Sometime last January or February, after much studying, fact-finding and tape-watching, Dolphins coach Joe Philbin saw a defense that had crumbled at the end of last season and decided the architect of the fallen structure had done a good job.
Philbin resisted calls in the media and in his head to fire defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle. He turned a deaf ear to the pundits and a blind eye to what he had seen in the season’s final month.
Philbin gave Coyle another year even as proven NFL defensive coordinators such as Jim Schwartz were unemployed and looking for a chance to work.
Now Philbin and the Dolphins are reaping a harvest from that failed decision.
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Now the Dolphins, boasting a $163 million defensive front and sky-high expectations, come into games flat and not ready to succeed. On Sunday, Coyle’s defense gave up an opening-series touchdown to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
It was the second consecutive week Philbin put his defense on the field first against a less-than-stellar offense, and the defense immediately gave up points.
“We have to come out fast and furious and set the tone,” defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh said. “But we didn’t set the tone. They set the tone. We didn’t set the tone.”
The Jaguars set the tone. They punched first, and the Dolphins kind of sort of just turned the other cheek. And while that’s a great response in a Sunday church service, that’s a poor approach on a Sunday football field.
Then things got worse.
The Jaguars ran when they needed to — for 123 yards. They passed when they needed to, including a 46-yard bomb from Blake Bortles to Allen Robinson, who was all alone behind a confused Miami secondary.
And that was basically the recipe for this 23-20 Dolphins upset loss.
The Dolphins are supposed to crush teams like the Jaguars. That’s the reason they were a six-point favorite on the road.
And a big reason that should happen is the revamped Miami defense was supposed to torment Bortles and shut down a unit that isn’t great at anything, really.
Why do I say that? Because that’s what pretty much everyone else does to Jacksonville.
Where are the sacks?
Understand that Jacksonville led the NFL by allowing a whopping 71 sacks last season. Understand these Jags picked up where they left off, yielding five sacks last week. Understand that starting left tackle Luke Joeckel did not play in this game because he was injured.
And then try to digest the fact the Dolphins, armed with all these facts and trends and Jacksonville’s terrible history for blocking, did not have even one sack on Sunday.
That’s seven quarters in the eight they’ve played this year without a sack for the Miami defense.
So why this focus on sacks? Well, a timely sack in the last 1:48 might have helped save this game because that’s when Jacksonville threw five consecutive times as it tried to march for a winning score. The Jaguars had to throw to win.
The Dolphins had to know it.
And yet we saw an 18-yard completion from Bortles, followed by a 19-yard completion, followed by a 9-yarder later.
Not only did the Miami’s front not get to Bortles, but it lost its cool. Defensive end Olivier Vernon, nearing the end of a frustrating day, hit tight end Clay Harbor after the whistle and was called for unnecessary roughness.
That gave Jacksonville another 15 yards.
“It was just a dumb play by me,” Vernon said. “That’s it. We lost.”
They lost, and that’s bad. But they looked kind of lost, and that’s worse.
The bomb for a touchdown saw Walt Aikens bite on slant and watch the receiver fly past him. Hasn’t anyone told this young safety he is the last line of defense, that there is no one behind him?
The Miami substitutions were curious, too. The unproductive middle linebacker platoon system continued in this game. At several points, Coyle switched out his entire starting defensive line out of the game in favor of reserves. How does that make sense?
Now, anyone can argue Coyle did not miss a tackle, did not blow an assignment, did not fail in getting to the quarterback once Sunday and be correct. It is about players in the NFL, and Dolphins defenders point to themselves first.
But I know Ndamukong Suh is a good player. I’ve seen it for years in Detroit. The Miami personnel department obviously saw it and thought paying him $114 million was worthwhile.
And then this, this, this dominant presence comes to the Dolphins and he disappears in Coyle’s defense?
“I’ll take a closer look at the film,” Philbin said of the now former star defensive tackle. “He made a couple of plays; I don’t know what the stat sheet said. We’ll take a closer look at the tape. It’s a team defense, it’s not one person. One person doesn’t make a defense. There’s 11 guys that have to make a defense.”
That’s true. But one guy can take over a game. And late Sunday that was Jared Odrick, the former Miami defensive tackle who signed with the Jaguars in the offseason.
Miami’s castoff player hit Ryan Tannehill in the end zone and caused a fumble on the sack. On the next play he batted a Tannehill pass away to force an incompletion.
So basically what we have witnessed so far this season is Jared Odrick play better against the Dolphins than he ever played for the Dolphins. And we’ve seen Suh come to Miami as a star and potential future Hall of Famer and become a pedestrian player.
A one-solo-tackle (Suh’s output each of the first two games) guy.
This is not on those players. This is on that decision Joe Philbin made on Kevin Coyle.