The Dolphins presumed Ndamukong Suh would be the panacea for a run defense that relinquished 121 yards per game last season (24th in the league) and an abysmal 165 yards per game over the final six.
Suh’s presence assuredly will help, but the Dolphins’ run defense Sunday in Washington wasn’t remotely better than a year ago.
The Dolphins were steamrolled for 161 yards on the ground, more than twice as many as the 69 yards rushing per game the Suh-led Detroit Lions allowed last season, a figure that ranked first in the league.
Of the 28 NFL teams that began their seasons before Monday night, only Green Bay permitted more yards on the ground than Miami in Week 1.
“We’ve got to play better across the board. Our players know that,” defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said Monday, a day after his group yielded 4.4 yards per carry. “There were a lot of little things we need to address. Part of it was the anxiousness to go out there the first game. We’ve got to get off blocks. There were way too many 5-yard runs, 6-yard runs and we didn’t tackle as well.”
On multiple occasions, the Dolphins were victimized by cut blocks, in which Redskins offensive linemen hit a players’ knees.
Linebacker Jelani Jenkins said the cut-blocking was a “big” factor in the game and he would probably try that approach against Miami if he were an opposing offensive coordinator.
“They were able to block us one for one and that’s where they got a lot of success,” Jenkins said. “They didn’t have to double-team because they were able to cut into the next level fast. It was all clean.”
But defensive tackle C.J. Mosley said: “I don’t even know if those plays were legal. I haven’t seen that block before.”
The Redskins had 15 rushing attempts that gained 5 yards or more, nine coming in the first half. The Dolphins’ defense allowed 67 yards rushing after halftime but Washington didn’t score or successfully convert a third-down play in the second half.
A review of the tape showed that nine of those 15 rushes of 5 or more yards went to the opposite side of Suh, who was double-teamed at times.
Another happened with Suh out of the game and another was a sweep to Suh’s side, but far enough away from Suh that he wouldn’t have been expected to make the tackle.
That means four of 15 runs that gained 5 or more yards were run in the general area of Suh. On one of them, a 6-yard gain by Alfred Morris, Suh was tossed to the ground, and safety Reshad Jones missed a tackle.
On two other 6-yard runs by Morris, Suh was simply sealed off, rendered a non-factor on those plays. Middle linebacker Kelvin Sheppard was in position to make the tackle but couldn’t on one of those two plays.
And on the fourth, a third-and-long, Matt Jones ripped off 8 yards, with Suh blocked effectively and Cameron Wake missing a tackle.
How did Suh play overall?
“He can play better,” Coyle said. “He knows that. He was amped up, wanting to really do well. It took him a little to get settled down. They didn’t run at Ndamukong. They ran away and when they did they had people down on his legs, cutting and chopping him. As the game wore on, he did better.”
What happened on the nine runs of 5 or more yards that went to the opposite direction of Suh?
Earl Mitchell couldn’t dislodge from blocks on five of those plays, was tossed to the ground on another and simply ran by the play on another.
Olivier Vernon also was sealed off on four of those plays, and Terrence Fede couldn’t get free from a block on two others.
Zach Vigil took a poor angle on one of those plays, an 11-yard run. Jordan Phillips couldn’t dislodge quickly enough on another of those plays, a 10-yard run by Morris.
Coach Joe Philbin attributed the shoddy run defense to not adequately “getting off blocks and tackling” but praised Jones, Koa Misi and Jenkins for making some physical tackles.
“Not to say that every snap of run defense wasn’t good enough; that certainly wasn’t the case,” Philbin said. But … “we have a high standard of where we want to be with our run defense and it wasn’t quite there.”