Data study finds Dolphins were 2nd most unique coverage team in 2020

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The Miami Dolphins, under the direction of head coach Brian Flores, enjoyed a defensive renaissance in 2020. The team was mired in a troubling downward spiral of points allowed over the past few seasons, highlighted by the low-water mark of the entire history of the franchise, which the team endured in 2019.

2017: 393 points allowed (29th in NFL, 6th worst mark in franchise history)
2018: 433 points allowed (27th in NFL, 3rd worst mark in franchise history)
2019: 494 points allowed (32nd in NFL, worst mark in franchise history)
2020: 338 points allowed (6th in NFL)

As it turns out, Flores can coach a defense pretty darn good. And with hopeful upgrades at free safety, inside linebacker, outside pass rush and nickel corner, the Dolphins are hoping for an equally impressive season in 2021. If that materializes, it won’t just be on account of talent. Look for Miami’s coaching to play a hand as well. And, according to a study conducted by Pro Football Focus, the Dolphins have one of the most nuanced coverage schemes in all of football.

First and foremost, the team’s coverage tendencies absolutely fall in line with what you’d expect from a coach who studied under Bill Belichick. The Dolphins are classified by PFF as firmly in the same data set as the other Belichick-ian coaches.

“The “Bill Belichick tree” in the bottom left shows that the Miami Dolphins, Detroit Lions and New England Patriots featured a lot of man coverage, with Cover 0 and Cover 1,” wrote PFF in their study.

But the fascinating part comes in inspecting the graphs included within the study that showcase Miami’s “coverage uniqueness”. The Dolphins check in at No. 2 overall, behind just the Los Angeles Rams. Being unique doesn’t necessarily guarantee your coverage and pass defense will be good; but Miami’s overall defensive performance is clearly indicative that the different looks Flores put together for his unit in 2020 allowed them to find success on the field.

And, for the first time since 2016, concede less points in a season than they did the year before. So when you consider the scheme and the talent upgrades made on that side of the ball, it is pretty easy to get excited about what this year’s product can look like — especially since there’s now established continuity on that side of the ball from a coaching perspective and with the majority of the incumbent starters.