Hard to Judge Dolphins Defensive Coordinator Kevin Coyle and His Performance

We all know about Philbinland.

It’s that magical place that Joey P. goes to in his own head on game day.  The place where you call a timeout so the opponent can regroup.  The place where you give away points because you’re too unobservant to call for a challenge.  The place where you lose game after game and then say, “I made the right calls” and “We will get better.”

And, most sad of all, Philbinland is the place where you can have zero accomplishments in three years and still be given extra time and millions and millions of extra dollars.

Flacco di not get the ball over the entire goal line.  Philbin missed this Dolphins safety, and it was the beginning of the end of our season.
Flacco did not get the ball over the entire goal line. Philbin missed this Dolphins safety, and it was the beginning of the end of our season.

Let’s face it:  Joe Philbin’s sense of common football strategy and reality is off-base.  His decisions cost us games, and that is a fact.

So when Dolphins Truth attempts to analyze Philbin’s two coordinators, it becomes difficult.

Starting with Kevin Coyle, we have to guesstimate how much of Coyle’s failures are his own fault, the players’ fault, or Philbin’s fault.

When the defense plays well, we can give Coyle some due credit.   Let’s not forget that the Dolphins shut out San Diego last year, and an NFL shutout is a rare thing.  No matter what Philip Rivers did, the Dolphins had an answer.  When the Chargers made some progress, the D got tough, and stopped them from scoring.  Coyle was reading their offense very well, and making the correct adjustments.

But then compare that game to Week 17, when we had a big lead on the NY Jets and the defense blew it.  Compare that also to losing a game to Buffalo, with one of the worst offenses and the worst QB in the NFL over the past decade.  And let’s not forget a blowout loss to the lowly Titans in 2013, among others.

In all those games, the defense forgot to show up.  And again, we’re faced with the curious task of trying to figure out who to blame, Coyle or Philbin.

In the case of the defense, I think Coyle deserves the majority of the blame for bad calls and decisions, but Philbin is also fallible for allowing it to happen.

Coyle’s system is too complex at times.  I’m not a defensive expert, but i believe people who are.  When you watch Dolphins games, the TV analysts often pointed out that we run too many defensive schemes and stunts, and I think that is true.

I was a huge fan of Paul Solai bull rushing up the middle.  And then Randy Starks.  These guys were very successful when they outmanned the opponent and made their push.  But far too many times, Coyle asked them to line up in funky positions, loop around end, drop back into zone blitzes, etc.  it was not effective.

I compare this to what the Buffalo Bills do.  Kyle Williams is a slow, fat white guy who does one thing and one thing only:  He rushes up the gut.  Williams has no other skills except moving straight forward, yet he is a deserving FOUR-TIME Pro Bowler.  Philbin and Coyle need to learn this:   Let your defense do what they do best, and stay out of their way.  Success will come.

If I see Kong Suh drop back into coverage or try to race around end on a stunt, I will scream.

So again, we blame Coyle for overly complex schemes, and we also blame Philbin for not correcting this.

In the secondary, we had some success early in the season with CB blitzes, but these pretty much disappeared by the end of the year.  I would guess that our depleted DBs and injuries forced us to be more conservative later in the year… I mean, you don’t want JamarTaylor of Will Davis running a complicated blitz play when they can’t even cover a zone.

But still, you have to at least try to fool the offense with different looks, and I don’t feel Coyle did this later in the year.   I mean, Geno Smith had all day to analyze our defensive formations and then pick us apart.  That again falls on Coyle.

The linebacking crew was interesting.  A lot of us wanted to see more of Chris McCain last year, especially toward the end when we were already eliminated.   But injuries and a stubborn Joe Philbin dictated that we keep the same guys throughout.    Jason Trusnik stepped in well as a role player, but he is now off to Carolina.  Wheeler and Ellerbe are gone as well.   Koa Misi is a reliable LB, but he was a reliable LB when he first started in the NFL.  Unfortunately, he has not improved since day one.  He’s not bad, but he’s not better than last year either.

Do you blame Coyle when a player doesn’t improve under his tenure?  That’s another iffy question where it’s hard to blame Coyle 100%, but it’s also hard to absolve him.

You have to look at guys like Karlos Dansby and Vontae Davis.  They were averaverage players as Dolphins, but they became All-Pros when they were coached differently on new teams.  That shows me that their skill set was there all along.  If coaches on other teams saw the value of Davis and Dansby, and if thos coaches knew how to use them, why couldn’t Coyle and Philbin?

The team is determined to not look back, but rather look forward.   So we can do that too.   I think our defense can be better this year, than last year.

