Did Miami Dolphins’ defensive line meet expectations? ‘Absolutely not’

Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, the Dolphins’ MVP in 2017, pressures Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. (Andres Leiva / The Palm Beach Post)

FIFTH IN A SERIES

What went wrong for the Dolphins this season? What went right (if anything)? We assigned letter grades to each position group after every game. So with the season over, it’s time to issue final grades and see who flunked and who gets a gold star. Today, a position in which the Dolphins have invested heavily: defensive line.


Straight talk

This is another position that, on the surface, appears to be short-changed by my harsh grading tendencies.

Smash the numbers together and you have a tepid 2.29 GPA, or a C-plus, for a unit in which the Dolphins have invested heavily, a unit that boasts the 2017 team MVP, Ndamukong Suh, and ageless 10.5-sack man Cameron Wake.


FINAL REPORT CARD FOR 2017 MIAMI DOLPHINS

[GRADING THE QBs: Barely a passing grade is all they deserved]

[GRADING THE RBs: Kenyan Drake’s explosiveness offers hope for ’18]

[GRADING THE OL: Without upgrade next season, team isn’t going anywhere]

[GRADING THE RECEIVERS: The top two are obvious … but then what?]


So what gives? Ask Wake, whose analysis late in the year makes me wonder if I actually was too soft on these guys. Asked if the line was playing up to expectations, he said, “Absolutely not.”

He explained: “My expectations are heavy. They’re big, really big. I expect every player on the field to be making game-changing plays every week, because we can. When you look at the names of the guys we have, I couldn’t see anybody expecting anything less. We’ve got to work.”

Cameron Wake, who turns 36 at the end of the month, had another double-digit sack season. (Andres Leiva/The Post)

And, truth be told, there were many Sundays when the line did play to its potential. There was the Broncos game, where everybody appeared to make a monster play, from a safety caused by Wake to a tipped pass by Jordan Phillips that led to an interception. The same everybody-chips-in frolicking highlighted victories over playoff entrants the Patriots and Titans.

But this team didn’t lose 10 games on bad luck. Many weeks rolled around when defensive coordinator Matt Burke complained about missed tackles, surpassed, perhaps, by unforgivable pre-snap penalties. (Who can forget 17 total penalties for 123 yards vs. the Bucs?)

Adam Gase says too much emphasis is placed on sacks, and maybe he’s right, but is it too much to ask for this high-priced line to do better than 30 sacks (about half of what league leader Pittsburgh produced)?

And, finally, the line couldn’t contend with mobil quarterbacks, as proven by Cam Newton, Alex Smith and that future Hall of Famer, Tyrod Taylor.

Looking at players individually, it’s not hard to zero in on highs and lows. Andre Branch was rewarded for a solid 2016 with a $24 million deal. His tackle totals dropped in half.

William Hayes was a terrific addition until his season was cut short with six games to go by a back injury. The Dolphins would be wise to re-sign him.

First-round pick Charles Harris remains a work in progress, with much of that progress falling under the radar. That’s OK for a rookie, but more will be expected next season. Hey, Jordan Phillips needed time to find his footing, but he’s getting the message on how much impact he can make.

Davon Godchaux: You’ll be hearing that name a lot over the next few years. Promise.

What it all means

Stats and league rankings: Defense ranked 16th overall, 14th in rushing, 16th in passing, 29th in points allowed, 25th in sacks per pass play.

Number of times DL received an A: 3

Number of times DL received an F: 1

Season GPA: 2.29 (C-plus)

Analysis: When the line was good, it was very good. When it wasn’t, often it was because it received zero support from the offense and wore down as games went on. But one thing that separates average lines from good ones is consistency. Toward that end, the Dolphins fired line coach Terrell Williams and replaced him with Kris Kocurek of the Lions, who worked with Suh at the start of his career.

Adjusted final grade: B-minus