Whether he had a successful outing or not is a subjective matter. However, when it comes to projecting how Jordan could best affect the game against the Indianapolis Colts this weekend, his performance and especially his usage against the Cleveland Browns calls for some exploration.
By The Numbers
I counted Dion Jordan’s presence on the field during 17 defensive snaps of the game against the Cleveland Browns. The distribution of the snaps is telling. Jordan played only seven snaps during the first 56 minutes of the game prior to Miami going up by 13 points. He came onto the field exclusively on third and fourth downs.
This third- and fourth-down usage persisted all the way until less than four minutes remained in the game. On the Browns’ final drive of the game, down by 13 points with about three minutes left in the game, Jordan began coming into the game on first and second downs in addition to third downs.
Of the 17 snaps Jordan took, he dropped back to cover on four of them. Of the remaining 13 pass-rush snaps, I counted him pressuring the quarterback twice.
On one play, Jordan successfully executed an outside rush on left tackle Joe Thomas, which resulted in Jordan taking a swipe at the football as quarterback Brandon Weeden held it near his ribs. On another play, Jordan was not successful in rushing Thomas; however, Weeden was pressured right into Jordan’s grateful arms.
Jordan lined up on the inside of the offensive line formation on four of the above snaps. On three of those snaps, he dropped back into coverage. The fourth time lining up from the inside position with his hand off the ground, he spied on the quarterback. He also dropped back into coverage one time from a down position as a right defensive end.
There has been quite a bit of talk about the Dolphins using Jordan in special packages that feature all defensive ends.
This plan sprang to life in the Cleveland game as Jordan was part of this special package on five of his first seven snaps of the game, which coincided with his normal usage as a third- and fourth-down pass-rusher.
Once the Browns went into full come-from-behind mode and Jordan came in on regular downs, the Dolphins abandoned the special packages and favored four traditional nickel defensive linemen, including Jordan, on his final 10 snaps.
Special Personnel Packages
The Dolphins got creative with their use of pass-rushers during the Cleveland game and can be expected to do the same against Indianapolis. During snaps that featured both Dion Jordan and a special defensive end-based personnel package, the defensive linemen present were Jordan, Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon.
The team also put all three starting linebackers—Dannell Ellerbe, Philip Wheeler and Koa Misi—on the field. It rotated dropping Misi or Jordan back into coverage while Wake and Vernon rushed, and at times linebackers Wheeler and Ellerbe would also blitz.
The following play was one of the more interesting special packages because of how the alignment between Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon, both rushing on the same side, allowed Wake to move inside and pass rush the weakest starter on the Browns offensive line, right guard Oniel Cousins. This produced pressure on Weeden.
Note on the above play how Dion Jordan successfully took left tackle Joe Thomas back on a speed rush to the outside. He did not get a pressure, but he took away Weeden’s ability to back away from the inside pressure by Cameron Wake.
Jordan only dropped back to cover from within the special personnel package one time, featured below.
Cameron Wake was effective applying pressure on Brandon Weeden on the play, while Jordan successfully took away one of Weeden’s underneath options.
One should note that the above play was the only instance from which Dion Jordan dropped back into a coverage while the Dolphins were in one of their special personnel packages. The other three times he dropped back into coverage, the Dolphins had four defensive linemen on the field, including two defensive tackles.
Normal Nickel Personnel Packages
Dion Jordan did not necessarily pass rush efficiently on the above special personnel packages. He did not pressure the quarterback a single time from within those packages. On the other hand, he rushed the outside from a normal nickel personnel package eight times and managed to pressure or sack the quarterback on two of those eight plays.
While I am not sure the Dolphins will or should abandon those special packages against the Indianapolis Colts, I hope that in their self-scouting, they take a closer look at some of the more normal nickel personnel packages and how the players were able to be effective with one another from within those packages.
Here is an example of what I mean by how players were able to interact with one another effectively from less gimmicky nickel personnel groups.
