Should the Dolphins keep using the “Wide-Nine”?


With Training Camp in full swing for the Miami Dolphins this is the time of year to start looking at different ways to improve. The Dolphins defense struggled at crucial times in 2016, especially against the run. This season changes to the defensive philosophy may be in order.

The Miami Dolphins had a resurgence in the 2016 season, finishing at 10-6 and making the Playoffs for the first time since 2008. First year Head Coach Adam Gase brought a new found energy and confidence to the team, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Miami rediscovered their running game thanks to a breakout season from Jay Ajayi and a rebuilt offensive line. Ajayi was the third highest rated back according to Pro Football Focus finishing the season with 1272 yards and a stellar 4.9 Yards Per Carry.

Things were not so rosy on the defensive side, Miami finished the season ranked 30th against the run and 29th in Total Yards Allowed. Injuries to Reshad Jones and Xavien Howard forced Defensive Coordinator Vance Joseph to shuffle the secondary and the pass defense was exposed, especially late in the season and in the playoffs versus Pittsburgh.

There were bright spots such as Cameron Wake turning back the clock and tallying 11.5 sacks. Kiko Alonso resurrected his career and had his best season since his Rookie of the Year campaign with Buffalo in 2013 making several game changing plays during the year.

Joseph showed enough promise as a Coordinator and was offered the Head Coaching position with the Denver Broncos. His Linebackers Coach Matt Burke was promoted to the Coordinator position after Miami’s season ended. He is expected to use the same “Wide Nine” defensive scheme as Joseph, but given the mixed results of last season perhaps an adjustment or total change in philosophy is justified. Burke has defended the Wide Nine and it remains likely that the Dolphins will continue to utilize it in one form or another.

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The Wide Nine technique is when a defensive end, typically a speed-rusher, lines up wider than normal outside of the offensive line. This gives them extra speed and better angles before engaging with the offensive tackle and also superior position to get their shoulders low and turn the corner. Wake thrived in this system under Joseph as it played perfectly to his strength as an edge rusher.

Where the Wide Nine has a glaring weakness is in run defense as the 9-technique defensive end basically positions themselves out of interior run support before the ball is even snapped. This alignment puts added responsibility on linebackers to step into vacant gaps and fill to stop inside rushes. Miami’s linebacker corps has been much maligned over the last few seasons, and other than Alonso has not really shown much in the way of consistent production. The addition of Lawrence Timmons should help as he is a veteran linebacker with great instincts and incredible durability having only missed two games in his ten-year NFL career.

The Dolphins clearly saw a concern with their defense and addressed it in the 2017 NFL Draft, selecting six defensive players in total including their first three picks. First Round selection Charles Harris will add pass rushing from defensive end and linebacker Raekwon McMillan will give Miami much-needed athleticism at the linebacker spot. The Dolphins also added defensive tackles Davon Dochaux and Vincent Taylor in Rounds five and six respectively.

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It remains to be seen whether Miami will continue to deploy the Wide Nine technique. Nonetheless an upgrade in personnel on defense was clearly a priority to Adam Gase and the Dolphins coaching staff. Perhaps a combination of the Wide Nine on obvious passing downs with a more traditional defensive front on early downs could be the winning formula for Burke and the Dolphins defense.