It took five weeks for the guillotine to plummet through the neck of a NFL head coach, and the melon laying in the basket belongs to Joe Philbin. After a 7-9 season, consecutive 8-8 seasons, and a slew of contracts that left owner Stephen Ross naked in a barrel, the Dolphins were supposed to win now. Entering this season, it was playoffs or bust, and at 1-3, this train was stopping the first weekend of January.
Miami was a mess on both sides of the ball for the first month of the season. On defense, they had two major holes. First, they weren't been able to cover an opponent's #1 wide receiver. Before the Texans' game, Miami was ranked 30th in DVOA with a rate of 41.1% when covering a team's first receiver. Pierre Garcon had 76 yards on 6 catches, Allen Robinson had 6 catches for 155 yards and 2 touchdowns, Percy Harvin had 66 yards on 6 catches, and Brandon Marshall snagged 7 catches and 128 yards.
Second, they also couldn't rush the passer. Before visiting Tennessee, the Dolphins had one sack. One. This was in spite of paying Ndamukong Suh, and employing Olivier Vernon, and Cameron Wake. They were last in sack totals and adjusted sack rate. And it wasn't like they didn't get to attack some poor pass blocking offensive lines either.
|Team||Adjusted Sack Rate||Sacks Allowed||Rank|
The last two weeks, this has all changed. The Dolphins have sacked the quarterback 10 times, hit him 14 times, and jumped from 32nd to 24th in adjusted sack rate. Miami didn't suddenly look within themselves, reach inside, and pull out all that wasted potential. What really happened is that Cameron Wake, the team's best pass rusher and one of the NFL's best, is finally healthy. He spent the majority of this season dealing with a hamstring injury. It prevented him from playing and affected his performance. In 2014, Wake played 756 of the teams 1,029 defensive snaps, which comes out to 73.4%. This year, he has played just 53.92% (220 total), and most of them have come on obvious passing downs:
Last year, Wake had 11.5 sacks, 12 QB hits, and 25.5 hurries when rushing the passer. Before the Titans game, Wake had one tackle and one quarterback hit. He wasn't the edge rush lightning he usually is.
Despite the injury, Wake still played. The first thing that stuck out was his lack of speed off the edge. This is seen on an obvious passing down against the New York Jets. It's 2nd and 10 at the Miami 32 with 1:26 remaining. Wake is only going after the passer against Breno Giacomini (#68).
Wake gets off the ball, and is using a speed rush. This is seen by the outside angle he takes. He attacks deceptively, with his body at an angle away from the tackle. He does this to create a smaller target for the tackle to hit. By doing this, Wake makes it more difficult for the tackle to get his hands on him.
Wake's target on the speed rush is the outside shoulder. He takes a simple quick step outside to give him a better angle to reach his mark. He combines this rush with a rip move to get off the block and to the quarterback.
Wake's hands are already up. He likes to show them early in his pass rush to make the tackle show his. When the tackle shows his punch, it gives Wake an idea where he can make contact. Additionally, when a lineman shows his hands like this, Wake can grab them or knock them away to keep the offensive lineman off him.
Contact is made. Giacomini gets his helmet on Wake's helmet. His punch hits his chest. The tackle has Wake's inside chest and is in control. Tackles usually don't find themselves in this position when blocking #91.
Cameron is trying to get to the outside shoulder and rip around. But he's only able get to the outside half of Breno's chest. This may seem like a minor detail, but six inches is the difference between disruption and a clean throw. When Wake is healthy, he usually gets to the outside shoulder, not the outside half of the chest. Without speed, Wake is a different, and much worse, player.
Giacomini outweighs Wake by about 70 pounds. When he makes inside contact, he can just overpower him. Wake can't go through an offensive lineman unless the speed rush sets it up. Without the quickness to win around the edge Wake turns from a top five pass rusher into a middling one.
Cameron is stoned at the line of scrimmage. He isn't even able to get a pass rush move off. He just runs into Giacomini on this play.
