The very first move, preceding the free agency frenzy of signing, was bringing in one of the best defensive minds in football, new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. I believe many of us here felt that former Dolphins DC Josh Boyer was in over his head at times. Mostly, I think we felt that he was unable to adjust, to bring something other than his zero coverage blitz scheme, which to me was too all or nothing. Fangio, much like Bill Belichick in New England knows that you have to be flexible and approach each team a little differently. While the Patriots offense hasn’t been the same since Tom Brady left, the defense has been a quality defense without Brady at the helm, as high as the #2 defense in ’21, down to just out of the top 10 in ’22, at #11. I’m not saying that Fangio and Belichick run the same schemes, no, I’m saying that both of these seasoned veterans know you can do exactly the same thing against every opponent. You have to morph a little, change, and adapt to what you face each week. This is where Vic Fangio will make a tremendous difference, and that’s without giving serious accolades for assembling what could be the most talented Miami Dolphins defensive roster since OD’s “No Name Defense”.
Last year, before the season began, I thought we were a defense on the precipice of becoming a top 10 defense. Unfortunately, a multitude of injuries derailed that. Regardless of the injuries though, I still felt like our defense underperformed, especially when CB Xavien Howard wasn’t hobbled by his groin injuries, and we had acquired OLB/DE Bradley Chubb from the Broncos. We already had a formidable defensive line (despite losing Emmanuel Ogbah) of Zach Sieler, Raekwon Davis and IMO, our best defensive player in ’22, Christian Wilkins. Add to that the LB crew of Chubb, Baker, Roberts and Phillips, and there was so much potential for a team with a ferocious pass rush. It never materialized, never got off the ground. Elandon Roberts had his best season as a Miami Dolphin and yet this team missed boatloads of tackles, and was relatively toothless as far as pressure and sacks were concerned. That’s where Vic Fangio comes in. In lieu of sending numerous defensive backs to rush the passer, this team will be more reliant on the front 7 taking care of pressuring the QB. Last year’s total of 40 sacks was a dropoff of 8 sacks, and that’s after adding Bradley Chubb and Melvin Ingram to the roster.
Let’s take a look at the changes we’ve made. Despite Elandon Roberts having a standout season, Vic Fangio felt he needed an upgrade at LB. The Dolphins brought in LB David Long. Long excelled in pass coverage and was a sure tackler for the Titans. The blockbuster of course was the trade for DB Jalen Ramsey. Ramsey can play a number of different positions, so versatile in a pass crazy NFL. He can play like a LB in obvious passing situations, can play CB on the perimeter most of the time, or play either safety position, with no falloff at any of these spots. We added another sure tackler in the secondary from the Lions in DeShon Elliott. Of course we already have Safeties Jevon Holland and Brandon Jones returning, but Brandon Jones is coming off an ACL tear last season. We also re-signed coverage LB Duke Riley, and most recently, re-signed OLB and ST’s ace Andrew Van Ginkel. Our defensive roster is d-e-e-p. Last but not least, we re-signed one of my favorites, DB Nik Needham who is also coming off a tough injury to come back from, and achilles injury. This defense is absolutely stacked, we have front line talent to match up well against anyone, and then depth that could be better than any other team. Fangio has the tools to make it work here, and you’re not wrong to be expecting big things from this defense.
So what does Vic Fangio do differently than former Miami DC Josh Boyer? For one thing, as I’ve already mentioned. Fangio relies predominantly on his front 7 for pressuring the QB. He blitzes rarely, and sets up his front 7 to succeed. Probably the biggest difference is instead of burdening the secondary with man to man coverage, so often without any help from the safeties due to the constant blitzing from Josh Boyer’s defense, Fangio plays a 2 high safety zone coverage. As I’ve also mentioned, this defense changes, and it can change from a cover 4 to a cover 6 or cover 8. Cover 4, or quarters is when you have 4 defensive backs in zone coverage. Cover 6 could be adding 2 LB’s to the zone, or 2 more defensive backs and cover 8 could increase that to 8 in coverage. Fangio is excellent at disguising which defense he’s using, so it’s never obvious to the opposing offense what we’re doing on defense. Again, we have so much talent on defense, Fangio probably can’t wait to get down to business and implement the players he has available to him. Last year, not one Dolphins defender exceeded 7 sacks. SEVEN! I can’t guarantee we’re going to duplicate what the Eagles did last season, with 4 defenders reaching double digit sacks, with LB Haason Reddick leading the Eagles with 16, the others with 11 each, but I’m willing to put it on paper that we’ll have 2 in double digits, and one of them may be close to Reddick’s 16. I think Jalean Phillips is going to flourish with Fangio, and Chubb will as well.
The depth we added is so key, I’ll explain why. This year, Emmanuel Ogbah should be back healthy. He played hurt for half the season and then went out after game 9. Sieler was fantastic in his stead, but having both allows both players to get more meaningful reps, and be fresher. Adding S DeShon Elliott is not only insurance against whether Brandon Jones can be effective early or at all coming back from ACL surgery, but he’s excellent in coverage in his own right. Nik Needham will play anywhere you ask him to, and I’ve said too many times already, he’s a gamer, always. We added LB Malik Reed from the Steelers who can also rush the passer, and has had 8 sacks playing for Fangio in Denver. We have young LB Channing Tindall, a true sideline to sideline defender who should see more playing time behind Baker and Long. We also have young LB Cameron Goode who we drafted in the 7th RD last season. Bringing back AVG (Andrew Van Ginkel) was a most pleasant surprise. He’s a legit pass rusher, and ST’s playmaker. I know most of you don’t want to hear this name, but if anyone is going to wring the best out of this player, Noah Igbinoghene, it’s Vic Fangio, I’m not going to lie, I won’t be surprised if he’s an early cut either, but I do think he could be a reclamation project for Fangio. It’s nice to know we can line up Wilkins – Davis – Sieler – Chubb – Long – Baker – Phillips – Ramsey – Howard – Holland – Jones, with guys like Ogbah, AVG, Tindall, Riley, Reed, Kohou, Needham, Elliott, McKinley, Crossen, Igbinoghene etc. right behind them. Seriously people, that’s just brimming with high quality starters and depth. Can’t wait!
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