  • I’d like to see us stop a QB draw for once.
  • I’d like to see us get off the field on third downs, and not allow the opponent to convert third downs into firsts.
  • I’d like to see Kong Suh in there on 99% of the plays.  He’s an adult…when he is tired he will tell the coaches.  He doesn’t need Joe Philbin to guess when he’s tired and bench him.
  • I’d like to see one of our DBs draw some fear from an opposing QB.  Grimes has that ability at times, but no one else on our team does.  Sorry, but I’m not sold on Reshad Jones as a potential All Pro yet.  I hope I’m wrong.
  • I’d like to see our defense make adjustments AFTER the opponent made adjustments.  We got destroyed in the second halves of the Patriots and Broncos games, for example, because the opponent made halftime adjustments and we did not adjust to those adjustments.   Tom Brady ate us alive, and our defense stood back and watched.
  • And finally, I’d like to see our defense close out some games when we need them most.   It’s up to Coyle to get them there.
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  1. If the main job of the defense is to stop the offense from scoring, then the 2014 season was the 10th WORST defense in Dolphins history. You can check that here (click on the PAPG column to sort the list): http://mcubed.net/nfl/mia/yrpapg.shtml

    [Incidentally, sorting that same list in the PFPG column will show you the 2014 season was tied for the 8th BEST offense in Dolphins history, along with ’94 and ’83 (if you agree that the main job of the offense is to score points).]

    My main point is that although we can talk about the offense all we want, it was clearly the defense that needed to be re-worked coming out of the 2014 season. That means that even with all the hubbub about Mike Wallace, Tannehill, the O-line, etc., the offense managed to score 24.3 points per game. That’s not going to break any records, but it’s certainly respectable.

    The defense, however, allowed 23.3 points per game. I said this during the season, but if the defense can’t keep the opponent’s score to under 22 points on average, then you can basically forget about the season. Make no mistake – 22 points is being generous. A great defense will keep the score under 15 points on average.

    I know I didn’t talk really about the specific issues in Admin’s post, but I thought this was a good opportunity to remind myself where we’ve been and what type of scoring it takes to get into playoff contention.

    1. Author

      The defense definitely must take some blame for several losses. We put up 36 points and lost to the Broncos, for example. The D also gave up 35 to a terrible Viking offense. If I hade to blame EITHER the D or the O for last year’s failures, I’d blame the D, you’re right.
      However, we can’t let the O off the hook when they score 16, 13, and 13 in our first three December games. All in all, we need consistency. The D must not pay attention to waht the O is doing, and vice versa. The D shuts itself down when they see the O has scored a lot, and that is a bad philosophy !

      1. Agreed. And I still say the defense was exceptionally horrible (especially toward the end of season) in order to be the 10th worst D in Phins history.

        Your last paragraph from above made me think it’s Philbin who’s making all those calls, btw. Seems like he’s a good candidate for someone who’s caring too much about the other side of the ball. If Coyle was making all the calls, why would he get confused like that, since it’s his job to care only about the D? Pure speculation of course….

  2. Philbin is classic for ignoring what everyone else is saying and/or thinking. A perfect systemic example (as you mentioned) are the overly-complex defensive schemes, week in – week out.

    I hope that issue is corrected this year.

    In fact, I hope Philbin goes for simplicity on both sides of the ball. Quarterback sneaks? Easy to do, over and done with – first down follows. As we know that’s NEVER been attempted in his tenure.

    But as for defense, yes we CAN blitz on every play, we CAN run all kinds of crazy blocking schemes – but why bother? Play a hard, straight game that every once in a while includes a complex play when needed. I bet that would win a lot of games; especially with our new/current crew.

  3. Good article and good follow up comments.

    In a nutshell the Dolphins D struggled for many reasons…. some obvious and some more intricate. In no particular order :

    1) No push up the middle by our 100% lean beef DTs Starks, Mitchell, & Odrick. While I think highly of Odrick and he played for that new contract, there were times when he got pushed around. Starks was virtually the same as Odrick just older. Mitchell provides good depth but isn’t as quick as Odrick/Starks. The result of this is O lineman being able to go 1 on 1 with our DTs and double up Wake and Vernon. Now with Suh & Phillips & Mitchell more double teams will be up the middle freeing up Wake & Vernon to go to town.

    2) Beside Jenkins, LB was a disaster all year (Thanks Wheeler, Ellerbe, Misi, DION JORDAN). So tired of never seeing any semblance of pressure while TEs constantly shredded coverage. I like all the LB additions in the draft & free agency but am not sold that any of them will rise up this year…. I hope I’m wrong. We need a true/legit MILB and I’m not sold on Misi. Maybe Mike Hull will be the next Zach Thomas. LOVE Jenkins and how he has progressed from special teams to stud WLB. Strong side is still a concern.

    3) Turnstile secondary…… Besides Grimes the rest was Swiss Cheese….. Delmas not there long enough to gel and then gets injured….. Jones with his suspension (love him though), invisible CB opposite Grimes…. Nickel & Dime guys just thrown in there…. praying for sloppy QB play.

    There were times last year when things all seemed to click (early & mid season) but opposing team’s OCs figured us all out largely based on the above.

    I think this year it all starts with Suh & Phillips to generate that push/double teams and everyone else benefits….. DEs can get around the edge….. LBs are freed up….. secondary won’t be chasing receivers around for 15 seconds…. more big plays….defense gets off field sooner…… Offense get more time of possession and hopefully more scoring….

    Then Joe Philbin looks like a genius and we’re screwed even more!!!

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