Wake's hampered leg prevented him from putting the staple of his pass rush to use--his speed. When Wake is playing like he's supposed to he's one of the rare defenders who can run around offensive tackles. Because of his injury, he rarely even had the chance to use his rip. Instead; most of his rushes ended with him running into offensive linemen because he couldn't get outside position. Wake is a great edge rusher, but he only only weighs 249 pounds. He doesn't have the size to go through defenders unless his speed rush knocks them off balance. When offensive linemen begin to hurry and play on their toes, Wake can counter by plowing into them, but he can't pull it off when they are square and in good position.
As a result, most of Wake's pass rushes ended with him shoving an offensive tackle a few yards from the quarterback. The only time I saw him pressure the quarterback in the beginning of the season was against the Jets with 2:00 remaining in the second quarter. This pass rush is a testament to his skill, not his athleticism.
Like the previous play, Wake is matched up one on one against Giacomini.
Giacomini has a great kick slide on this play. He's nice and balanced. He beats Wake off the snap. He's square and in perfect position to cover up the smaller defensive end.
Because he gets beat off the ball, Wake doesn't even attempt a speed rush here. He sets up to take the tackle on straight up.
Giacomini isn't square, and his front foot is too far forward when he punches. He's unbalanced and leaning. Footwork aside, he still is in a good place. Most of the time, the tackle wins when he makes first contact and gets his hands inside.
Giacomini hunkers down to gain leverage and sits on the inside rush. Wake has great hands, though. He uses his left arm and grabs the tackle's wrist. Then he grabs Giacomin's other arm with his right arm.
He lifts his arms up, presses the tackle's upper half, and pumps his legs. This is a movement you see in the weight room, not the football field. I feel like I just got bopped on the nose. My eyes are shimmering with moisture. It's so beautiful.
In this stance, Wake keeps powering forward.
When he gets enough separation, Wake uses his right arm to shove the tackle and get off the block. By using one arm, he has a longer reach and can create a larger gap between him and the tackle. The human body is able to reach further with one arm than two. It's why it's harder to dunk with two hands.
Wake's power keeps the lineman from stepping back towards him when the tackle attempts to. Cameron keeps the tackle inside. I also love how he stays flat on his shoulder to keep a quicker angle to the quarterback. He doesn't shove off. The Dolphin defender doesn't come fat off the block. He goes through the man and sticks to the contact.
He's off the block. Wake uses the same arm to push off the tackle to gain separation and momentum when he starts his final descent to the quarterback.
Ryan Fitzpatrick sees this and quickly escapes outside.
Wake doesn't have the health to close in on Fitzpatrick. He's great at bringing down the coddled glory boys of the league when he's close. He doesn't waste steps. He takes great angles. He has great acceleration. This is one of the rare times a quarterback sneaks away from his grasp. Fitzpatrick then scampers for 22 yards. It's just another time GRITZPATRICK is GRITTIER than a beach picnic composed of kitty-litter sandwiches.
This play is a great example of how important hands are when going after the quarterback, and how they can be used as a weapon. Wake got close because of sheer skill, but he still didn't bring down the quarterback. His handicap prevented him from closing in on a quarterback he usually obliterates. This play was an outlier in the first four weeks of the season, though. Most of Wake's rushes ended with him easily blocked. He's fast and powerful, but he's not big. Tackles are too enormous and too strong for him to consistently create pressure like this.
Although Wake was injured, Miami still had to try and rush the passer. So rather than get a natural pass rush, they had to try and manufacture one. They did this by blitzing, running stunts, and moving players around in passing situations.
Most of the blitzes the Dolphins used when their pass rush was frustrated were inside linebacker blitzes. Here, the Jaguars are facing 3rd and 5 at their own 14 in the second quarter. Wake played only fifteen snaps in this game and spent the majority of this loss wishing he could play, rather than playing.
