This week is different. Not only have the Rams put an end to their four game skid, but they have made the change that we have all been waiting for: Jared Goff will now be the starting quarterback. Jeff Fisher announced the switch a couple of days after the team’s win on the road against the New York Jets.
How much the on-field product will change this year is still to be seen, but this is a moment that has been six months in the making. Goff will not have a favorable match up in his first start, though. The Miami Dolphins are on a four-game tear, and their defensive front has the ammunition to dismantle Goff. It’s tough to imagine Goff playing in lights-out fashion, but we can at least hope to see some of the peaks that elevated him to being the No.1 pick.
Rams Offense vs Dolphins Defense
Personnel-wise, the Dolphins’ defense is not so different from the Rams. They are a front-loaded defense with a star nose tackle, Ndamukong Suh, and a threatening edge rusher, Cameron Wake. Behind those two are a handful of athletic, but inconsistent, linebackers, and behind the linebackers is an uninspiring secondary. The Rams defense is overall more talented than the Dolphins, but the structure is similar.
With Miami’s best assets being up front, it should be rather obvious that defensive coordinator Vance Joseph is going to reign down hell on Goff. Suh can push the pocket down the middle and Wake can bend around the edge; both players will be menaces, not to mention any blitzers that the Dolphins might send.
Goff will have to get the ball out quickly. Lucky for him, the Dolphins secondary, especially the safeties, are sub par. If Goff is as mentally proficient as advertised, identifying his match ups and getting rid of the ball quickly should not be too tall of an order for him. Of course, there will be plays when nobody is open initially and the pass rush muddles the pocket, and in those moments it will be critical for Goff to show some resiliency and level-headedness in order to avoid turning the ball over.
- Miami’s defensive line ‘stunts’ often. ‘Stunting’, in short, is lining up in one gap, then moving over to attack an adjacent gap as soon as the ball is snapped. It’s a hit-or-miss tactic used to disorient offensive linemen and confuse them in their assignments.
- Linebacker Kiko Alonso has not been good for a while now, but he’s strung together a couple of nice weeks now, even as a coverage player. Could be a problem if he continues to play well.
- Byron Maxwell is Miami’s No.1 cornerback. Coming from Seattle, Maxwell is a long, strong cornerback who wants to press-and-run. The Rams don’t have a route runner who can beat him that way, so Kenny Britt will have to be more physical than Maxwell on Sunday.
- Miami’s linebackers can move. There are plenty of times where they are late to react or play their assignment poorly, but they recover well and can chase players down in space.
- Nose guard Jordan Phillips is not great. He does an okay job of holding his general area, but it’s rare to see Phillips force an offensive lineman into the backfield and disrupt anything. The lack of a nose guard that can reset the line of scrimmage will be a problem for Miami.
Cameron Wake is Still, Somehow, Cameron Wake
At the age of 33 years old, Cameron Wake’s 2015 season was cut short as he suffered an ACL injury in late October. The injury took Wake out of action for the remainder of the season and, considering his age, seemed like a possible death sentence. Pass rushing is a position that relies heavily on athleticism, so for an aging Wake to tear his ACL, it felt as if his outstanding career was coming to a close. Wake has proven everyone wrong.
Now a year older and a healed ACL later, Wake has seven sacks this season, a total that only seven other players have topped through this point in the year. He has been a dominant force off the edge and it doesn’t appear as if any of his athleticism is gone. Be it a miracle or the nature of Wake’s freak athleticism, he has quickly returned to being himself, and that is a wonderful sight to see from a general football perspective. From the Rams perspective, though, it’s horrifying.
Wake tends to line up wide of the right tackle, as he is on both of the plays above. He can play both sides, but Miami generally likes to line him up on the right side and lets him get right in the quarterback’s face. Even if he isn’t hitting home with every pressure, Wake has been making plays like the two above all season long.
Wake’s game is a perfect marriage between requisite athleticism and refined technique. Both of these plays look similar because Wake approaches them the same simple, effective strategy: gain an advantage with a quick first step, attack the frame of the offensive tackle, rip down the tackle’s arms, dip and sprint toward the quarterback. Other than a direct bull rush, this is about as simple as it gets, and Wake makes it work time and time again.
Even in his age, Wake is still a menace. Rams right tackle Rob Havenstein is not horrid in pass protection, but he does not have the movement skills to handle Wake for 60 minutes. Wake will get pressure on Goff and, more than likely, he will bring down Goff at least once.
A few other teams that have been previewed this year have used pattern-matching coverage schemes, at least to some degree. The Dolphins use pattern-matching tendencies often, which is a huge gamble considering their middling personnel.
Pattern matching is a blend between zone coverage and man coverage. The defense starts off in a zone shell, but as the route combinations develop, the defenders veer off from their zone assignments and pick someone up in man coverage. If it works as it should, it puts the offense in a bind because neither man-beating or zone-beating coverages work effectively.
