Miami Dolphins “Keys” to victory: on defense


When the Miami Dolphins hit the field on Sunday, we will get our first full game look at the Dolphins front defensive line. The Dolphins are hoping that the pre-season hype surrounding their defensive front will become exactly that, formidable. The Dolphins will play the Washington Redskins this week and Miami has a good chance of opening up the season with a victory. Defense will play a big part of that game.

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Ndamukong Suh has shown flashes of what he can do and we got the best view of that in week three of pre-season when the Dolphins defensive line dominated the Atlanta Falcons offensive line. Suh has a motor that doesn’t start but the question of whether he can curtail his temper will be something that everyone will watch throughout the season.

Linebackers are going to be a concern until someone can step and show they deserve the spot they are given and at cornerback questions linger opposite Brent Grimes and questions continue to unfold at safety where Walt Aikens and Michael Thomas are taking over for the injured Louis Delmas.

Against the pass

Miami has a very potent defensive pass rush and Kirk Cousins can be easily rattled when under pressure. The Dolphins need to collapse the edges and force Cousins to look for outlet receivers taking Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson out of play. This will help the cornerback and safety problems the Dolphins have. With Suh and Wake on one side and Earl Mitchell and Olivier Vernon on the other, the Dolphins should find getting pressure on Cousins easy.

The Redskins offensive line is good but not good enough to handle what Miami is capable of throwing at them. If the Dolphins, and they should, can force Cousins into dump off throws, the Dolphins will be able to use their linebackers to cover the ends and running backs on the screen pass. Alfred Morris is a good running back but he is not a great receiving threat and his blocking needs a lot of improvement as well.

Miami needs to force the Redskins to keep a tight end and running back at home to help stave off the Dolphins pass rush. Doing so will take one or even two offensive threats out of the Redskins attack leaving the corners and safeties covering two or maybe three receiving threats. Look for Washington to try and slow down the Dolphins pass rush with quick dump passes and slant routes from the slot or tight-end. The problem is that Cousins doesn’t have a quick release and his footwork in the pocket can get “happy” when his first two options are taking away.

The Dolphins can not afford to let the Washington pass attack find time. Cousins works best when he has time and it allows his receivers to work into the coverage zones that are less covered.

Against the run

The Dolphins were a poor team against the run last season and with the exception of Suh, have not added anyone to the front seven that will change that. Suh is a big factor and it can’t be discounted. Suh’s pressure and two lineman blocking frees up the linebackers to make plays at the line of scrimmage. The linebackers for now are the liability on the defense.

Kelvin Sheppard will start at middle linebacker and Koa Misi will jump back outside. Jelani Jenkins has a tight grip on the other side. Misi is playing outside because Chris McCain was not all that impressive in camp. He showed that he has a lot of potential but it’s still unrealized. The Dolphins have to be able to take the quick pass away from the Redskins and force them to run the ball.

Alfred Morris has rushed for over 1,000 yards in each of his three NFL seasons. He is powerful up the middle and quick to the outside. The Dolphins linebackers need to read these directions and meet Morris head on while wrapping and driving through the tackle. Given Morris’ quick step to the outside when the hole up the middle is closed will pressure the outside backers to not over commit to the inside rushing attack.

The linebackers should get enough help from the defensive ends on rushing downs but it’s the responsibility of the linebacker to maintain the edge and the Redskins will likely challenge it. I suspect the Redskins will try and hit quick tight end passes towards the edge and hope they can break tackles to pick up yards.

Miami cornerbacks can expect to be tested this week if Cousins has a little bit of time. DeSean Jackson will likely line up against Brice McCain and Jamar Taylor. It’s unclear yet who will play the edge and who will play in the slot/seam. McCain is better suited for the latter but Taylor’s injury may preclude him from making an impact this week.

What to watch

Once you pull your eyes away from Ndamukong Suh, linebacker Kelvin Sheppard will be one player to keep an eye on. He will have tight-end responsibility over the middle and he hasn’t shown that he can cover consistently through training camp. He will also be tasked with filling the holes created on the line in the running game. The Dolphins may try and use him on delayed blitzes as well but I believe we will see more of that from safety Reshad Jones.

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