With their best pass rusher out, Miami is using an inside linebacker blitz to get to Blake Bortles. They are rushing six against six Jaguars' blockers. Everyone is rushing from a wide position to open up the center of the line of scrimmage. Both defensive tackles are coming from the "3" (outside shade of the guard), and the ends are rushing from the "jet" position (a few yards wide from the edge blockers). They are bringing one linebacker from the edge (linebacker Koa Misi #55), and one from the center (Jelani Jenkins #53). Jacksonville is playing man on man on the left side and sliding one gap over on the right.
Here we can see the wide rushes from the defensive line. They're all really coming after the gaps.
Both defensive tackles are trying to speed rush around the edge of the guard by staying small and ripping the outside shoulder. They both look like Cameron Wake on this play.
Jenkins doesn't rush right away. He sits and waits for the offensive line to move to their assignments and create natural holes in the line. Jenkins looks to be in a great position to provide pressure. The center is only watching his "A" gap. He isn't scanning for trash. He's specifically looking at the right side of the line. This, plus the fissure crackling open the line of scrimmage, makes it look like Jenkins has a free rush.
He cuts off his left leg towards the wide open space.
The center takes his eyes off his book. He picks his head up and sees Jenkins coming.
He does a nice job shifting his weight back toward the inside.
Bortles sees this rush. He sees that even though the center is heading towards the linebacker, he still is at a disadvantage. If Bortles stays in place, Jenkins can make a play on the ball. He quickly steps to his right. This makes the center a transient Hooverville between Jenkins and Bortles.
Bortles uses his athleticism, the crossing routes that moved the secondary away from the right side of the field, and the hole in the line of scrimmage to his advantage. He picks up 28 yards on this third down scramble.
The results weren't here. The Dolphins failed to get to Bortles. They gave up a sizable gain. Yet they were close. It was a great play design even if the results weren't there. The down lineman did a nice job blitzing wide and creating clutter for the offensive linemen. This opened up the hole for Jenkins, and if it wasn't for Bortles and that meddling center, the Dolphins could have had their second sack. Of all the scheming Miami did to rush the passer, this one created the most mischief.
Even if you don't blitz, you can still create pressure in other ways. The main way teams do this is by using stunts on their defensive line. The Dolphins ran a ton of stunts during the first month of the season when they were Wakeless.
There are two components on a stunt. There's the penetrator and the looper. The penetrator attacks the offensive line and tries to tie up two defenders at once. The looper comes around the penetrator and hopes there is a free hole to rush through. To generate pass rush like this, the defensive line needs to be agile and use perfect angles.
Here, both edge rushers are matched up against the tackles as usual. The stunt is on the interior. Defensive end Derrick Shelby (#79) is rushing from the left side "B" gap (gap between the guard and tackle) to the right side "A" gap (gap between the center and guard). This is a commute longer than the one the man and the boy take to the coast. He's trying to tie up both the center and right guard to open a hole for Suh (#93), who is going to loop around.
Derrick comes flat down the line of scrimmage. Suh takes one step forward before retreating back a step.
The left guard has possession over the "B" gap, so he let's Derrick go free. #79 is about to punch the Jets center #74, Nick Mangold.
Suh comes behind Derrick. Mangold does a beautiful job staying square. He punches and leads the end to the right guard. He doesn't let himself get pulled inside, which would open up the "A" gap.
Suh looks to have a free rush at this moment in time. His biggest problem is he doesn't come flat off the end, who is taking a bullet for him. He needs to be coming down hill now and right off Mangold's shoulder. He's too far off the line of scrimmage. Every step is precious, and every tenth of a second is even more precious. Suh wastes too much time and too many steps. His route efficiency on Statcast would be -9.3%.
Mangold passes Derrick over. The gap is closed off by him and the running back. Suh doesn't push forward. Instead, he sits to try and deflect Ryan Gritzpatrick's pass.
Fitzpatrick throws over the top of him.