Excuse my elementary artistry, but this is generally what Miami’s Cover 3 shell looks like. Cornerback Byron Maxwell, who is ready to press the wide receiver at the bottom of the screen, will play man coverage immediately and allow the rest of the zone coverage to shift its focus to the other side of the field.
The two defenders covering the flats will take the first out-breaking or vertical threat. The inside linebackers are responsible for anyone who crosses their face, goes vertical through their zone or breaks outside under a flats defenders who has to carry vertically, and it’s on those two linebackers to communicate who covers who in that area of the field. The off-ball cornerback in zone coverage is responsible for any vertical threat not already covered, and will aid in coverage if there is nobody for him to pick up by himself.
Phillip Rivers still got a short completion here, but this is about as smooth as this play could have gone for the defense. The transitions were seamless and there was not an open receiver who had room to go anywhere if he had been able to catch the ball. If the Dolphins pass off and pick up their coverages this well against the Rams, Jared Goff will have a rough day trying to decipher that secondary.
Rams Defense vs Dolphins Defense
Rookie head coach Adam Gase has the Dolphins’ offense hitting its stride right now. Over the past four games, the Dolphins have scored at least 27 points. The Rams have done so just once in that same span, which still resulted in a loss to the Detroit Lions. Trusting the Rams’ offense to outscore the Dolphins’ offense in an offensive match would be reckless, but the Rams defense may be able to reign the Dolphins offense in a bit.
The Rams have to slow down running back Jay Ajayi. The Dolphins offensive line is blocking fairly well right now and Ajayi has fluid, explosive ability that makes him a threat to break off big runs at any time. Michael Brockers and Aaron Donald have to play to their normal standards when they are on the field, and Cam Thomas and Dominique Easley need to play above their normal playing level when relieving the two starters. If Ajayi is slowed down, the game is then forced upon a middling Dolphins passing offense.
Ryan Tannehill is a good quarterback, but his receiving corps is lackluster. Jarvis Landry is an excellent slot receiver, but Landry does not have the play making ability to be a dominant presence. Outside of Landry, the Dolphins rely on a circus of other wide receivers who sporadically have nice performances but lack any sort of consistency, including Kenny Stills and 2014 first round pick Devante Parker.
- Right guard Jermon Bushrod is quietly having a great year. He’ll be tough to overcome in the run game.
- Miami doesn’t trust their receivers down the field as often as other teams do, and for good reason. None of them consistently separate. To make up for that, the Dolphins offense operates through a myriad of slants, swings and screens.
- In the run game, Miami blends man and zone concepts well. It’s hard to get a feel for what they are doing and that aids in how they execute.
- Jarvis Landry can block damn well. He could be the key factor to a big run.
Jay Ajayi and the Offensive Line
In the past month or so, Jay Ajayi has come on strong as one of the best running backs in the NFL. He’s a decisive, violent runner who has enough speed and agility to be balanced running back that can beat defenses any way he pleases. Of course, Ajayi needs some help from his offensive line in order to do what he does, and Ajayi has been provided that luxury. Since the Dolphins offensive line has gotten healthy, they’ve been one of the better units in the league, especially along the interior.
Leonard Williams (#92) gets good penetration on this play, but Ajayi bounces the play wide and keeps the run moving on schedule. Aside from Williams, the rest of the Jets defense is blocked out of the play. Center Mike Pouncey’s block on Julian Stanford (#51) gave Ajayi all the space he needed at the second level.
Prior to the second level, though, Ajayi ran this play masterfully. He stretched the play as wide as he could, then charged up the field once he had exhausted the width of the play. With the aide of Pouncey’s block, Ajayi sprinted through the second and third levels of the defense and into pay dirt.
Ryan Tannehill Will Win the Leverage Battles
As New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick alluded to today, the core principles of quarterbacking are simple: find the best match up and get the ball out quickly to that receiver. Under Adam Gase, Tannehill has grown to be even better at this than he was before, especially in the short areas of the field.
There is nothing overtly special or eye-catching about this play, but it is the type of throw that keeps the offense on schedule and will make defenses pay for minor alignment disadvantages. Here, linebacker David Harris (#52) is responsible for the tight end on his side of the line of scrimmage. Harris’ alignment is a foot or two away from being symmetrical with the tight end.
Harris’ alignment gives the tight end natural separation to the outside. All Tannehill has to do is identify the spacing and quickly make the throw, and he does. It’s a routine pitch-and-catch for the offense, but it’s the type of easy throw the Rams can’t give up if they want to keep the Dolphins off schedule.
Regardless of any other factors, the key attraction this week is obviously Jared Goff. The Rams spent a boat load of draft capital to get him and now, ten weeks into the NFL season, Goff will get his shot against a hot Miami Dolphins team.
The Rams probably won’t win this game because asking a rookie quarterback with the Rams personnel to score the presumed 27+ points Miami will put up, is unreasonable. Hopefully, win or lose, Goff gives us a few plays that remind us why the Rams wanted to draft Goff so badly and give the team hope going forward.