The strength of the Miami Dolphins should be their defense, shutting down the passing game through the pass rush and secondary, forcing teams to try to beat them on the ground and stuffing them there. Instead, the defense is becoming more and more of a liability, with an offense not equipped for shoot-outs trying to win exactly that way. There are plenty of things on offense that need to be corrected, but the defense has clearly become a bigger issue in Miami.
Today, I will do something I typically try not to do. I try to trust the coaches and let them do their jobs. I have not been a coach. I am not in the practices. I do not watch the film like they do, knowing the assignments and able to tell who was actually wrong on every breakdown. But, I do watch every single game, most of them more than once. And, I know what all of you are saying as well - whether you are the media or the fans. With that said, here are my fixes the Dolphins should consider during this mini-bye week.
1. Minkah Fitzpatrick is the free safety. The Dolphins, prior to the season, appeared to be set up with exotic looks using their three safeties, Fitzpatrick, Reshad Jones, and T.J. McDonald, in multiple places throughout the game. Then, injuries and poor preseason play got in the way and Miami was forced to move Fitzpatrick into the nickel cornerback position. That would be fine and a great use of talent, if Fitzpatrick were on the field more than just when the nickel package is used. Miami should absolutely move Fitzpatrick back to free safety and let him play as close to 100 percent of the snaps as possible. If they want to keep him as the nickel cornerback as well, substitute into the game McDonald as the other safety next to Jones and move Fitzpatrick up, but at this point, keep the rookie in the game the entire game. However...
2. Move Bobby McCain back to the slot. McCain was given a large contract extension this year because of his excellent abilities as a slot cornerback. Then the injuries and poor play that promoted the team to move Fitzpatrick down to the nickel forced the team to move McCain to the outside. Move McCain back to the slot - which would allow Fitzpatrick to play solely as the free safety - and let McCain do what he does best.
3. Start Cordrea Tankersley. I know Tankersley is struggling this year and just cannot seem to put things together. At this point, however, the Dolphins have to get him on the field and get him through whatever his issue is. You could argue that McCain stays on the field in base coverage, sliding inside on nickel, but he is being picked on outside, so is there really going to be a difference between McCain and Tankersley? The second-year cornerback played decently last year when thrust into the starting lineup. Now, he has to do it again. Or, at least the Dolphins will be sure about where they have to find another player in the offseason.
4. Live with the linebackers...to a degree. Kiko Alonso is having a really strong year, but there is clearly confusion among the linebackers at times, pre-snap and post-snap. That is simply because the Dolphins have two first year players at linebacker - Raekwon McMillan who missed all of his rookie year due to an ACL tear and rookie Jerome Baker. Both players have shown growth already this year and that should continue throughout this year. It is frustrating to see a linebacker out of position, but at this point you have to live with it, to a degree.
5. Use T.J. McDonald in the box as a fourth linebacker. If you move Fitzpatrick back to free safety, you now have McDonald sitting on the bench as a reserve safety. Why not consider making him play up in the box as a linebacker. He can rotate with Baker as needed, giving you coverage and run support options, both of which could help the linebackers perform better. It is not ideal, but it could work.
6. Find defensive line help now. William Hayes landing on injured reserve messed up the Dolphins’ defensive line plans. Some will say he has not been a good player for Miami, but it really seems like, when he is on the field, the Dolphins have something different - both against the run and as a pressure defensive tackle up the middle. Hayes is not the reason the defensive line is struggling, but he was definitely a part of it. Cameron Wake and Robert Quinn are repeatedly getting close to the opposing quarterback but no one is actually sacking the quarterback. Charles Harris has yet to turn it on after being a first-round pick. And, the run defense is non-existent right now. Tuesday marks the trade deadline. Miami needs to find a way to land a solid, run-stopping defensive end who can be a rotational guy on the line of scrimmage. The Dolphins are supposed to be running a Wide-9 scheme that allows Wake and Quinn (and Andre Branch and Harris) to get to the quarterback, but they are not getting there right now. Something in the scheme has to be adjusted to free up the pass rushers to be pass rushers.
Obviously, there is more to what is happening with the Dolphins than any of us see. There is more data the coaches have - injuries, struggles, schemes, etc. - than any of us have. Maybe something cannot work out of these ideas. But, this seems like it would be a good start for fixing the Miami Dolphins defense this year.