What was once the Dolphins defense's greatest strength, has as of late become one of its greatest weaknesses with for reasons unknown to all. Up until about three weeks, teams feared the might of the Dolphins pass-rush and ability to stop the run with their front seven. Now though, teams have apparently figured out a way to gouge holes through the defense and make really good players look like fresh out of college rookies.
What exactly has happened to the Dolphins defensive line? Is it fatigue from carrying the weight of the team on its shoulders? Is it the pressure of being in a playoff hunt that has now become even harder to overcome? Regardless of what the cause is, it's the reality the defense is facing now. For the third straight week, the Dolphins defensive line failed to generate any form of pressure on the opposing quarterback, and struggled to stop the run which put the entire defense on its heels.
"Well hand wash hand, we stop the run we force them to be one dimensional and then you have a lot of guys getting after them. If they are doing both then, I mean it's hard to win that way." said defensive end Cameron Wake. "You have to go out there and like I said, we've got guys who have done it for years, or for 10 weeks, whatever it is and to come out and even do it in the first half and come back in the second half when we needed to close the game out, we had opportunities on all fronts to pretty much put this game in our hands, we didn't get the job done."
Defensive tackle Earl Mitchell came out and said something that may have suggested something very interesting. Could it be that since the Dolphins have struggled to stop the run as of late, it's made them weaker as a unit because they're trying to overcompensate?
“I mean, he was getting rid of the ball quick, but when you’re playing teams that play under center like this, the ball is definitely going to come out quickly on you," he said. "so it’s definitely hard to get pressure up the middle or pressure in general when they don’t have a five step drop back, it’s a lot more three step, a lot more quick pass game and we weren’t anticipating them throwing the ball more.”
If that is the case, then that might be a possible explanation as to why Cameron Wake hasn't been getting nearly as many snaps as usual. He isn't injured according to the team, and so the only other logical conclusion is that the Dolphins are more focused on stopping the run than rushing the passer, which is Wake's one weakness. That also might be what's behind the sudden increase of snaps for linebacker Philip Wheeler.
“We played a lot more base defense, as I’ve said to you guys in the past, snap counts are somewhat predicated on packages in the game. Baltimore ran a lot more two-back looks, a lot more two-tight end looks. Consequently, you’re not going to be in as much nickel defense." said defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle. "Also, as the game went on, Philip played some when we had some guys get nicked up during the course of the game and moving to different spots. Cam, we try to keep him fresh, try to keep him ready for critical downs. He’s usually in there when we feel it’s going to be best for us, give us an advantage in terms of rushing the quarterback and that type of thing. We go into each game trying to determine how much we want to use him. Then sometimes, the game as it’s flowing, dictates how we’re going to handle it.”
Well it's become quite clear at this point that the Dolphins defensive line hasn't been handling its business for the past few weeks now, no matter how they seem to approach it. We can't know for sure exactly what it is that's happened to this normally solid Dolphins defense, it might be the numerous injuries, fatigue from the wear and tear of the regular season, or players/coaches just not executing. Regardless of what has happened to cause it, it has happened, and it's left the defense reeling.
This story was written by Luis Sung. Follow him on Twitter: @FLSportDebater