“We need to be better,” the third-year safety said. “Plain and simple.”
Growing pains were expected as the Dolphins transition to the scheme of new coordinator Vic Fangio. They struggled to get pressure with their front four in the opener and were gashed on the ground after finishing 2022 with the league's fourth-best run defense.
Coach Mike McDaniel praised the defense for ultimately sealing the win with two timely sacks of Justin Herbert on the Chargers' final drive, but said he wants to see a “constant mode of progression” from the unit this week as the team prepares to face New England Sunday night.
“I think there’s a lot of people with the right motivations that were trying to independently make plays and not thinking about technique and fundamentals,” McDaniel said.
Miami made several changes in the offseason intended to bolster a defense that finished 18th overall and 27th against the pass in 2022 — partially because of injuries in the secondary.
The Dolphins traded for All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey in March, but he tore the meniscus in his left knee at the start of training camp and will miss the first part of the season. They also signed linebacker David Long Jr. after he spent the past four seasons with Tennessee.
Long played just 17 snaps against the Chargers, which McDaniel said was dictated by the game plan. Long, who had two interceptions last year, said he feels the defense will get better as players get more comfortable in the new scheme.
“Look to your left and your right,” Long said Wednesday. “We've got dogs all across the board. We need to hold ourselves to a better standard, and I think we took that initiative today.”
Linebacker Jaelan Phillips said the Dolphins didn't “earn the right” to rush the passer Sunday because they offered little resistance against the run. The Chargers averaged 5.8 yards per rush and converted on 60% of their third-down attempts.
“They weren't really drop-back passing too often," Phillips said. “The few drop-back passes they did have, it's kind of hard to get in a rhythm when they're just running the ball on you. You've got to stop the run before you can actually get to those third-and-long situations.”
Phillips, who combined with cornerback Justin Bethel for the game-sealing sack, added that it's something to correct with “discipline and technique” as the Dolphins prepare for Week 2, knowing that Bill Belichick's team will look to exploit the defense in the same ways.
“It's a copycat league,” he said, “so any time you're assessing somebody on film and you see that a certain play or certain formation has success, you're most likely going to go out there and try to repeat that success. So we're going to have to go out there and set the tone and prove that we can stop the run.”
The Dolphins have won four of their last five matchups with New England, including a 20-7 win in Week 1 last year when they held the Patriots to 78 yards rushing. Miami sacked Mac Jones twice and intercepted him while limiting the Patriots to 271 total yards.
New England brought in coordinator Bill O'Brien in an attempt to improve its offense.
“Bill O’Brien has always done a really good job,” McDaniel said, “and I think they’re doing some things that — you can tell when there’s connectivity between coach and quarterback, and there’s stuff that he’s playing very confident in. It’s a good litmus test when the quarterback is playing better."
NOTES: LT Terron Armstead (back/ankle/knee) returned to practice Wednesday in a non-contact jersey after missing the season opener. ... Tua Tagovailoa was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week after passing for 466 yards and three TDs against the Chargers.
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