Zach Sieler: The NFL’s Most Underrated Player

Dolphins DT Zach Sieler is one of the league's most underrated players
Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Dolphins, winners of seven straight, will participate in the playoffs if they win their next two games. This comes after Miami lost seven in a row in a slew of injuries, disappointments, and lack of chemistry.

Now, as they found their groove, many look for players and units to credit. Tua Tagovailoa has looked much improved from last year, rookies Jaylen Waddle, Jaelan Phillips, and Jevon Holland look like stars in the making, and the defensive backfield looks just as deadly as last year.

Although, a name that needs some recognition is Dolphins defensive tackle Zach Sieler. The fourth- year pro, while only having two sacks, has generated eight pressures, per Pro Football Reference, and has been a stalwart in the run game.

Being in rotation with the likes of Christian Wilkins and Raekwon Davis, Sieler has only appeared in over 50 percent of snaps in five of Miami’s 15 games. Those snaps, however, have been productive. Sieler has excelled at holding his gaps, stopping the run, and making timely hits on opposing quarterbacks, and his all-22 from the last few weeks shows exactly that.

Zach Sieler gets after Ian Book.

Pass Rusher

Although Pro Football Reference only registers eight pressures, Sieler has been impactful and timing on that end. His ability to get off blocks quickly and get after the quarterback has complemented edge rushers Emmanuel Ogbah and Jaelan Phillips nicely. While also having two sacks, he has been able to set up for teammates and make impact plays.

As shown on this play against the Giants, the game appears easy for Sieler at times. His combination of speed and power, as shown here, gets him into the backfield in time to influence the throw.

Zach Sieler forces a near INT on a pressure

By batting the linemen’s hands to the side, he allows himself to use his unusual speed. He is then able to pull away from the guard and pursue his target. His impressive closing speed is enough for Mike Glennon to put up a dangerous throw, which nearly is intercepted by Jevon Holland.

A Simple Move

Although simple, he thrives in his ability to keep offensive linemen from getting their hands on him. With quick slaps, he is able to remain untouched and keep his forward momentum. The perfect combination of these two factors was on display on Monday Night Football against the Saints.

On this play, shown below, Sieler takes an outside route to the quarterback. To avoid contact with the guard, he runs outside of him. With his quick get-off and speed, he’s able to do his quick swat away and leave him in the dust.

Zach Sieler generates a pressure on Ian Book.

Although it doesn’t register as a sack for Sieler, he was able to pressure Book out of the pocket, and into a sack for his teammate. While his big plays don’t always show up on the stat sheet, they leave the same impact.

Run Stopper

Although sacks and pressures are typically more flashy, Zach Sieler makes the Dolphins run defense fun to watch. His combination of speed and power that I referenced earlier show up even more on run plays. His ability to maintain gap integrity while stopping playmakers in the backfield is one not found in many interior defensive linemen.

PFF rates Zach Sieler among the top IDL’s at run stopping.

Sieler’s game against the Carolina Panthers is one that perfectly displays his run defense in action. On this play, his goal would typically be to push McCaffrey out to the edge, while allowing linebackers to come up and make hits on the cutback lanes. What he ends up doing, however, is much more impressive.

Zach Sieler stops Christian McCaffrey.

He starts by getting outside, as he typically does, when he notices McCaffrey cut back in. Without losing his place, he is able to swallow him up for a loss on the play. He does so by throwing the lineman completely out of the play, which shows just how much power he has to disengage.

Counters

Another impressive part of Sieler’s run defense has been his implementation of counters into his game. On film, it is clear that he likes to go outside, which is typically to the left, and he has found a way to use that to his advantage.

On this play from his great performance against the Giants, he sells that he’s going outside, getting the lineman to leave his backside unprotected. In doing so, this allows Sieler to use a swim move to get back inside and stuff the run, potentially preventing a big play.

Zach Sieler uses a swim move to stop the run.

With limited snaps, linemen don’t have much tape to check out on Sieler. Thus, when they find a trend, it becomes much more important to identify and stop it. If not, Sieler will find a way to ensure they’re wrong every time.