The Dolphins used a lot of loops and stunts, but didn't see too many results from it. They didn't look experienced, and it seemed like something they aren't used to running. Too many times they took poor routes and most of their stunts ended up in clutter like a mini-storage unit that's given away as long as the purchaser cleans the damn thing out before the end of the week. Their stunts looked like something that was thrown together the night before rather than a real pass rushing weapon.
The last bit of creativity I saw from the Dolphins' defense was where they rushed Suh from. Here, The Hundred Million Dollar Man is rushing from the defensive end position against Jets' left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson.
When Suh rushes the passer, he is all power. He's a bull-rushing maniac who occasionally uses a swim move. He doesn't need space to get to the quarterback. He immediately comes right after the tackle's outside shoulder.
The tackle does a nice job getting wide and low to take on Suh when contact is made. The issue is that he lets the monster get into his body. Even though he punches the chest, his head placement is poor. His head is on Suh's inside shoulder.
There is zero skill from Suh on this play. It's pure brute force. He explodes off the ball and into the shoulder with his head down. Because of the force, he just bounces off the tackle. Ndamukong is just a big ol' bumper car on this play. Ferguson dips his head, steps inside, and tries to get his hands on Suh. It's no use.
Suh uses his arms to throw himself off of Ferguson and slingshots to the quarterback. He's just like a form of interstellar travel seen in science fiction where a parasitic spaceship uses the gravity of another planet to rage into the night.
Now he plants and comes flat to Fitzpatrick.
He hits Fitzpatrick legally, and cleanly, right after the ball is released. Suh doesn't pick up the sack, but he at least causes some disruption. Even smidges of chaos were amiss during Miami's four game defensive swoon.
All of these plays are examples of different strategies the Dolphins' coaching staff employed to try and generate a pass rush. They got close here and there, but none of them led to Miami actually getting to the quarterback. Wake is the spark that makes the pass rush go. Without him at full health, the Dolphins were a stuttering-hiccuping-glugging-jalopy.
Then they headed into the bye week. Philbin was fired. Wake got healthy. When Miami played the Titans, the pass rush buzzed around Mariotta like the Flood, a batch of demonic balloon animals. With the team led by interim head coach Dan Campbell, the Dolphins had a coming out game.
It finally rained Week Six, and boy did it poor. Miami mashed the quarterback six times, forced two fumbles, and held the Titans to ten points. It was the type of performance they were waiting all season for, and it didn't happen until Wake looked like himself.
This was obvious to see because Wake could actually use his speed to rush the passer.
Here Wake is etched in to take on rookie right tackle Jeremy Poutasi (#73). With Tennessee operating out of the spread on 2nd and 5, Wake is rushing out of a four-point stance from the jet end position. He's all about speed on this play and is coiled up like a jet on the runway getting ready to take off. I alluded to it in the beginning of this article, and here it is. We finally get to see the staple of Wake's pass rush--a speed rush and rip.
Poor Poutasi kick slides out to meet Wake at the junction point. The problem has already revealed itself. The tackle is coming at too narrow of an angle. To meet Wake square and head on, he needs to take a deeper angle. When Wake is at full speed, he's too freaking fast to come flat at.
Wake is aiming at the outside shoulder and lifts his hands up. This gets the rookie to show his hands too soon. As an offensive lineman, you want to show your hands and punch at the last possible second. When you show them early, you give up your claws for the defensive lineman to easily knock away. As mentioned earlier, Wake has his body curved away from the tackle to give him a smaller target to punch and gain control of.
Wake stretches his arms wide like a sun bathing kitty-cat waking from a nap. The tackle isn't playing square anymore. His feet are close together, and he's opened the gate and turned his hips to Wake. By turning to the defensive end, he gives away his outside shoulder. The biggest sign of a tackle having trouble with speed is this--shoulders turned to the defender. Wake rarely saw this when he was stuck bullrushing his way through September.
