Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland likes to say “you can never have enough” pass rushers.
Now that Ireland has collected a talented group, defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle is relishing the challenge of mixing and matching them in creative ways to flummox offenses.
And players love the confusion it creates for opponents.
Coyle has so many possible permutations of pass rushers that he compares it with going to Baskin-Robbins, the ice cream chain with more than 30 flavors.
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“Is it a tough call when you are looking at all the different flavors, and you want to pick one but you can only have one,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of different looks. It’s a tough call sometimes. It’s a chess game. That’s part of the fun.”
At times last Sunday, Coyle went with a traditional third-down package of Cameron Wake, Jared Odrick, Randy Starks and either Olivier Vernon or Dion Jordan. Defensive end Derrick Shelby also got some work in that package.
The defensive tackles in that group were effective, with Starks producing 1 1/2 sacks and Odrick generating five quarterback pressures.
But the grouping that created the most buzz was the “speed” package featuring three defensive ends — Wake, Vernon and Jordan — with linebackers Koa Misi, Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler, plus five defensive backs.
“It’s beautiful,” Wake said of that lineup. “It’s the fastest guys in the world running all over the place trying to get to the quarterback. It’s something I’ve dreamt about for many years. I’m glad to be part of a team that has that kind of personnel.”
Jordan said “every time we went in there, we got them off the field or made a play.”
What Coyle likes about the speed package is “we can do a lot of things. We’ve got some real athletic guys on the field there, and the good news is they are all pass rushers because they are all linebacker-hybrid-type guys, yet they all can cover. We feel fortunate to have that group. We just scratched the surface with that.”
Vernon said he could see confusion “in the eyes” of Cleveland players when the Dolphins used the speed package Sunday.
That confusion results from two variables: not knowing which players will rush and which will drop into coverage, and not knowing exactly where some of them will line up.
Wake, Vernon, Jordan and Misi are all athletic enough to drop into coverage if needed. Jordan did that on one of his 17 snaps Sunday.
Wake can only imagine what it’s like for offensive linemen, tight ends and running backs against that attack.
“Who’s rushing? Who’s dropping? You guys guess. We’ll wait until you figure it out,” Wake said. “And the play clock is running!”
Wake had 2 1/2 sacks Sunday and on one of them the Browns seemed so caught off guard by the speed package that a running back ended up trying — and failing — to block him.
“That’s something that should be implemented repeatedly throughout the season,” Wake cracked. “I would appreciate passing that on to any other offensive coordinators.”
Wake said some of the players in the speed package have the freedom to change where they line up at times, to exploit matchup advantages.
“I was over the center some; Koa was over the center once,” he said.
As coach Joe Philbin put it: “The more you can keep the [opposing] coaching staff in the meeting room attempting to figure out what you’re doing, it takes time. Then coaches get tired and crabby and don’t want to go to practice. It’s a good package.”
Besides the addition of Jordan and the development of Vernon, the Dolphins’ pass rush this season also will be helped by having linebackers who are skilled blitzers, especially Wheeler.
“It’s fun to play with this defense — it’s unpredictable, and hopefully it stays that way,” Wheeler said.
The Dolphins produced six sacks Sunday, with Jordan and Shelby each collecting one to complement Wake’s 2 1/2 and Starks’ 1 1/2.
The challenge will be more difficult against Indianapolis this Sunday because the Colts possess a better passing offense than the Browns, and Andrew Luck has a knack for escaping pressure.
Wake had Miami’s only sack in the Colts’ 23-20 victory last November, and Luck eluded several other potential sacks on a day when he threw for 433 yards and two touchdowns.
“He’s a squirmy, slippery guy,” Wake said. “When you have him in your sights, you have to make sure you finish the play.”
Wake said he “spent a little time” with Luck at the Pro Bowl in Hawaii in February, and “I let him know that I knew we’ll be playing him again. And I’ll be after him.”