High Effort Plays

In a Brian Flores defense, it’s clear that the fundamentals are preached as necessary for playing time. The coach who once dedicated a wall to the phrase “takes no talent” looks for players who show their love for the game on the field. It’s clear through his high motor that no Dolphins player exhibits that more than Zach Sieler.

As a lineman, it’s typically your job to get into the backfield and make stops like the ones I’ve shown thus far. However, Sieler works far outside his responsibilities, such as on this play shown below.

Sieler recognizes that New York is running a screen to Saquon Barkley, and he is able to, from his IDL spot, get over to the back, track him down, and stop him for only a short gain. His speed is on display here and it’s truly fun to watch.

Sieler uses his great motor to get out on the screen.

Sieler typically finds himself around the football, which is a common trait among star defensive players, and a prime example of that is Miami’s game vs. Carolina.

Here, he is able to see that Cam Newton is passing his way, perfectly timing his jump and getting his hands in the air to bat the ball down.

Zach Sieler bats down the pass.

The most impressive part about his timing on this play is that he gets Cam to throw it there and gets his hands up late enough. Although, they still get up in time to make the play.

Knowing Your Responsibility

This last play, which is one of my personal favorites this year, comes against the Jets. After noticing that a reverse is coming, Sieler sees Zach Wilson begin to slip out.

Zach Sieler prevents a TD

Realizing that his responsibility is the quarterback, Sieler disengages and takes off. As the receiver lets the throw go, Sieler is tracking down Wilson to the end zone. With impressive closing speed, he is able to get his hands up and knock the ball down.

Without Sieler’s high football IQ and effort, this play very well may have resulted in a touchdown.

The Bottom Line

Zach Sieler, although not regarded as a top defensive lineman, has far exceeded expectations set by fans and the Dolphins coaching staff.

His ability to defend the pass and run, while always giving 100 percent has been special to watch, and it pops on film every week.

It will be interesting to see how the former seventh-round pick continues to improve, but it’s clear that his story is just beginning to unfold.

Dolphins vs Panthers All-22 Breakdown and Key Observations

dolphins vs panthers
Photo by Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images

For the fourth week in a row, the Dolphins have found themselves as winners. This time, Miami won in decisive fashion vs the Panthers, with a final score of 33-10.

This game brought hope to Dolphins fans, and for good reason. This game showed the formula many thought they would at the beginning of the season. A combination of stellar defense and opportunistic, ball-control-based offense has gotten Miami wins over the last four games.

When watching the All-22 tape on NFL Gamepass, it was clear that Miami’s plan is starting to work out, and here are five things that stood out when watching the film for Dolphins vs Panthers.

Fantastic Phillip Lindsay

Following being waived by the Houston Texans, running back Phillip Lindsay was claimed by the Miami Dolphins, who were looking for another back to complement young guns Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed.

Coming off a short week, it was uncertain if Lindsay would play, but, as he explained, he was quick to get into the facility and study the playbook.

It was clear that the hard work, even in minimum snaps, has paid off. The two-time thousand-yard rusher showed, even with a below-average OL, why he was so successful in Denver.

Phillip Lindsay’s first run in Miami.

Above all other traits, his burst and awareness have stood out. Other backs, especially Myles Gaskin, seem to wait for holes to develop. This, although valuable with a good OL, becomes an issue when there isn’t time to sit back.

Lindsay, on the other hand, is constantly moving. Even when the hole isn’t there, his feet are always driving forward, raising his floor on yards to gain. Even when he gets tackled early in the play, his forward momentum keeps him from losing yards.

Phillip Lindsay showing off his great burst.

Along with this, his pass blocking is a thing of beauty. On QB Tua Tagovailoa’s 57-yard pass to Jaylen Waddle, Lindsay makes up for OT Liam Eichenberg, who got beat on the play. Coming out of the backfield, he demonstrated textbook blocking, attacking the rusher and providing his quarterback a throwing window.

Phillip Lindsay’s block opens up the throw to Waddle.

