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Film Study: Patrick Graham's defensive philosophy

The Giants new defensive coordinator is Patrick Graham. In 2019, he was the coordinator and play caller under head coach Brian Flores in Miami. Flores had previously served as the defensive play caller for New England, and there were probably many elements of last year's Dolphins defense that were his. But the Miami defense of last season is still probably the best indication of what Graham might bring to the Giants.

The Dolphins did not rank well in most defensive metrics last season. Their failings, however, had a lot to do with the way the roster was constructed than the scheme they were playing. Their defense was comprised primarily of young and inexperienced players, many of whom were undrafted free agents. Despite their youth, they often played their assignments and technique properly, even if the results didn't show up in the box score.

With that said, here's a breakdown of some of the tendencies and examples of the creativity Graham employed as Miami's defensive coordinator. All statistics are courtesy of Pro Football Focus.

The two major tenets of the Miami defense were blitzing and man to man coverage. The Dolphins blitzed on 35% of their snaps, the 7th highest frequency in the NFL. Their blitz rate jumped to 41% on third down, the third highest rate in the league.

Graham was creative with the blitzes he used, a variety of linebacker and defensive back blitzes from different areas and with different timing. The first play features a defensive back blitz and a delayed blitz from a linebacker in a 2nd and 10 situation.

Many of Graham's initial formations feature multiple players in two point stances around the line of scrimmage. Here, there is only one player with their hand in the dirt over center. The right cornerback, Nick Needham, blitzes first, followed by a delayed blitz by linebacker Sam Eguavoen after faking a dropback into zone. The Dolphins play zone behind this blitz and don't allow Josh Allen to ever set his feet to find an open receiver.

The Dolphins, however, didn't always bring the heat. They often showed a blitz and then dropped back into coverage such as on this play against the Patriots.

On 1st and 10, the Patriots are in heavy personnel, so the Dolphins match it with their base 3-4 defense with two safeties deep. Their two stand-up outside linebackers fake blitzes before dropping into coverage and forcing Tom Brady to pump on a potential dump-off over the middle and take a sack. A potential blitz turned into a very simple two-deep coverage.

According to Pro Football Focus, the Dolphins played man to man coverage more than 50% of the time. They played cover one, which features man to man defense and one safety deep, the second most frequently in the NFL, (tied with New England at 43%). The Lions, coached by Patriots alum Matt Patricia, played cover one most frequently.

Sixty (60) percent of the Dolphins blitzes came when they played cover one, the second highest rate in the league. They also played press man 481 times last year, which was the fifth highest number in the league.

Our third play features a 3rd and 7 play where the Dolphins are standing up six players near the line of scrimmage to confuse the opposition. Five of those players end up coming after the quarterback, and thanks to tight man to man coverage with a single high safety over the top (cover one), the late looping linebacker has time to get home for the sack.

The Dolphins also played cover zero 28 times last season, which was the 7th most in the league. Cover-zero means there is man to man across the board with no safety deep. There is a defensive back in the middle of the field on this play but no one over the top.

The Dolphins stand up eight men within seven yards of the line of scrimmage on this 3rd and 7 play, giving no indication who is doing what when the ball is snapped. Even though the Bills have enough players to block the seven man pressure, the confusion from the pre-snap look allows pressure to get home, resulting in a sack.

The Giants have drafted cornerbacks recently (Sam Beal, DeAndre Baker, Corey Ballentine) with experience and success playing man to man defense at the college level. They seem to fit the type scheme Graham is bringing with him from Miami. It will be interesting to see how he implements it with the Giants.

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