Vance Joseph has never worked with Bill Belichick. Not as a player. Not as a coach.
But that doesn’t mean the Dolphins’ defensive coordinator can’t occasionally channel the best coach of the 21st century if the situation warrants.
And after last week’s drumming — as head coach Adam Gase called it — at the hands of the Cowboys, it might.
Joseph’s message to his defense this week after allowing 300 first-half yards and a perfect passer rating by backup quarterback Dak Prescott?
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“Do your job,” according to linebacker Jelani Jenkins.
And what is Joseph’s job?
Fix a defense with major issues before the season opens on Sept. 11.
Midway through the preseason, the Dolphins aren’t close to ready for real football.
They rank 19th in yards per game (330) in the preseason but 30th in run defense (164). Teams have averaged 5 yards per carry against Miami, also third-worst in football.
The task gets no easier Thursday night against Atlanta, which gained a league-high 857 yards in its first two games. The Falcons ran for 224 yards on 41 carries against the Browns a week ago. The game will be held in Orlando at the stadium formerly known as the Citrus Bowl, where the Dolphins have played twice before but not since 1995.
The stakes are high Thursday night. The third preseason game is always the most important, but for the Dolphins’ defense, it will be their last chance to develop any confidence and consistency ahead of the regular season.
Their tackling has been awful. Their red-zone defense hasn’t been much better.
And the supposed backbone of the unit — the defensive line — has been invisible.
The Dolphins have gotten a combined zero sacks and zero tackles for loss from Ndamukong Suh, Mario Williams, Jason Jones, Jordan Phillips and Andre Branch this preseason.
“We’ve got a lot more work to do,” Suh acknowledged this week. “I think at the end of the day, it’s about going out there and executing [and] putting yourself in the right position so you can make the right tackles. We weren’t always in the right position to make the proper tackles.”
The only defensive linemen blameless for this collective failure are Cameron Wake and Earl Mitchell, who haven’t played a down since 2015. Mitchell (calf) is likely out until Week 1, and Wake (Achilles) will be a game-time decision Thursday.
Phillips has started with Mitchell out but has done little to win the job permanently. He’s been on the field for 55 snaps this preseason, but the second-round pick from 2015 has yet to make an impact play.
“I’d love to make some more plays, but we’ll see,” said Phillips, who nonetheless believes his performance as been “good. I’ve had a good preseason so far. Played physical and that’s all they’re asking us to do.”
Added Gase: “Jordan has done a good job. The one thing that I noticed about him from the Dallas game was he was really moving well once the plays kind of start happening and it was going sideline to sideline, he was trying to get to the ball. … I think he’s trying to do exactly what the coaches want.”
Effort wasn’t an issue for the defense in general against the Cowboys. Alignment, assignment and technique were.
“I saw a lot of guys trying to make plays, and in doing so, probably not being the most disciplined,” Jenkins said. “I think a lot of our troubles just came from being undisciplined, guys just trying to make plays but not staying, doing their jobs. It was from the linebackers to the D-line to the secondary. All around. We’ve just got to do a better job just tightening up.”
Jenkins added that there’s no need — yet — to be concerned about this defense.
But that could change with another dud Thursday night.
And if some Dolphins defenders don’t starting doing their jobs, they might soon be looking for another one.