The Tuscaloosa Connection

Throughout college, Tua Tagovailoa found success in getting the ball out quickly in the RPO game, typically to his track team at wide receiver. The Dolphins, after drafting Tua thought that the best way to maximize the young quarterback was getting his collegiate teammate, Jaylen Waddle.

Through the first few games of the season, it was apparent that Tua and Waddle had chemistry, the level of which was unknown.

Now, however, as the season progresses, we can see that the 2nd year quarterback is significantly more comfortable with Waddle than any other receiver.

Throughout the game vs the Panthers, Tagovailoa targeted Waddle on a variety of looks, including several tightly contested looks, which contradicted notions on Tua coming out of college that he was unwilling to make risky throws.

Tua and Waddle connect on an out route.

More impressive, however, was the ability that Tua and Waddle have to know when the ball is coming out, and where. Tua, through repetition and natural chemistry, consistently throws the ball to Waddle before, or as, he’s coming out of his break. A prime example of this is the touchdown between the two.

Excellent Anticipation

When Tua releases the ball on a curl route, Waddle has yet to turn around and has three defenders near him. The ball was not only thrown early, but also put in a perfect spot for the rookie to make the play. That anticipation was a trait Tua was praised for at Alabama, and it seems Waddle is bringing it out now.

Tua’s throw to Waddle was out FAST.

This was not the only instance of this chemistry, however, as the aforementioned 57-yard play showed the duo’s promise as well.

Following the Lindsay block, Tua put the ball right in the middle of the field as Waddle made his break. Knowing his ability to move after the catch, his throw gave Waddle ample room to work, even with a safety coming down.

Tagovailoa and Waddle connected nine times for 137 yards and a touchdown, and this game looked promising for the duo.

Jaelan Phillips is Legit

This year, after a rough start, had been largely dominated by rookies Jevon Holland and Jaylen Waddle. Their ability to make impact plays has certainly been noticed, and both have flashed in crucial moments.

However, Dolphins fans and media alike had seemed to forget about the first-round pick, Jaelan Phillips. Coming out of UM, Phillips was regarded as a potentially elite pass rusher with a deep bag of tricks. This left Miami fans excited when he fell to them at the 18th pick.

Despite the hype, however, Phillips had failed to produce by all simple counting stats. While it seemed that he was getting close, he was rarely able to get home. Dolphins fans became frustrated, and it seemed that the optimism for Phillips faded as it grew for Waddle and Holland.

When the Dolphins took on the Panthers, all of it started to come together.

Coming out Party

Against an offensive line ranked among the worst in the league, Phillips was able to tally three sacks, a pass deflection, and a pressure leading to an INT.

Jaelan Phillips creates a pressure leading to an INT.

The numbers, however, weren’t as impressive as the tape on the plays themselves.

In particular, his work from the inside, with Emmanuel Ogbah on the edge, was spectacular. With Ogbah taking an outside route, Phillips was often left 1-on-1 with a guard. His combination of size and speed left these guards in the dust, and him in the backfield at will. With a skill-set as refined as Phillips’, it will be very difficult to stop him without tackle help.

Jaelan Phillips gets a sack vs a guard.

It’s clear that Miami has something special with Ogbah and Phillips, and I suspect they will use that pairing on the same side more often.

Improved Play Calling

Going into this season, Miami knew their offense needed to improve from the 15th ranked scoring unit. Thus, when they opted to make in-house coordinator hires, many were confused. A staff that was unable to produce a consistent offensive scheme would now be led by play-callers with limited experience.

These concerns lingered into the season, as Miami’s offense was dwelling near the bottom of the league. Many were calling for the jobs of Studesville and Godsey, and Miami had lost seven straight.

However, they seemed to have found their stride in the winning streak, both of which continued on Sunday.

Operating out of heavy pistol sets with lots of pre-snap motion, Miami was able to create misdirection. The threat of motion-man Albert Wilson stressed defenses to his side, while Jaylen Waddle and Durham Smythe were able to find soft spots in coverage.

Miami goes underneath to Waddle off the Wilson motion.

Miami also used these looks to create counters from a play they love to run: the wheel to Albert Wilson.

