The Miami Dolphins’ search for a new defensive coordinator moves into a new, significant phase Wednesday.
The team reportedly plans to interview two leading candidates to replace Josh Boyer: Vic Fangio and Sean Desai.
Both are men in demand. Desai — the 39-year-old Seahawks assistant head coach/defensive assistant who has a doctorate in educational administration — has already met with the Vikings for their open DC job.
But the big name on Miami’s interview list is Fangio, the most coveted assistant coach this cycle.
Imagining Vic Fangio as Miami Dolphins DC
Fangio, 64, is currently a defensive consultant for the Philadelphia Eagles. But he’s woefully underutilized in that role, and most expect him to be a defensive coordinator somewhere in 2023.
That somewhere could be Philadelphia if Jonathan Gannon lands a head coaching position this cycle.
But don’t sleep on Fangio ending up in Miami.
He and McDaniel are said to have an excellent relationship, and Fangio’s decades of NFL experience might have helped the young Dolphins HC avoid some of the rookie mistakes McDaniel made in 2022.
But Fangio’s No. 1 responsibility would be to fix a Miami Dolphins defense that had the second-fewest takeaways (14), allowed the ninth-most points (23.5 per game) and — including the postseason — ranked 19th in EPA per play (.012).
The Dolphins took a big-time step back in 2022 despite ranking third in pass rush (50%) and eighth in run stop (32%) win rates.
That suggests the Dolphins misutilized their talent in the defensive backfield — particularly after injuries ravaged that position group.
Byron Jones didn’t play a down. Nik Needham and Brandon Jones missed most of the season. And yet, Boyer continued to put his available DBs on islands with a blitz-happy obsession.
Only the Giants (39.7%) and Cardinals (34.5%) blitzed at a higher rate than the Dolphins (33.3%) in 2022. Tellingly, those teams ranked 24th, 22nd and 14th in yards per play allowed (5.7, 5.5, and 5.3, respectively).
Vic Fangio’s Blitz Philosophy
History suggests that Fangio would take a far more measured approach. In his three years as Broncos head coach (from 2019-2022), Denver ranked 23rd (24.1%), 18th (27.9%), and 15th (25.3%) in blitz rate.
What’s more, Fangio is a zone coach, not a man-to-man coach. He runs a ton of Cover 6 — which would have been helpful in 2022, when the Dolphins’ only available starting cornerback was an injured Xavien Howard.
Even if he’s back to full health as expected in 2023, Howard — whose roughly $20 million in total compensation in 2022 included $2 million in bonuses for making the Pro Bowl and playoffs (good work by his South Florida-based agent, David Canter) — would benefit from having safety help from time to time.
But to play that type of coverage, the Dolphins will have to be able to stop the run and pressure their quarterback with their front seven.
Fangio runs a variation of a 4-3 called a 6-1 tilt. Not to get too far into the weeds, but this defensive alignment is designed to counter the modern spread offenses.
To run it, you need stout defenders up the middle (check, with Christian Wilkins and Zach Sieler), rangy, athletic edge defenders (check, with Bradley Chubb, Jaelan Phillips, and Emmanuel Ogbah), and a thick-in-the-rear thumper at linebacker. That last box on the checklist could be filled in free agency.
In short, the pieces (when healthy) are there for the Dolphins to return to the top 10 in defense. They just need a smarter, more mature scheme for the production to match the potential.
Fangio would be a perfect fit — if McDaniel can seal the deal.