Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins’ front seven was promising early on this season. What happened?

Carolina Panthers' Cameron Artis-Payne (34) finds some open running room against the Miami Dolphins' defense during the second half of the Monday night game on Nov. 13, 2017.
Carolina Panthers' Cameron Artis-Payne (34) finds some open running room against the Miami Dolphins' defense during the second half of the Monday night game on Nov. 13, 2017. AP

After dominating second-half efforts against Tennessee and Atlanta last month, there were so many reasons to feel hopeful about this Dolphins defensive front seven.

Kiko Alonso and Lawrence Timmons were giving the Dolphins some of their best linebacker play in years. The defensive line was stuffing opponents’ running games and pressuring the quarterback. Rookie first-round pick Charles Harris was flashing considerable promise.

Everything seemingly has changed since:

▪  The Dolphins have relinquished 28, 40, 27 and 45 points the past four weeks, though two touchdowns were scored on returns of Matt Moore’s interceptions.

▪  They have one sack total in the past three weeks.

▪  They have allowed bloated passer ratings to the Jets’ Josh McCown (108.4), Baltimore’s Joe Flacco (107.9), Oakland’s Derek Carr (99.3) and Carolina’s Cam Newton (120.4).

▪  They have been gashed in the running game, allowing 92 rushing yards to the Jets (4.2 per carry), 174 to Baltimore (4.3), 84 to Oakland (3.1) and 294 to Carolina (8.2), a defensive effort that was so abysmal that coordinator Matt Burke made his unit watch the entire second half on tape in a meeting this week, hoping it leads to better communication and fewer errors.

Unlike his predecessor Vance Joseph — who never hesitated to call out players in news conferences — Burke made clear he doesn’t “want to blame specific players” publicly.

But Burke said “there is no positive out of [the Carolina game]. No one played well. Let’s not hide that.”

The problems stopping the run have been most disconcerting. The Dolphins are now allowing 4.4 yards per carry, which ranks 26th in the league.

The Dolphins were gashed against Carolina because of “missed assignments are not tackling; as simple as that,” Ndamukong Suh said.

Pro Football Focus ranks Cameron Wake 91st among 107 edge rushers against the run. The linebackers have missed a bunch of tackles in the past month.

The defensive tackle play opposite Suh has been inconsistent. And defensive end Andre Branch’s 15 tackles are well behind last year’s 49.

“There are a lot of issues that have to be corrected,” Burke said. “I felt one of our issues the last couple weeks was a little disconnect between the different levels of the defense. I felt it was important to talk it out. I didn’t feel the communication was there. I put all the stats on the board [in that meeting this week]. None of it was pretty. I said we own them. I felt we weren’t playing together as a unit. I felt like everyone needed to sit in the room together and understand how we’re all fitting together or how we’re all not fitting together.”

The pass rush has been disappointing, considering the Dolphins have invested sizable dollars in their defensive line. Miami has just 16 sacks, which ranks 26th in the league.

Wake hasn’t had a sack in three weeks, and Branch in more than a month. Harris has only one all season, though coach Adam Gase insisted Thursday “he’s doing a lot of good things.”

Burke and Gase says the low sack totals are largely a byproduct of Miami trailing so often. The Dolphins have trailed more than 90 percent of the time; only the Browns have led less.

“It’s the same story,” Burke said. “Situationally we haven’t had a chance to truly cut it loose. Games haven’t dictated allowing us to cut it free.”

Gase said the offense’s inability to get many leads has clearly hurt the team’s pass rush.

“That’s what we built it for — we haven’t come through on offense in two years,” Gase said. “That’s the part that’s been more disappointing for myself. We haven’t put those guys in a position we wanted to.”

Beyond problems stopping the run, the linebackers also have struggled in pass coverage the past three weeks against tight ends and running backs.

“Defense is really about mindset, playing with emotion, fast and physical,” Gase said. “Our guys need to get back to having fun, playing with emotion. I expect that group to come out ready to perform and play well.”

Related stories from Miami Herald