DEFENSE ON THE RUN

Stopping the run is always considered a key ingredient to any championship run, but it's not something the Dolphins have done very swell in recent weeks.<P>While there's no reason to push the panic button, there's every reason to be a little concerned as the Dolphins prepare for Saturday's showdown at New England.<P>

Three of the Dolphins' worst four performances stopping the run have come in the last monght, with Buffalo, Denver and San Francisco all rushing for 127 or more yards.

There are several reasons why that has happened, starting with the injury to defensive tackle Daryl Gardener. Jermaine Haley and Ernest Grant have filled in for Gardener, but neither player can make as big an impact at the line of scrimmage.

Another problem, as Coach Dave Wannstedt pointed out on Wednesday, as been missed tackles and one of the culprits in that area has been Pro Bowl middle linebacker Zach Thomas.

Finally, the Dolphins have tried to stop the run without sacrificing their pass coverage. As a result, they have declined to put eight men in the box (bringing a safety close to the line of scrimmage), which is something a lot of teams do.

Without revealing details of the game plan, Wannstedt said the Dolphins could get the safeties more involved in stopping the run this week.

The strategy of keeping the safeties back has worked in one sense, with the Dolphins leading the NFL in pass defense.

The bottom line is the Dolphins need to improve their run defense. It cost them dearly in the loss at San Francisco last Sunday. Just think back to that nightmarish 11-minute drive the 49ers put together in the third quarter.

It never would have happened had Garrison Hearst not gained 9 yards on a draw play on a third-and-7 from the San Francisco 5-yard line.


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