The Miami Dolphins played their best game of the season on defense this past Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers. They rushed the passer, forced some turnovers, and came up with big stops when needed.
However, if there was one area the Dolphins didn’t do a good job in it was their run defense. The Dolphins gave up 131 yards on 19 carries. The only reason the 49ers didn’t run it more is that they were behind by double digits the whole game and were forced to abandon the running game. The Dolphins run defense has ranked near the bottom of the league for most of the last decade. If the Dolphins are going to compete against big physical opponents like the New England Patriots or Baltimore Ravens they have to get better in this area.
When I started watching football as a teenager in the mid-90s the Dolphins were led by a defensive tackle in Tim Bowens, who always controlled the line of scrimmage and pushed the guard-center in the backfield to stop the run. His play helped linebackers run sideline to sideline and stop running backs to no or minimal gain. The Dolphins were one of the top run defenses because of Bowens in the late 90s and the turn of the century. He didn’t give you big numbers and most defensive tackles don’t have great stats, but defensive tackles make their presence felt on the field. After he retired, the Dolphins had players like Randy Starks and Paul Soliai on defense to stop the run, but after those players left almost a decade ago the team has gone downhill finding run-stuffing defensive tackles.
Coach Brian Flores came from the Patriots and they had a player in Vince Wolfork at defensive tackle to stop the run. Then later had Danny Shelton as their run-stuffing defensive tackle. Those defensive tackles helped the Patriots set the tone on defense.
Defensive tackle I feel is a premium position and it is hard to find quality players there. The Dolphins drafted Jordan Phillips in the 2nd round in 2015, but he was inconsistent with play and had motivation issues. The Dolphins had issues with him for whatever the reason and let him go only to see him have success with the hated rival Buffalo Bills. The Dolphins drafted Davon Godchaux in 2016, but he has been just a rotational player not much more. Unfortunately, Godchaux is now done for the season with a season-ending injury it appears. Now the Dolphins did draft Christian Wilkins in the first round last year and Raekwon Davis in the second round this year. Wilkins is showing some promise but is he a defensive tackle or an end? The problem with Davis is just like Phillips, has a ton of talent physically, but has motor issues and you don’t know which player will show up. Now he’s still a rookie and it’s only been 5 games so maybe with the injury to Godchaux it will give Davis a chance to play more and he could develop. Coach Flores will definitely get on him to perform at his best, but then against Davis’ college coach was Nick Saban, and if he couldn’t get him to perform consistently who knows time will tell.
Regardless of how these guys perform the Dolphins need to keep looking for ways to improve their defensive tackle position who can be a run stuffer. If not they can look at this position next year. The Dolphins got pushed around by the Patriots on opening day to the tune of over 250 yards rushing. The Seattle Seahawks had some success running the ball on us as well in Week 4. If the 49ers game isn’t a blowout, who knows if they would have continued their running game on our defense. The Dolphins have to get tougher upfront or the big physical teams are going to continue to assert their physicality on us.