The hope, perhaps even the expectation for this Miami Dolphins season, was that even as the results lacked consistent success because the roster was willfully and systematically deconstructed, there would be order on the field. There would be motivation. There would be smart and organized play.
There would be, in short, the outgrowth of good coaching.
And because new Dolphins coach Brian Flores came from New England and was a longtime New England defensive assistant, the Dolphins were expected to play something like the Patriots on defense.
And then the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday dismantled the Dolphins, 59-10.
The Ravens scored 42 points in the first half — the most by any team in the first half of a season-opening weekend in NFL history.
For perspective: The NFL is celebrating its 100th season in 2019.
So in 100 seasons, the Dolphins under Flores allowed the most points in an opening half to open a season.
The fair thing is to understand the Dolphins do not have a great roster. That is on purpose. Everyone sees this by now.
But within that roster this team is supposed to have valuable young talent. And most of that talent is on defense, which is Flores’ specialty.
Miami’s best player, Xavien Howard, plays on defense.
Miami’s most accomplished and highest-paid player, Reshad Jones, plays on defense.
The first-round draft pick in 2017, Charles Harris, plays on defense.
The first-round pick in 2018, Minkah Fitzpatrick, plays on defense.
The first-round pick in 2019, Christian Wilkins, plays on defense.
And Flores brought in a couple of familiar players — cornerbacks Eric Rowe and Jomal Wiltz — from New England to play on his defense.
But that defense with those players allowed the Ravens to look like The Greatest Show on Turf. The Ravens, which more games will show are a solid but not elite offensive unit, lit up the Flores defense like a candle.
Quarterback Lamar Jackson became only the seventh quarterback in NFL history — again, 100 years — to throw for 300 yards, toss five touchdown passes, and author a perfect 158.3 quarterback rating in a single game.
Baltimore rookie receiver Marquise Brown, playing in his first NFL game, recorded touchdowns of 47 and 83 yards on his first two career catches. He became the first player in NFL history — 100 years — with two receptions of at least 40 yards in his NFL debut.
So the Ravens did a lot of amazing and historic things against the Flores defense.
Put another way, the Flores defense allowed the Ravens to do a lot of amazing and historic things that have never been done to a defense in the 100-year history of the NFL.
That puts the focus on Flores.
Because that is his defense. And it is terrible right now.
(The Miami defense was so terrible Sunday the Ravens moved the football even when they weren’t trying that hard. Even with second-team players. Backup QB Robert Griffin III came into the game at the start of the fourth quarter and carved up the Miami defense, completing 6 of 6 passes for 55 yards and one touchdown. When the game mercifully ended with Griffin III taking a knee to run out the clock, the Ravens were on Miami’s 5-yard line. The Ravens could have easily scored over 60 points if they had wanted.)
Flores was asked afterward about his defensive problems. And he deflected.
“We’ve got problems on offense, defense, and special teams,” he said. “We’ll try to fix them all. Schematically, from a personnel standpoint, we’ll try to fix them all. We’ll try to put our players in the best position to win. We’ve got a lot of work to do from that standpoint.”
Well, yeah you do.
It starts with the constant change that Flores wants to use with this defense. Throughout training camp, coaches talked proudly about how they would be a multiple defense. Defensive coordinator Patrick Graham said when he draws up a defense he doesn’t use position designations like CB, MLB, DE, but rather uses X.
And what he meant by that is players don’t have positions but rather spots and assignments they’re supposed to play on certain play calls.
The idea behind that is to confuse the offense, because different guys will line up in different spots from play call to play call.
The problem with that is the confusion can bleed over to the defenders.
And there has been plenty of that during the preseason and training camp. And there was too much of that Sunday. And that is about coaching.
Here’s more fallout from that coaching philosophy: Some players don’t like it.
Linebacer Kiko Alonso didn’t and asked to be traded.
Safety T.J. McDonald didn’t, and he was released.
There are at least two other defensive players who remain on the Dolphins and do not like this approach. And these guys are good players. They play the defense that has been handed to them. But they do not like it.
(To protect them from coaching-staff backlash, I am not naming the two guys).
Another issue: This coaching staff believes in sitting its best players for players who have proven to be less proficient in the past or during practice. It’s another New England thing, I guess, that works there but didn’t work for Miami on Sunday.
(Wait, sometimes it fails miserably in New England, too. That system took Devin McCourty out of the game against Miami last year and inserted tight end Rob Gronkowski to defend the back end. How did that work out for them?)
Anyway, there were times in Sunday’s game when Fitzpatrick was on the sideline while Walt Aikens played in his place. I love Aikens. He’s a fine leader and great special-teams player.
But he’s not better in coverage than Fitzpatrick when the second-year player is used correctly.
“We were rolling guys the entire game,” Flores said. “Reshad was in. Minkah was in. Bobby [McCain] was in. [Steven] Parker was in. Walt Aikens played in there, so we were rolling guys. But I would say everyone has got to play better across the board. We got to coach them better. There’s no doubt about that.”
Perhaps everyone would play better if they knew what they were supposed to do play after play, if they had confidence an inferior player wasn’t about to replace them, and if they trusted the system.
Except so far the system has failed. The players are in and out. They aren’t all sure where they’re supposed to be all the time. And the defense just gave up a historically terrible amount of yards and points.
That calls the coaching into question as much as the playing.