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Why did the Miami Dolphins defense regress?
> Posted by Omar Kelly on January 26, 2010 12:35 PM
Seeing as how few people listen and dissect Tony Sparano's words more than me, I consider myself an expert when it comes to Sparano-speak.
As your linguistics expert I'll reveal that sometimes the Miami Dolphins' head coach is more revealing in what he doesn't say than what he does.
Here are a few things I've discovered over the past two seasons. Sparano prides himself in his honesty. He's never lied to us...YET...and takes pride in that fact.
A long pause always means it's a difficult question that will require some tap dancing.... If something is going negative he'll find a way to turn it positive somehow, putting a fresh coat of pain on it.... Sometimes Sparano has messages he wants to get out, and does so, usually with numbers or stats..... Finally, he rarely takes shots at his players and coaches, but will send out warning shots from time to time to get the media and fans prepared for what's to come.
All those Sparano tells are why I found his discussions about the Dolphins at the Senior Bowl VERY interesting.
While I wasn't there myself, and have not heard the audio of it, two people who did also found it extremely interesting Sparano didn't shoot down Ethan Skolnick's report about Joey Porter being a poor teammate.
That one fell into the he won't lie category, and it adds another hint to the whispers that Porter has worn out his welcome in Davie.
I find it interesting that I was recently told the Steelers got rid of Porter for the same fears. I'm told by a good source Mike Tomlin wasn't concerned about Porter's health, or level of productivity when he released Porter in the 2007 offseason. It was his attitude, selfish mentality and head strong nature that got Porter cut from Pittsburgh.
If Porter isn't playing at a Pro Bowl level his persona is hard for any coach to deal with, and failing to get him under control can cost a coach his job. Just ask Paul Pasqualoni. It's not wise to tip-toe around a player because it sends the wrong message, and that's what the defense staff was doing last season.
But more telling than Sparano's tap dancing on Porter's refusal to come off the field (which for the record impacted more than Jason Taylor....this wasn't a problem between Joey and Jason....it's a team issue) was Sparano's BOLD warning shot to the defense that can be found at the end of Mike Berardino's story on Sparano's tough decision to fire Pasqualoni, his friend.
"Players are accountable," Sparano volunteered. "I think as we go forward here, that will be pretty clear to them."
If that wasn't a threat, a warning shot that some players (cough, cough, Gibril Wilson) might be shown the door this offseason, or looking at a demotion, I don't know what it was.
That warning shot got me thinking about the reasons why the Miami Dolphins defense regressed in 2009, eventually bottoming out at the end of the season.
Here's my top five.
1. Losing Jason Ferguson hurt bad because a 3-4 defense isn't stout without a forceful nose tackle. Paul Soliai was decent, but proved he wasn't starter material. His marginal play impacted the interior linebackers because guards rarely had to double team Soliai.
2. The Dolphins couldn't cover a tight end if their life depended on it. It's bad when no name guys like Texans tight end Joel Dreessen are roasting you for 65 yards off four catches. Whose fault was it? It didn't help that Porter and Taylor aren't strong in coverage, but the interior linebackers and safeties didn't help the cause either.
3. The secondary gave up way too many big plays. The Dolphins finished last in the league in average per passing attempt (8.2) and averaged a dismal 13.3 yards per completion. Only Detroit gave up more big plays than the Dolphins. While the rookie cornerbacks got beat at times, it wasn't like they blew assignments or got burned on more than a handful of occasions. What became clear was Sean Smith and Vontae Davis didn't get much help from the safeties, and considering Yeremiah Bell make the Pro Bowl as an alternate on the back of player and coaching votes it's pretty safe to say WIlson's coverage skills were a huge part of the problem.
4. Despite registering a decent amount of sacks (44), the defense couldn't generate consistent pass rushing pressure. There just wasn't enough creativity in the blitzing packages, and the defense became easy to prepare for. Personnel wasn't always utilized to their strengths considering Cameron Wake didn't play enough, and Taylor was leaving the field on third downs. The only game the Dolphins confused their opponent with creativity was against New Orleans.
5. The inside linebackers rarely made any impact plays, and they also didn't clean up plays in the running game before Ferguson suffered his season-ending quadriceps injury. Did anyone see any forceful hits from Channing Crowder, Akin Ayodele and Reggie Torbor all season? How about forced fumbles or sacks?
In your opinion, outside of injuries, what's your top five reasons the Dolphins defense tanked at the end of 2009?