During the 2014 season, the Miami Dolphins defense had a lot of trouble closing out games in the second half of the year. While there is also blame to go around on the offensive side of the ball, it is widely known that the defense was the catalyst for the Dolphins’ failures the last few weeks, ultimately causing them a chance at the playoffs.
The main focus for the Dolphins this offseason has been learning how to finish games on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. For defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle, that means figuring out ways to put his guys in the best position to succeed.
“I think we played, in the big picture, a solid defense. We want to take it to a whole other level. There wasn't a whole lot that changed in terms of the way we did things. There's a lot of speculation and everybody can have an opinion about it. But yet, through 10 games, we had a lot of good things going on defensively. And there were a lot of people looking at us as one of the better defensive teams in the league. Our personnel was banged up a little here and there, but that wasn't the reason why everything fell short toward the end.”
So why exactly did the defense falter towards the end of the season? Coyle didn’t go into a whole lot of detail but he kind of hinted that players and coaches weren’t totally focused the last few weeks of 2014.
“Schematically, we didn't change at Week 11 and start becoming a difference defense. So we've looked at it, I think we can tighten things down. We plan to tighten things down. And I really want to do a good job of taking these players strengths and maximizing them. As opposed to them fitting the system that we've had over the years. I think we've done a lot of good things but not enough and this is a production league. We've got to win and we've got to play great on defense in order for that to happen."
Throughout the entire course of the offseason, head coach Joe Philbin has made it perfectly clear that the defense needs to improve and that they need to learn how to finish games on a consistent basis. Coyle said that he was frustrated many times last season when the defense played great the entire game except when it mattered the most.
"It gives me major headaches. Finishing is the name of the game. This league, the competition is so fierce, so close. The parity in the league is so close that the good teams find ways to win in those critical situations, and we need to do that. We're going to need to do it better than we've done over the three years, not just last year, but over the three-year period - to get from being an 8-8 team into the upper echelon of the league. It's making plays in those crunch times and Coach Philbin does a great job of creating simulating game situations that way, like when we we spent a whole day basically down in the red zone, an area that we weren't as good as we have been the previous two years on defense. So that was a good starting point for us.”
Ultimately, when Coyle stands up in front of his defense before the start of the 2015 regular season, he’s going to make sure the message is clear to his players.
“For us to be the kind of defense we have to be, we've got to not only win games, but be able to make the plays that impact the game right when the game is in the balance. That's something we've practiced, but we've got to get confident in doing. It comes through experience and hopefully this group will be able to do that."
If the defense can learn how to play on a consistent basis each week and finish games, the Dolphins will be a very dangerous team in 2015.
This story was written by Matthew Cannata. Follow him on Twitter: @PhinManiacs