Last week, Vance Joseph blamed himself.
This week? Not so much.
After another Dolphins no-show — this time surrendering 38 points and 496 yards to the Ravens — it’s officially time to worry about a defense that now ranks 25th out of 32 teams.
But a week after saying his game plan was to blame for the struggles against the 49ers, the Dolphins’ first-year defensive coordinator took aim at his players on Thursday.
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“At the end of the day, Joe [Flacco] got hot, and we couldn’t stop it,” Joseph said. “We couldn’t cover them. We couldn’t chase them. We played zone; it was too soft. We played man; we couldn’t chase them. It wasn’t good.”
Still, Joseph isn’t ready to make lineup changes, which he has done in the past. Mario Williams and Byron Maxwell have both been benched this season, yet Joseph said he’s not prepared to go that route ahead of Sunday’s critical game against the Cardinals.
“It wasn’t effort,” Joseph said. “It wasn’t a lack of not wanting to do it right. We just didn’t play well, and they played better. We didn’t cover well. They had a good plan where our front couldn’t rush. The bottom line [is] the last two weeks my issues with our guys is the details of doing their jobs better.”
They better improve quickly. The Cardinals might be the best sub-.500 team in recent memory. Arizona ranks in the top 10 in both offense and defense. They average 369.1 yards of offense per game, and running back David Johnson has been the second coming of Roger Craig. Johnson has had at least 100 yards from scrimmage in the first 12 games of the season and can run routes like a wide receiver.
“Without giving the game plan away, obviously, that’s a problem,” Joseph said. “You put DBs on him. You put big ’backers on him with leverage, so you can take him away. Obviously, that’s a challenge. He’s a receiver in their empty package, even from the backfield. Obviously, in the run game, he’s a downhill, big runner who can make you miss. He has got speed for the big runs. It’s going to be a challenge.”
It’s certainly a bad matchup for Dolphins linebackers, who couldn’t cover the middle even with Kiko Alonso on the field. And they might not even have that Sunday. Alonso doesn’t know if he’ll play against the Cardinals after re-aggravating his hamstring and breaking his thumb against the Ravens.
The Dolphins are also awaiting clarity on cornerback Xavien Howard, who hasn’t played since Week 4 after sustaining his second meniscus injury in his young career. Howard has practiced the past three weeks, but the Dolphins are deferring to him about the timetable for his return. Howard was non-committal Thursday about playing this week; he first wants to see how his knee feels after Friday’s practice.
Then there’s defensive end Williams, who sat out practice Thursday with a pesky ankle issue.
So yes, the Dolphins are a banged-up team. But that wasn’t their biggest issue last week.
Flacco ripped the Dolphins apart for four touchdowns by doing the unexpected: quick, short passes. The Ravens had been one of the most vertical-centric teams in football entering Week 13, and they caught the Dolphins off guard.
They also surprised Joseph by going for it on fourth-and-1 on their own 46 up 7-0 in the first quarter. Baltimore converted, and later scored a touchdown.
But that didn’t anger Joseph as much as the play that preceded it. The Ravens had third-and-15 on their own 32 and got 14 of it back when Flacco found a wide-open Dennis Pitta in the middle of the field.
“That was a huge play,” Joseph said. “That was a mental error that we made. My issue with our guys is details. Again, you’re in Week 13 and the further you go in the season — and the better teams you play — everyone is watching the tape. So, our game plans of what we’re doing, it’s critical that we get them right. The last two weeks we haven’t gotten them right.”
He added: “Let’s get back to doing it right, and then we can see how we fare. But the last two weeks, it has been too much error.”
▪ Offensive tackle Branden Albert (wrist) practiced fully Thursday after being limited in his participation the day before. Receiver Jarvis Landry was also back on the field after being away Wednesday to deal with a personal issue.
Miami Herald sportswriter Barry Jackson contributed to his report.