There was a play in the New England game last Sunday in which the Miami Dolphins defense had three players covering a receiver in the flat. And two Patriots receivers were uncovered on the second level. That, I can tell you with confidence, is the industry term for a bust.
And it seems the Dolphins defense had enough of those against the Patriots last week as to suggest they regressed in that department because there were more in that second game than there were in the opener at Seattle.
And this is leading to a little frustration on the part of some coaches because it looks on tape and on TV as if the Miami system is flawed. Be honest, you watched that game and said, "New England receivers are running wide open."
And so you blame the scheme.
But coach Adam Gase said it is not the scheme.
"...When the defense does get out there, we have to make sure that we’re all sound in our assignment," Gase said Wednesday. "It’s hard to evaluate and correct things, as far as schematics, if we’re not doing what we’re asked to do. There were a few times where we didn’t do exactly what we were coached to do, and now we have to go back and basically go through it and (say), ‘This is the details of what we’re doing on this defense.’ And then move forward from there.
"But it’s hard to say, ‘Hey, this scheme is no good.’ We have to execute it first and then if we have some holes there, we have to adjust."
Talk about growing pains. The Dolphins defense is currently in a situation where players have to do what they're coached to do, first. When that that happens, then coaches can decide if the scheme needs tweaking based on what happens on the field when the players correctly carry out their assignments.
So this might take a while to get just right.
And it's not just about the players getting their assignments right. Sometimes busts occur when techniques are not quite correct. So a player can be in the right place, but not play as he's been taught and ... boom ... LaGarrette Blount gets outside on sweep.
“What happens is, it’s the minute detail of, maybe you were supposed to go through a guy and you took an edge," Gase said. "(It’s) things like that to where you have to be so fine-detailed in what you’re doing, because – like you said – when you play this type of defense, it’s about penetration. It’s about attacking; it’s about speed. When you do take the wrong angle sometimes, it can be a chain effect to everybody else. I know (Defensive Coordinator) Vance (Joseph) is very hard as far as what everybody is supposed to do, the exact detail of it, and he goes through it so thoroughly in his meetings you would think, ‘Why are we screwing that up?’
"But that’s what happens; that’s what this game is. You’re trying to get perfection, but it’s an imperfect game. People are going to make mistakes, and it’s about how can you make less than the other team."
The Dolphins obviously are not making fewer mistakes than the other guys on defense. They are, after all, 0-2. And they did yield 31 points in New England.
But that's not the worst of the what the statistics are saying about this defense.
The Dolphins have the 26th-ranked total defense in the NFL right now. They finished 25th in total defense last season. The pass defense is so far a little better than last year, the run defense is so far a little worse. But that's not the point. Remember, we're dealing with a small sample size this year.
The point is what's happening right now. And right now, the Dolphins are giving up too many plays on third down, which is the reason they cannot get off the darn field.
The Dolphins are tied for 15th in the NFL in third down conversion percentage, giving up firsts 40 percent of the time. So that's not good but not terrible, either. But because the defense has been on the field for so many plays the first two games, that 40 percent conversion rate represents 12 first downs yielded on third down -- the money down -- and that's 20th in the NFL.
That simply is not sustainable for a winning team.
The only way to address that is to get players on their assignments and technique. And that, Gase believes, is currently a physical issue more than a mental one.
"I think a lot of the times, it’s more physical than mental," Gase said. "I want to say for the most part, mentally we’ve been pretty sound. It’s just a couple things in coverage every once in a while. Sometimes it’s formation predicated. When you get thrown something different – guys are in different spots – you start getting that conversation, that’s when you get in trouble. You’ve seen a couple times where guys are pointing at each other – who has who – and now all of a sudden they’re snapping the ball, and you’re slightly late. In this league if you’re late, you’re probably in trouble."
The Miami defense has to clean this stuff up. Otherwise it's in trouble.