Wake punches and gets into the body of Poutasi. His head is on the the outside shoulder. He's in complete control.
In this position, here comes the moment you've all been waiting for--the rip. Wake takes his right arm off the tackle and gets ready to uppercut into the tackle's arm pit. Also pay attention to the angle he takes. Wake is great at coming flat to the quarterback. He's up field some when he begins his rip. He knows he's going to get deeper up the field when he comes around the tackle so he begins his move sooner. This will lead to him coming flat into the quarterback.
Wake keeps his feet moving during this whole process. His speed pulls the tackle down with him and twists him like a loose tooth. When the rip comes, he will be off the block going towards the quarterback in one perfect process. This is important In the grand scheme of things because he doesn't need to reacclerate to bring down the passer. He's already moving rapidly
Wake is one sublime blur of pass rushing necromancy.
Now the tackle is pulled all the way around and the tooth is separated from the gum. Wake is off the block and trampling toward Mariota.
My friend Marcus tries to step up, but Wake is too fast.
Wake picks up his first sack of the season, and he is BACK. Here it all is in his glory. The four-point stance, the speed that turns the tackle and gives up the outside shoulder, the body position that creates a tiny target, the helmet on the outside shoulder, the rip with the inside arm that separates himself from the tackle, the full speed after the quarterback, and the viciousness when he gets there. It's pure speed rushing. It's beautiful. It's the type of move that take an entire career to perfect. It's a freaking magnum opus.
Let's compare this play with the one against the Jets.
The change in the get-off is noticeable. It's black and white, not fifty shades of grey. Wake is healthy again after the bye week, and now he can do the things that makes him great.
That last play was everything anyone would ever want to see from an edge rusher. It's a perfect speed rush. It was so beautiful that I want to see it again. The next drive Wake took over another 3rd and 5 versus Poutasi. Here's another four-point stance of balled up muscle ready to explode.
Three steps in and Wake already has outside head placement. It's remarkable how much quicker he is than professional offensive linemen.
This is such a perfect punch. Wake starts his rip before the collision. His left hand is going for the outside shoulder. His right arm is flexed in front and is underneath the tackle's inside arm.
With his left arm, he shoves the tackle to the right and rips toward the opposite direction.
The tackle has his back to the line of scrimmage. Wake rips off the block like a yanked band-aid. This pass rush wastes zero time. The entire process is streamlined. Get outside placement, combine the rip with the punch, get off the block, and get to the quarterback. Also, look at his angle. He is directly in line with Marcus Mariota. He's not getting too deep, and he keeps himself right in line with the quarterback. This is Andrew McCutchen 99.3% route efficiency right here.
Wake one-ups his last sack on this play. When he bombards Mariota, he goes for the ball, not the quarterback. He places his head into the sternum and reaches for the ball with the other arm. The arm is the gamble, and his head is the safety blanket. Even if Mariota can hold onto the ball, Wake is still delivering a wallop and can wrap his arms around the quarterback to bring him down.
He doesn't need the blanket, though. The ball flops into the air like a dropped wallet. Jelani Jenkins recovers the ball, and the Dolphins get a short field to work with.
By now, you are an expert on the Wake speed rush. Let's add an extra dimension to Wake's game--the counter move. Every great pass rusher needs a counter he can use to mix his rush up. Once the lineman starts guessing instead of reacting and caters to stop one move, the defensive lineman must have a way to shake the stagnancy. If he doesn't, he will get blocked over and over again after he's been figured out. But if the defender can force the offensive lineman to react every play, he can control an entire game.
On 3rd and 3 with Tennessee spreading out their offense, Wake is again rushing out of a four-point stance from the jet end position.
Wake starts his sprint. His get-off looks identical to the other speed rushes.
Poutasi has been beaten around the edge too many times. This is the play he stops it. He takes a deeper kick-slide in an attempt to delay the junction point so he can make square contact and use his strength to his advantage. Wake sees this, so he cuts back to the tackle rather than take a longer route around the edge.
