Miami Dolphins

There’s no explaining away this huge Miami Dolphins disappointment on defense

Miami Dolphins defensive end Charles Harris (90) sacks Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Cody Kessler (6) in the first quarte as the Miami Dolphins host the Jacksonville Jaguars at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens on Sunday, December 23, 2018.
Miami Dolphins defensive end Charles Harris (90) sacks Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Cody Kessler (6) in the first quarte as the Miami Dolphins host the Jacksonville Jaguars at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens on Sunday, December 23, 2018. adiaz@miamiherald.com

Of all the damning stats compiled by Matt Burke’s defense in 2018, this might be the most egregious:

The Dolphins collectively have 30 sacks, fourth-fewest in football.

Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald has 19 ½ sacks himself.

Miami’s inability to consistently generate pass rush is among the biggest disappointments of the year.

Cameron Wake and Robert Quinn, with multiple Pro Bowl appearances each, are both below their career averages.

Andre Branch, the Dolphins’ $8 million man? One and one half sacks.

And Charles Harris – the team’s 2017 first-round pick – last week picked up just the third sack of his career.

There’s no good spin for these numbers, even if the Dolphins have tried with the “sacks don’t matter; pressures do” argument they have made.

“Look, we’ve been disruptive,” Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke said Thursday. “We’ve tried to cause turnovers and those sorts of things. We’re not chasing sacks. We’re trying to be disruptive.”

There’s some truth to this line of thinking, of course. The Dolphins cause a ton of turnovers, and rushed throws have contributed to that.

What Burke said next, however, feels like a bit of a stretch:

“Disruption for us sometimes is them having to keep extra guys in to block on offense and not getting extra guys out in the routes because they’re worried about our ends and those sorts of things.”

The truth: Tens of millions of dollars have been poured into the defensive line. Forcing teams to max protect, yet still complete passes downfield, is not good return on that investment. Sacks are an important stat because they are play-killers.

Sometimes they result in a turnover.

But what they always prevent is Andrew Luck breaking contain on third down, throwing downfield for a big play and winning the game. That’s what happened in Indianapolis when the Dolphins were simply disruptive.

Here’s the rest of Burke’s answer on Miami’s sack lack:

“We’re not trying to chase stats and worry about where our rankings are or what the defense is in this. It’s what an offense is trying to do to us and what are we trying to do to take away what they do best and how that goes. I feel like our defensive ends – Cam and Robert and Branch and all of those guys – are threats to an offense. If you talk to a lot of guys we play after games, that’s all they talk about. ‘90’ (Harris), ‘91’ (Wake), ’94’ (Quinn), those guys, they’re all worried about them. Obviously offenses are accounting for our rush and that affects how they play. I think that just shows up for us in other areas. Sacks are an easy number. I’m not saying that we don’t want sacks. I probably said that last year too. I’ll take the sacks. But it’s not something that we’re like chasing or worrying about how they impact the game.”

Adam Beasley has covered the Dolphins for the Miami Herald since 2012, and has worked for the newspaper since 2006. He is a graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Communications and has written about sports professionally since 1996.
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