Against both the Jets and Ravens, Miami teased this formation, running a deep wheel route to Wilson in both games. It was clear Miami wanted defenses to pick up the idea, and I had clamored on Twitter for counters.

Those wishes came to fruition on Sunday, as Miami ran almost their entire offense out of this formation. This base set led to several different runs, short and intermediate passes. With the Panthers expecting the wheel route, Miami was able to catch Carolina off guard and tear them apart underneath.

Miami runs their motion based pistol offense and gets a first down.

The offense will still need to improve over the coming weeks, but they are trending up during the most important stretch of their season.

Area Of Improvement

Even in a 23-point win, there were areas of the team that were less than ideal. One that stuck out was the offensive line.

On three separate occasions, Miami’s offensive lineman gave up pressures or bad snaps that ruined potential scoring drives.

On separate drives, Jesse Davis and Liam Eichenberg were beaten badly, leading to crucial sacks on Tua and then punts.

Liam Eichenberg gets beaten by Brian Burns.

The other drive, before the half, contained one of Austin Reiter’s several bad snaps. After going too low, Tua was unable to recover the snap, and Carolina turned a potential Miami FG into one of their own.

Here’s one of Austin Reiter’s bad snaps.

If Miami is to continue their streak, eliminating drive-ending mistakes is crucial, and those start with the OL.

The Bottom Line

The Miami Dolphins are showing signs of life, and are only two games below 500. With games against the Giants and Jets upcoming, Miami has a chance to contend for a playoff spot.

Whether it’s too late is yet to be determined, but Miami has continued to improve over the last month. The tape continues to get better, and Miami looks like the team we envisioned back in August.

The coming weeks will be the most telling, and it will be exciting to see if Miami can complete the miraculous comeback season.

Follow Tyler DeSena on Twitter

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Miami Dolphins Stun Baltimore Ravens on TNF

Dolphins vs Ravens
Credit: Dolphins Wire

The Miami Dolphins stunned everyone with an upset win vs the Baltimore Ravens. Not only did Miami beat the Ravens, but they dominated most of the game. Even though it was a snooze fest of a game until the fourth quarter, Dolphin fans have a reason to be excited again. Here are some key takeaways from Miami’s stunning win vs the Ravens.

Defense Looks Dominant Again

Last night, the Dolphins defense looked like one of the best in the NFL. Holding one of the NFL’s best and hottest players in Lamar Jackson to just 277 all purpose yards. Not only that, but the Dolphins defense also had one interception, four sacks, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery that went for a touchdown vs the Ravens.

Xavien Howard got the game going with a forced fumble that he recovered and took it 49 yards for a score. Justin Coleman had the same sealing interception in the end zone with less than a minute left in the game. But this was all thanks to Lamar being uncomfortable all night.

Jaelan Philips, Andrew Van Ginkle, Emmanuel Ogbah, Brandon Jones, and Jevon Holland were in Lamar’s face all game. Lamar was blitzed essentially all game and it turned out to work for Miami.

Tua Fills In and Delivers

For the second straight week Tua Tagovailoa was active even with his finger injury. But for the second straight week Tua was the active back-up. This was until the third quarter when Jacoby Brissett went down with a knee injury.

On the next drive Brissett tried to go back in and head coach Brian Flores waved him off and called Tua’s number. At first it was evident that his finger is really injured, killing any “benching” speculation.

That being said, as the game went on, Tua did look more comfortable and started to throw better. He had some throws that made you shake your head but it is clear that it was due to his finger. Postgame Tua clarified that his finger “does not feel good”. but he stayed strong and played through it.

Tua’s highlights from last night are his deep throw to Jaylen Waddle and Albert Wilson along with his one yard quarterback sneak to score a touchdown. With the extended week due to playing on Thursday night, hopefully Tua uses this time so he is 100% by the next game against the New York Jets.

Run Game and Offensive Line Leave Question Marks

Even though the Dolphins played their best game of the season vs the Ravens, there was still negatives. The run game still isn’t where it should be. Myles Gaskins was the only rusher with over 10 carries and averaged 2.2 yards per carry. That is including his long of 11 yards. No team in the NFL should be able to win like this consistently, so Miami needs to figure out their run game woes.

