one of the Miami Dolphins most valuable defenders

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While completing research for a previous article, I decided to take a deeper look at Eric Rowe’s defensive splits against tight ends. Anyone who watched Miami’s games in 2020 witnessed Rowe making plays against some of the NFL’s most talented tight ends-he passed the eye test. Though, what our eyes and what advanced analytics tell us, don’t always line up. For Rowe, they did.

Outside of a handful of tough plays against Travis Kelce and Darren Waller, Rowe had been completely dominant. For context, he was in great position on those plays but just barely lost at the catch point-you can live with that (see video below). His WAR (wins above replacement) was still the best in the NFL among defenders targeted 20 or more times against tight ends.

That led me to ask, how impactful has Rowe been to Miami’s success against opposing tight ends? As most fans will recall, the Dolphins have struggled in this department for most of the past decade. Lets look at the two seasons prior to Brian Flores’ arrival to get a statistical baseline.

Mia vs TE’s 2017 2018
Targets 135 93
Comp 92 69
Comp % 68.1 74.2
Yards 1015 791
TD 10 9
INT 1 5
QBR 111.8 109.2

Advanced stats courtesy of SIS Data Hub Pro

Sometimes it was against the league’s best, other times it was against no name depth players that went on to accomplish very little. The fact remained, If you were a tight end, the Miami Dolphins were open for business-especially in the red zone. Lets bump those numbers against the first two years of Flores’ tenure in Miami.

Mia vs TE’s 2019 2020
Targets 101 105
Comp 69 67
Comp % 68.3 63.8
Yards 808 762
TD 4 5
INT 2 3
QBR 97.3 89.5

Advanced stats courtesy of SIS Data Hub Pro

Covering tight ends has ceased to be an issue in Miami under Brian Flores. There may be people who feel that this has more to do with Brian Flores and his scheme than it does with Eric Rowe. If it isn’t obvious already, I would disagree with this theory. Luckily for me, I have evidence to back up my assertion. The following table combines the 2019 and 2020 data that we have against tight ends. The first column shows Eric Rowe’s numbers, the second shows the Miami Dolphins, and the final column shows how all other Miami defenders did in that time frame.

Against TE’s
2019-2020
Eric Rowe Miami Miami
w/out Rowe
Tgts 72 206 134
Comp 33 136 103
Comp % 45.8 66 76.8
Yards 443 1,570 1,127
TD 1 9 8
INT 1 5 4
QBR 64.76 93.91 108.64

Advanced stats courtesy of SIS Data Hub Pro

This is the data that really nails the point home. Scheme is an important part of Miami’s turn around against tight ends, but without Rowe there isn’t a sizable upgrade between the Gase years and the Flores ones. Some people may take that as a slight against coach Flores, but it really isn’t. He was the one who had a previous relationship with Rowe and the one who switched him to his current role in the defense. Scheme matters, but you still need the right kind of players and Flores identified that.

Once all this data came together, it became apparent just how important Rowe has been to this defense. It also pointed to the fact that he isn’t easily replaceable-probably why they parted with Bobby McCain but elected to keep Rowe.

Eric Rowe is popular with the fan base, but a lot of them might not realize just how special he has been in this defense. He also isn’t the kind of player that’s going to broadcast that fact to the masses. He has a very team first, humble demeanor-a Brian Flores guy through and through. Those are the kind of players that deserve to have some spotlight and we’ll use this opportunity to take a closer look at his career and what we can expect in 2021.

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