Porter making less noise

Vocal linebacker's production waned at end of regular season

Dolphins

January 04, 2009|By Omar Kelly | Omar Kelly,South Florida Sun-Sentinel

When you're Joey Porter, there's usually nowhere to hide. No chance of slipping under the radar.

As the Miami Dolphins' sack leader and most vocal player, fans and critics are quick to pick apart every performance, particularly in games like today's AFC wild-card contest against the Ravens. Never mind that opponents seek out his whereabouts before every snap and regularly adjust their blocking schemes in an effort to neutralize him.

His fans and critics routinely search for his impact in games. Especially those on the biggest of stages, such as today's.

Lately, the four-time Pro Bowl selection has been muted on the field. It appears teams have figured out a way to muzzle the NFL's king of trash talk, and, as a result, the linebacker has only four tackles and one sack over the past three games.

That stretch included a shutout in the Dec. 21 win over the Kansas City Chiefs, in which Porter failed to record a single statistic for the second time in his accomplished nine seasons as a starter.

"If I don't get a sack, I'm not playing good. I understand that, but they come in bunches," said Porter, whose 17 1/2 sacks are a career high, but his 47 tackles are a career low as a starter. "I've got to win some of my battles when I have opportunities."

If not for this recent drought, Porter might have broken the team sack record. He fell one short.

"You guys gauge what Joey does by sacks, and it's natural. I understand that," coach Tony Sparano said. "The guy's got 17 1/2 , so if he doesn't get 18 1/2 , something's wrong."

Sparano said one of the key factors he uses to gauge Porter is rushing yards; he wants to see how many running plays bounce outside of Porter. To Porter's credit, Sparano said he hasn't seen many lately, which means Porter is playing a more "fundamentally sound game."

"Every coach that's playing against us right now is going to scheme to try to take Joey Porter away. They have to do that, so the protection is going to him," Sparano said. "He's getting hit by two different people in some of those situations, but that comes with the territory when you get those numbers."

In order to advance to the next round against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Porter's former team, Porter knows he must make an impact. That could be to rattle Ravens rookie quarterback Joe Flacco, who has completed 60 percent of his passes and has a 14-to-12 touchdown pass-to-interception ratio.

Flacco has been sacked 32 times, and in the Ravens' five losses he was taken down 12 times and threw nine interceptions.

Porter sacked Flacco twice in the 27-13 loss to the Ravens on Oct. 19, which is why Porter and his teammates know there will be plenty of attention paid to wherever he lines up.

Opponents frequently use running backs and tight ends to help block Porter on passing downs. But this strategy is nothing new to a pass-rushing specialist like Porter.

The only thing that has changed has been the Dolphins' inability to take advantage of the extra attention Porter has drawn, which often leaves defensive linemen single-blocked.

Matt Roth is second on the team with five sacks. The entire defensive line and linebacking corps have matched Porter's 17 1/2 .

"In this day and age with the formations and the spread-out concepts that offenses are running, it's imperative that you rush the passer, and everybody's got to contribute," defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni said. "That's critically important."

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