« Michigan offer to Harbaugh changes things ... for better | Main | Dolphins' Ross cannot have it both ways »

Cameron Wake, Olivier Vernon in a sack drought

One of the reasons the Miami Dolphins beat and beat up the New England Patriots in the regular season opener in September is they got to Tom Brady. They sacked him four times, with Olivier Vernon and Cameron Wake wearing out New England offensive tackles Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer.

One of the reasons the Dolphins got beat and, indeed, dismantled by the Patriots four days ago is that Brady walked away without being sacked. At all. Nothing. There was intermittent pressure but this match advantage went to the New England offensive tackles over the Miami defensive ends.

“This particular game I don’t think there was a lack of pass rush when you look," Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said while obviously discarding the statistics. "Brady got hit legitimately at least six times where he was down. There were a number of other times where he was harassed and moving around in the pocket.

"As you probably know, he’s only been sacked 18 times on the season. He doesn’t get sacked very much. He gets rid of the ball very quickly. When he’s in the shotgun, he catches it and throws it. It’s difficult to sack him. We’ve been the only team to get four sacks in the game against him and that was in the opener. He is hard to get to. I think we hit him, but obviously we didn’t get to him enough. We have to do a better job."

Actually, Brady has been sacked 16 times. So, yes, he is hard to get to. But, you see, the Dolphins did that previously. Wake had two sacks in that opener while Vernon had one. 

And while there was no obvious change in blocking scheme or strategy on the part of the Patriots this time, Miami's two top rushers simply did not get there. They lost the physical match this time as surely as they won it in the opener.

And that wouldn't be important except that both Wake and Vernon have lately not been as explosive a pass-rush duo as they had been earlier in the season.

Wake, for example, started the season with 8.5 sacks the first nine games. That is not just elite level production but almost impossible to maintain career year production. I get that. There was bound to be a slowdown.

But Wake's slowdown has him at a crawl now. He has one sack in the past five games. He had none in the big playoff-determining games against the Ravens and Patriots the past few weeks. Indeed, Wake had only one tackle the past two weeks.

Vernon similarly got off to a good start, although not as fast as Wake. He collected 5.5 sacks his first 10 games. That's solid. It's a half-a-sack-a-game pace. But Vernon has one sack in the past four games. In other words his sack production has declined by 50 percent the past month.

In the all-important de facto playoff games against Baltimore and New England the past two weeks, Vernon was more productive than Wake. He had a sack against the Ravens and had four total tackles in the two games combined.

The point is that at a time the Dolphins have needed their best players to step up, Wake and Vernon have not been able to make that move. They're in something of a winter drought at the same time. 

Yes, there are two games remaining. But those are looking more like statistic building opportunities than important playoff determining games.