Dolphins need to plug holes in run defense _ and fast
DAVIE, Fla. (AP) — The Miami Dolphins' defense will have a different look this week.
"I got a haircut," linebacker Raekwon McMillan announced, "just to make myself feel good."
Change is needed after a decidedly ragged showing at home last week. The Dolphins gave up 248 yards rushing and forced only one punt in a 32-21 loss to Detroit , and they must regroup quickly for a Thursday night game at Houston.
The Texans (4-3) have a top-10 offense and a four-game winning streak . That bodes badly for the Dolphins (4-3), who rank fourth-worst in the NFL in yards allowed per play and gave up seven scores against the Lions.
"It was bad," coach Adam Gase said. "We have to clean up a lot of stuff. We have to get on the same page, and everybody needs to make sure they play as a group. They gutted us."
But Gase ruled out a lineup shake-up.
"It's not about lineup changes," he said. "It's about everybody being on the same page and doing the right stuff to make sure that we have a chance to stop the run."
Run defense has been a recurring problem during Gase's three years as coach. Over the final 10 weeks of the 2017 season, his team allowed 127 yards per game rushing, and won only twice. Even in 2016, when the Dolphins made the playoffs, they gave up more rushing yards than 29 other teams.
This season Miami ranks fourth-worst in rushing yards allowed, and the Lions repeatedly took advantage of gaping holes. Among Miami players, there's cohesion in the locker room that the problem is a lack of cohesion on the field.
"We just have to tighten up all around, everybody in their gaps, making sure that we're sound, playing our technique and not trying to do too much, not trying to make too many plays," McMillan said. "We have to play better. That's all there is to it."
Another problem is the pass rush. The Dolphins have just 11 sacks, fourth-lowest in the league. Ends Cameron Wake, Robert Quinn and Andre Branch, who are drawing a lot of attention from blockers, have only one sack apiece.
"My job is to the get to the quarterback," Wake said. "If I don't do it, it's a failure."
Injuries have been an issue up front. Wake returned to the lineup last week, but end Charles Harris has been ruled out against Houston for the third game in a row with a calf injury.
The Dolphins are tied for the league lead with 11 interceptions, but had no takeaways against the Lions. Cornerback Xavien Howard narrowly missed coming up with a late pick when it was a one-score game.
"If we want to consider ourselves one of the best secondaries, we've got to make plays when they come," Howard said. "I had the opportunity."
A few takeaways by the defense would be a big boost for a Miami offense missing two starting receivers and relying on backup quarterback Brock Osweiler for the third game in a row.
The Texans are sure to test the Dolphins' run defense — Houston is second in the NFL in rushing plays. The versatility of quarterback Deshaun Watson compounds the challenge, as safety Minkah Fitzpatrick can attest.
Fitzpatrick played for Alabama against Watson and Clemson two years in a row in the national championship game, and calls him the best quarterback he faced in college.
"He made some amazing plays," Fitzpatrick said. "He's a tough player. He can take some hits and make some amazing throws. It's definitely going to be a challenge for us.
"But that's when I perform my best — when I'm going against the best. You just have to lock in and clench your jaw."
Nice haircuts aren't enough.
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