The Miami Dolphins are expected to be led by their defense this year, a defense that started the year appearing to be among the league’s elite. The last few weeks, however, the defense has struggled, giving up big plays through the air and on the ground, making mistakes, and missing tackles. It has been frustrating to watch as a fan, and clearly has been frustrating for the players who take pride in their individual and unit performance.
The team, from the coaching staff to the players, know they have to fix the defense and they are focusing on it this week. Defensive coordinator Matt Burke started that work on Tuesday, telling the media on Thursday that the entire defense went over the film from the team’s Monday Night Football loss to the Carolina Panthers rather than breaking down the film in position groups, saying, “As a defense, we watched the entire second half together as a whole group. Again, it wasn’t easy to look at it; but there are things that had to be addressed, so we did that together as a group.”
He went on to add, “I felt that one of our issues – Monday night and possibly in the last couple weeks – there’s been a little disconnect I felt between the different levels of the defense. I felt it was important for everybody to be in there together and talking it out. I just didn’t feel the communication was there. I didn’t feel the understanding of how the front fits with the linebackers and how the coverage in the back end fits the linebackers and that sort of thing. I felt it was important this week to really take most of the meeting together. I’ll sit in the room. Again, we all own that. I told those guys. I put all of the stats up on the board. None of them are pretty. Not a single one. I said ‘We own this together. Every man in this room has a piece of this and we’ve got to get it sorted out because I feel like we’re not playing together as a unit, which we were better at earlier in the year.’”
Pro Bowl defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh backed up Burke’s comments during his media availability on Thursday. “Missed assignments and not tackling,” Suh said of what stood out on the game film over the past couple of games. “I think it’s as simple as that. That’s what I assumed after the game and that’s what showed up on the film.”
He continued, discussing exactly how the defense can communicate between the different position groups, both on the field and on the sidelines between series. He explained, “It’s all about being on the same page, and one of the best ways to be on that same page is communicating. Starting from our middle linebackers, starting from usually our free safety, that gives the down and distance, things that we anticipate obviously, and the calls that are being called where guys need be at, where guys need to be lined up. We obviously have different checks that we have. For example, when we have unbalance we call it ‘tank’ and we move into different situations like that where we have different alignments that we need to be in. So for me, communicating that to my linebackers – because a lot of times I see it first because I look for different things in the pass game, pass rushing, seeing where the formations are, all the different stuff like that – I can communicate those things to my teammates and vice versa, they can communicate those things for me. I missed some things last week and I blame that on myself; but at the end of the day, if we’re all collectively looking for the same things, anticipating things and communicating, hopefully we have a limited amount of those, because we’re never going to be perfect.”
On Friday, Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake also spoke with the media, focusing on the defense playing together as a whole for the entire game. “Consistency, playing together and playing for the full whatever the game is – 60 minutes, it might be more,” he said of getting the team back on track. “It can’t be one series on, one series off, and it can’t be just the DBs or just the linebackers. It has to be cohesively and consistent.”
He continued, looking how to to improve the defense’s ability to be cohesive and consistent. “You’ve just got to get on the same page and trust the guys next to you that ‘Hey, if I’m here, you’re there. If I’m there, you’re here,’ and trusting that it’s going to be there,” he explained. “If I try to be here and there, obviously the guys on offense will make you wrong. Trusting in one another and obviously communicating where we’re supposed to be.”
Asked if the defensive line has played up to expectations, Wake was fairly blunt with his response, telling the media, “Absolutely not.” Asked to expound with what way they have not reached those expectations, the 2012 First-Team All-Pro replied, “Every way. I don’t feel like we’ve gotten enough pressure on the quarterback. I feel like we probably should have more TFLs. I feel like there’s probably more production from that unit and I don’t think you would ask anybody on that line if that’s been good enough from us. I may be a little biased, but I feel like we control a lot of what’s going on, because we can affect the running game and we can affect the passing game. With the kind of guys we have in there, our expectations are probably higher than most, so we still have some work to do.
“My expectations are heavy. They’re big, really big. I expect every player on the field to be making game-changing plays every week, because we can. When you look at the names of the guys we have, I couldn’t see anybody expecting anything less. We’ve got to work.”
The defense is not the only issue with the team, especially given the offense is ranked 31st out of 32 teams in yards-per-game gained and 32nd in points per game, so there was discussion throughout the week on the defense’s struggles as compared to the offense’s ability to set up the defense.
“That’s what we built it for,” head coach Adam Gase said when asked about the defense’s ability to attack when playing with a lead. “We haven’t really come through on offense in two years. That’s the part that has really been more disappointing for myself is we haven’t been able to put those guys in the position that we wanted to. That needs to be something that … If we get anything clicking, getting off to a faster start and having some consecutive drives early to where our defense doesn’t feel like they’re in four-minute mode for the entire second half, that’s really what we want to do. The hard part is going out there and executing early. Instead of feeling the game out, let’s be right early and not wait to the third quarter to actually do something.”
When the idea of needing to play with a lead was brought up to Suh on Thursday, he stated, “I mean I think it’s always great to have a lead and have the best scenario for you to be in; but I don’t know what life people live in through that to be expected and unfortunately some times we don’t have leads, some times we do have leads, and it’s been to our own detriment, especially the last three weeks for us not to keep those leads on the defensive side of the ball. We have to continually, at all times, make sure we eliminate points and touchdowns, and if we have to give up some points let it be field goals at most.”
Wake also downplayed the need to play with a lead, explaining, “How many leads have we had? I don’t know much about that; but I think the way I am, the scoreboard is kind of way in the back of your mind. You’re just focusing on winning this play, winning this next play and winning the play after that. When the end of the game comes, then you figure out what’s going on as far as the scoreboard. I put my head down and worry about this next play and try not to focus on anything else outside of that.”
The Dolphins will hope to get the defense back on track on Sunday when they face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.