Once opponents figured out Miami Dolphins’ linebackers, it was all downhill

Former Dolphins tight end Charles Clay of the Bills fends off linebacker Kiko Alonso. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

SIXTH 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: the much-criticized linebackers.


Straight talk

Dolphins linebackers made a devastating impact on the Tennessee Titans in October. That started a three-game run in which the unit performed as well as anyone could have wished.

If you were ranking paragraphs least likely to be written in a postmortem on the Dolphins’ season, the preceding one is the leader in the clubhouse.


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?]

[GRADING THE DL: Lots of dollars, so why not lots of sacks?]


But yes, the Titans, Falcons and Jets did catch the brunt of the Dolphins’ linebackers …

… And then the rest of the league figured them out.

They figured out that the linebackers weren’t good tacklers.

They figured out that with two of the three LBs over 30, they could be beaten with speed.

And they figured out they can’t cover linebackers.

Lawrence Timmons may not be in the Dolphins’ plans for 2018. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

It’s one thing when Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce beat you, but when you’re getting burned by Kansas City’s Orson Charles, you’ve got a problem. By the final week of the season, defensive coordinator Matt Burke had grown weary of the tight end question, especially as it relates to Kiko Alonso trailing plays.

“Do you have a better option?” Burke said.

He later said, “Kiko has his moments when he makes plays; Kiko has moments when he’s in a tough matchup. It’s the same thing for all the rest of those guys. To try to correlate directly like Kiko being a major issue in pass coverage, I don’t necessarily see it that way. There are times where we feel Kiko is a good matchup with what his skillset is. There are times where we’d rather have somebody else on say a tight end or a back. That’s going to vary week to week.”

One thing didn’t vary. Starting with the Ravens game, linebacking play declined so badly that in four of the next five games, I gave them no higher than a D-plus in my postgame grades. By the end of the year, I floated the possibility of a housecleaning.

It was a bizarre year for the linebackers from Day 1, when Lawrence Timmons went AWOL. About that time, the Dolphins, having already lost second-round pick Raekwon McMillan for the year, signed veteran Rey Maualuga.

Problem was, Maualuga took a long time to get in shape and a short time to throw it away. When he was arrested on a battery charge in a Miami bar at 8:22 on a Saturday morning, the Dolphins immediately waived him, which suggests they had warned him he was in a zero-tolerance situation.

Chase Allen, who emerged from the undrafted lot as a longshot to make the team, was pressed into duty and had his moments, as did Stephone Anthony, who adds some much-needed athleticism.

As for the anchors of the unit, Alonso finished second on the team (to Reshad Jones) with 115 tackles and Timmons was third with 84, but whether enough of those were impact plays is the question.

What it all means

Stats and league rankings: Alonso finished second to Reshad Jones on the Dolphins with 115 tackles. Timmons was third with 84. The Dolphins were 14th against the run this year and 17th in rushing average.

Number of times QBs received an A: 1

Number of times QBs received an F: 4

Season GPA: 1.69 (D-plus)

Analysis: No unit (not even the quarterbacks) endured this much drama. A strong comeback by McMillan is imperative. So is finding ways to maximize Alonso’s skillset, as was the case early in the season.

Adjusted final grade: D-plus

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