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Film Study: Scouting the Miami Dolphins matchup


The Giants come back home to take on the Miami Dolphins on Sunday. Here's what I saw from the Dolphins on the coaches' tape.

When The Dolphins Have The Ball

The Spotlight: Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick

Y.O.L.O. A younger colleague here at the Giants taught me that stands for "you only live once". It is a good way to describe how Ryan Fitzpatrick plays quarterback and the way he fearlessly throws the football. He gets the ball out quickly and throws with anticipation. As a result, an occasional defender who has properly diagnosed the play is waiting for the ball.

He makes all the throws and is not afraid to run out of the pocket to convert crucial first downs.

Fitzpatrick constantly attacks the intermediate level in the middle of the field. In 10 starts this year, Fitzpatrick is 16 of 45 on passes that travel more than 20 yards in the air for 483 yards, with four touchdowns and two interceptions.

The Matchup: Wide Receiver DeVante Parker

Parker suffered a concussion and left last week's game against the Jets. He was a limited participant in practice with a non-contact jersey earlier in the week, giving him hope to play in the game. Parker has the size and athleticism to make big plays down the field. At 6-3 and 216 pounds, he has the reach and catch radius to make contested catches.

In two of his last four games, he has at least seven catches and at least 130 yards. He leads the Dolphins with 55 catches, 882 yards, 6 touchdowns and 16 yards per reception. He has 223 yards after catch, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF). The Dolphins are tied for the 9th most pass attempts that travel 20 or more yards in the air (70) and Parker is the frequent target.

Schemes and Tendencies

* The Dolphins are not a heavy play action team (only 17.5% of their dropbacks, according to PFF), partly because early in the season, they were often playing from behind. They will line up in either 12 (two tight ends, two wide receivers, 1 running back) or 21 personnel (2 running backs, 1 tight end, 2 wide receivers), which happens more than 35% of the time, and use play action to get the ball down the field on early downs.

* Besides Parker, the Dolphins have a couple veteran wide receivers in Allen Hurns and Albert Wilson, who plays mostly in the slot. Wilson is also trying to return from a concussion. Hurns and Isaiah Ford, a 7th round draft pick from 2017, will play outside. Parker consistently challenges down the field.

* Mike Gesicki, a 2nd round pick in 2018, is a dangerous receiver at tight end. At 6-6 and 250 pounds, he has the size and athleticism to make plays down the seam and over the middle. He is still developing as a blocker. He is the Dolphins' third leading receiver with 407 yards and second on the team with 37 catches.

* The Dolphins have struggled to protect the quarterback. No team has been pressured on a higher percentage of their passing downs than the Dolphins (36%), according to PFF. Pressure comes from both inside and off the edge.

* Miami has been playing a game of musical chairs at the running back position. Four different running backs have 30 or more carries. Patrick Laird has taken over full-time duties. He has also used split out wide as a receiver on a double-move down the field in recent weeks. Otherwise he grinds between the tackles. Myles Gaskin, a 7th round pick this season, is starting to emerge with a bigger role.

* The Dolphins use trick plays. They ran a reverse flea-flicker in recent weeks. The Giants need to be on alert.

* The Dolphins have struggled statistically this year. These are some numbers to consider:

  • 34 plays of 20+ yards: fewest in NFL
  • 43.8% touchdown rate in goal to go situations: worst in NFL
  • 34.3% third down conversion rate: 6th worst in NFL
  • 51 sacks allowed: most in NFL
  • 4.62 yards per play: 2nd fewest in NFL
  • 376 points allowed: Most in NFL
  • -14 Turnover Ratio: Worst in NFL (just behind the Giants)

The Dolphins have a -178 scoring differential, the worst in NFL. If you remove the Dolphins first four games of the season, however, their differential is only -41. Despite those numbers, the Dolphins play extremely hard and are well-coached.

Keys For The Giants Defense

  1. Take advantage of Fitzpatrick's contested passes
  2. Contain Fitzpatrick's running
  3. Cover DeVante Parker down the field

When The Giants Have The Ball

The Spotlight: Interior Defensive Lineman Christian Wilkins

The Dolphins selected Wilkins with the 13th overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. He is a 3-4 defensive end in their base defense, but will move inside to defensive tackle when Miami plays in their much more frequently used sub packages. According to PFF, he leads the team with 21 pressures to go along with his lone sack and 2 quarterback hits. He has come on strong late in the season, with 11 hurries and one quarterback hit in his last three games. He is a fundamentally sound player who plays the run well.

The Matchup: Cornerback Nik Needham

An undrafted free agent from UTEP in 2019, Needham has emerged as Miami's top cover cornerback. He likes to play press man-to-man coverage outside and has allowed only six catches in his past two games. He has held quarterbacks throwing in his direction to a 54.5% completion rate. He has allowed six touchdowns over the course of the season.

Schemes and Tendencies

* Head coach Brian Flores and defensive coordinator Patrick Graham have taken so many young and inexperienced players and gotten them to play hard with sound technique most weeks.

* The Dolphins frequently play man to man. Nearly 50% of their snaps feature man to man defense with either a single safety or no safety at all playing deep. They are primarily a single high coverage scheme with cover three their predominant zone defense. It allows them to have a loaded box to help stop the run. They disguise their coverages, especially on third downs. They will also stand-up their rushers at the line of scrimmage on third down to try to confuse offenses about who is coming.

* Flores tries to generate pressure on the quarterback by blitzing 36% of the time, according to PFF. Despite those frequent blitzes, his team has the lowest pressure rate in the NFL. According to PFF, they only get pressure on the quarterback 29.6% of the time. They have the fewest sacks in the league (17) and have sacks on only 3.7% of opponent drop backs, which is the lowest rate in the league.

* Since the Dolphins often play man to man and blitz, they are prone to big plays through the air. Only one team has allowed more than Miami's 92 passes of 15 or more yards. When Miami blitzes, opposing quarterbacks have a 114.44 quarterback rating, the fourth highest mark in the league.

* The Dolphins defense has only forced -175 yards worth of negative plays, which is the worst in the league. The Dolphins' 10 takeaways are fewest in the NFL.

* Opposing teams to convert 44% of their third downs, which ranks 26th in the league. Their second down defense is their true Achilles heel, allowing teams to convert first downs on 41% of their opportunities. Opposing quarterbacks have a 107.6 quarterback rating on second down against the Dolphins defense this season, the 3rd highest in the NFL.

Keys For The Giants Offense

  1. Be prepared for Dolphins blitzes
  2. Attack the Dolphins man to man defense down the field
  3. Avoid costly penalties and other mistakes that sabotage drives

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