After ranking 24th in the NFL against the run last season, the Dolphins saw major improvements through the first ten weeks (the team ranked 10th) in the front seven. But over the last three games, the team has allowed 661 rushing yards and posted a 1-2 record in that span.
“It’s disappointing,” defensive end Cameron Wake stated. “We’ve watched the film, we’ve watched areas where we’ve dropped the ball in that regard. I don’t think there’s a lot of fickle guys here in this locker room and then, if you look at our total resume, we’ve done it and we can do it. We’ve done it for a long time.”
Since the Dolphins week-10 matchup against Jacksonville, three opposing running backs have surpassed 100 yards and the team dipped to a 22nd ranking in the League allowing 123.5 yards per game.
“We’ve had a, I don’t want to say slump, but we’ve had a few miscues in the past couple of games,” Wake admitted. “I think we go back to the basics and do what we’ve been doing for the first 10 (games) or however many weeks it’s been. I think that’s who we are, not the last game or whatever.”
Going back to basics and reverting back to the team that begun the season may be tough for a team whose pair of linebackers Jelani Jenkins − the team’s leading tackler (97) − and Koa Misi doubtful against New England this week. Jason Trusnik and Chris McCain are predicted to replace the dynamic duo.
“When you look at the way things have happened, we’ve had a couple of big plays squirt through,” Wake continued. “As long as I’ve played football, I haven’t seen too many 40, 50 and 60 yard runs get broken off unless it was some self-inflicted wound, whether it was a guy not filling the right gap, missing a tackle, miscommunication, whatever it may be. There are some good running backs in the league, but I haven’t seen too many run over three defensive linemen, toss all the linebackers to the sideline and carry defensive backs into the end zone. It’s usually a missed tackle or a misfit, and we’ve had a couple of instances where that has happened.”
Jenkins, who hasn't practiced all week due to a foot injury he sustained in the third quarter of last week's 28-13 loss to Baltimore, currently holds the eighth-best ranking of all outside linebackers according to Pro Football Focus. All season, he’s only missed five tackles. But Jenkins won’t be available come Sunday and the Dolphins may give up another big run to New England’s backfield committee.
“You throw a 40-yard run into your rush defense, and it kind of throws all the numbers all out of whack,” Wake stated. “Eliminating the big play, staying consistent with doing what we’ve been doing the last 10 weeks or whatever it’s been, wait not 10 weeks, we’ve been doing it pretty well for a few years. Just getting back to that is a key.”
Showing an urgency to fix the defense, the coaching staff has kept up continuous communication with the players this week heading into a make-or-break matchup against New England.
“Since the day I’ve gotten here − I told the players this in the meeting − since the day we started our first practice out on the field, I’ve always believed [that] you have practice, you correct the mistakes that are made and you move forward every single day,” Philbin acknowledged. “When you play a game, it’s no different. We have practice, we have corrections and then you have a game, you have corrections. There are things, as a staff, that we do after every game that we write down – this was an adjustment maybe we should have made, this was a thing we weren’t expecting. In coaching, you have to do better and you have to learn from. We don’t brush things aside and that’s way we do business. So we certainly have to address it, yeah.”
Philbin and Co. have also been scouting the intricacies the Patriots offense will present.
“Nothing really exotic,” Philbin admitted. “I’m not saying there’s not a new little wrinkle here and there, but the basic principles, we’ve seen these plays before and they’ve just been executing better than we’ve been stopping them on some occasions.”
Against the Division-leading Patriots, Miami’s defense will need quite a few stops, something they haven’t been fortunate with recently.
This story was written by Steven Wilson. Follow him on Twitter: @stevenjwilson11