Out of nowhere, the Dolphins, now led by their defense, have changed their culture and identity.
Ranked at the bottom of the league in rush defense (30th), the Miami Dolphins’ defense appears to be the “same old” unit fans of South Florida’s NFL franchise have grown sorely accustomed to over the past few seasons. However, during their recent five-game winning-streak, one can see a stark contrast emerge between this year’s Dolphins’ defense and the one that has been ingrained in recent memory.
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At the present moment, oddly enough, the Dolphins’ strength has returned to the defensive side of the ball. Fighting through the pain and adversity—both figuratively and literally—it looks as if this resilient group has matured over time into its contemporary state. Aside from Matt Forte, who ran for 92 yards on 12 carries and a touchdown in the Dolphins’ week nine victory over the New York Jets, the Dolphins’ defense has proven itself stout against some of the NFL’s best running backs.
Combined, the Dolphins’ defense has held two Pro-Bowlers (LeSean McCoy and Le’Veon Bell), this season’s fourth-leading rusher (Melvin Gordon), and last year’s rookie of the year (Todd Gurley) to just below 3.4 yards per rush attempt (210 yards on 62 carries). Even more intriguing, the success of the Dolphins’ rush defense runs parallel with their secondary; in fact, the Dolphins are ranked eighth in the league defending the pass.
It’s hard to imagine that eleven weeks into the 2016 NFL season the Miami Dolphins would be ranked in the top ten in any defensive category, particularly against the pass. But despite losing Pro-Bowl safety Reshad Jones, inheriting a player that’s a shadow of his former self (Byron Maxwell), and relying heavily on inexperienced corners, the Dolphins’ secondary has somehow found a way to prove itself to its critics.
Although a surprise, in reality, a lot of the secondary’s success throughout the year has come from two things: opponents taking advantage of a poor Dolphins’ run defense, and the never-ending amount of pressure the defensive line has put on opposing quarterbacks. Taken together, these two factors have inflated the secondary’s statistics. Despite this, however, it’s fair to say that this Dolphins’ secondary has vastly improved over the span of the team’s winning streak, silencing its critics along the way.
After the transformation of the Dolphins’ run defense, opponents started attacking the team through the air. Unexpectedly, the Dolphins’ secondary took the challenge head on and played extremely well. In fact, the Dolphins’ secondary managed to fluster some of the league’s best signal callers.
In the win that proved to be the catalyst of this exciting five-game journey, the Dolphins held Pro-Bowl quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to his lowest quarterback rating on the season (57.1), intercepting the future Hall-of-Famer twice. Another Pro-Bowl quarterback, Philip Rivers, was held to his second-lowest quarterback rating (61.4) and was intercepted four times. The quarterback who fared the best against the revitalized Dolphins’ defense was Tyrod Taylor, which managed an 88.5 quarterback rating—only two points higher than his season average. Rounding out the rest of the victims who fell in defeat at the hands of the Dolphins during their impressive run are quarterbacks Ryan Fitzpatrick, who finished with an unimpressive quarterback rating of 62.9 and 2 interceptions, and Jared Goff, who finished with a 65.8 quarterback rating in his rookie debut.
The unexpected has now become the routine in South Florida. The Dolphins haven’t won five straight games since 2008, which happens to be the last year the team went to the playoffs. Out of nowhere, the Dolphins, now led by their defense, have changed their culture and identity.
What was once a team led by Joe Philbin, a milquetoast of insignificant stature, is now led by a youthful, charismatic coach who has somehow turned the Miami Dolphins into the team who demands your milk money on Sunday, not the one that asks politely under its breath.