unit excelled at stopping the run, coming in 4th overall in Rush DVOA. Passing was a concern all year, as they finished 25th in passing DVOA. Opponents completed ~67% of their passes (6th worst), and the Dolphins only compiled eight interceptions (4th worst).
Boyer's system is a boom-or-bust scheme that relies heavily on man coverage and overwhelming their opponent’s QBs. Last year (‘21), the Dolphins ranked 5th in completion percentage and were near the middle in interceptions. Comparing EPA from the previous year to this, the Dolphins came in 10th in DVOA, 8th in overall EPA, and had the 5th-best Dropback EPA (-.016) in ‘21. Fast-forward to the conclusion of this season, and Miami’s unit sank to 19th in overall EPA and 23rd in Dropback EPA.
I’ve talked about Boyer’s “zero” pressures before and how he used them to prey on lesser NFL QBs. These pressures were a great way to confuse QBs and get them into panicked throws underneath. In ‘22, the production was just not there. Teams around the NFL caught up to the over-aggressive style. Even with the addition of Bradley Chubb from the Broncos, the sack production settled near the NFL's middle.
Rookie Head Coach Mike McDaniel inherited Boyer from Brian Flores, who was fired after the ‘21 season and is currently in litigation against the NFL for discrimination. Boyer was hired in ‘19 on Flores’ staff and ascended to the DC roll in ‘20. Some were surprised to see McDaniel keep him on staff, considering his ties with Shanahan and that tree’s propensity to hire Vic Fangio disciples. But, in a conference with elite young QBs, and Josh Allen sitting in Buffalo, McDaniel felt there was a need for change.
Though the secondary failed down the stretch, the run defense was still among the best in the NFL. Miami tied for the 6th in yards per carry (YPC) at 4.2 and Rushing 1st Down percentage (23.2%). Boyer’s scheme in Miami is a fascinating study of how aggressive defense can be. When hitting their mark and their secondary playing at a high level, they can give even elite QBs fits. In the end, inconsistency led to McDaniel seeking a new look for the Miami defense.
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