When Cameron Wake took down Andy Dalton for a game-winning safety in sudden death overtime to give the Miami Dolphins a 22-20 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals Thursday night, it seemed that he single-handedly rejuvenated the Miami's season after a brutal four-game losing streak.
Wake recorded three total sacks and numerous quarterback pressures in a Herculean-type performance, but just as much credit is owed to Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle for designing blitz packages that put his superstar defensive end in position to dominate.
Dalton is a talented young quarterback, but his effectiveness drops off considerably when pressured. The Bengals utilized quick passes, screens and chip-blocks to neutralize the Dolphins' pass rush much of the night, but in third-and-long situations when the opportunity was there, Miami's rushers weren't able to beat their blockers enough to pressure Dalton.
As a result, Cincinnati was able to convert all seven of its third downs when seven or more yards were needed in regulation. Coyle realized he needed to get a little more creative with his blitz calls to force mistakes by Dalton, and in the extra period, he did.
After a three-and-out by the Dolphins offense on the opening possession of overtime, the Bengals drove into Miami territory and were nearly in range for a game-winning field goal. Facing a 3rd-and-8, the Dolphins defense desperately needed a stop.
Pre-snap, Miami showed five pass rushers, two on either side of the nose tackle. Linebacker Philip Wheeler showed blitz from the left edge, drawing the blocking assignment of Bengals tailback Cedric Peerman as the rest of the protection shifted to the right.
After the snap, Wheeler dropped into coverage, and safety Chris Clemons joined the pass rush to the right. The right guard took Clemons, giving Wake, lined up in a 9-technique to the right, a one-on-one matchup with right tackle Andre Smith.
Wake gets a great burst off the ball to beat Smith and contacts Dalton mid-release, forcing an incompletion.
The Bengals punted back the ball to the Dolphins, who failed to score but not before flipping the field position in their favor. A good punt gave the Bengals the ball back inside their own 10-yard line, where Miami once again got creative with its pressure.
On first down, the Dolphins adeptly disguised then executed a crossing double middle linebacker blitz, usually called an 'X' blitz. Each player on the defensive line has a specific role in opening up a lane for one of the linebackers to get to the quarterback.
The nose tackle and right defensive end are tasked with simply occupying their blocker and helping separate the two sides of the protection. The 3-technique defensive tackle's primary goal is to occupy both the right guard and tackle, while the left defensive end buzzes back to fill the void in coverage. To accomplish this, the defensive tackle will step hard inside then loop outside.
This isolates the center on the two blitzing inside linebackers. The middle linebacker (Dannell Ellerbe) crosses the center's face first, drawing the block and opening a free lane to the quarterback for the weakside linebacker (Philip Wheeler). Dalton misses the mark on the hurried throw.
The Dolphins are finding ways to pressure Dalton by rushing five defenders, something they often had trouble doing earlier in the game. On the following third down, Miami combines a delayed blitz with a great effort from a great player to generate the biggest play of the game.
The Dolphins line up with three down linemen and defensive end Dion Jordan and Wheeler appearing like possible blitzers. Cincinnati does not slide the protection due to this, only leaving Peerman in again to pass block to the right.
At the snap, Wheeler blitzes but Jordan does not, and Reshad Jones joins the pass rush on the right side of the offensive line on a slight delay. Peerman is forced to block Jones while the left tackle blocks Wheeler, leaving an overmatched right guard isolated on Wake. Wake powers though his blocker and sacks Dalton for the game-winning safety.
Coyle's adjustments to the blitz strategy as the night went on were key to Miami's overtime turnaround and fittingly, actually won the game at the end. Wake's performance deserves all the praise it's gotten, but so does the game plan that put him in a position to dominate again.
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