Miami Dolphins

Man or zone? A pressing debate at Miami Dolphins headquarters

Rookie Bobby McCain is expected to start Sunday against the Ravens after Jamar Taylor was benched.
Rookie Bobby McCain is expected to start Sunday against the Ravens after Jamar Taylor was benched. AP

One of the Dolphins’ favorite coverages is a zone-man hybrid called Three-Match — a disguising defensive scheme they probably call more than any other.

The roots are in Cover-3, but in the words of interim coach Dan Campbell, it’s “the best of both worlds,” operating as both man-to-man and zone.

As for pure man coverage? Campbell guessed the Dolphins are in it only 25 percent of the time. That means three-quarters of the game is spent in some variation of zone.

“I just think that’s something that we hang our hat on,” Campbell said of Three-Match. “We’re not afraid to play man, but you don’t want to play a whole game in man-to-man. You’ll put your corners on an island. I think it’s good to have both. It’s good mix it up.

“Sometimes the zone that we run, it looks like man to a quarterback and it ends up not being, so it kind of helps.”

Yet based on conversations with Dolphins defensive backs this week, often times the zones the Dolphins use not only look like man coverage, but also are basically man coverage.

When asked how often Dolphins corners play man, rookie Bobby McCain — who will start Sunday against the Ravens — responded: “We play mostly, a lot of man. We throw in some zones in there from time to time.”

Quipped another Dolphins defensive back privately: “We’re on the field for 80 plays, playing one-on-ones all day. Spider-Man would get beat.”

So here we are, two months after defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle was fired because, in no small part, his players couldn’t stand his system, and still the Dolphins’ coaching staff and players aren’t completely on the same page.

Losing does that, of course. And because many players like replacement coordinator Lou Anarumo on a personal level more than they did Coyle, the stew is more of a mild simmer than a roaring boil.

Still, small cracks are there.

Take, for instance, Jamar Taylor. McCain’s recent ascent came at Taylor’s expense.

Taylor, a second-round pick in 2013, learned Wednesday that he’s headed back to the bench after allowing two touchdowns last Sunday against the Jets.

“Yeah, it’s no consistency at all. None,” Taylor said of bouncing between the first and second teams all season. “It’s real frustrating. It’s no stability, when you’re not sure whether you’re going to play the next week. It is what it is.”

Anarumo on Thursday praised Taylor’s desire and work ethic but did say he needed to make plays when the ball was thrown his way.

And he has a point. Taylor has allowed five touchdowns and 36 completions on 55 targets this year. That’s not good.

But he also has been in coverage for more than 400 snaps and has surrendered a catch in less than 9 percent of them. That’s not bad at all.

Compare that with Brent Grimes, who also surrendered two touchdown passes Sunday. Grimes has allowed five more catches in 66 fewer snaps in coverage than Taylor this season.

Twice in a month, Grimes has been exposed by dynamic receivers — first by Sammy Watkins, and then last Sunday by Brandon Marshall.

But unlike Taylor, Grimes still has the full support of his coach.

Anarumo said he could have done more to help Grimes against the Jets, and added: “I don’t think his game has slipped [at all].”

There is one constant variable for every member of the Dolphins’ defensive backfield: a punchless pass rush.

Miami has just 23 sacks in 2015 — and seven of those belong to Cameron Wake, who hasn’t played since Week 8.

If that doesn’t change, it’s hard to see how McCain, who had an interception in practice Thursday, will be any more successful than Grimes or Taylor.

“Bobby does not lack confidence and the game is not too big for him,” Campbell said. “He’s somebody who will challenge the receivers. He’s gritty. He’s going to give up a few plays, it comes with the position, but it’s not going to affect the way he plays or gets in his head. I know he’ll go out there and compete.”

▪ Center Mike Pouncey practiced on limited basis Thursday but not before the Dolphins’ medical staff shot up his ailing foot. The numbing agent worked; Campbell said Pouncey looked “pretty good” and was optimistic he will play Sunday.

▪ Pouncey was one of 15 players on the Dolphins’ injury report Thursday. That includes receiver Kenny Stills, who was limited with a new ankle issue. Tackle Branden Albert practiced fully after getting a rest day Wednesday.

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