It's not always easy for defensive linemen in a predominantly 3-4 scheme to get noticed, but Zach Sieler certainly did that in the Miami Dolphins' 31-13 victory against Jacksonville in Week 3.
Sieler was impressive enough that he earned himself additional playing time as the game went on, head coach Brian Flores revealed days after the game.
Christian Wilkins had that kind of game in the opener against New England when he made splash play after splash play in the first half, batting down two passes at the line of scrimmage and dropping Cam Newton for a tackle for loss.
Wilkins has been more quiet in the past two games, but remains a key component on the defensive line.
“I definitely know he didn’t get all the splash plays that he had in the New England, but I think he played well in the last two," defensive line coach Marion Hobby said. I think ‘Coach Flo’ (Head Coach Brian Flores) said it the best: Sometimes you don’t make the splash plays and you still have a good game. And it’s kind of what’s your assignment? What are we asking you to do?
"Sometimes the defensive tackles, they can get their hands on a lot of tackles and in some games they cannot because they’re running away from them or just the opportunities didn’t go their way. So sometimes as a coach, we have to grade them on what did they do in the system compared to the production because if not, those players, all they want is production and we’ve got to calm them down sometimes and say, ‘Hey man, take it on two, being where you’re supposed to be is just as important as you knocking on batted balls or tackles for loss.’ So we’ve been pleased with the way he’s played.”
The 2019 first-round pick has said a few times making "splash plays" in the NFL is a lot more difficult than it was in college, and again we must point out that the playmakers in the front seven on teams using 3-4 alignments usually are the linebackers.
In that context, it's not fair to only judge defensive linemen by their stats.
Sieler was a good example of that against Jacksonville because his stat line was rather modest — three tackles, half a sack, one quarterback hit.
But anybody who watched the game noticed him making an impact at the line of scrimmage.
And that's what led to his playing 31 snaps on defense after he had played 20 in the first two games combined.
“Obviously everyone wants to play," Sieler said. "You want to play as many snaps as you can, but it’s going to be what’s best for the team. And this last game, same game plan we’ve had. We changed some things, whatever; but really it came down to just in the second half was just playing the hot hand and playing the players that were playing well kind of thing.”
Sieler ended up getting a lot of the snaps that normally would go to rookie second-round pick Raekwon Davis, who had only 13 defensive plays against Jacksonville.
“Everybody talks about how big Raekwon is; Zach is a pretty big man himself," Hobby said. "I’m not short or anything, but he’s a 6-6, 315-pound guy who plays with an outstanding motor. His motor never stops running. He gives such a great effort. His technique and stuff, he’s really active in there. He did earn his playing time. He kind of jumps out at you on game day.”
For the Dolphins defense to start having success on a regular basis, they can always use additional contributors, so Sieler's emergence would be a welcome sight.
In the meantime, Wilkins will continue to be maybe the main guy among the interior defensive linemen.