On the Defensive

Dom Capers' last season as head coach of the Houston Texans was an absolute nightmare, as his team finished 2-14. This year actually might be worse for him.

Capers is in his second season with the Dolphins, but his first as defensive coordinator. Last year he was special assistant to the head coach, and while he worked with the defense, it clearly was Nick Saban who was in charge of that unit.

So it doesn't reflect well on Capers that the Dolphins defense ranked 24th in the league after eight weeks, after Miami finished fourth in 2006.

The Dolphins have been equally poor against the run or the pass. They're ranked 31st in the league in rushing yards allowed per game, and opponents are averaging a healthy 4.5 yards per rushing attempt.

The Dolphins' ranking of seventh in the league in pass defense is very misleading. For one thing, opponents have combined for a passer rating of 102.6 -- since 2000, only two teams have finished a season with their opponents compiling a pass rating in triple digits. One major issue is a lack of interceptions, with the Dolphins recording only four in the first half of the season.

The Dolphins' sack total also is way down, from 47 last season to only 14 at the halfway mark in 2007.

One reason for the lack of sacks has been the ineffectiveness of free agent acquisition Joey Porter, and it's another issue that doesn't reflect well on Capers.

As a former assistant with the Steelers, Capers still has connections in Pittsburgh and he used those connections in the offseason to get the lowdown on Porter after he was released in a salary-cap move.

Capers' input no doubt played a role in the Dolphins giving Porter a five-year deal worth $32 million and including $20 million in guaranteed money.

It was a deal that was criticized in many circles, and Porter has done nothing to silence the skeptics.

"I did research on Joey," Capers said. "As you know, I have some people who I'm fairly close with there at Pittsburgh that I respect their opinions. I, obviously, spoke with them. Having played against him, I evaluated him in the defense there and stayed pretty familiar with their defense. I gave my input in terms of what I thought Joey was and what he could contribute."

What Porter has contributed so far is very little. He has 26 tackles and one sack in eight games, to go along with two passes defensed.

In fact, Porter has made more news this season with his words than his actions. Before the Dolphins played Oakland, he guaranteed a victory (the Dolphins lost 35-17) and before the Cleveland game he took some shots at Browns tight end Kellen Winslow (the Dolphins lost 41-31).

When asked about Porter's performance this season, Capers said progress was being made.

"I think he's played his best the last two or three games," Capers said. "I think there are a lot of factors in that -- coming into a new system, missing the large majority of training camp (because of arthroscopic knee surgery) and all of the things that we're asking him to do. We ask him to play three different positions in our regular and our nickel and dime [packages], so there's a lot there in terms of what we ask him to do, but I think that he's progressed. I think he's most comfortable now with the things we're asking him to do. Hopefully, if he stays healthy, we think that he'll continue to be more productive because he has been more productive the last couple of weeks."

Porter, however, hasn't been the only problem for the Miami defense.

Injuries have been an issue, with both opening-day starting safeties, Yeremiah Bell and Renaldo Hill, landing on injured reserve, and Zach Thomas, Vonnie Holliday and Channing Crowder also missing time because of injuries.

The Dolphins' depth also isn't the same as it was last season, after the team let several veteran defensive linemen -- Kevin Carter, Jeff Zgonina, David Bowens and Dan Wilkinson -- leave in the offseason.

If Capers wants to take at least one positive into the bye week, it's that his defense shut out the New York Giants in the second half of last Sunday's game in London and gave up only 49 net passing yards.

"There's nobody that is pleased with where we are right now, but we do know this: The only way that you get better is you've got to keep searching and looking for the right combinations and giving guys an opportunity to keep coaching people and giving them an opportunity to show you what they are capable of," he said. "My experience has always told me that if you believe in something and you stick with it and you execute it better you know that you pull yourself through some of the tough things. I think our defense did that this last week.

"Going in against the Giants we knew it was going to be a big challenge because they've got a very good offense. I was pleased with the way our defense hung in there after being down 13-0 at half and going out in the second half and battled and gave ourselves a chance to come back and have a chance at the end of the football game. To me that tells you a lot about guys, that they are hanging in there. They are working. They're battling. We have to just continue to look to improve and we have to evaluate what we think our guys can do and do effectively enough to give us a chance to go out and win here in the second half of the season."


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