For the third time this season, the Eagles are preparing for a defense designed or heavily influenced by Bill Belichick.
Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores was a member of the New England Patriots defensive staff for 14 years, before taking the Dolphins job in the offseason.
He’s got some similarities to Detroit Lions coach Matt Patricia, who was the Pats’ defensive coordinator from 2012 to 2017. Neither likes to say a whole lot, but they sure do enjoy doing whatever they can to take away an offense’s best option.
In the Eagles’ Week 3 loss to the Lions and their Week 11 loss to the Patriots, Doug Pederson’s staff acknowledged the common scheme to focus distinct coverages, including double teams, on the Eagles No. 1 offensive threat: Zach Ertz.
Ertz had a quiet day against the Lions, catching four passes for 64 yards. He saw bracketed coverages and was sometimes matched up with a cornerback. The Pro Bowl tight end saw similar looks against the Patriots, but he played well, grabbing nine catches for 94 yards.
Running back Miles Sanders, now the Eagles’ most-reliable deep threat in the passing game, has experienced both sides of the Belichick-derived defenses. The second-round pick out of Penn State had a 40-yard reception against the Lions, but that was before he emerged as a deep threat from the backfield.
By the time the Patriots came to Lincoln Financial Field on Nov. 17, he was a focal point of Belichick’s game plan.
“I’m starting to get double-teamed,” Sanders said. “Defensive ends try to chip me as I’m going out, linebackers try to play over the top to try and shut it down quick. Sometimes when I go out [as a receiver], I’ve got safeties or a DB on me, so it’s a little different, but I’m accepting each challenge. I have to win my one-on-ones.”
Sanders had just two catches for 9 yards against New England, and only managed three catches for 23 yards Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks.
Does he expect to see a similar coverage scheme Sunday in Miami?
“Yeah, it’s the same style of defense,” Sanders said. “They run the same defense as the Patriots.”
There is one big difference between the Patriots and the Dolphins: personnel. The Patriots have put together one of the most-talented defensive groups in recent history. They’re No. 1 in defense-adjusted value over average by Football Outsiders. They’re one of the best defenses ever through 11 games, according to the website.
The Dolphins are dead last in the same metric, and by a comfortable margin. They’re 2-9 and traded Minkah Fitzpatrick, their best defensive player, for draft picks earlier this season.
They might run the same plays, but the Jimmys and the Joes aren’t quite the same.
“It’s similar, structure-wise,” Pederson said. “They do a couple things differently on third down, but for the most part it’s a very similar style. ... But personnel’s different, obviously, but you do see some of the same structure.”