Remember your touch-football days, when you had to count “one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi, three …” before rushing the quarterback?
Well, that was Dolphins practice last week – except in the inverse.
To prepare for Peyton Manning, they had to beat the buzzer.
“We had a timer out in practice, in terms of his quick release,” defensive tackle Jared Odrick explained. “We heard a buzzer each time, on his average release. You understood that the ball was going to come out early. And you have to either get there early or get your hands up.”
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Odrick added: “That’s what we tried doing and it wasn’t good enough.”
That’s putting it mildly. The Dolphins’ pass rush – the strength of the team – was a liability Sunday in Denver.
They sacked Manning just once (when Jelani Jenkins flashed free on a blitz), and both pressured and hit him one time.
That means, of Manning’s 36 drop-backs, the Dolphins’ pass rush affected him on just three occasions.
It wasn’t just a bad day at the office for Cameron Wake and company. It was empirically the least effective Dolphins pass rush in at least the past eight seasons, and perhaps one of the worst showings by the team’s defensive front ever.
So how exactly did it happen?
Coach Joe Philbin this week tried to explain:
“I think some of it was the down and distance, if you know what I mean. It seemed like it was a bunch of third-and-short. It seemed like it was a bunch of second-and-fours, things like that. Early in the game, I don’t think, until the two-minute drive, they really threw the ball down the field whatsoever, so the ball was out fast. All the things you knew going in were going to happen. I think one of the big things was we just struggled to get it to an advantage situation for us where we could kind of tee up and rush the quarterback.”
The Dolphins’ inability to harass Manning probably cost them the game. Miami’s offense scored 36 points – more than enough to beat any team, if the defense does its part.
And as is often the case, as the Dolphins’ pass rush goes, so does the team’s chances. If you combine all the ways in which the quarterback is affected (sacks, hits and hurries), the Dolphins have averaged 22 such plays in their six wins, and just 15 in their five losses.
“[Pressure] is very important,” said defensive end Olivier Vernon, whose 5.5 sacks rank second on the team. “Force the quarterback to make bad decisions. We’re helping our secondary out. … The faster we get back there, the better position they’ll be back there to make plays.”
Without question, Sunday was an anomaly. On the year, the Dolphins’ front seven has played well. The team is on pace for 45 sacks, which would be its most since 2006.
And the even better news: The Dolphins next play the Jets – who couldn’t be more different than the Broncos.
The Bills sacked Jets quarterbacks seven times in Week 12. New York has allowed 3.3 sacks per game – second-most in football.
And Wake is about due for a signature game. He hasn’t had a sack since Nov. 9.
Wake, who turns 33 after the New Year, could use it. While still one of the best players on the team, Wake might have to convince the team he’s worth the big payday coming in 2015. The Dolphins are up against the salary cap in 2015, and will most certainly shed some big contracts in the spring.
Wake is due to earn $8.2 million in base salary next year. He would cost $9.7 million against the cap if he is on the team, and just $2.8 million if he is not.
Asked if his long history of production and stature within the organization makes him invulnerable to such considerations, Wake chuckled.
“Have you been watching the locker room?” Wake asked. “I’ve never gotten to that point. People laugh at me, but, every time I come to training camp, I look at it like I have to make this team, and that was no different this past offseason where I’m like, ‘Hey, I’ve got to train. I’ve got to make sure I’m ready and pass my conditioning test.’ ”
Wake added: “I don’t look at it any differently than every week. This is a one-week league. It’s always ‘What have you done for me lately?’ It doesn’t matter if you had 25 sacks or 30 tackles this week. It’s ‘What are you going to do this week?’ That’s why every week you have to come with that same hunger, that same passion to produce.”
The Dolphins have ruled cornerback Jamar Taylor (shoulder) and linebacker Jonathan Freeny (hamstring) out of Monday night’s game.
They were the only two players completely held out of Thursday’s practice. Linebacker Koa Misi was back and practiced fully after missing Wednesday for what is believed to be personal reasons.
Five Dolphins players were limited in their participation Thursday: TE Charles Clay (hamstring/knee); G Daryn Colledge (back); CB Cortland Finnegan (ankle); T Ja’Wuan James (neck); and WR Mike Wallace (chest). Wallace did not participate in the portion of practice open to the media the day before.