The Miami Dolphins offense ranked 17th in 2016 but much of that can be attributed to the offensive line inconsistencies. Defensively the Dolphins are far worse.
2016 saw the Dolphins finish with a 29th overall defensive ranking. The worst of all playoff teams. Only the Colts, Browns, and 49’ers finished worse. Against the pass Miami finished much better ranked 15th but there was no question their downfall came against the run where they ranked 30th.
Miami was so bad against the run they had several games where they gave up over 200 yards to opposing offenses. It’s an area that needs to be fixed but in reality the entire defense needs to be improved.
Miami lacks a powerful defense and has insisted on employing a finesse “bend but don’t break” style where the teams issues in the secondary are masked by their ability to keep pressure on the quarterback. That unfortunately no longer works and as the Dolphins edge rushers get older the defense is being exposed by its lack of physicality.
This is where the Dolphins need to change.
Miami isn’t a physical team. They don’t swarm to the ball carrier and they don’t take an aggressive approach towards offenses. MIami lacks both speed and power hitting and it’s time that changes. It won’t happen in one off-season because this goes beyond an issue of personnel. This is a mental make-up of the roster.
Established by previous coaching regimes, the Dolphins defense more often than not plays not to lose rather than playing to win. They tend to play off the ball too far and at times seem dependant on the play of one or two other players instead of working as a complete unit.
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With Adam Gase changing things up on the offense and bringing a more vertical game to the Dolphins offense it’s time that the team as a whole starts looking at the defense for real change. Miami needs physical linebackers, corner-backs, and defensive lineman. Earl Mitchell isn’t as physical up front as Miami needs him to be and Jordan Phillips isn’t consistent enough out of the snap.
Combine them together and it’s easy to understand why Miami relies more on game planning and in-game adjustments than forcing offenses to make their own changes. In 2016 Miami held opposing teams to under 20 points only four times all year. The Seahawks in week one, Steelers in week six, the Rams in week 11, and the Jets in week 15. They gave up 30 or more points four times. These are problems that need to be corrected.
It will fall on the shoulders of Matt Burke who will head the Dolphins defense after his promotion to DC after the departure of Vance Joseph.
"“We want to be an attacking defense, sort of what we started to try to build here this past season,” he said. “[We want to] be aggressive. I know it’s been said before, we want to tailor our schemes to fit our players.” Burke told the press at his introduction press conference."
The problem for Miami is that Burke doesn’t have all the pieces on defense to mold his attacking style around. Cameron Wake is entering what is the final year or two of his career, there is no defined DE behind him or across him. The defensive line lacks the needed players with that kind of aggressive play and Miami is overhauling the linebacker group, or should be.
Miami has for the most part, the pieces in place offensively. They still need to find some road graders at guard and have decisions to make with Branden Albert and Kenny Stills but the core of that unit is complete. There is no “core” player on defense to build around. And that needs to change as well.
Whether through free agency or the draft, Miami needs to get more physical and that will lead to a more aggressive style of play. When that happens, Miami’s hopes of annual visits to the post-season will be more likely.