That once-stout Miami Dolphins run defense has vanished into thin air

The Dolphins’ Cordrea Tankersley (30) and Jordan Phillips (97) look on as Carolina QB Cam Newton runs for some of his 95 yards. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn)

DAVIE — This was not the irate Adam Gase of two weeks ago. No. This was the measured Adam Gase. At times even the upbeat Adam Gase.

And why not?

The Dolphins had just suffered their third consecutive lackluster defeat in prime time, and if the tough love he administered following the Baltimore debacle didn’t work, perhaps, he figured, he’d try the other kind of love.

He praised the team’s effort in Monday’s 45-21 loss to Carolina. He steadfastly said the talent is there. So too is the attention to assignments, the lack of which triggered his tirade after the Ravens game. He said he liked what he saw Monday night from the offensive line with new guard Ted Larsen.

“We just kind of lost our way for a minute here,” he said of the defense.

Maybe, Gase must have figured, there was no point beating up a team when the Ravens, Raiders and Panthers just did. And if having an extra day to prepare for the Monday nighter didn’t have the desired effect, what’s that say about having one fewer day to get ready for the next assignment, against Tampa Bay on Sunday afternoon (thankfully, not another prime-time game)?

Unfortunately, the numbers aren’t as benign as Gase.

Cornerback Xavien Howard (left) is called for pass interference against Devin Funchess. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

If you thought the defensive performance of late looks nothing like the way this season started, brace yourself. It’s worse than you may think. Through the first six games this season, Miami’s run defense had shown a remarkable turnaround from last year, ranking fifth in the league and making new coordinator Matt Burke look like a savior.

Then, disaster. The Dolphins have allowed 184.0 rushing yards per game these past three weeks after giving up 82.3 to start the season. Kiss that No. 5 ranking goodbye. They’re now 20th in run D.

“We’re probably overcompensating in certain spots where guys are trying to cover for other guys,” Gase said. “It’s biting us a little bit.”

That was evident against the Panthers, where an over-pursuing defensive line was vulnerable to cut-back runs. The linebacking corps of Kiko Alonso, Rey Maualuga and Lawrence Timmons that had triggered the early resurrection now is being caught out of position or, in the case of Christian McCaffrey’s touchdown run Monday night, juked out of position.

As badly as the secondary seemed confused against a run-of-the-mill Panthers receiving corps, another damning statistic for the run defense is that Miami’s pass defense actually has held constant through both the short winning streak and the losing skid. Meaning: Miami’s goal of making teams one-dimensional by forcing them to throw isn’t working. Teams aren’t throwing because there’s no reason to. A Dolphin defense that had been allowing 18.7 points per game in the first six outings has allowed an average of 37.3 the past three weeks by ramming it down Miami’s throats.

Gase said he remains convinced he has talent in his front seven. “We’ve got to just tighten it up,” he said.

That’s especially true in the red zone, where the Dolphins rank last in the NFL, conceding touchdowns 77.3 percent of the times opponents reach Miami’s 20. That includes Carolina’s four-for-four performance.

Second-year cornerback Xavien Howard was targeted seven times and allowed three touchdowns on five receptions, according to Pro Football Focus.

But Gase excused Cam Newton’s 32-yard touchdown pass to Devin Funchess for Carolina’s 45-14 lead.

“There’s not many guys that are going to defend that, because that was a really well-run route – the guy did a great job of keeping his speed – and that was as good of back shoulder fade as I’ve seen, because that thing was on a rope,” Gase said. “That was the perfect throw, a perfect route and a well-executed play.”

Gase said he’s not concerned about Howard’s ability to bounce back.

“He’s a good player and he’s going to keep playing hard and he’s going to play tight coverage,” Gase said. “And when you’re a young player, as long as you don’t lose confidence, you’re eventually going to make those plays because you’re going to get more experience.”

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