Dolphins defensive coordinator Vance Joseph couldn’t have been more clear Thursday:
Several of his top players simply aren’t playing well enough. Not nearly well enough.
The sharpest message was delivered to defensive end Mario Williams.
“He’s got to play better, has got to play harder, he’s got to play better,” Joseph said. “Obviously, he’s being allowed to rush the passer. The games we’ve been in, it’s been more run first, pass second team. For us to be a great rush team, we have to earn the right and stop the run, all of us. Mario, [Ndamukong] Suh, Jordan [Phillips], all those guys up front. If they want to rush more, stop the run more consistently. Mario has got to play better, has to play faster and more consistently.”
Joseph also was candid in assessing cornerback Byron Maxwell: “He has not played overall well. He’s a guy that’s here every day. He’s working hard. He studies. He watches film. It has not come together for him. That happens with players. Different scheme. I’m not totally down on Byron. He’s working on it every day. He wants to be good. When a guy is working at it every day, it’s going to turn for him.”
And asked who has stopped the run well in his front seven beyond Suh, Joseph said: “Out of our front four, no one has. Weeks where we have done well. Each week it’s been one guy here and there. To be stout in the running game, it’s got to be consistent across the board, it has to be the front, linebackers and secondary fitting the run. It can’t be one guy busting the gap and one guy missing a tackle there. It has to be everybody on the same page and it hasn’t been that way.”
Joseph addressed other issues:
• Michael Thomas would start at safety if Reshad Jones is unable to play Sunday against Pittsburgh. Jones is a game-time decision. Jones said he’s doing everything he can to treat his injured groin and is hopeful about being able to play.
• On new cornerback Bene Benwikere: “He’s a guy that has played nickel and outside corner. He’s played on good defenses. It’s tough right now. He’s been here two days. Hopefully he can learn the defense and help us win in the future.”
Joseph said he views Benwikere “as an outside corner right now. Hopefully in the future he can play inside as the nickel, but right now, out need is outside corner.”
• With Xavien Howard out indefinitely, does Joseph envision Maxwell, Tony Lippett, Benwikere, Chimdi Chekwa and Chris Culliver (eligible to return next week) competing for two starting jobs at cornerback?
“The best guys are going to play,” Joseph said. “Culliver hasn’t played in a year – that is going to be a stretch for him to come back and become a starter right away. Hopefully, he comes back and can prove he can play. Then we can determine who are two or three best guys to play for us. The best guys are going to play, absolutely.”
• With Koa Misi being lost for the season, Joseph said defensive end Cameron Wake is being used a bit as a SAM linebacker but won’t be used in that role this week because Pittsburgh is going to play “one back, three receivers.”
Said Joseph: “Losing Koa that hurt us in the aspect of having variety in our front package because Koa is a big SAM backer than can play on the line or off,” Joseph said. “With Koa we could play 4-3 or 3-4. Losing Koa, We put cam at the SAM linebacker last week and it helped us a lot and helped us a lot to have a five-down front in the run game. It worked outside of missed tackles.
“It’s our job to get our best guys on the field. As we lose a guy here or three, we have to find our best 11 to help us win.
• On the loss of Misi: “Losing Koa hurt us a little bit, but we’re adjusting with Donald Butler. He’s playing fine. It’s overall guys doing their job more consistently and making tackles. Our issue has been somebody pops a gap, it’s a six yard run. Or we fit it well and someone misses a tackle. We have to overall play better on the running game.”
• He said “the first objective” against Pittsburgh’s high-powered offense is receiver Antonio Brown because “he can make it happen quickly in huge margins. Hopefully, we can contain Le’Veon Bell also. We have to rush and contain [Ben Roethlisberger]. The best thing Ben does is buy time.”
• On linebacker Kiko Alonso: “He’s played solid. He’s making a lot of tackles in the run and pass game. He’s been a bright spot on defense. Even with Kiko, we need more guys up front making more plays in the run game. If you’re being blocked, we’ve got to tear off blocks and make tackles. Kiko is averaging 10 to 12 a game, even Reshad 10 to 12, that’s too many for the second level guys. Our front four guys got to make more plays.”