Dolphins Mailbag: What's Going on with the Defense? Where Has the Big Plan Failed?

Defense was supposed to be a strength for the Miami Dolphins in 2021, but it hasn't worked out that way so far
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From Richard grosso (@rjgro):

Here's one...for serious students of the team who get to see practices and know what to look for, are there signs, and what are they, that the problem is coaching and player development versus talent?

Hey Richard, it's a good question but practice viewing once the regular season arrives consists of warmups and individual drills. And even in training camp practices, there's no way a media member could observe everything that's going on at once to make any kind of judgement on the coaching. So what we're left are the results on game day, and they obviously have not been good this season. From where I sit, it's a mixture of talent versus coaching that's gotten the Dolphins where they are, and that also would include personnel acquisition.

From David Nastali (@DNastali):

Here’s something fresh for you. My question is: Who do you think Miami will play in Rd 1 of playoffs this year?

I couldn't include in there the laughing emojis that accompanied David's question, but let's let just say somebody is having fun here. But don't forget there are 17 games this year, so the Dolphins have more of an opportunity to overcome their 1-4 start. If they make the playoffs, it likely would be as a number 7 seed because of the slow start, which would match them up against the number 2, which might very well end up being the Chargers (after Buffalo at number 1). So we'd have a Tua vs. Herbert matchup. How about that for an answer!

From Reza Hariri (@Therealrezpect1):

What happened to our amoeba D, doesn’t seem like we are using it much. We also seem to have gotten away from Rowe matching up with TEs.

Hey Reza, absolutely one thing that has caught my eye and I haven't seen mentioned often in the media is how the defense isn't throwing all kinds of looks at the offense pre-snap, trying to have the offense guess how many blitzers are coming the way it did last year. And all that shifting really created problems for some offenses last year, certainly the Rams in the first half and later the Chargers. Why the Dolphins have gotten away from it, I'm not sure. As for Rowe, you're also correct there and again I'm not sure why that is, even though I would say he hasn't been as good in coverage this year as he was in 2020.

From Phinfanalyst (@Phinfanalyst):

Regression on creating turnovers should have been expected, but why else has this defense taken so many steps back after adding MORE talent (Holland, Phillips, Justin Coleman, etc)?

Yeah, I cautioned before the season against assuming the Dolphins automatically would be able to repeat their turnover success from a year ago, so that's not overly surprising. The defense also isn't generating nearly as much pressure on the opponent quarterback as it did in 2020. As for adding more talent, don't forget that Holland and Phillips are rookies, and Coleman hasn't exactly been a big hit.

From Sebastien Cote (@sebcote13):

How can the Dolphins defense be so bad right now ?

Hey Sebastien, here we go: Not creating turnovers last year, some players not playing as well (Baker, Van Ginkel), Howard) as they did last year, not generating enough pressure, too much pressure exerted on them because of the bad offense (though not against Tampa Bay).

From MermAndy (@iamMermandy):

I’ve recently read a few articles saying Coach Flores is hard to work for - potentially making coaching hires tougher. If true, this may explain our revolving door. Around the league, what’s the Fins reputation as an organization/Flo as a boss?

Hey Andy (is that correct?), yes, I think it's fair to say that Brian Flores has a reputation as a demanding, no-nonsense type of coach, which should surprise no one considering he spent so many years working alongside Bill Belichick. As far as organizationally, I think before the start of the season the reputation was that of an upcoming team — though that's obviously not what it would be right now.

From Nate (@FinsSWNJR):

Any word on if Grier and Flores have viewed personnel similarly, or if there had been a lot of disagreements? If Marvin Allen and Reggie McKenzie have generally been in agreement with Grier? Those two are well respected and I can't imagine this many busts having all on board.

Hey Nate, it took about a month until we found out something as simple as who was relaying the play calls to Tua Tagovailoa, and you honestly think anybody is going to leak anything about disagreements when it comes to personnel decisions? Sorry, but good luck with that one.

From A-Rod the phinphan (@TheGreatPhinsby):

Do you see any positive signs Tua starts next game? And after the past 3 weeks, have you realized Tua was never the issue? Not saying you did think that (Twitter did).

Well, the fact he's practicing is a positive sign, but the real key will come when the Dolphins activate him off injured reserve. Not sure I get the point about Tua not being the issue. I'm not ever sure I'ever seen anybody say that.

From Chris Davis (@KyLouFinFan):

I think it’s a given that a playoff run seems unlikely and your statement that you see 8-9 wins this year confirms that. And if you’re missing the playoffs in year 3, the plan is off. So where did the plan go wrong specifically.?What mistakes are more glaring?

Hey Chris, the Dolphins were adamant in 2019 was the biggest key to the play was finding a franchise quarterback. So I would tell you that if the Dolphins miss the playoffs in 2021 but Tua shows clear signs over the final 12 games of being able to become that guy, then I don't think the plan is off. If there's no playoff berth and none of those signs from Tua, then I think you'd have to look long and hard at that 2020 draft and those three first-round picks. You just can't spend the fifth overall pick on a quarterback and have him become no more than a solid quarterback (we saw that with Ryan Tannehill, who was the eighth pick). While maybe he can become a solid NFL guard, it's sure looking like the Dolphins whiffed on the Austin Jackson and Noah Igbinoghene picks, and it's especially painful in the case of Igbinoghene because the Dolphins could have had their pick of any running back in that 2020 draft, including Jonathan Taylor, D'Andre Swift, Cam Akers or Clyde Edwards-Helaire.

From Jake (@JakeMc945):

How does Waddle feel watching Chase, Pitts & Smith in the highlights every week while he gets 30-40 yards?

Hey Jake, I can't answer for Waddle, though I would imagine there's gotta to be some envy there. I'm also pretty sure that's not what the Dolphins had in mind when they made Waddle the sixth pick in the 2021 draft, after surrendering a 2022 first-round pick to move up from 12th to sixth to get him.