Miami Dolphins

Did hard-hitting Dolphins defensive linemen cross the line Sunday? Matt Burke responds

Dolphins coordinator Matt Burke pushed back against accusations that his defensive linemen crossed the line against the Titans.
Dolphins coordinator Matt Burke pushed back against accusations that his defensive linemen crossed the line against the Titans. dsantiago@miamiherald.com

Titans players and even their head coach were displeased by injury-causing hits on Taylor Lewan and Marcus Mariota Sunday by Dolphins defensive linemen.

Tennessee coach Mike Vrabel even went so far as accusing Andre Branch of targeting Lewan with a blindside block on Reshad Jones’ interception return. Lewan sustained a concussion on the play and did not return to the game.

“This game, it’s a vicious game,” Vrabel said Monday. “It’s played by different types of people. They’re not normal people. They’re professional football players. Do I think it was dirty? Probably not. Do I think it was targeted at Taylor? I would say absolutely.”

There was also some grumbling about William Hayes’ hit on Mariota on a run-pass option that injured Mariota’s throwing elbow.

On Thursday, Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke said he did not take that criticism personally — responded to both complaints.

“We try to coach within the rules,” Burke said. “We have constant dialogue with the NFL league office and what we’re trying to tell [our players]. I have no problem with anyone who wants to question my coaching style and my coaching abilities or techniques. I’m an open book, and I’ll tell you exactly what we’re telling those guys.

“I don’t see that at all,” he continued. “Again, it’s a hard game to play; it’s a hard game to officiate. A lot of stuff is happening fast. The hits that have been questioned, neither one of them were flagged. I can just go off that and if they change that and want to come back to us and tell us this is not something that we’re looking for, then we’ll adjust what we’re telling our guys to do.”

When asked specifically about the Hayes hit on Mariota — who did not have the football when Hayes blasted him — Burke responded:

“My understanding is that if the quarterback carries out a fake or continues the action of running, then he’s eligible to be contacted. He’s still in a running mode. If he shows his hands or steps back away from things, then he’s not eligible to be contacted. That’s what we teach our guys. If you’re defending RPO-type games, there’s always somebody that’s on the dive and on the quarterback or whatever the other elements of the option are there. Again, that’s my understanding. Until someone tells me otherwise, that’s how we’re going to keep coaching our guys.”

Titans beat writer Paul Kuharsky reported Wednesday that the NFL later told Vrabel that Hayes’ hit should have been a penalty.

Miami Dolphins head coach, Adam Gase, speaks during the post-practice press conference to members of the media at Doctor's Hospital Training Facility at Nova Southeastern University in Davie, Florida on Wednesday, September 12, 2018.

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