It’s absolutely no secret that the Miami Dolphin’s strong point on defense last season was their ability to stuff the run. Opposing offenses averaged a mere 95.6 yards a game, which was good enough for third overall in the NFL. Not only did Miami’s run defense hold opposing offenses to 95.6 yards a game on the ground, Miami’s defense also held opposing rushing attacks to an astounding 3.7 yard per carry average on the season (3rd in the NFL). Bottom line: Miami’s run defense is among the best.
What can all of these numbers be attributed to? Or, more or less, who can they be attributed to? We all know that there really is no “I” in team (Heck there’s no “I” in defense for that matter), but Miami’s linebackers are a big reason why the ‘phins defense was so stout against the run. After showing up to camp overweight, middle linebacker – Karlos Dansby- heightened his play to where he could have been mentioned with some of the top linebackers in the NFL. Dansby was not the only linebacker who picked up his game. With the release of garbage mouth Channing Crowder, Miami brought in former San Diego Charger (and Dallas Cowboy), Kevin Burnett to take Crowder’s place. He did not disappoint. After posting a stat line of 106 total tackles (84 solo, 22 assists), 2.5 sacks, and one interception returned for a touchdown; Burnett arguably had a better season than his counter part in the middle of Mike Nolan’s 3-4 defense. Cameron Wake, if we look at just stats, had a “down” year. Wake’s sack total dipped down to 8.5 and Miami’s quarterback killer had a big old doughnut in the forced fumble category. BUT, Wake was very stout against the run; posting a stat line of 42 total tackles (37 solo, only 5 assists). Not to mention “Cam” Wake was graded as the best outside linebacker on Pro Football Talk’s official website, yes above Defensive Player of the Year T-sizzle from the Baltimore Ravens. Not only did the Dolphins own “big three” have a spectacular season together, Marvin Mitchell and Miami GREAT - Jason Taylor – both proved to be excellent role players.
So, Mike Nolan and his complicated 3-4 hybrid defense are gone. In comes Kevin Coyle and a new 4-3 hybrid defense. What does this mean? Miami will now have 4 defensive linemen on the field in the base set, along with 3 linebackers and 4 defensive backs. So what does the move mean? Cameron Wake will now be asked to play a position where he’s more comfortable, with his hand in the dirt. Karlos Dansby seems to be manning the Mike spot, although I feel like Kevin Burnett should be in the Mike spot (Oh well). Regardless, both seem to be versatile enough to play any of the three linebacker spots in Coyle’s new scheme. Miami’s bust of a linebacker, Koa Misi, will be asked to play linebacker this season at the Will position, along with Burnett playing the Sam position. Burnett will be asked to do what his “specialty” is, covering tight ends. Although Burnett looked pitiful during the first few weeks of the 2011 season, Burnett picked up his play and locked down tight ends for much of the remainder of the season. Koa Misi is an interesting player here, more like a wild card in the new defense Coyle is installing. Misi will be asked to be more of a rushing linebacker who will blast anything coming off the edge. Miami’s former Utah Ute, has the athletic ability to get things done from the Will spot, but if things don’t work out, Miami brought in someone who can get things done from that spot, Gary Guyton. Guyton, a former New England Patriot, is a speedy and very rangy linebacker. Although Guyton doesn’t make flashy all-pro type plays, he is a solid fill-in linebacker if the Misi experiment fails — or if Dansby or Burnett go down with an injury.
Although we cannot attribute Miami’s ability to stuff the run entirely to the linebackers (Miami has a very stout defensive line), we can say with confidence that the corp of linebackers played a huge role. In the move to a 4-3 defense, Miami’s linebackers can now roam freely looking to smash running backs and anything that comes over the middle. Expect Miami’s rush defense to be in the top five again this season ‘phins fans!
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