Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Dolphins' imperfect defeat of Steelers keyed by Josh Boyer's 'tremendous plan' | Schad


Joe Schad

Palm Beach Post

MIAMI GARDENS — On the night they honored perfection, it was, well, you know.

Entirely imperfect.

The Dolphins will take it. They'll take a nationally-televised defeat of the Steelers even though they punted six times and went for it on fourth down when, well, even coach Mike McDaniel immediately conceded it was a mistake.

They'll take a 16-10 victory because after losing three straight, a home victory on a night the Dolphins honored the 1972 Super Bowl champions will long overshadow the pockmarks.

There were too many misfires by Tua Tagovailoa, after a hot start, and too many drops and too much miscommunication. More than anything, there haven't been nearly enough points based on the number of yards gained in recent weeks.

"We hit a lull," McDaniel said. "It was like we got punched in the stomach."

McDaniel has a way with words. But we are here to cite a reason for optimism.

That reason is Dolphins defensive coordinator Josh Boyer. With former Dolphins head coach Brian Flores observing from the Steelers' sideline as an assistant, Boyer had a heck of a night.

"It was a tremendous plan," McDaniel said. "We wanted to make them earn it. It was a winning effort."

Earlier this week, Boyer said it wouldn't be fair to cite Miami's defensive effort against Minnesota as a winning defensive effort, even though the defense forced 10 punts. Because the Dolphins lost.

After a few sluggish defensive outings, Miami's defense seems to have turned a corner. On this night, the Dolphins forced six punts, but also forced three interceptions.

On this night, Miami's defense stood tall, despite a slew of key injuries.

Already playing without Byron Jones, Emmanuel Ogbah, Nik Needham, Kader Kohou and Keion Crossen, Miami lost top tackler Brandon Jones, a safety, to a knee injury.

What did Boyer do? He adjusted. He utilized Verone McKinley III, an undrafted player just promoted from the practice squad, and special teams demons Justin Bethel and Clayton Fejedelem, too.

"(Josh) did a great job just knowing the personnel that we had, especially with everybody being down," said Bethel, who had a first-quarter interception. "It was a plan we could execute at a high level."

The Dolphins missed some tackles earlier this season and McDaniel said that was a point of emphasis entering this game. Miami also wanted to force more turnovers.

Check mark there, too.

Dolphins hampered by Tua's first game in 3 weeks

Look, Miami's offense was slowed by an injury to Tagovailoa that sidelined him for two games. And Tagovailoa conceded late Sunday that he was a bit off rhythm in part due to missed time.

McDaniel is making no excuses. But all along it was Miami's defense that was intended to backbone the team. Early on, that was not happening. Right now, it is.

After the game, Tagovailoa said he did not speak with Flores, the former head coach with whom he had a poor relationship. Flores and Boyer did not have a bad relationship, but it was wondered by some folks, even some players, how Boyer would do without Flores' collaborative input.

It seems more likely now he's going to be just fine.

"He does a great job organizing the plays and the game plan," said safety Jevon Holland, who had a critical interception late in the fourth quarter. "He plays to our strengths."

The Dolphins are about to see Jared Goff, Justin Fields, Jacoby Brissett and Davis Mills and there's no reason there can't be a really good continued stretch of defensive performance.

Boyer hasn't been able to be as aggressive with the blitzing as he was last year for several reasons. First, the loss of Byron Jones opposite Xavien Howard lends itself to more safeties helping corners.

Safety Brandon Jones goes down with knee injury

A pretty bad knee injury to Brandon Jones would take away one of their best overall blitzers.

On this night, Miami felt it could get after Pittsburgh's offensive line. But the Dolphins didn't want to overplay the pass rush to where Kenny Pickett, the rookie, could expose them with the quarterback run.

"He knows how teams are going to attack us," defensive lineman Zach Sieler said of Boyer. "He calls a smart game. He knows the players. He knows the strengths. He knows how to adapt."

There are few coaches who put in as many hours as Boyer does in the film room. He is extremely well-prepared and it really bothers him when he sees poor technique or too many penalties. They're getting better.

The Dolphins are 4-3 and there are 10 regular-season games left. There is plenty of time for Boyer to fully escape Flores' shadow and put that storyline to bed. 

As McDaniel would say, this situation creates great opportunity.

The Sunday night game was sealed when Holland and then oft-criticized Noah Igbinoghene intercepted Pickett on the final two Steelers' possessions of the game.

McDaniel is witty and has a dry sense of humor but he also has a hard time disguising his true emotions. Asked how he felt after the two interceptions, McDaniel quipped, "hoorah."

Exactly. Not a thriller. Not a classic. But they'll take it.

A perfectly imperfect win. With some encouraging signs from a defense and the coordinator.

Joe Schad is a journalist at the Palm Beach Post part of the USA TODAY Florida Network. You can reach him at Help support our journalism. Subscribe today.


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