Kelly: Dolphins Defensive Facing Identity Crisis

Kelly: Dolphins Defensive Facing Identity Crisis

Dolphins defenders are struggling to buy into Vic Fangio’s defensive, but Miami’s defensive coordinator claims the consistency is unit’s main issue

The Miami Dolphins are having a workforce-management issues that just about every industry can relate to.

Ever had a new manager takeover a store, or company and decide he wants to change up how everyone on the staff does their job?

While that manager has been successful in the past, his approach is foreign to the staff, and the lack of immediate results allows doubt to creep in.

Eventually, all the top sales people want to do things they are familiar with, but the new boss is adamant that the blueprint he’s used at every stop needs to be the approach taken, and that everyone must buy in.

To use a Mike McDaniel term, that’s the “trust fall” entanglement the Dolphins defense is facing as they struggle adjusting to Vic Fangio’s scheme, which presently has Miami ranked in the bottom third of just about every statistical category.

A deep dive into defense’s struggles

The Dolphins have given up a 104.9 passer rating to quarterbacks in the first four games. Only four teams are worse so far this season.

Miami is 29th in completion percentage allowed and 28th in yards per attempt.

The Dolphins are tied with the Jets for 15th in the NFL in takeaways at even.

The Dolphins rank 26th in total yards allowed (374.5), and 28th in points allowed (29.8) per game.

Ten teams are allowing more rushing yards (123.5) per game than Miami.

Miami is tied with Kansas City for 19th in sacks per pass play produced.

Only 3 teams (Chargers, Cardinals and Broncos) have allowed more first downs than Miami. Notice those are all bottom dweller defenses, two of which the Dolphins have played.

Miami’s third down conversion rate on defense is 46.2. Only six defenses are worse.

The Dolphins have the NFL’s 27th ranked defense when it comes to red zone defense. Miami is allowing 70.6 percent of those opportunities to be turned into touchdowns.

“The unit as a whole is not playing up to snuff, both coaching and playing,” Fangio said on Thursday, after admitting it’s understandable to second-guess the strategy used in last Sunday’s 48-20 loss to the BIlls. “It affects everybody.”

Trust has to be earned by both sides

Because players aren’t trusting the scheme some haven’t stuck to the script, shying away from filling their duties, attempting to make a play, and the breakdowns are adding up.

That’s at the center of the buy-in mantra the Dolphins have been preaching to the defenders for weeks.

“There is a blueprint of what he’s done that’s run all across the league,” defensive line coach Austin Clark said, referring to Fangio’s ‘Bend, But Don’t Break’ philosophy to playing defense. “Coach Fangio has been around for a long time. He’s got everything under the sun.”

Problem is, very little of it is working for Miami so far.

It’s easier to accept a new approach when everyone sees the fruits of their labor, and the outcome is favorable.

The problem is that hasn’t been the case. But is it the scheme, or the talent?

Bradley Chubb, the one player who knows the defense better than anyone on the team, has been invisible for all but one game in the season’s first month.

He’s being paid like an elite pass rusher, but is being outperformed by Andrew Van Ginkel, the player he was supposed to replace.

Raekwon Davis isn’t taking up two blockers like a nose tackle typically does, and Christian Wilkins and Zach Seiler are getting moved out of their gap routinely.

Jaelan Phillips can’t stay on the field because of his various injuries. No point in looking like an adonis if the body keeps breaking down.

New linebacker David Long habitually shoots the wrong game, leaving his defense exposed.

And Jerome Baker can’t get off blocks, and is playing too hesitant because he doesn’t trust his eyes, or the scheme.

Pro Bowl cornerback Xavien Howard wasn’t meant to play zone, and clearly feels uncomfortable living in a backpedal position all game.

Kader Kohou, who got his head beaten in by Stefon Diggs in last week’s three touchdown performance, is a better inside cornerback, manning the nickel spot. However, he’s being asked to play on the boundary because Miami doesn’t have confidence in anyone else in the cornerback room.

And the safeties are called on to make a ton of tackles, but have sparingly made plays on the ball with the exception of the three fumbles Jevon Holland has forced.

That’s a lot of fixing to do.

Can a compromise be made?

When Miami has had success defensively this season it’s been playing their old way, taking an aggressive, not passive approach, blitzing like they did in Brian Flores and Josh Boyers’ old defense.

Miami sealed the Chargers will by blitzing, and too a more aggressive approach against the Patriots.

If offensive coordinators are encouraged to play to the strengths of their talent, building the playbook and call sheet around what their skills players do best, why isn’t that the case for defensive coaches?

That’s why a marriage of the two styles is ideal, but that would require some compromise, and it seems as if Fangio’s not willing to oblige at this point.

“There’s growing pains anytime you switch defenses like this. This defense is a lot different than the defense we’ve had the last two years, and some guys even longer,” Phillips said. ” I couldn’t tell you when exactly we’ll be firing on all cylinders, but that’s obviously what we’re working towards.”

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