It's been well documented that over the past few years the Dolphins defense has had a tough time dealing with big targets. It almost feels like it's a weekly occurance that a tight end has the game of his life against Kevin Coyle's unit, something that was supposed to have been sorted out with the additions of linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler in the offseason, but the problem has not gone away.
Jordan Cameron, TE, Cleveland Browns
Jordan Cameron had a breakout game against Miami on the opening day, a performance that he's built on as the season has progressed. Cameron is the perfect example of how you don't need a ton of speed to cause problems when facing this defense. His 9 receptions showed the Dolphins inability to adjust, and the touchdown showed how easy it is to get behind the Dolphins defense.
Coby Fleener, TE, Indianapolis Colts
Stanford product Coby Fleener wouldn't even have started if Dwayne Allen had been fit for Indianapolis, but in typical fashion, the second year tight end had one of the best games in his short but inconsistent career. Similar to how Jordan Cameron had the week before, Fleener exploited the Dolphins' soft coverage in the endzone to haul in what could have been a fatal touchdown.
Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons
Before an injury ended his season, Julio Jones dominated the Dolphins with a 115 yard day. Jones does his best work in the open field, and with Dimitri Patterson out with a groin injury Jones' dominance was obvious. Exploiting the coverage in the intermediate range, the defense looked clueless as to how to stop Jones, even the Dolphins' best cornerback Brent Grimes had problems.
Jimmy Graham, TE, New Orleans Saints
The biggest guy on this list, Jimmy Graham, stands tall at 6'7" and causes every defense he faces problems. On the face of it, only giving up 100 yards to Graham is pretty good for the Dolphins, its the 2 touchdowns that should be the biggest concern. The receivers on this list didn't register a touchdown catch, whereas the tight ends registered 4 in total between themselves. When it comes to covering tight ends in the redzone, the safeties are just as important as the linebackers, so no matter how much was spent on faster linebackers in the offseason, it means nothing if the safeties have their own problems covering the big men.
Torrey Smith, WR, Baltimore Ravens
Smith's day against the Dolphins defense was very similar to the day Julio Jones had. It shows that they didn't learn from the beating that the Falcon gave to them a few weeks before. It didn't help that a load of the defensive starters went out of the game with injuries, but that shouldn't have been too much of an issue as Smith mostly lined up on the outside against either Grimes/Nolan Carroll or Jamar Taylor.
What can be done to solve these issues?
Firstly, the safeties and linebackers need to play better. Reshad Jones has taken a step back after his strong 2012 season, as had Chris Clemons. Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler were supposed to be the quick linebackers that would solve the Dolphins' issues with tight ends. This is a new system for Ellerbe, so the hope is that he's still adjusting, but you'd have thought the adjustment period would be over after 5 games.
I actually think the Dolphins need to put Dion Jordan in coverage more. At the University of Oregon, Jordan stayed back in coverage just as much as he rushed the passer, but the Dolphins seem to have their hearts set on keeping him as an out and out pass rusher. Jordan has the size and speed to keep up with the fast tight ends, better first level defending will help Reshad Jones and Chris Clemons when/if he reaches the second level.
When it comes to covering the big receivers, there's not a lot you can do except hope that Dimitri Patterson's return will change things. Nolan Carroll has improved big time, but he still has moments of stupidity that leave people scratching their heads. The guys behind him on the depth chart just aren't ready yet for the task of guarding the Julio Jones' and the Torrey Smith's of the NFL.