Scheme or players? Dolphins need answers for defensive collapse

HOUSTON -- A somber Miami Dolphins locker room struggled to find the root of the problem that turned a promising, ball-hawk defense into one that's being exploited on multiple levels.

"Is it scheme? Are we not executing what we’re asking them to do? Do we have five guys who are off as far as what we are asking them to do?" coach Adam Gase asked. "Do we like what we’re doing? We need to dig deep and figure out where are these issues. Are they coming from the same guy every time?"

Whether it's scheme or players, somebody needs to be held accountable for the Dolphins' leaky defense, which started the season as the team's strongest group.

"We just haven't been playing well. Either we're getting out of gaps or they're, I don't wanna say, out-scheming us?" Dolphins DE Robert Quinn

Thursday night was embarrassing -- Deshaun Watson completed 80 percent of his passes, threw for five touchdowns, and finished with a near-perfect 156 QB rating. Lamar Miller ran wild for 133 yards. Will Fuller and Hopkins combined for 206 yards and three touchdowns.

"As a defense, we got to look ourselves in the mirror over the next few games," defensive tackle Akeem Spence said. "When we execute, we play good run defense and we play good defense. When we don't, we're looking at each other like what the hell is going on?"

First things first, Gase said defensive coordinator Matt Burke's job is not in jeopardy right now. Burke was seen on the sideline slamming a tablet to the ground after a coverage bust allowed a 49-yard Hopkins touchdown.

"I haven’t even thought about that. In my head, I’m saying I don’t see that happening. We need to go back and figure out what is going on where we’re giving up these massive amounts of yardage in the run game," Gase said.

Miami gave up 248 rushing yards against Detroit last week on 7.1 yards per carry, and followed up by giving 188 rushing yards on 5.4 yards per carry to Houston. They've given up runs of more than 50 yards in back-to-back games.

"The past two weeks, we've played terrible in the run game. I know it's team defense, but as D-linemen we hold that upon ourselves," defensive end Robert Quinn said. "We just haven't been playing well. Either we're getting out of gaps or they're, I don't wanna say, out-scheming us?"

The defensive line plays a big role in the Dolphins' run game struggles, but poor tackling and block shedding from the linebackers and secondary has also contributed to the gaping holes in the defense. Quinn admitted it's "frustrating" to see Houston running right down their throats.

Frustrating is a good word. It's hard to ponder Miami's defense following up on what Burke called a "collectively crappy effort" vs. the Lions with what we saw Thursday night vs. the Texans.

"Now we gotta take a hard look on the defense, where can we plug the holes," Gase said. "How can we fix certain things to make sure we have some more success against the run game?"

Spence said he doesn't believe the Dolphins' wide-9 defense is the issue. He points to "gap integrity" as the biggest common thread. Veteran defensive end Cameron Wake agreed.

"There is no defense from kiddy football, high school, college where players are uncovered or defense where gaps aren't filled, so any time you see that like tonight where there is a guy running through the gap untouched or a receiver running free ... umm ...there's an error somewhere, so whether it's miscommunication or bad read," Wake said.

Run defense isn't the only issue. Coming into Thursday night's game, Deshaun Watson had been hit 68 times and sacked 26 times more than any QB in the league, per NFL Research. The Dolphins got just one QB hit and no sacks.

There are too many talented Dolphins players who aren't contributing up to their standard. Three of the Dolphins' five highest-paid defenders -- DEs Quinn, Wake and Andre Branch -- combined for zero sacks and zero quarterback hits Thursday.

Miami's coaches have talked a lot about pressures and disruptions, but it's time to start requesting real results.

This secondary leads the NFL in interceptions, but too often there are coverage busts like we saw on the Hopkins touchdown.

"A guy running in your secondary free like that, especially a guy like Hopkins, nine times out of 10 you want a body on him. I don't know what coverage we're in. We got to be good with our eyes," Spence said. "We got a good secondary, we got to get back to turnovers, catching picks."

Gase said he trusts his defense. He trusts Burke to get this thing turned around.

"When Vance (Joseph) left, I trusted Matt to get this thing going in the right direction. There were a lot of good things that happened over the last two years," Gase said. "We can't be afraid to change if we have to."