If you never look past the final score of the Miami Dolphins season-opening 19-17 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers, you would probably think the Dolphins had a pretty good day defensively. After all, from a points-scored standpoint, they did.
But if you look a little bit deeper at that game as coaches are required to do, you begin to see why it was that Dolphins first-year coordinator Matt Burke wasn’t all that happy with the effort he got from the Dolphins defense, and in particular from its back seven.
Now, it must be noted that the Dolphins were dealing with a mess at linebacker in that game. With no Rey Maualuga and no Lawrence Timmons they were forced to start Mike Hull in the middle and Chase Allen on the strong side, but the Dolphins problems really didn’t rest with them.
Burke actually gave both players good marks, but he couldn’t do the same for the bulk of the players working behind them as they allowed Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers to pick them apart on his way to completing 31 of 39 passes for 331 yards and a touchdown.
The key to Rivers’ success, Burke said, was his ability to neutralize the Dolphins pass rush. Burke said the team’s metrics department calculated that, on average, Rivers got the ball out of his hand within 2.1 seconds of receiving the snap last Sunday.
That’s lightning fast and while not every quarterback will be able to match that level of efficiency, the Dolphins have to prepare for the possibility they will and that means that the secondary has to be a lot tighter and more aggressive in coverage.
“Here’s what I told the guys,’’ Burke said, “and I think moving forward this is sort of a big picture thing for us. Opposing offenses are not going to want to deal with our pass rush. So the message to the back-end guys is that we have to challenge throws better on the outside part of the field and match-up our underneath progressions just a little bit tighter.
“I mean, it was pretty clear, (Rivers) was not going to give our (pass rushers) a chance to get going. He was catching the ball and throwing it and our D-line still almost got there. But I think that’s going to be a theme moving forward against us.
“I mean, the defense always works together, so our job on the outside part of the field is to be tighter and to challenge some of those throws and to give those guys (up front) that extra second to work. That’s what I was wanting – tighter coverage and just getting hands on stuff sooner to give our D-line a chance.’’
The concerns about the play in the secondary come after the Dolphins supposedly toyed with the idea of playing Alterraun Verner ahead of Byron Maxwell at one cornerback spot, but it seems the problem against the Chargers was more the other cornerback spot.
According to Pro Football Focus, Xavien Howard was the DB Rivers picked on the most as he targeted him a league-high 13 times and completed 10 passes for 87 yards against him. It would seem then that any improvement may have to start there.
Whether that will result in Verner, who wound up not getting a single snap against the Chargers, getting more work this week is hard to know. Burke isn’t committing to anything just yet, but it’s clear he needs better play out of the group overall if the Dolphins are going to keep limiting opponents to 17 points or less.