With Vance Joseph Leaving for the Denver Broncos, The promotion of Matt Burke from Linebackers Coach to Defensive Coordinator seemed natural. Out came the feature pieces on Matt Burke “International man of mystery” (he takes very interesting vacations abroad), and it also helped that Burke is one of the most engaging, intelligent, interesting coaches you can meet or talk too. Then the Defense played in 2017.
The Good? A great start, and a defense that seemed to have a bent toward the big play and pressure on the Quarterback with it's “Wide 9” approach (“Wide 9” just means the alignment of the Defensive ends, being wide of the Tight End and one slot past the tackle on each side). The overall numbers improved as well. The Dolphins went from 29th in Total Defense, to 16th . That's where the “good” ended. They went from giving up 23.8 ppg (18th) to 24.6 ppg (29th), and compounded all of that with a penchant for being bad on 3rd down.
In 2016, the Miami Dolphins made the playoffs behind a Good Running game, a timely big play offense, and a Defense that got off the field on 3rd down. The Miami Dolphins Defense was 5th in the NFL (36.32%) on 3rd down conversion percentage in 2016. Under Matt Burke, it dropped to 9th (36.95%) in 2017, and now a terrible 28th (45.78%) this season. Those are the numbers. It also stands to reason that Matt Burke's aversion to playing Dime Defense, either due to philosophy or evaluation of personnel is a contributing factor.
So far, the evidence is that the Defense has not improved in year two of Matt Burke's leadership. So how have they done in individual games this year? You had a very good start to the year, and very good defensive play in the first 3 games that led to a 3-0 start. Since then, you had a 4 quarter disaster in New England, A sequence versus Cincinnati that saw them give up points on three consecutive possessions to lose that game, a second half collapse versus the Chicago Bears, and a complete No Show versus the Detroit Lions.
“He needs better players!” is going to be the common excuse, and most of the time, that would be accurate. Not in this case. Any reasonable evaluation of the talent on Defense is going to be favorable. Xavien Howard, Reshad Jones, and Kiko Alonso are having Pro Bowl Worthy years. Minkah Fitzpatrick is having a very good rookie campaign. Cameron Wake is a Borderline Hall of Famer, that can still apply pressure as an Edge Rusher. Robert Quinn has been a revelation and a good pickup in trade for a 4th round pick. Bobby McCain is a steady performer. Defensive Tackles Vincent Taylor and Davon Godchaux are good, young producers/playmakers. You even have a Rookie Performing at a high level in Jerome Baker. The supporting cast to these players are not “bad” by any stretch either.
Most teams don't have this much talent on Defense. Matt Burke has enough talent. Personnel cannot be an excuse. Time to see results, or it could be a good time to start compiling lists of Nick Saban disciples to take the reigns of this Defense in 2019.
Alfredo Arteaga (@UptownReport) is the Co-Host of the 3 Yards Per Carry Podcast (@3YardsPerCarry) along with Simon Clancy and Chris Kouffman on the Five Reasons Sports Network.