Matt Burke may be finding a rhythm on defense

Dolphins cheerleaders perform in front of the Hard Rock Stadium crowd - Image by Brian Miller
Dolphins cheerleaders perform in front of the Hard Rock Stadium crowd - Image by Brian Miller /

The Miami Dolphins played pretty poorly all season long but now as the season winds down and it means the most, the defense under Matt Burke may be the difference in the season.

Matt Burke at times has been out of his league when it comes to calling a defense. The man who made chicken salad out of well you know, last year with the linebackers replaced the departed Vance Joseph at defensive coordinator for 2017 and it appeared he may not have been deserving of the job in 2018.

One of many problems Miami has had this season, the defense simply wasn’t living up to its billing or even that of an average defense. But let’s start in 2016 to understand what Burke was able to do.

The 2016 Dolphins defense was supposed to be good and they were not. They were adequate at best, horrible against the run, and the linebackers were an absolute mess. Heading into that season the linebacker unit, coached by Burke, a former coach in Cincinnati for the Bengals, was a huge question mark.

Burke figured a way to make it work. With Kiko Alonso on the inside, Burke used a platoon of linebackers when injuries hit. Without Koa Misi and later without Jelani Jenkins, Burke was given Donald Butler, Mike Hull, and Neville Hewitt to field the starting unit.

The linebackers never became a major strength of the team but as the year went on, Burke got the most out of his ragtag replacements and at times Hull and Hewitt were making big plays. In part the improvement of the unit helped get Miami into the post-season for the first time since 2008.

As a DC, Burke has struggled with in-game adjustments. The run defense had not improved early on and the corners were getting burned in the zone defense they were running. Burke made the decision to play more press coverage in the last two weeks and it has helped catapult Xavien Howard from a potential 2nd round bust to a two-week standout. Miami needs him to continue to develop and play at the level he is displaying.

For Burke it’s about getting to know the position of defensive coordinator. Gase has given him space and time and now maybe it is coming to fruition as the Dolphins are close to gaining real ground in the playoff chase.

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The Dolphins run defense is improving as well. That is important because it means the linebackers are playing better and reading the gaps properly. It means the defensive ends are holding the edge and the linebackers are supporting the outside.

Stopping the run is huge as it frees the safeties to do more. Against the pass Burke is bringing more pressure and over the last two weeks is doing well at disguising his blitzes and he is getting more interior pressure as well.

Some of this can attributed to the play of Jordan Phillips who has been playing better than at any time in his career this far with more consistency. Having Davon Godchaux rotating doesn’t hurt either.

None of this is to say that Matt Burke is doing a great job, he is doing a better job. He is improving as a coach and as he improves so does his defense. Burke needs to continue to find the strengths of his players and coach to those abilities. Press coverage is one of those strengths where Bobby McCain, Howard, and Cordrea Tankersley have played well.

The Dolphins are getting hot at the right time even if it is a game or two late, not to late, just late. If Burke can continue to get his defense ready and can continue to make the adjustments needed in-game and at the half, he could become a sought out coach in the next few years. That is a ways off and for now he needs to continue to grow into his position.

What looked like a one and done as a DC (or at the very least a conversation of a one and out) Burke appears to have the defense moving forward instead of back. That’s a good thing if it can of course continue.