The offensive line for Miami also did not play their best. As I said above Tua only got in the game due to Brissett getting hurt. The Ravens only had four saves, but had a total of 13 quarterback hits.

The run game also looked horrendous part due to part of the offensive line. Liam Eichenberg allowed several pressures and was the one who allowed the sack that got Brissett hurt. It will be something to keep an eye on if Miami decides to switch up the offensive line during their long week.

Familiar Faces Return

Albert Wilson and Isaiah Ford were the lead receivers for the Dolphins last night. Both tied with a game high four catches and both led the Dolphins in receiving yards. Wilson had 87 yards compared to Ford’s 84.

The question of “where has Albert Wilson been?” finally got answered as Miami finally used him properly. Miami sent him on a wheel route on an RPO and gained 64 yards on his biggest play of the night. He also ran a number of screens where he flashed his ability to make people miss consistently. It will be interesting if Miami keeps using Wilson throughout the season or if this was a “gameplay” situation.

Ford also came through for Miami as he had a number of catches when Miami was in a hurry up offense. Besides not stepping out of bounds in an obvious situation, Ford was impressive. He showed that he can be Miami’s number three or even two receiver if need be.

Rookies Shine

Rookies Jevon Holland and Jaylen Waddle received public praise from the media and the Ravens players. While Jaelan Phillips had his best game to date. Holland was all over the field and broke up a deep ball that was intended for Marquise Brown early in the game.

In addition to that, Holland stuffed the stat sheet, with five tackles, one sack, one tackle for loss, two pass deflections, and a quarterback hit, it seems Chris Grier made have drafted a budding star.

Jaylen Waddle was also a key contributor as he was on the receiving end of Tua’s clutch throw in the fourth quarter. Waddle had four catches for 61 yards and its clear that Miami is making an effort to use him properly. He also drew a ton of attention as the defense always made sure they knew where he was. Waddle as normal was also both Brissett’s and Tua’s security blanket.

Jaelan Phillips impressed fans last week with a great game, but this week he was even better. Even though he only had half a sack and one quarterback hit, he was always around the ball and in Lamar’s face all night. He made sure Lamar didn’t scramble all over Miami and chased him down whenever he tried too.

Looking Ahead

Overall the Dolphins performance vs the Ravens showed how good of a team they can be. Even with the offensive line and run game not being the best they still outplayed the Ravens. The play-calling wasn’t the best but we have defiantly seen worse this year.

Let’s hope Miami is able to carry this momentum through the season and show that they are better than their current record of 3-7 and potentially fight for a playoff spot.

Thursday Night Football: A Chance to Change the Narrative

Following a week 9 win, the Miami Dolphins have an opportunity to shock the world against the Ravens on Thursday Night Football.

This season, as we all know, has been a rough one for The Dolphins. After winning a close game in week 1, the Dolphins began to lose grip on their season. Coaching miscues, injuries, and regression led to Miami losing 7 straight.

They finally snapped their streak on Sunday, grinding out a defensive battle without QB Tua Tagovailoa.

Although it seems that Miami’s season is likely over from a postseason perspective, there is still something to prove.

The NFL Playoff Picture going into week 10.

Brian Flores and Chris Grier must show ownership that there is reason for them to stay. A competitive game with one of the league’s premiere teams on Thursday Night Football could help the optics of their situation.

Optics is the operative word here. While Miami doesn’t much have to compete for as a team, individual players have a chance to define the early portions of their careers.

Primetime games present an opportunity that 1pm Sunday showdowns don’t: fans from across the league are watching, and their opinions on players often come from the very little they get to see from their specific teams.

A prime, and frankly, a painful example of this comes on December 26th, 2020.

A Cautionary Tale

Following an impressive win against New England, the Tua led Dolphins went into Las Vegas to take on the Raiders, with playoff hopes on the line. Little did they know, the public opinion of 2 players would change drastically that night, both in different directions.

The game started slow, with very little coming from either offense. Tua was struggling, and many of his completed passes were coming at or behind the line of scrimmage.

