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  Pasqualoni on the Hot Seat
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by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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One thing about head coach Tony Sparano that makes him the tonic this franchise needs is that he holds his people (and himself) accountable for their work. This goes equally for players and coaches.

The latest case in point is OG Justin Smiley, whom Sparano recently benched in favor of Nate Garner. The reason? Lack of performance.

This brings us to the coaching staff. At the end of last season, Sparano canned offensive line coach Mike Maser because he felt Maser wasn't an effective teacher or communicator. Was Maser capable? Absolutely. But the guy wasn’t getting the job done, so Sparano let him go.

This year, defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni could be the coach on the hot seat.

Why is that?

His defense is a below average 19th overall....12th against the run (and heading south with the loss of NT Jason Ferguson) and 23rd against the pass. Only five teams have surrendered more passes of 20 yards or longer, and they are dead last in 4th quarter points allowed and in yards per completion.

In all fairness, Pasqualoni has been hamstrung with a rebuilt secondary. That's partly on GM Jeff Ireland and his personnel people, especially with regards to the ill-advised Gibril Wilson signing and letting Renaldo Hill go.

But Pasqualoni is accountable as well because he has exacerbated the problem by leaving rookie corners Sean Smith and Vontae Davis alone in one-on-one coverage versus the best wide receivers in the game.

Predictably, the results have been disastrous.

While Smith and Davis are promising talents, they're not ready for that responsibility yet. What rookie corner would be? Nevertheless, Pasqualoni continues to be inexplicably stubborn about it.

But the problems don't end there. Whenever you see two safeties leading the team in tackles, and defensive backs occupying 5 of the top 8 spots (30 tackles or more), you know there’s also a problem with the front seven.

At inside linebacker, Akin Ayodele and Channing Crowder have been stout against the run but have failed to come up with a single turnover, have just one sack between them, and appear to have limitations defending the pass. And while outside linebackers Jason Taylor, Joey Porter, and Cameron Wake have 17.5 sacks between them, they’ve only registered four turnovers.

Yet the most glaring issue is with tackles registered; no linebacker has registered 50 tackles yet, and no outside LB has 30. That's just not good enough.

Contrast this with New England’s Gary Guyton and Jerod Mayo, who EACH have over 50 tackles (Guyton has 63) and are ranked second and third respectively in tackles overall. Overall, five of their top eight players in tackles are front seven players.

Is the problem conditioning-related? Unlikely, not the way Sparano trains his guys. Some of it is injury-related, with Porter (hamstring), Taylor (shoulder), and Crowder (shoulder) playing at less than 100%. Some of it, in my opinion, is due to a lack of speed and explosiveness especially late in games (age?). Of course, with other players on the roster, talent is an issue.

But some of it is with Pasqualoni and how he is using his people.

With the loss of Ferguson, wouldn’t the Dolphins be better off in a 4-3 set where Randy Starks, Tony McDaniel, and Paul Soliai could be used at DT in a manner more conducive to their talents? With the exception of Soliai, none of the remaining tackles are true nose guards, and Soliai isn’t yet consistent in the role.

In a 4-3, Taylor would move up to his old weakside DE job where he does good work; this would help get Wake on the field more at OLB. Quentin Moses is capable of playing DE in the 4-3, while Kendall Langford and Phillip Merling could rotate on the strongside.

At LB, Channing Crowder has played the Mike position many times in the past as Zach Thomas’s understudy. Wake and Porter would be the logical choices at the Sam and Will positions, though Porter probably isn’t fast enough. But Charlie Anderson is, with Ayodele, Moses, and Reggie Torbor in reserve. And while Wake isn’t consistent yet versus the run in a 3-4, wouldn’t he do better in a 4-3 where he isn’t as exposed?

Thus far, Pasqualoni’s reluctance to make these (or any) meaningful changes is perplexing. It has also been ruinous. He just doesn’t have the guys right now to make the 3-4 work.

 

It would be fascinating to listen in on a conversation between Sparano and Pasqualoni. While that isn’t likely to happen anytime soon, we know that Sparano isn’t happy with his defense this season and has probably told Pasqualoni as much on several occasions. Given Sparano’s direct style of communication, and the fact that the defense has probably cost the team four wins this season, one can imagine the tone of their discussions.

 

One can also imagine the direct and open discussions that Sparano and Ireland have had this season regarding personnel. It’s Ireland’s job to get Sparano the guys he needs to win without sacrificing the future in terms of cap space and draft picks. While Ireland has done well with the draft, his bungles in free agency…especially FS Gibril Wilson, and maybe even the release of Vonnie Holliday and not re-signing Hill…have cost the team dearly this season.

 

How much is talent versus coaching is unclear. What we do know is that a defense that is ranked 26th in points allowed, surrendering a whopping 25 per game, is no defense at all.

 

This doesn’t reflect well on Pasqualoni and, perhaps, his long term prospects as defensive coordinator of the Miami Dolphins.

 
 
     
   
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