What I find interesting about the above is how Jordan’s outside speed-to-power rush against left tackle Joe Thomas took the two of them so deep into the backfield that fellow pass-rusher Jared Odrick had plenty of room to run the arc around left guard John Greco’s outside shoulder.
That kind of spacing is not something you will necessarily get with an Olivier Vernon rushing the passer from right defensive end. As long as you have the ability to close up the gaps vacated by Odrick and Jordan so that Andrew Luck cannot scramble up the middle, this could be a good way to pressure Luck from the inside.
The Dolphins also brought out a highly interesting pass-rush wrinkle late in the Cleveland game that I hope they find use for against Indianapolis. By all appearances, the Dolphins defense came onto the field with a normal-looking nickel defensive personnel package.
The one odd substitution was backup defensive tackle Vaughn Martin, who probably subbed in for defensive tackle Randy Starks simply to give Starks a breather. However, when they lined up, the formation was anything but normal.
This turned out to be an ingenious gimmick. Because of Dion Jordan’s presence over the left guard prior to the snap, the offensive line could not shift its protection scheme toward the overbalanced side without risking Jordan knifing through the B-gap like a hot knife through butter.
This left the center, right guard and right tackle matched singly on defensive linemen. Additionally, the Dolphins utilized a stunt between Vaughn Martin and Cameron Wake, so that Wake could once again pass rush the weakest link on the offensive line.
With both Dion Jordan and linebacker Phil Wheeler pulled out into zone coverage to the left side of the offensive formation, the danger of a flatfooted quarterback such as Brandon Weeden recognizing the unbalanced rush and scrambling for yardage was minimal.
Though Andrew Luck is not as flatfooted as Weeden, the same tactic could be effective against him. The benefit to this tactic is getting pressure while having only three players rushing the passer—which does not leave the players in the secondary shorthanded as they attempt to cover the likes of Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton and Dwayne Allen.
Dion Jordan as a Spy
One skill that Dion Jordan showed against the Browns, which I believe could be put to especially good use against a mobile quarterback who loves to scramble for first-down yardage such as Andrew Luck, was his ability to spy the quarterback.
The below play was another one that featured the Dolphins’ experimental defensive end-based nickel personnel package. On this particular play, Dion Jordan started from an inside position with his hand off the ground and moved to the right to protect a gap and spy on the quarterback and backfield as other players like Phil Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe blitzed.
Though the Dolphins would be wise to show caution with their blitz packages against Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts, this is something that could work against them by keeping Luck contained and keeping a set of eyes on how the play develops from within the backfield.
The reason I believe Dion Jordan could exceed in a role wherein he is charged with spying Andrew Luck is because Jordan has impressive agility and change-of-direction skills. Yet, he is still a little bit raw as a true pass-rusher.
Below you will see two still frames from Dion Jordan’s sack on quarterback Brandon Weeden. During the pass rush itself, Jordan had very little success against Joe Thomas. He engaged with Thomas, quickly lost the hand battle, and then he disengaged to read the quarterback and see if he could give chase as Weeden moved within the pocket.
What the above pictures show is that at first, given Weeden’s setup spot within the pocket, Joe Thomas had Jordan thoroughly blocked. He was perfectly in the way of Jordan’s line to the quarterback.
As Weeden was pressured and forced to scramble, this swung the angles to where Jordan had a direct line to the quarterback that circumvented Thomas. Since Thomas did not have eyes in the back of his head and did not know that Weeden had changed the blocking angle, Jordan had first-response advantage, and all Thomas could do was react to Jordan himself. By then, it was too late.
What I disliked about the play, aside from the obvious fact that Jordan was flagged for a facemask penalty as he brought Weeden down, is that Jordan was unable to make any progress in pass-rushing against Joe Thomas.
What I liked on the play was how he kept his head up and his eyes fixed on the quarterback, then was able to use his superior agility and first-response advantage to get around Thomas and eat the quarterback.
While this particular instance did not necessarily take full advantage of Dion Jordan’s rare agility and overall skill set, if he were to be set up in this role against Andrew Luck, there could be opportunities for him to do things that most other players would not be able to do.