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Miami Dolphins Film Room: Raekwon McMillan, Week 5 vs. Cincinnati Bengals

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Don’t worry, his helmet doesn’t fly off on every play like in the picture.

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Raekwon McMillan tore his ACL on the 1st snap of preseason in 2017. Let’s take a look at the Miami Dolphins MLB’s sophomore campaign. McMillan played 43 of 60 snaps, and here’s 23% in GIF form...(plays listed in chronological order)

The Tape

I think it’s debatable what “Baekwon” (as my awesome Phinsider Radio co-host Josh Houtz calls him) is doing with his 1st couple of steps. Does he get enticed ever-so-slightly by the play action fake from Andy Dalton to Joe Mixon, or is he simply ensuring the first crosser has no gap between he and TJ McDonald? But look at the feet, they look light: change of direction is better than what we saw earlier in the season and in the preseason. He’s able to go from outside the hash, shuffles inside the hash, and back to the numbers quickly to make the sure tackle.

Armando Salguero came on Phinsider Radio and said that a blocking TE from Carolina Panthers outrunning the 2017 2nd round draft pick was cause for concern during the preseason meeting between the 2 clubs. Some of the snaps at that point in time he looked slow in my opinion, I’ll admit begrudgingly because I’m a Buckeyes fan. You see a little more “spring” in this GIF.

Play action bootleg (most Mike Shanahan play ever), and McMillan pursues towards the run but fluidly returns to the crossing pattern by AJ Green. Unfortunately Xavien Howard overpursues, or this ball might’ve got chucked up to Matthew Cannata and I’s seats. I like the play diagnosis by McMillan and the amount of lateral space covered.

No one was in danger of getting to Raekwon on the 2nd level, so I think he could’ve taken a more aggressive angle outside for a tackle for loss (and he had fellow Buckeyes linebacker Jerome Baker pursuing laterally and could’ve handled any cutback, as he beat his block). As the play stands, he covers ground, implements solid tackling technique, and limits Mixon for a short gain.

Got to the gap with a good, wide base. Mixon essentially came straight to him, nothing remarkable on this play tackle-wise. McMillan with solid gap integrity and sometimes you see young players try and do something flashy in this situation - McMillan is fundamentally sound and makes the play.

Anyone see the blatant jersey pull on McMillan on this play? LOL.

At any rate, looks like his gap assignment is inside the tackle. Nothing crazy here, and this is not rocket science for OL-on-LB phenomena in the NFL, but getting an OL body on Raekwon is one way to limit his impact and shut down his strengths in pursuit. I think he disengages from this block admirably for getting matched up on an OL, but at the end of the day, his teammates do all the work (Charles Harris and Minkah Fitzpatrick in on the play).

Raekwon is on the top-side of the field, covering the RB in the flats. The spacing on that side of the field is tremendous, and allows all those crossing patterns to not result in any natural “picks”. Without the spacing, McMillan arrives late and then he’s making a tackle in space. He’s able to close the throwing window quickly, and the Dolphins would get a coverage sack here and force the Cincinnati Bengals into a long field goal.

The Bengals go with some banana motion, which is all an elaborate distraction from a HB draw. Davon Godchaux does a great job slowing the OL, Raekwon gets play side on the OL designed to come out and get a body on him, he penetrates the gap and helps on the tackle. This is excellent interior defense by some young players. As weird as it is to say about this particular game, let’s appreciate where we’re lucky and these young defenders are starting to make a name for themselves.

Lot of crossing patterns here, Kiko Alonso sees it before Raekwon (and you can even see Kiko try to point that direction to McMillan). I find McMillan in error here. Comes to far inside and you don’t come that close to another zone defender with the horizontal routes in this play design. With time, the hope is that he doesn’t overreact to the drag routes, trusts the zone spacing, and next time he’ll be closer to the numbers/hash split and make Dalton think twice before (hopefully) the pass rush is getting there.

McMillan still disciplined, even though at this point, the Miami Dolphins are scrambling (in terms of how drastically situational football changed). He’s rightfully patient in the middle of the field as Dalton looks left, but then immediately recognizes the pseudo-screen and makes the tackle. Clever diagnosis, in my opinion.

Raekwon shoots the gap and gets the tackle. Granted, the Bengals are trying to simply burn clock here but you have to appreciate the awareness, “getting skinny” (avoiding the block or chip of #87 for the Bengals and squeezing into the gap between the center as well), and trying to make a late play in the game.

Conclusion

With the Miami Dolphins offense sputtering in a major way, the development of the young nucleus on defense is certainly a welcome sign. Raekwon McMillan had entered the 2018 season with some question marks after the ACL injury, but the tape shows there’s still a lot to be positive and hopeful about.

Raekwon McMillan hasn’t arrived per se, but you’re starting to see why the Dolphins invested a 2nd round draft pick and let’s not forget that narratives change in the NFL quickly. It’s up to Raekwon to build on this effort and continue to put good tape on Sundays on a regular basis.