AC in the AM: Improved Defense Turns To Potent Falcons

Posted Oct 10, 2017

With a 2-2 record at the quarter pole of the season, with the defense sizzling and the offense struggling and with Atlanta’s high-powered offense next on the agenda, we offer up these Tuesday morning morsels to swallow down with that ice cold glass of Florida orange juice.

• First-year defensive coordinator Matt Burke deserves plenty of credit for what this defense has done through its first four games. Sure, there are some new pieces that have made a significant difference. But it is Burke who has put it all together, who calls all the plays and who decides which players rotate in and out and when. “He’s a smart, smart guy,” said defensive tackle Ndaumukong Suh of Burke. We’re seeing examples of that every week.

• Clearly the most noticeable difference from a season ago is against the run. The Dolphins were ranked 30th in the league last season. After four games, they are now ranked fifth, giving up 75.5 yards per game. This vast improvement was never more evident than against a highly potent Titans rushing attack that was held to just 69 yards, about half its average. You stop the run, you always have a chance.

• Starting together for the second straight game, young cornerbacks Xavien Howard and Cordrea Tankersley played well against the Titans, further solidifying their status moving forward. Are we seeing the future for this team at cornerback? Could very well be. Right now, though, the future is now and that means preparing for a top-tier Falcons passing attack.

• Six sacks, two forced fumbles, a defensive touchdown and only 10 points allowed. I know the Titans were without quarterback Marcus Mariota, but this defense is giving up just under 17 points a game and no stat matters more.

• No defender played better than safety Reshad Jones. But linebacker Kiko Alonso wasn’t far behind. Did you catch his hit on Matt Cassel? A few weeks ago we were concerned that there weren’t enough quality linebackers. Now they’ve got three veterans starting – Alonso, Lawrence Timmons and Rey Maualuga – and plenty of quality depth. Strange how quickly things can change.

• So Charles Harris gets his first career sack against the Titans. “I know he’ll remember that the rest of his career,” said Cam Wake. “The first one is always a great one.” Now Harris just needs 83 more sacks to catch Wake.

• So let’s turn to the offense. Any conversation needs to start with quarterback Jay Cutler. No doubt Cutler needs to play better. But so does this entire offense. Adam Gase has made it clear that Cutler will remain the starter, that he gives this offense the best chance to right itself. Gase’s message: Run better, block better, catch better and Cutler will be just fine. That’s the challenge heading into the second quarter of the season.

• A small sample size of what’s wrong with the Dolphins offense: On one drive against the Titans, there were three dropped passes. Can’t happen. Especially when first downs are so hard to come by.

• Let’s hope the ankle injury sustained by DeVante Parker against the Titans isn’t too serious. He has come so far over the past several months, you’d hate to see that progress put on hold. If he does have to miss some time, we’re going to see a lot more of Jakeem Grant and Leonte Carroo.

• The offensive line is one of the areas that needs careful evaluation. Where are the protection issues? Who isn’t play well? What needs to be done? “We all have to be accountable,” said center Mike Pouncey.

• Even considering his lost fumble against the Titans, it’s hard to fault running back Jay Ajayi when the holes just aren’t there. On one play Sunday, Ajayi had to break two tackles and spin out of another, and still finished with a two-yard loss.

• Adam Gase is trying just about everything to get this offense going, even a tight end (MarQueis Gary) throwing a pass out of the Wildcat formation.

• Stat worth noting: The Dolphins have been outscored 26-0 in the second quarter this season, but have outscored the opposition 13-0 in the first quarter. It’s the fourth quarter that is usually most telling, the Dolphins being outscored 18-10.

• Saw Ryan Tannehill walking through the locker room Monday afternoon without the slightest trace of a limp. That’s a promising sight only two months or so after surgery.

• Finally, this will be a challenging week. The offense must continue to work on overcoming this early season malaise, while the defense must prepare to face Matt Ryan and his talented group of playmakers. As well as the defense has played through early on, it hasn’t faced an offense quite like the Falcons with the imposing triple threat of Ryan, running back Devonta Freeman and wide receiver Julius Jones. It’s safe to say we’re going to know a lot more about this Dolphins defense after Sunday’s game.

The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed by our columnists and bloggers represent those of individual writers, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions, policies or desires of the Miami Dolphins organization, front office, coaches and executives. Writers' views are formulated independently from any inside information and/or conversation with Dolphins officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.

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