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Do the Miami Dolphins Have a Problem at Defensive Tackle?

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In an interdependent game like football, LB’s don’t explain the lack of run defense alone.

Arizona Cardinals v Miami Dolphins Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images

Craniator87 must feel relieved that the crux of the Dolphins offseason zeitgeist seems focused on the defense - and rightfully so, we have lots of work to do. The long-term health of LB and DE causes much inflammation, much like that rash I...never mind.

The red-headed stepchild of the front-7 dilemma, however, involves the lackluster play of the DT position. One can disentangle Ndamukong Suh from this equation - he was one of the best in football at his position, despite the prematurity of extending his contract to be back-loaded when it appears we could’ve sucked it up and paid the man now. We were a young team with a rookie coach and rookie GM trying to plug many o’ holes - I’m sure we’ll be OK.

But I can’t resolve a 4.8 yd/carry average without looking first at the DT group, which ranked tied for dead last in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers.

Earl Mitchell was injured, played very well, and then fell into quicksand. He ended the season as PFF’s 79th ranked DT (out of 127). We can save $4 million by releasing him post-June 1st. Jordan Phillips ranked 56th. Here’s Mike Mayock from NFL.com on Phillips’ draft profile:

"Phillips has first-round ability all over him. He can dominate at the point of attack. He controls the run game. He reminds me of Terrance Knighton. People question his football character, which is why he's being selected in the second round and not in the first." -- Mike Mayock

Sound familiar? We see flashes, but consistency eludes him. Could he grow into the position? Sure. Is it worth hedging a team ranked 30th in run defense and tied for last in yards per carry? No. We need the competition now. We face 2 out of 3 teams in our division that seem Hellbent on running the ball, either by choice (Bills) or necessity (Jets).

It’s simply too difficult to sustain a winning program that allows 140+ yards on the ground per game and almost 5 yards/carry. The best “after contact” RB’s in the NFL (about 3 total RB’s per NFL regular season) have about 40% of their carries that have a 3 yards/carry after contact total. In other words, if the Miami Dolphins faced the best yards after contact RB in each and every game (which they can’t because it’s Jay Ajayi!), they’re still allowing the RB to get 2 yards beyond the line of scrimmage before being touched. That means, in addition to the LB’s not filling their gaps and shedding blocks, the DL is not controlling the line of scrimmage or getting penetration.

Andre Branch is a free agent. Cameron Wake is sick nasty, but old - Father Time cares not about your feelings. Terrence Fede is under the zombie control of Darren Rizzi. There simply isn’t enough DE’s under contract to feel secure. Jelani Jenkins has been oft-injured, and ditto for Koa Misi. Koa Misi represents cap savings if released. Piggybacking on the LB and DE concerns is not ideal, yet the DT problem is not one we can skim over.

When you think of beautifying the Miami Dolphins defense, I know the DE and LB might be the eye shadow and lip stick, but don’t forget about the foundation. We have bad acne. (I don’t know why I’m using a make-up analogy with predominantly dudes, but eh, I’m going to stick with it). Defensive tackle is a legitimate concern and we can ill-afford to ignore any type of blemish on the front 7.

The Miami Dolphins defense was built in 2016 to rush the QB and play with a lead. Fine in theory, except, we hardly ever had early leads. In fact, we were one of the worst 1st quarter/1st half teams in the entire NFL in scoring differential. I understand the aggression in the move, but we simply have to be more disruptive in the backfield if the defense is going to take the next step in 2017.