The Miami Dolphins defense played winning football last week. No, the team did not win, but the defense played well enough to win a typical game even as it worked to cover for the absence of a starting cornerback, a starting defensive end, a backup defensive end, and a limited number of defensive tackles.
The Miami defense held the Cincinnati Bengals to one touchdown.
Cincinnati scored all of 13 points on offense and with their field goal kicker.
And Matt Burke’s unit seemed different in that it attacked more often. It blitzed much more often. It pressured the quarterback much more often than it had previously.
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The Dolphins called multiple blitzes for safety Reshad Jones. Linebacker Kiko Alonso had a blitz or two. Rookie linebacker Jerome Baker picked up his first and second career sacks on blitzes.
A new day for the Dolphins defense, right?
Burke, Miami’s defensive coordinator, is a disciple of Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who believes in creating pressure on the quarterback with four down linemen.
“We’re sort of trying to get that point,” Burke told me recently.
So the blitz attack against the Bengals may have been something of a one-off.
“Two things: We were a little shorthanded from a player standpoint,” Burke said Thursday. “There was part of it that we felt we maybe needed to generate some things and try to do some different stuff. Some of it was we felt we could take advantage of some of the things we saw in the protection game.
“That’s part of the evaluation every week as you’re game-planning and as you’re studying. Any time you’re blitzing and sending more players into the rush, you’re taking players away from the coverage element. So there’s a risk to it. It’s not just ‘Oh, that’s great. We should call a million blitzes every game.’ “
The average fan -- me, even -- might look at the results the Dolphins got at Cincinnati in mounting pressure on Andy Dalton and believe that if that’s what it was without Cameron Wake and Andre Branch available, then what might it be when those two players return?
Robert Quinn and Cam Wake coming off the edge along with blitzers sounds scary for a quarterback.
And I’m certain Burke has considered the possibility. But for Burke, in his second year as an NFL defensive coordinator, he has already gotten past the personal debate of doing what seems aggressive and exotic against the cost of giving up big plays.
“Last year, honestly, there were times where if we were giving up plays or getting moved on a little bit, I’d call some crazy pressure and think, ‘Alright let’s go,’ “ Burke said recently. “And it would cause more havoc, you know? So I have to have the restraint to call something to settle them down. That was some of the growth I went though last year.
“I’m saying moments when we’re giving up plays and a drive is starting and I’m getting frustrated, and I want to stop it by coming up with some kind of crazy blitz that’s going to knock them back for a loss. But instead it gets worse because it’s complicated and so something else happens and we give up another play.”
It was a hard lesson, but one Burke says he’s learned. And it shapes how he approaches games.
“I got to a point where things are going bad and I said, ‘Hey, let’s call our base call and let them just line up and not panic.’ And they say, ‘OK, we can do this,’ “ Burke said. “That was a little bit of my growth last year. In those situations it’s not always about me trying to make the perfect call. Sometimes the right call is call a front and coverage and let your players line up and go do it.
“Sometimes you do want to hit ‘em. Sometimes that is the right call. What I’m saying is you can’t let your ego get into your decision-making because that’s where flaws happen. You’re making that call for the wrong reasons.”
Be honest, you would love for the Dolphins to be a latter day Chicago 46 defense and scare the living daylights out of quarterbacks not named Dan Marino. But in today’s NFL, that isn’t reality anymore.
Burke’s stated goal is to create pressure with Miami’s four-man line. And every once in a while, there may be a change up blitz to keep things interesting.
But even after success with the blitz last week, a permanent revamp of the Miami style doesn’t seem to be in the offing.