With 94 yards on 22 attempts, Miami was in need of a spark, and they made the decision that it wouldn’t come from Tua.

Tua was benched against Las Vegas.

Instead, Miami went with 38 year old veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick. Fans were outraged, and the national media had begun to change their opinion. A quarterback once looked at as a potential star just failed to outperform a career backup.

Fitzpatrick, on the other hand, received an overwhelming amount of positive attention.

Impact of the Comeback

Following Tua’s benching, the veteran was able to go 9-13 for 182 yards and a touchdown, including the infamous facemask pass, to come from behind and give Miami a 1 point win.

Ryan Fitzpatrick’s Facemask Pass was the Best Play of 2020.

The media instantly reinstated the “Fitzmagic” nickname, and questioned whether Tua should remain the starter. Comparisons between the two QB’s play began to run wild on social media.

Tua’s status throughout the league began to diminish, as he slowly became looked at as a mediocre option. To this day, Tua seems to be of a low opinion to national media, while Fitzpatrick carries his nickname and the lore behind it.

Since then, Tua is 1-5 as the starter, and Miami has looked into other options at the QB position, such as troubled superstar Deshaun Watson. Part of the Dolphins diminishing opinion on Tagovailoa may have come from that December night.

Dolphins fielded questions regarding Deshaun Watson.

Although he performed well in several other games that year, the emphasis on the primetime game shows a trend. When the lights are brightest, media and casual fans judge players the most.

The story of Tua Tagovailoa presents a cautionary tale, and although he remains Miami’s starting quarterback, that game may have been the beginning of the end for his time as a Miami Dolphin.

Seize the Moment

That’s why, along with hopes of winning, Dolphins players must seize the opportunity Thursday Night Football. This game can go a long way in beginning storied careers for many young players. Potential rising stars such as Jaylen Waddle or Jaelan Phillips can cement their place in the eyes of many, while an unexpected hero can emerge, much like Fitzpatrick has time and time again.

Thursday night is an opportunity to shine for Dolphins players looking to make their mark on a subpar team. Legends are made in primetime, and it will be fascinating to see who takes advantage and makes their presence known.

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Jaelan Phillips is coming into his own for the Miami Dolphins

Jaelan Phillips Miami Dolphins
Miami Dolphins OLB Jaelan Phillips. Credit: Sun Sentinel

Four games into his rookie season Jaelan Phillips is continuously improving in the Miami Dolphins defense. For Phillips it’s always about him trying to improve consistently.

His statistics don’t jump off the page but his play style does.

Phillips’ best game so far came against the Indianapolis Colts. He displayed all the qualities in his lone season with the Miami Hurricanes: speed, power, and aggressiveness. It’s not a breakout just yet but the foreshadow has already come.

“I think he’s playing with a lot more confidence. Fast. Aggressive. Better.”

Head Coach Brian Flores

The game is slowing down for Jaelan Phillips.

Phillips is a versatile player that has experience playing with his hand in the dirt on the edge, rushing the passer along the interior and in a standup role in space.

Primarily, Miami has utilized on the edge with his hands in the dirt to maximize his get off and release. He’s had 5 QB pressures and consistently in the backfield.

His 6’5 266lb blend allows him to combine a mixture of his size, length, power technique and athleticism to challenge opposing OL’s and double team him.

Against the Patriots, New England offensive line had to double team, chip block and sometimes hold onto dear life against Phillips.

“I think he is a diligent worker, He comes in, puts a good day’s work in, and he is working hard to improve some things that he needs to improve. And, the things that aren’t going so well, you know he is working to improve those. I would say Jaelan is going to get better and because of his work ethic and his skill set and I think he gets a little bit more comfortable, umm, and the more experience he has the better off he will be.”

Defensive Coordinator Josh Boyer

Furthermore, Phillips is getting comfortable within the game. He’s able to work on different moves in practice and apply it in game. For this defense it’s all about him creating pressure, getting into the game flow and find out what is and is not working.

Now, Phillips is focused on having fun and executing against Tom Brady and the Buccaneers this week in Tampa.

Follow Hussam Patel on Twitter

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