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Dolphins defense focused on limiting big plays

One of the areas of concern the Dolphins identified in the offseason -- allowing explosive plays on defense -- was a topic of much conversation and study for the team during the bye week, as coaches tried to figure out why a defense that had limited those plays the season's first three weeks had imploded the past two games.

Against the Saints, the Dolphins yielded three explosive passes (defined by the team as covering 25 yards or more) and one explosive run (defined by the team as a run of 15 yards or more). Then against Baltimore, the defense allowed pass completions of 40, 41 and 43 yards to Joe Flacco and also was hit on a 28-yard run by Bernard Pierce.

The eight so-called explosive plays Miami allowed in the last two games outnumbered the six it had allowed in three previous games. And even the the six previous big plays was too much, if you ask coach Joe Philbin.

No wonder the coach said stopping explosive plays this week against Buffalo is a priority on defense.

"Number one is, we’ve given up too many explosive plays," Philbin said. "That’s something we need to address. We need to do a better job at. I would like to get people in a little longer-yard situations so we can kind of tee up on them, get our pass rush going, our blitz package or drop eight, a variety of all those things. But we have to do a better job of limiting explosive plays, no doubt. "

That is largely the assignment for defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle, who obviously studied the issue so closely he recalled the individual plays from memory on Monday.

"Last week we had four explosive plays," Coyle began. "The first plus 20 yard run we gave up in the entire season was last week. It was in a defense that we didn’t fit the run correctly. It really was a play to our advantage to where they ran the ball and how they did it, yet the ball popped out and they gained 28 yards on it. We need to get that corrected, and I think we have.

"There were three passes, three big passes in that game the other day of 40 yards plus. Two of those came after a completion of about six yards. On the first one we missed a tackle and the guy ran for another 30 some odd yards. There was another one on an over route. We were in great position. It looked like we were going to intercept the ball, and we didn’t make the play on the ball at that point."

I asked Coyle about his level of concern given his boss's worries.

"I’m as concerned or more concerned than coach (Philbin) is about the big plays, but you’ve got to analyze how they are happening," he said. "Sometimes if they are happening, which is balls being thrown vertically down the field, then you have some issues in terms of the matchups. We haven’t really had those major problems thus far this year. I think we are just going to have to make more plays on the ball, create more pressure on the quarterback and hopefully we’ll see those things diminish quite a bit."

The problem with that is Miami hasn't really been at full strength defensively in recent weeks and the big plays have been the fallout result.

With defensive end Cameron Wake mostly out with a knee injury the past two weeks, the Dolphins haven't gotten the kind of pass rush they usually get when he's healthy. Starting cornerback Dimitri Patterson has missed four games and that has had a ripple effect throughout the secondary.

As Patterson is out, that means Nolan Carroll moves up to start and Jimmy Wilson moves up to nickel duty. So the Dolphins are putting their fourth-best rather than third-best cornerback on the field in nickel situations. And with Carroll dinged up at times in recent weeks, rookie Jamar Taylor has been pressed into duty at times. That's the fifth-best cornerback on the field.

(The Dolphins, by the way, are hopeful both Wake and Patterson will be available against Buffalo but it's still too early in the week to know for sure. I'd say Wake is expected to play. Patterson remains a bit of a question mark.)

Safety Chris Clemons has also been limited in practice for several weeks with various injuries. He missed part of the work Monday and Wilson took snaps at safety. That means Taylor must have had to take some snaps at nickel.

It is obviously difficult to get everyone working as a cohesive group when the group's individuals parts are often changing. Despite this, Coyle says the goal set at the beginning of the season when everyone was mostly healthy remains the goal today:

Cut down on big plays.

"We need to do a better job," he said. "We set that as a primary goal going into the season."