Stopping the run has been a badge of honor the front seven of the Miami Dolphins defense has worn with pride this season, so when Tennessee and Buffalo made that unit look mortal in back-to-back games it was time for a gut check.
Last week at Sun Life Stadium, the Seattle Seahawks and their bruising running back Marshawn Lynch came in looking to run hard and often in hopes of extending that streak. Instead, they ran into a brick wall as Lynch was held to just 46 yards on 19 carries for a 2.4 average, with all but 12 of those yards coming in the second half. Defensive tackles
“Going into the game, we felt this was one of the better running teams we were going to face that had a running back that had four consecutive 100-yard games,” Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said. “Quite honestly, with the exception of one play that bounced out there later in the second half, we did a tremendous job against the run the entire day. Guys up front did a super job – Soliai and Starks.
“Really, it all started with those two and we were able to set the edges. Geez, I think the quarterback did more damage rushing the ball against us than the running back did. So that’s good. We have to get back to doing that in order to be as good as we want to be on defense. That was a big positive step and a lot of different individuals came up with plays as the game went on.”
Now the New England Patriots come to town and they bring with them the league’s No. 6 rushing offense, two spots higher than Seattle’s. The Patriots are averaging 143.7 yards on the ground per game and 4.3 yards per carry, which tends to get overlooked when quarterback Tom Brady is leading the No. 4 passing offense.
Miami has climbed back up to No. 7 in the NFL against the run, allowing an average of 96.7 yards per game. But it ranks third in average yards per carry at 3.7 and showed the same intensity and stoutness at the line of scrimmage it had shown earlier in the season when it was at the top of the rankings.
“I’d say getting penetration from the D-line and getting in the backfield and letting the linebackers play is the biggest key for us,” said Starks, who has 22 tackles (15 solo) and 4.5 sack this season. “I think everybody was doing their part and nobody was trying to do too much last week. Everybody contributed, everybody made plays and that’s why we were successful.”
Through 11 games, Odrick has quietly managed three sacks, 26 tackles (18 solo) and seven tackles for loss. That last number ranks second behind only
“You go in with the same mindset every game and approach every game the same way in terms of stopping the run,” Odrick said. “There’s no difference in the appeal of being good. What we did against Marshawn Lynch and the Seattle Seahawks doesn’t matter as far as what we’re going to do against the Patriots. It’s just a matter of execution and playing within ourselves.
“We have to not play outside of the scheme and when opportunities arise to make a play you have to capitalize on it and with New England, it starts with their offensive line. They have a solid O-line that’s played together and we have to look for tendencies and how to exploit them.”
Philbin echoed what Odrick and Starks explained when it came to both what is needed to succeed against the run and what New England does well on the ground.
“I thought we got off blocks a little bit faster, there wasn’t a lot of movement on the line of scrimmage either horizontally or vertically and I thought our guys held their gaps better,” Philbin said when asked what clicked on the run defense against Seattle. “I thought we tackled better, and New England has excellence balance and a good mixture schematically. Their runners are running the ball hard and they’re very well coached up front and they get into good plays. So it’s going to be a challenge for us.”
Much like the offensive line answered the challenge in the running game by putting up 189 yards on the Seahawks, the defensive front seven is eager to show consistency and prove that last week was the norm again and not the exception. A critical division game against the AFC East leaders seems to be the perfect challenge.