Had the 2021 NFL season nevertheless been under the 17-week, 16-game format, the Miami Dolphins, already dealing with elimination from the postseason, would’ve had to hit the offseason with the sour taste of having their season-worst effort in an area they pride themselves in.
The Dolphins (8-8) struggled in run defense by the season’s first five games, allowing 121 yards or more in each outing. After that, they hadn’t surrendered that number again on the ground, keeping opponents at 102 rushing yards or fewer every time out.
Until Sunday’s colossal letdown and 34-3 loss to the Tennessee Titans. Miami gave up a season-worst 198 rushing yards — as the Titans played without star running back Derrick Henry.
Because there is a 17th game this regular season, the Dolphins’ run defense has one final chance to rebound in a 4:25 p.m. kickoff against the playoff-bound New England Patriots (10-6) at Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday.
“We know what we’re capable of and what we’ve been doing for the majority of the season,” said Miami defensive tackle Christian Wilkins, who leads NFL defensive linemen with 83 tackles this season. “That wasn’t it last week. We’ve got one more week to at the minimum go out there together as a group and have a little fun and get another crack at it.”
Said linebacker Elandon Roberts: “We pride ourselves on being the best run defense in the NFL, period. … We turned the page. We made the corrections, and one thing about it: We got another opportunity to go back out there this Sunday and show everybody that we’re ready to go.”
So, the Dolphins dove into analyzing what went wrong against the Titans before they suit up again versus another capable run game. The Patriots, behind running backs Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson, are eighth in the NFL, averaging 126.1 yards per game on the ground.
“Some of it could be a little bit scheme-related, where we’re trying to create negative plays,” defensive coordinator Josh Boyer said. “Some of it is them staying ahead of the chains and staying on track and not being able to really get them into situations where they need to throw the ball. … Then, some of it is just fundamentals and techniques.”
Trying to get Titans ball carriers, namely D’Onta Foreman, who went for 132 yards and a touchdown, down in the backfield by attacking up the field defensively made it easier for the Titans to squeak by and get to the second level of the Miami defense.
Dolphins defensive line coach Austin Clark identified footwork, pad level and eye discipline as the meaningful factors his players up front need to fix after reviewing the film from Tennessee.
“Just everybody trying to go out there and make a play as opposed to executing the man they’re aligned on, the technique we’re asking them to do and playing their gap,” Clark additional.
When Titans backs attained steam across the line of scrimmage, there were multiple instances of poor angles taken in the secondary, allowing runs that could’ve been contained within 10 yards to runs of 39 from Dontrell Hilliard or the 35-yard gallop and 21-yard touchdown from Foreman.
“You got to make sure that your speed on the ball carrier is the right speed, so you can find that angle,” Miami defensive backs coach Gerald Alexander said. “There are examples where that was done correctly. There was examples where we could’ve put ourselves in better position.”
The Dolphins were fourth in the NFL in run defense during their seven-game winning streak. With a unit that takes pride in that area, Miami’s defense looks to erase a season-worst effort as the lasting impression — and correct it quickly.
because it’s a copycat league and teams are going to use what you struggle with to go against you,” defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah said. “We’ve just got to work on that additional hard at practice.”
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