The injury to Jaelan Phillips will be a huge loss for the Miami Dolphins. The full extent of his absence won’t be felt until the Dolphins get on the field Sunday against the Washington Commanders.
Miami was not able to claim Derek Barnett off waivers as the Houston Texans were able to claim him first by virtue of having a worse record than the Dolphins. Needing to make a roster move, Chris Grier and the Dolphins signed Jason Pierre-Paul from the New Orleans Saints practice squad.
Jason Pierre-Paul (JPP) is a two-time Super Bowl Champion, 3-time Pro Bowler and was named a First-team All-Pro in 2011. At the age of 34, JPP is passed his prime and beyond his 83.5 defensive rating from Pro Football Focus in 2012. What exactly Vic Fangio has in store for the newly acquired DL/LB is yet to be seen. We can almost be sure that JPP will be asked to contribute in limited snaps. Where does Jason Pierre-Paul fit in Miami’s defense? Where can he make the most impact?
Let’s start out by analyzing how and where the Dolphins edge defenders have been playing under Vic Fangio. The Dolphins have mostly been playing zone coverage with a 3-4 defensive front. Along with this defensive front, Fangio’s defense likes to show two-high safeties before the snap; giving different looks after the ball has been hiked. Bradley Chubb, Jaelan Phillips, Andrew Van Ginkel, and Emmanuel Ogbah have all lined up on the edge for the Miami Dolphins this year.
According to Pro Football Focus, all four of these players have never lined up as a defensive tackle when lined up on the defensive line. Chubb and company have also combined for 3 lineups over the offensive tackle. This means that almost all the edge rushers in Fangio’s system have lined up outside the tackle. This makes sense, Fangio does give one look pre-snap and something completely different once the ball is snapped.
Much has been said about Jaelan Phillips dropping into coverage and whether Jason Pierre-Paul can replace him. A further analysis of Jaelan’s snap count shows that he has been on the field for 366 snaps. Of those 366 snaps, Jaelan Phillips has only been asked to drop into coverage 32 times. This makes for Phillips covering a defender 8% of the snaps he is on the field. Phillips was only targeted once when dropping into coverage and that was against the Las Vegas Raiders.
For his career, Jaelan Phillips has dropped into coverage 9% of the time. For comparison, Ogbah and Chubb have been asked to drop into coverage 3% and 7% of the time they are on the field in 2023. Only Andrew Van Ginkel has been asked to drop into coverage on a regular basis, with a 26% coverage rate when on the field.
What has Jason Pierre-Paul been asked to do over the last 5 seasons of his career? In 2023, JPP played in one game for the New Orleans Saints against the Atlanta Falcons. JPP had 2 combined tackles and was on the field for a total of 17 snaps. In 2022 Pierre-Paul was more of a contributor with the Baltimore Ravens.
Pierre-Paul appeared in 14 games for the Ravens. In those 14 games, Jason Pierre-Paul had 22 total QB pressures, 4 sacks and 18 hurries. Baltimore had JPP drop into coverage in 17 out of the 555 snaps he was on the field. This accounts for dropping into coverage 3% of the time. Of those 17 coverages, JPP’s man was targeted 5 times. All 5 times passes defended by JPP were completed to their intended target. In fact, over the last 2 years pass catchers against Jason Pierre-Paul are 15-15 for 133 yards and 1 touchdown. From 2018-2022, in 4 out of the 5 seasons, opponents have had a 100% reception rating against JPP.
Fortunately for the Miami Dolphins, based on Jaelan Phillips’ snap count, it doesn’t look like JPP is being brought in for his cover skills. In his last full season of 2022, JPP had 197 snaps in a run defense role and 331 snaps in a pass rush role. Jaelan Phillips had 126 snaps in a run defense role and 208 snaps in a pass rush role before his injury.
During the 2023 campaign Jaelan Phillips has had 7 sacks, 27 QB pressures, and 26 tackles. In 2022 Jason Pierre-Paul had 3 sacks, 21 QB pressures, and 21 tackles. If the Dolphins can get this kind of production out of JPP, it would make the loss of Jaelan Phillips on the field a little less significant.
Jason Pierre-Paul is certainly not the same player he was when drafted out of USF. Yet, he isn’t being asked to replicate those abilities. His veteran preference and Super Bowl experience will resonate in the Dolphin locker room. How much will JPP play and how impactful will he be; only time will tell. If this Dolphin defense has taught me anything this year, it's that in Vic Fangio we trust.