TAMPA, Fla. — Even against one of the best offenses in the NFL, the Miami Dolphins’ performance Sunday was alarming.
In their 45-17 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Dolphins (1-4) allowed 558 total yards of offense — including 411 passing yards and five touchdowns to the NFL’s all-time leading passer, Tom Brady. It was their worst defensive performance under coach Brian Flores since allowing 643 yards to the Baltimore Ravens in their 2019 season opener.
The Dolphins, who have lost four straight games, aren’t treating this like an outlier.
Flores said Miami’s idea was to communicate thoroughly and disguise its coverage a bit. After admitting last week that there’s no confusing Brady, Flores said after the game that his team wasn’t able to execute “any part” of its defensive game plan Sunday.
After allowing 30 or more points five times last season, Miami has already done so three times in the first five weeks of the 2021 season. To put it bluntly, it has been a step back.
“I’m concerned. We’re out of sync in a lot of ways — run defense, pass defense, pass rush,” Flores said. “We’re a step behind, I would say. We’ve got to make a lot of corrections, a lot of things we have to address. … We’ve been doing that and we’ve addressed some things, but we’re not seeing the production on Sundays and that’s what matters.”
Tampa Bay scored on seven of its 10 drives. The three exceptions were a punt, a missed field goal to end the first half and kneeling to end the game. Miami failed to force a turnover, ending its 26-game streak that began in 2019, but it did sack Brady twice.
A moral victory.
That has been the only type of victory the Dolphins have experienced during this four-game losing streak. At least some part of their defensive struggles can be traced back to a lack of offensive support — the Dolphins rank 30th in average time of possession, which means their defense spends a majority of the game on the field. But on a day when Miami averaged 5.9 yards per play, it would be a stretch for even the most limber optimist to ask the offense to share the blame for Sunday’s loss.
Tampa Bay converted 8-of-11 third-down attempts, ran 71 plays (averaging 7.9 yards per play), gained 33 first downs and had two receivers who each caught two touchdown passes and had more than 100 yards. It was a microcosm of Miami’s defensive struggles throughout the season.
One year after leading the NFL in third-down defense, the Dolphins haven’t been able to get off the field on third down in 2021, allowing conversions on 54.2% of attempts — the league’s second-worst mark.
Several Dolphins players said after the game that there is no negativity in their locker room.
“It’s just hard at the end of the day,” linebacker Jerome Baker said. “That’s where the leaders come in, that’s where we believe in ‘Flo’ and that’s where you look at guys that really lead this team and you just got to believe.
“We can’t change what happened today. Got to focus on the next one.”
There are opportunities to bounce back on the horizon. Miami plays the 0-5 Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 6 (9:30 a.m. ET, CBS) in London. The Jaguars rank 23rd in yards per game, 28th in third-down efficiency and 31st in average time of possession. It’s a dream “get right” matchup against a rookie quarterback, Trevor Lawrence, for a defense that likes to disguise its coverages and blitzes.
Following the Jaguars game is a home matchup against the Atlanta Falcons (2-3), whose traditionally potent offense is ranked No. 22 through five games.
Miami’s players believe their team is better than it showed Sunday afternoon.
“The game that I saw today, I know the score didn’t reflect it, I saw a lot of guys making good plays here and there,” cornerback Byron Jones said. “It just wasn’t consistent and it wasn’t throughout the entire game. Just to see the energy from the guys coming out, we got some big stops here and there. Obviously, it wasn’t enough, but that’s the challenge of football.
“We understand how long this season is and how hard it can get at certain times. We talk about it during camp. That’s why camp is tough, because it’s a microcosm of what the football season is going to be like. This was a tough stretch for us, no question about it; but it’s how you respond, and I think we’ve got a lot of high-character men in that room that are going to do the right thing.”