Tight End Trouble

TE Tony Gonzalez

It's difficult to find too much to fault when it comes to the performance of the Dolphins defense in the first two games. Probably the most glaring deficiency has been the difficulty in covering tight ends, with both Jordan Cameron and Coby Fleener enjoying big days against Miami. And now come the really good tight ends.

On Sunday, the Dolphins take on the Atlanta Falcons, whose tight end is a player who seems destined for the Hall of Fame, Tony Gonzalez.

Eight days after that, the Dolphins face the guy who has merely become the most dangerous receiving tight end in the game, New Orleans' Jimmy Graham.

The story of Graham is well known by now, how he went from being a basketball player at the University of Miami before playing football as a senior at UM. The guy is freakish and will be a load for the Dolphins to conver.

But that's next week.

The focus this week is Tony Gonzalez, and it's not that much more easier of a task for the Dolphins defense.

Gonzalez, who came back for a 17th NFL season in 2013 after first saying he was going to retire, is off to a fairly slow start with only seven catches in the first two games.

But the Dolphins know better than to take the guy lightly. Gonzalez had done some damage against the Dolphins, first as a member of the Chiefs and then in the 2009 season opener as a member of the Falcons.

Other than a one-catch performance in his rookie season in 1997, Gonzalez has caught at least five passes each time he has faced the Dolphins.

The breakdown:

2009, Atlanta, 5 catches, 73 yards, 1 TD

2008, Kansas City, 7 catches, 64 yards, 1 TD

2006, Kansas City, 6 catches, 84 yards

2005, Kansas City, 7 catches, 67 yards

2002, Kansas City, 7 catches, 140 yards, 3 TD

With Roddy White nursing a high ankle sprain that has limited early on, Gonzalez could be a big weapon for the Falcons Sunday, particularly after the big performances enjoyed against the Dolphins by Cameron and Fleener.

Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle was asked at his weekly press conference Monday if he had any quick remedies for the problems covering tight ends.

"No, if you know of any, let me know," Coyle said laughing.

Then he turned serious.

"You know, it's funny. I knew that question might be posed, but when you look around the league it's not just us," Coyle said. "These tight ends, they are darn good athletes. They are mismatched athletes in terms of coverage at times. You see them on a weekly basis. There are guys that are really big. Their number of catches are big, and we happen to be facing some really good ones, not just this week. Last week we had one. This week we had a very athletic guy. Certainly (Tony) Gonzalez is that way. The guy the following week is going to be that way. We've got to keep mixing things up and do a better job against them. I think it's part of the way football is today. The tight end position has become such a key focal point."

Along with covering tight ends, the other problem for the Dolphins defense early on has been stopping the run.

But that's been a forte for several years and, besides, Atlanta will come to South Florida without starting running back Steven Jackson.

That means the focal point, along with the obvious of containing White and Julio Jones at wide receiver, will be trying to keep Gonzalez in check.

Clearly, that's easier said than done.

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