October 25, 2023   6 MIN READ

Fins Down

All 22 Review: Suffocating Birds Run D Stymied Fins Top-Ranked Offense


You can argue the Eagles are coming off their best regular-season win since the start of the 2022 season.

Not only were they trying to overcome backups at right guard, slot cornerback, and safety – multiple backups at slot and safety – but the Eagles were facing one of the most prolific offenses in NFL history, a 5-1 Miami Dolphins team with Maserati speed and elite playmakers that averaged close to 40 points per game entering the Week 7 showdown.

Amazingly, the Eagles held the Dolphins to just 10 offensive points and just 244 total yards in the 31-17 win.

A review of the All-22 showed that the Eagles’ defensive line was a major problem for a Dolphins offense that needs to run the ball effectively to set up its heavy play-action, three-step drop offense but had trouble moving on the ground at the Linc.

The Dolphins likewise hurt themselves with an overload of penalties, some uncharacteristic drops and some turnovers.

Raheem Mostert

GETTY IMAGES: Dolphins RB Raheem Moster found little running room against the Eagles’ defensive front.

There was no magic formula for defensive coordinator Sean Desai, who generally leaned on two-deep coverages to limit Miami’s playmakers from stressing his defense over the top, and only blitzed on a few occasions.

Miami  possessed the ball eight times. The Fins scored on two of those – a field goal on their second drive and touchdown on their fourth. In the three others, the Dolphins either struggled to stay ahead of the sticks because of an inability to run or a momentum-sapping penalty. On three drives, they returned possession to the Eagles, either via interception or failed fourth-down conversion.

Miami’s offensive structure – lots of 12 and 21 personnel, less 11 personnel – actually helped the Eagles, because it allowed Desai to play base coverages without needing a nickelback, a good thing given the Eagles’ injuries at that position. Josiah Scott, brought back by being re-signed from the practice squad, and Eli Ricks combined for just 31 snaps.

On the Dolphins’ first drive, they moved downfield on consecutive completions and tried to get Raheem Mostert going on a 1st-and-10 at their 43-yard-line.

They came out in 12 personnel with tight ends split on each side of the line for a seven-man wall of blockers as Tua Tagovailoa lined up under center with Mostert back.

Here’s what happened:

With a five-man front, Reddick is the edge defender. He probably assumed the Dolphins would either run to the motion side or play-action pass. Either way, his wide upfield rush helped him avoid contact and drop Mostert for a five-yard loss.

The Dolphins aren’t a five-step drop offense, which showed when Tagovailoa threw short on second and third down, the second of which was an incompletion that resulted from Tagovailoa being flushed from the pocket after Jalen Carter threw left guard Isaiah Wynn to the ground.

The Fins punted, but the ball came right back to them after a Jalen Hurts fumble. Tagovailoa completed a 16-yarder to Jaylen Waddle on 3rd-and-9 to get inside the Philadelphia 10.

Once again, they deployed a heavy package to help spring Mostert against an Eagles five-man front, this time using 21 personnel with a fullback and tight end.

Not much of a difference:

This is where Miami’s injuries really hurt. The tight end motion helps take one linebacker – Zach Cunningham – away from the A gap, but Dolphins center Liam Eichenberg (74), who’s being asked to move from guard to replace injured Connor Williams, is slow to get off his double team on Jordan Davis and doesn’t leave quickly enough to cover up Nic Morrow (41) in the right side A gap.

Morrow comes through untouched to drop Mostert behind scrimmage for a 1-yard loss as other Eagles swarm quickly. On the next play, a screen to Hill also backfired and lost yardage, followed by a holding on the left guard to negate a touchdown and set up a 3rd-and-22 that the Dolphins didn’t even try to challenge.

Tagovaiola’s dump off led to the Fins kicking a field goal, giving them just three points on two possessions, one of which started in Eagles territory.

Miami trailed 10-3 in the second quarter thanks to a screen touchdown from Eagles tight end Dallas Goedert when the Dolphins got the ball back for their third drive.

Once again, the NFL’s top-rushing team tried to set up an advantageous second down with a first-down run. Once again, they were stonewalled.

This time, they came out in 21 personnel with a fullback and tight end, with Tagovailoa in the pistol and running back Sylvan Ahmed behind him. The call was a simple inside zone with some motion, but Jordan Davis wasn’t having any of it:

Not only does Davis successfully two-gap against Eichenberg, maintining integrity of each side of the gap, but he also was unmoved by the left guard’s quick double team and shed Eichenberg in time to wrap up Ahmed with some assistance from Milton Williams, who shed his block from the left tackle.

Now you see why the Dolphins rushed for minus-7 yards in the first half. Davis’ run stuff, followed by a six-yard quick swing, forced the Dolphins into 3rd-and-3.

Tagovailoa targeted right-side slot receiver Braxton Berrios on a three-step drop, but aggressive coverage from Darius Slay led to a pass breakup and another Fins punt.

Miami trailed 17-3 on its next possession and was on its away to getting dog-walked out of the Linc before Cedrick Wilson got Slay turned inside-out on a 3rd-and-13 to convert the first down, one of the few Tagovailoa deep drops that didn’t come under pressure.

A piss-poor job of bracket coverage by safety Terrell Edmunds – who has since been traded – aided Tagovailoa finding Hill down the left sideline for a fade 27-yard fade touchdown. At 17-10, the Dolphins went into the break with some life despite its inert run game.

But after punting on their first possession of the second half, the Fins got the ball back and actually put together consecutive outside runs that netted 36 yards and helped advance Miami to the Philadelphia 23 for 2nd-and-5.

They went back to the inside run game – and paid the price:

Once again the Dolphins tried to run inside the C gap from 21 personnel, with a fullback and tight end. The tight end (81) gets between the left tackle and fullback to help clear the lane, but Milton Williams foils the entire scheme by ripping off the left tackle to pounce on Ahmed after a mere 2-yard pickup.

On 3rd-and-3, Hill dropped a pass from Tagovailoa over the middle that probably would’ve been an easy game-tying touchdown had he held onto the ball. On fourth down, Tagovailoa threw incomplete down the left sideline for another turnover on downs.

In total, the Eagles managed four sacks and eight tackles for a loss against the Dolphins, whose 45 total rushing yards were about 135 yards fewer than their season average of 182 yards.

The Dolphins also totaled a season-low 12 first downs – they averaged 25 per game – and managed just 5.5 yards per pass, well below their 9.3 average.

– Geoff Mosher (@geoffmoshernfl) is co-host of the “Inside the Birds” podcast and staff writer for InsideTheBirds.com.

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