Friday, November 06, 2020

Miami Dolphins: Best-ranked defense in 22 years. Here comes Kyler Murray.


Joe Schad

Palm Beach Post

Published 3:33 PM ET Nov. 5, 2020 

Twenty-two years ago, then-Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson did an interview with Sports Illustrated to talk about the NFL's best defense.

Johnson explained to the journalist that there were five characteristics he sought in a player: intelligence, hard work, playmaking, love of the game and character.

Johnson specifically highlighted the importance of creating big plays.

That defense finished the season ranked No. 1 in the NFL in points per game allowed, at only 16.6.

Twenty-two years later, a Dolphins defense orchestrated by coach Brian Flores and defensive coordinator Josh Boyer is again making game-changing plays.

And once again, Miami is ranked No. 1 in the NFL in points per game allowed, at only 18.6.

"It’s a fun group to watch if you’re not playing them," Arizona coach Kliff Kingsbury said this week. "They’re in attacking mode and take on the personality of their coach."

No team in the NFL averages more offensive yards per game than the Cardinals (419.1), which makes Sunday's road game especially intriguing.

It's going to be very challenging to slow down the likes of quarterback Kyler Murray and receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Larry Fitzgerald. But before we get too worried about the Arizona offense, some props are in order for Miami's defense.

 "People keep sleeping on our defense," Dolphins safety Eric Rowe said after Sunday's defeat of the Rams.

The Dolphins are creating pressure from every position on the field. Miami has 19 sacks. Last year, they posted 23 sacks for the season.

"In our defense, anybody can come," linebacker Jerome Baker said. "It’s hard to be prepared for anybody on the field to come."

Miami is creating turnovers. In fact, the Dolphins are fifth in the league with 13 takeaways.

Star cornerback Xavien Howard has four interceptions, harkening back memories of 1998, when Sam Madison and Terrell Buckley each snagged eight.

Free-agent additions Emmanuel Ogbah and Kyle Van Noy have each forced two forced fumbles, leading to wonderful memories of how Jason Taylor forced three in 1998, as a 24-year-old.

Flores stresses toughness, discipline and intelligence, which really is not far off from what Johnson once did, too.

He and Boyer have very high expectations, refusing to allow the team to get too hyped about mid-season statistical achievements.

"I’m very leery about statistics right now," Flores said. "This is a week-to-week league. I’m not — we’ve got to just focus on today and focus on improving today and focus on getting better in practice this week, and not worry about the statistics."

That's not as compelling as Flores proclaiming that, yes, this Dolphins defense deserves a nickname and he's instructing a social media team to poll fans for suggestions. But his players are listening.

"We are still trying to figure out our identity, believe it or not," Miami linebacker Elandon Roberts said.

Not too dissimilar from 1998, this Dolphins defense has tough players with a relentless mindset and a desire to swarm to the ball. There is room to improve in the area of run defense. On Sunday, containing Arizona quarterback Murray on scrambles will be key.

"He’s unlike anyone in this league," Flores said of Murray. "You don’t see this type of athlete at the quarterback position very often. The Lamar Jackson’s of the world — that’s someone who comes to mind who is that fast, that athletic, that quick. You turn your head and they’re 20 yards down the field."

Miami's is ranked only 20th in yards allowed. Thus, the Dolphins may in fact yield decent chunks of yards to Arizona on Sunday

"Ultimately what you’re trying to do is win the game," Boyer said. "They don’t give you points for yards."

But Miami is second in the NFL in third-down defense. Like so many great Patriots defenses and also that Miami defense of 1998, things clamp down in the red zone.

And, as Johnson would surely approve, Miami has the caliber of player to create game-changing plays with sacks, forced fumbles, recovered fumbles and interceptions.

"It’s a blast," said Miami linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel, who scored a touchdown last Sunday. Van Ginkel suggests the identity of Miami's defense is "energy." 

Kingsbury appreciates that Miami's scheme focuses on taking away the most dangerous offensive players and dialing up countless looks. Kingsbury also sees Dolphins who can blitz well and players who can really cover.

"They’re attacking and in your face, and there’s just not a lot of open space," Kingsbury said. "They eliminate all that space and they stick to you on every throw."

1998 Dolphins leaders, tackles

Zach Thomas

Brock Marion

Robert Jones

Jason Taylor

Terrell Buckley

Derrick Rodgers

Sam Madison

Calvin Jackson

Daryl Gardner

Kenny Mixon 

Tim Bowens

Key reserves: Patrick Surtain, Lorenzo Bromell, Trace Armstrong 

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