Last season ended with the Miami Dolphins, well, out of the playoffs but also looking at their defense with disappointment. And folks were looking at defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle kind of sideways.
That's not me saying that.
Coach Joe Philbin considered Coyle's work and weighed replacing the defensive coordinator. Obviously, the head coach decided against a change. But adjustments were needed.
So Coyle changed his approach in some respects -- trying to make sure the defense was better at doing fewer things. The personnel changed as players such as Phillip Wheeler were jettisoned while Ndamukong Suh was signed. And Coyle himself got in the weight room and lost some weight and added some muscle, a symbol of a new and better Miami D.
But after an offseason of adjusting the scheme, improving the DC's looks, and adding talent, here we are looking at Coyle kind of sideways again. After one game.
And let us have perspective here. The Dolphins defense allowed only 10 points on Sunday against the Washington Redskins. Most any team will take that every week.
But it isn't about the 10 points. That's great.
Iti s about what this game suggests longterm.
It is that after months and months of preparation for this game, the defense -- with the exception of Reshad Jones and Brent Grimes and maybe Koa Misi -- played on its heels at least half the game.
It was that the Redskins, which are not expected to be any sort of offensive juggernaut with a backup QB starting and a challenged offensive line in front of him, took the game to Miami.
It was that the Redskins surprised Coyle's unit with something so fundamental as cut blocking and it took a long time to adjust to that.
It was that Suh, a great player in Detroit, looked unimpressive with this unit.It was that folks were seemingly surprised the Redskins double-teamed Suh as if that has never happened before.
What's all this about?
Let's take them one at a time:
About the adjustments. The old adage applies here: High school teams adjust to opponents next week. College teams adjust to opponents next half. NFL teams adjust to opponents next series.
The Redskins cut Miami interior linemen time and again and there was no significant adjustment to that until the second half. Too slow.
“I think it takes a little bit, we have to be ready to adjust quicker as players and as coaches we kind of want to be able to see those things fast as we can so we can get that information, but really often times they’re the best guys to talk to, to try and figure out what’s going wrong because everything is happening so fast," Coyle said. "Whether it’s a tightening of an alignment, changing a shade from one to the other or changing a front, that type of thing, we’ll have some options and some answers as we move forward."
That's great. Coyle wants to talk to his players to better understand what is happening on the field. But it seems to me, once that conversation is over, after the first series, the adjustment should be made. After all, cut-blocking is a fundamental tactic. It is not revolutionary. Adjust.
As to the approach of the defense: It was uninspired save for Jones and Grimes and maybe Misi.
Suh seemed more nervous than inspired. And as a result his only tackle of the game came five or six yards downfield. Remember this guy is a proven star. And yet his first outing in Miami suggested he didn't have his mind right to play.
That's not me saying that. Coyle admitted that.
“I think he can play better and I think he knows that, but again, I go back to what I said earlier, I think he was amped up and wanting to really do well and it took him a little bit to get settled down," Coyle said. "I think they really did – they tried to scheme us some. They didn’t run at Ndamukong very much, they ran away from him and when they did run away, they had people down at his legs and chopping him, cut blocking him and things like that. They did some things schematically that they wouldn’t put him in a position where he could use his strength and things like that, but as the game wore on I think he did better. He did better in the second half and certainly we still expect big, big things from him as we move forward."
I would hope. The Dolphins cannot change the guy's contract so they better change his output and approach from the first game. It should not surprise anyone that teams will run away from Suh. It should not surprise anyone that teams will game plan for him. It has been happening for half a decade.
So why the issue?
Another issue the Dolphins have not fully resolved on defense over the past couple of years is the linebacker unit. First Dannell Ellerbe was paid big money to play the middle but stunk so then he got moved. Then Koa Misi was going to be the answer at middle linebacker until he wasn't and got moved. Then Kelvin Sheppard was going to be the answer until he wasn't and had to share the job.
So after a full training camp, we don't know if Sheppard is the guy going forward or undrafted rookie Zach Vigil is the answer. Both shared the job almost equally on Sunday. Neither was stellar.
The season has begun. Pick a guy and roll.
The Dolphins are sharing the position for the purpose of, get this, building some depth.
“We felt that they both did a lot of good things in preseason and we let them know well in advance, prior to the game, early in the week that they both would be sharing time and that was the intention," Coyle said. "They both about split the number of reps when we were in base defense and they both did a good job. That’s positive, we think that we’re building some depth there, we’ve got a veteran player that played well and a young player that when he got in there, he hung tough and did a good job."
Building some depth.
When Jimmy Johnson saw Zach Thomas play one quarter in the preseason, he knew he would be his middle linebacker. He picked him. He let Jack Del Rio go. And he let Thomas grow into the job while, yes, suffering the struggles of growing pains as Thomas got better and better.
Maybe Zach Vigil isn't Zach Thomas. But if he's worthy of sharing the role...And he's young..And he's green...And the other guy is a journeyman...Go with the youngster and give him the work. Don't split the baby.
Finally, the biggest issue the Dolphins needed to address this offseason on defense was the run defense. The team was an unacceptable 24th against the run last year. Well, after one game this year it is 30th against the run. There were missed tackles. There were missed assignments. Coaches were surprised by the other team's approach. And Suh got practically erased.
That cannot be. It needs immediate attention.
“There are a lot of little things that we need to address here as we go forward after our first game," Coyle said. "I think part of it was the anxiousness of guys to go out there in the first game and really do well and sometimes you can overdo some things, but we’ve got to get off blocks and they did a good job on the backside of plays of low-blocking, the cut-blocking on the backside of plays and we didn’t play well in the first half.
"We have to do a better job of those types of things, there weren’t long breakout runs, but there were way too many five-yard runs, six-yard runs and we didn’t tackle as well. We had a couple of times where we made a hit at three yards and he would squirm and twist and now it’s second-and-4 instead of second-and-7, as a result we weren’t able to get them behind schedule much, particularly in the first half.
"That’s why are third down defense was as poor in the first half as it was. In the second half, we got them in longer yardage situations and they didn’t convert a third down in the entire second half. We’ve got to play better across the board, our players know that, we’re going to work hard on it here later this week hopefully like they say ‘you can make a lot of improvements between week one and week two.'
"We’ve got our share to make and we will."