DAVIE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins may not be fully aware of it, but they are quietly taking a page from the reigning Super Bowl champion New England Patriots this year. Miami is working on simplifying their scheme after last year’s debacle where the defense collapsed in the final six weeks and allowed 32.2 points per game over that span.
Communication, execution and overall loss of confidence in the system contributed to Miami’s defensive collapse at the end of last season. After early success, players suddenly were underperforming, not trusting their assignments and questioning rotations. Former Dolphins defensive tackle Jared Odrick, for example, got into a sideline spat with Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin in Week 14 after being taken out at a crucial point in the game.
Miami’s collapse on defense was a major reason the Dolphins finished 8-8 and failed to make the playoffs for a sixth consecutive season. They finished No. 20 in points allowed per game (23.3) and No. 24 against the run. This forced the Dolphins' coaching staff to reassess in the offseason.
“It started as the staff has put together the plan for OTAs,” Philbin explained this week. “As I think I mentioned at the owners meetings, some of it is the multiplicity of different groupings and different packages. So far, I think we’ve trimmed that down a little bit and then it’s the volume within each concept because how can you get the guys repetitions.”
Multiple players have told me over the years that the Patriots, led by head coach Bill Belichick, do not run a complicated defensive scheme. But they are so good and dialed in to their coverages and blitz packages that it's led to four championships and six Super Bowl appearances since 2001. New England’s offense, which is built around future Hall of Famer Tom Brady, is more complicated than its defense. You cannot argue with the results.
The Dolphins have made offseason additions on defense, most notably Pro Bowl defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who is an every-down player. Suh brings game-changing talent and an attitude to Miami’s defense, which are definitely needed.
In addition to simplifying the defense, the Dolphins also aim to finish games better late in the season and in the fourth quarters.
“It gives me major headaches. Finishing is the name of the game,” defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said candidly. “This league, the competition is so fierce, so close. The parity in the league is so close that the good teams find ways to win in those critical situations, and we need to do that. We’re going to need to do it better than we’ve done over the three years, not just last year, but over the three-year period -- to get from being an 8-8 team into the upper echelon of the league.”