Close but No Cigar, Yet
Despite playing the NFL's second, fifth, and eleventh-ranked scoring offenses, the Miami defense ranks tied for 12th in points allowed per game in the first quarter of the 2020 NFL season.
Some big plays at critical moments late in ball games has the Dolphins at a 1-3 mark. That record is not satisfactory to the players and coaches. With a -3 point differential, the team is close, according to Christian Wilkins.
"Most NFL games are within seven points or so, so it just means that we're close but there's another level we can go to," Wilkins said. "I know we can because we have the right people around, players and coaches.
"We're not far off, just a few things here and there. We have to hone in and take ownership individually. I feel like we will. We have a lot of guys who care and who work hard."
Those few things, as Wilkins stated himself, are the difference between winning and losing games. Head Coach Brian Flores talked about that fine line between victory and defeat in the ultra-competitive National Football League, and the opportunity one quarter into the season to evaluate the entire operation.
"We're a quarter of the way through the season so we're going to do an evaluation of our team and play the guys we feel are going to help us turn this thing around and play better in situations like red zone, two-minute and the fourth quarter," Flores said. "That'll be at all positions."
Evaluation from the Defensive Backfield
Veteran safety Eric Rowe has endured his fair share of adversity: three seasons cut short by injury, learning and excelling in a new position and playing for three different teams in four years. Rowe was transparent in his evaluation of the defense in Sunday's game and through four games of the 2020 season.
"It was plays that we as a defense, we just had breakdowns," Rowe said. "Breakdowns in communication led to them having big plays and ultimately that's what hurt us in the game.
"Everybody, we have to be on the same page on motion, shifting, whatever they do. Breakdowns in communication is just the offense doing motion and we have to give out our call faster, crisper and cleaner. Couple of calls not everybody was on the same page."
Rowe allowed just 37 yards on seven targets against Seattle, an average of 5.29 yards per target. He finished with just 5.04 YPT in 2019 after his switch to safety and is back in familiar territory this year, allowing just 5.33 YPT; if that yards per target number belonged to an offensive skill player it would rank 133rd in the NFL.
Mixing coverage and being overly loud and communicative – those are the keys to improvement, Rowe says.
"Today, we watch the film then the rest of the week just being overly communicative and loud," he said. "Every offense whether we're in man or zone is going to have some sort of play to beat the coverage. There's always some scheme to beat the coverage. Our thing is to try to keep them off balance by mixing different types of zone and throwing in man so the offensive coordinator won't just have a play book of just man-beaters all game."
Resilient and Responding
Flores is often asked to evaluate his players, especially upon acquiring each one. The script he tends to follow is a testament to a singular vision by the organization for developing a Miami Dolphins prototype and funneling decisions through that lens.
Smart. Tough. Disciplined. Those three words describe a lot of the players on the 2020 Dolphins roster. But perhaps chief among those buzz phrases is the love for the game. 'Is it important to them?' Flores often asks rhetorically.
Monday, Flores responded to a question about the mood of the team after the narrow loss and why the players might have been upset at the conclusion of the game.
"They work hard. They prepare well. We didn't get the things done that we talked about getting done," Flores said. "They're all competitive. That's how I felt after the game and they felt the same way. I think it just speaks to how competitive they are."
The competitive makeup encourages Wilkins, a second-year defensive tackle who has played in every game of Flores' young head-coaching career.
"There's no moral victories. We're here to win. That's what you put the work in for," Wilkins said. "Every minute we're in this facility and every minute we're away, we need to be all about ball."
A Trip to the Bay, Injury Updates
Dolphins wide receiver DeVante Parker battled a hamstring injury from the middle portion of training camp through the first three games of the season. Parker, who's appeared in the Dolphins last 29 games, left Sunday's game for an evaluation of his ankle, which was tweaked on the opening possession.
Parker returned to the game and posted his ninth career 100-yard receiving game (110 yards on 10 receptions).
Monday, Parker talked about growing into a mindset of fighting through the nicks and bruises that come with playing in the NFL.
"I was just younger back then. I wasn't used to getting injured like that," Parker said. "It was something new for me but as I get older I realize it's something you can play through. I don't have time to be missing out on games to little tweaks and stuff like that. I just felt like I had to come back in."
Parker was one of four players to exit and return to the game Sunday. Flores addressed the team's medical status in his Monday press conference, starting with Byron Jones, who was inactive against Seattle.
"(Byron Jones) had a good week last week," Flores said. "We just felt like it wasn't all the way ready to go last week but we're hopeful this week we'll see him more in practice and if he does well in practice he'll play next week."
"Shaq had a shoulder, went out, went back in. He's sore today but I think he'll be OK. He's a tough guy and he wants to be out there. I'm hopeful that we'll get most everybody back Wednesday."
Wednesday is the first day of on-field preparation for the 2-2 San Francisco 49ers, who lost a tough game Sunday night to the Philadelphia Eagles. In that game, Head Coach Kyle Shanahan had to go to his third-string quarterback late in the game.
Rowe says the team will prepare for all three.
"Usually you prepare for one, maybe two; but three, that's different," Rowe said. "All three of them have showed that they can play. It's not like the third string is coming in and we're going to tee off on him. It doesn't matter who's playing, we have to play our best ball."
Wilkins echoed those thoughts and added the importance of preparing for the scheme.
"It's just more guys you have to be ready for, you don't know what you're going to get," Wilkins said. "Typically it's a schematic thing so once you know what they like to do from a scheme standpoint you just play ball from there."