Matt Burke is in his first season as an NFL defensive coordinator. So far, so good, considering the Miami Dolphins’ faulty offense has been doing him no favors with all of those deflating three-and-outs.
There will come a day, however, when he and his staff have no answers for whatever an opponent is throwing at the Dolphins. When that happens, Burke will feel lousy. He might break a few things. He might even wonder if he is cut out for this job.
Then, he will get back to work, which is exactly what Dick LeBeau has been doing for his 44 consecutive seasons as a trusted defensive coach in this league.
LeBeau is the defensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans, who are Miami’s opponent on Sunday. He was the coordinator for a couple of Super Bowl title teams during his days with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He refined and utilized the zone blitz with such effectiveness that many long-timers consider him one of the greatest defensive minds of all time, and he earned his shot at head coaching with Cincinnati from 2000-02.
Altogether, he has worked for five NFL teams, starting as a special-teams coach with the Eagles in 1973, and just last month LeBeau celebrated his 80th birthday with a surprise party thrown by the Titans players in their practice bubble.
With all of that coaching experience, and with a long playing career as a Detroit Lions defensive back that earned LeBeau induction to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010, you would think it impossible to outthink the man.
All the same, LeBeau’s Tennessee defense allowed 57 points in a crushing loss to the Houston Texans last week. The quarterback who carved the Titans up with four touchdown passes and a scoring run was a rookie, Deshaun Watson. Just like that, the defensive genius of a couple of NFL generations was hit with the highest point total of his career.
Only three times have any other teams come close to this, in spite of many NFL rules changes over the years meant to favor offenses.
New England scored 55 points on a Tom Brady four-touchdown day against LeBeau’s Steeler defense in 2013. Two other times, once as a head coach and once as a defensive backs coach, he was on the wrong side of scoring onslaughts of 50 and 52 points. Always he survived, piecing together something better the following week and reminding people of exactly who he is.
That’s what LeBeau will be doing with his game plan for the Dolphins. He won’t feel cocky about facing a Miami team that has scored just six points in the last two games. No coach in this league can ever afford to be cocky.
The most amazing things happen in this league, the good and the bad, and if a Dick LeBeau team can get stung for 57 points, the most in the NFL since Seattle scored 58 against Arizona in 2012, there is nothing to do but keep churning.
What did LeBeau say on his recent birthday, after blowing out 80 candles and cutting a cake bearing the message “Happy Birthday to the GOAT”?
“OK, let’s got to work. The party is over.”