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Blame Game: What’s Wrong with The Miami Dolphins Defense?

Early defensive struggles come to a head with the blowout loss to the Buffalo Bills.

Miami Dolphins v Buffalo Bills Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

Football is best played complimentary. Fans may not see it, but one side of the ball can affect and dictate the other. One example off the top of my head is if an offense can’t score or stay on the field, the defense, no matter how dominant, will eventually tire out and start to look average or worse.

The problem that’s starting to take shape with the Miami Dolphins is that the defense has not stopped or slowed down good offenses. Is it adjusting to a new scheme, the NFL’s emphasis on not tackling in training camp, and practice, or is the talent overrated?

After watching the first four games, it could be any of the three, but more than likely a combination of all three.

Vic Fangio’s New Scheme & Tackling Woes

When Vic Fangio was brought in this offseason there was an emphasis on how his scheme would put players in position to make plays, especially in the passing game. Fangio likes to play a lot of cover two and doesn’t use a lot of blitz packages. With this, it’s expected that you don’t give up the big play, but let the other team take the underneath routes, and then you let your guys break to the ball.

That’s great in theory. The Dolphins have been a bend, but don’t break defense for as long as I can remember, but that doesn’t work when guys are missing tackles. When you have guys like Stefon Diggs who’s not big or strong like a DK Metcalf, or Deebo Samuel breaking multiple tackles for touchdowns, you have a problem.

The tackling issue wasn’t just a Kohou issue, it was the whole defense. The linebackers aren’t filling the holes correctly, or meeting ball carriers at the point of attack. When they do make tackles, they’re making them go backward. Jevon Holland, as great as he is has been tackling way too high, and he’s getting beat. We’re also not seeing any type of push on the defensive line. Here’s a perfect play to illustrate all three levels.

Another Vid Fangio decision that I’m still not able to wrap my head around is having Kader Kohou on Stefon Diggs all day. I’m a big fan of Kohou, and he was good as a boundary corner covering number two receivers last year, but his bread and butter is nickel corner. Stefon Diggs abused him all day, and it started early. Everyone could see it. Fans were begging for Fangio to put Xavien Howard on Diggs, but it never happened.

Just take a look back into your memory bank. Did you see any big plays where Xavien Howard was in the picture? I don’t, because there wasn’t much to choose from. Josh Allen picked on guys like Kohou, Justin Bethel, and the underneath zone all game, and no adjustments were made.

It’s reasonable to not listen to fans because the coaches are paid handsomely to be smarter than everyone else, but when your top corner wants to be the best receiver, and that receiver proceeds to abuse the corner you assigned to him, then maybe it’s time to listen.

“It’s a mentality. I want to go on the field to go against the best. Let me make my money on the top guy. You pay me this money to go do what I do... But it’s a new defense. It’s a new scheme. I just got to control the stuff I can control.” - Xavien Howard post game

Defensive Talent Overrated?

This could be an overreaction because the Dolphins defense isn’t playing at 100% health. They’re missing two of the best defenders in cornerback Jalen Ramsey and edge rusher Jaelen Phillips. Two of the biggest problems the Dolphins had were pressuring the quarterback and covering Stefon Diggs. Those two play, and maybe we’re having a different conversation. Either way, the Dolphins have enough talent on the field to compete so there’s no excuse.

The Dolphins lost at all three levels yesterday. The trenches were dominated by the Bills. The linebackers didn’t make any plays that stood out, and the secondary couldn’t cause an incompletion. What stands out about that specifically?

Guys like Christian Wilkins, and Zach Seiler aren’t getting pressure up the middle and aren’t stopping runs for short gains on first down. Wilkins is looking for big money, and so far it seems that he’s overplayed his hand and is not the same guy we’ve seen the last few years. Bradley Chubb is not making any plays on the edge, and Andrew Van Ginkel has thoroughly outplayed him.

Jerome Baker and David Long Jr. don’t have any chemistry as trusted Dolphins writer Omar Kelly pointed out in the above video, and they’re not making plays in the running or passing game. They’re non-factors.

The secondary hasn’t been good this year outside of the first half of the patriots game and the second half of the Broncos game. Inversely, the Patriots couldn’t be stopped in the second half of the game, and the Broncos were moving the ball in the air but got stifled by two fumbles. So when have they actually had a good showing? I don’t think they’ve had one yet.

Where’s the Silver Lining?

With all things considered, the Dolphins are 3-1 on the year and have only had one home game in the first four. The defense has been carried by the offense so far, but some factors have gone against the defense like a new scheme change, unwillingness to make adjustments by Vic Fangio that he’s been burned on, and injuries to key players.

The Dolphins will be heavily favored for the next two games, so it’s a good adjustment period for the scheme to settle in, the linebackers building chemistry, and Jaelen Phillips making his way back onto the field. Win these next two games, build that defensive confidence, and prepare for the next big test against the Philadelphia Eagles in 3 weeks. That’s the plan.

Let us know in the comments what you think is the biggest problem with the defense, or you can tweet me on X @saba12_