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The Baltimore Sun

Dolphins shouldn't let pride get in the way of this year's defense

Randy Starks and Cameron Wake, who have both played in multiple Pro Bowls, each missed a tackle on the Dolphins' very first defensive play of the exhibition season.

Cornerback Brent Grimes, another Pro Bowler, then missed a tackle after trying to jump a Harry Douglas route.

Louis Delmas missed a tackle in the backfield on play No. 3, which featured the free safety lining up in the box, close to the action.

Cornerback Cortland Finnegan, another former Pro Bowler, missed a tackle on Roddy White's first catch trying to jump the route.

Jared Odrick let Matt Ryan out of his grasp on a would-be sack before linebackers Koa Misi and Philip Wheeler each missed a tackle on a big play that was negated by a penalty.

Then Misi's sack was negated by Delmas' illegal contact penalty. Misi then got juked out his cleats, preventing another possible tackle. AJ Francis got cut down on a cut block, and Dannell Ellerbe missed a tackle on a respectable run.

Wheeler got penalized for roughing the passer because he hit Ryan's face on a well-timed blitz. That penalty set up the touchdown run on that 15-play opening drive Atlanta's starters executed.

In a nutshell that series of mishaps and missed opportunity recaps the Dolphins' starting defense's one mistake-filled performance in Friday night's 16-10 preseason loss to the Falcons, who took what the Dolphins gave them.

"I wish we had a chance to redeem ourselves," Wheeler said following a game that drew the defense's attention, and should cause concern.

The saying pride comes before the fall is so fitting for the Dolphins' defense.

Pride has been the underlying issue with the Dolphins' defense for years, going all the way back to the Jimmy Johnson days. The unit has served as the backbone for the Dolphins since Dan Marino retired, so they aren't familiar with the finger of blame being pointed their direction.

As a result nobody has noticed the subtle slippage that has taken place each year.

At least nobody in power, or with influence.

The defensive line isn't as stout as it was three seasons ago when it held opponents to 3.7 yards per carry, or two seasons ago when it allowed 4.0, or possibly even last season when they gave up 4.1 yards per rush. Notice the slippage?

But pride tells the present defensive linemen that's on the linebackers, who continued their tackling issues in the exhibition opener.

Linebackers have had coverage burdens for years because Miami's safeties couldn't cover downfield effectively, so whose fault is it that Rob Gronkowski usually puts up monster numbers against the Dolphins?

Kevin Coyle is a smart man. I've been a fan of the Dolphins' defensive coordinator for a decade, going back to his days as the Bengals' secondary coach, where he turned cans of Spam (the talent he had) into a elegant meal.

But if Coyle doesn't acknowledge a necessary ingredient is missing from this defense, the 2014 unit will end up giving South Florida the runs.

If this Dolphins' defense takes another step back from a production standpoint this season will be doomed because unwelcomed pressure will be applied to an already struggling offense, which is laboring to get its act together.

The Dolphins need to solve the tackles problems immediately because this franchise can't afford wins to slip through the cracks anymore. Not this year since everyone's job, and future is at stake.

Fix the middle linebacker problems by doing what it takes to find a leader who can diagnose an offense, and get everyone lined up properly. If that means rolling out the welcome mat to a pain in the butt like Kevin Burnett, re-signing the former Dolphins starter, then so be it. Coyle better not let his pride stand in the way of welcoming a castoff back.

"It is about being honest with each other and ourselves, pointing out issues," Odrick said. "Players need to say, 'I can do a better job,' and then the next man says it to himself.

"That's being accountable to each other and that's what we are emphasizing this season," Odrick continued. "The more we're able to do that the better defense we'll have."

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