Poutasi speeds up his rush to try and cover up Wake out wide. This brings his feet closer together and raises his pad level. These factors zap his strength and leave him susceptible to the bull-rush.
The tackle is pretty much standing straight up. He looks like someone who is tired of standing after entering the midway point of mass. Wake drops his knees and his head before he punches the rookie. This is setting up advantages for him to run through the lineman.
Even though he has two important factors going against him (leverage and an unbalanced offensive tackle), Poustasi is able to stifle Wake some. He doesn't get blown back immediately. His punch is able to slow him down. This is because of the strength and size the tackle has over Wake.
The problem is Poutasi is still too high, and the low man always wins. Wake moves his outside left arm into the tackle's chest.
Now he has inside control and explodes forward. He power-cleans through the obstacle and lifts him off the ground. Right now the rookie is holding onto his life like an action movie protagonist gripping the edge of a collapsing building.
The force moves the tackle back far enough to open up a straight path to the quarterback. Wake now has a free path to Mariota.
Mariota climbs up the pocket, but Wake is too fast and too smart for a slight step forwards to lead to an escape. Also like the previous play, Wake is looking for the football. His right arm is reaching after the ball.
Wake smacks the ball and hits Mariota in the back. Afterwards, Poustasi was benched. He lasted only 21 snaps (31%).
The Miami performance wasn't a one-hitter against a rookie tackle and quarterback. Wake brought the same type of performance against the Texans the next week while taking on better offensive tackles. Last Sunday, Wake had 2 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 pass deflected, 1 forced fumble, and 1 quarterback hit. Most importantly, the hamstring looked fine, and the speed rush was back on display.
This play came with 13:21 left in the second quarter. It was the drive after C.J. Fiedorowicz's failed catch - if this occurred at recess, nobody would have thrown him the ball again - fell into Reshad Jones's hands. At this point, the game was 35-0 and the Texans were employing their pre-game strategy of getting Brian Hoyer 50 passes to perfection.
The rhetorical device of repetition can be analyzed as a way to show importance or a clever way to depict someone trying to talk themselves into something by lying over and over again. Here, we have an example of a way to show importance. Wake is matched up against the right tackle (Chris Clark) in a four-point stance from the jet end position.
Wake shows his hands and Chris Clark (#74) does a good job delaying his punch. The problem is he's just like the other offensive tackles. Clark turns his shoulders to Wake and seductively gives up his outside shoulder like a PG-13 movie.
Clark goes to make his punch. Wake already starts his rip. His inside arm is aiming lower to get under Clark's, and his outside arm is going for the shoulder. This is perfect hand placement.
Wake squeezes Clark's tricep. His head is on the outside shoulder. He just needs to drive his feet to get off the block.
There it is.
Wake's path is free and he's looking for the football to keep pouring it on the Houston Texans.
Hoyer is looking the opposite direction and doesn't see Wake. He takes a small step up, which saves him from a lightning strike.
Even though Wake is behind Hoyer, he's still able to reach out and slap the ball like a college girl does to a box of wine.
By this point, the game was already a waste of life, but it's still important in the big picture. Wake was able to use his speed to get to the quarterback. That's confirmation that the hamstring is still healed and he can play the game the way he knows how.
When Campbell claimed he was going to wake the sleeping giant, I didn't think he was talking about the Dolphins as a whole. Instead, I imagined him as some movie henchman trying to release Cameron Wake, the big bad antagonist, out of some type of super jail like Castor Troy or from the bowels of a cave like Tai Lung or while he plays plastic chess with Magneto. Wake's performance against the Titans looked like his coming out party. He played without the lock around his hamstring. He simply ran around offensive tackles, used his speed to set up the bull rush, and sniffed out the football. If he can continue playing like this the pass rush dilemma should be corrected, and at least one of the Dolphins' problems should be corrected.
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