The Dolphins led the NFL with 29 takeaways this season, a point of emphasis that began back in training camp. Whether it was interceptions, fumble recoveries or even scooping the rock off the turf on dead balls, the Dolphins defenders developed a thirst for the ball and giving it back to the offense.
We're going to look at each of the 29 takeaways. Since only one, sometimes two, player(s) get credit for takeaways in the box score, we'll note all contributing parties for each turnover created. Plus, we note the different schemes dialed up by Defensive Coordinator Josh Boyer, which helped Miami get to the top of leaderboard and carry a 22-game streak for consecutive games with a takeaway, the longest active run in the National Football League, into next season.
1. Baker saves a touchdown in New England
Trailing 14-3 late in the third quarter, the Patriots were on the doorstep of extending the lead when the third-year linebacker made a big play. Quarterback Cam Newton rolled out on a bootleg with wide receiver N'Keal Harry racing to the flat. Baker stopped his rush and entered a footrace with Harry. He pulled down the ball carrier and the football went through the end zone for a touchback.
2. Van Noy punches it out 35 yards downfield
Buffalo's Dawson Knox gets free after faking a block and leaking into the flat uncovered. Starting five yards behind Knox, Van Noy disengages from a block and pursues the tight end for 35 yards before punching the ball out. Xavien Howard was also in on the hit with rookie cornerback Noah Igbinoghene scooping up the loose ball.
3. Van Noy's hat trick
With a 21-7 lead late in the third, the Miami defense was searching for the back-breaker on a Jacksonville third-and-13. Emmanuel Ogbah draws a one-on-one with the right tackle and overpowers his man. This forces Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew to tuck and attempt to escape. As he steps up, Minshew is greeted by Van Noy, who won inside on a stunt. Van Noy's right hand jars the football free as he finishes the sack, strip and scoop by covering up the ball at the Jacksonville 10-yard-line.
4. X grabs his first INT of the season
Matched up one-on-one to the boundary late in a 31-13 game in Jacksonville, Howard mirrors the takeoff route by Chris Conley, pinning the wide receiver to the sideline. Minshew tries the back-shoulder ball as the safety to that side of the field (Bobby McCain) closes on a crossing route. Howard, left alone, is in perfect location to find the ball, make a play, and put Miami in victory formation.
5. Howard picks of Wilson in the end zone
Facing a critical third-and-6, trailing by eight in the third quarter, Howard draws Seattle standout wide receiver D.K. Metcalf. Boyer dials up a pressure look that creates a free-run for Ogbah, who forces a quick throw off the backfoot by Russell Wilson. Howard, playing outside leverage, drives underneath the slant of Metcalf and makes the diving interceptions in the end zone.
6. McCain's range on display for INT vs. 49ers
Dropping 30 yards off the ball, McCain shows off his range, eye discipline and preparation as the 49ers try to sneak running back Jerrick McKinnon downfield on a deep shot matched up with Jerome Baker. McCain gets depth to help take away a crossing pattern, then flips his hips to get over the top of McKinnon – who is blanketed by Baker step-for-step – to secure his first interception of the season. Zach Sieler applied pressure on quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, which forced a hitch in the delivery.
7. Howard makes it back-to-back third down INTs for Miami
With only 26 seconds to play in the first half, the Dolphins defensive backs play with significant cushion as McCain, Howard and Byron Jones each take a deep third of the field. Garoppolo tries to shoot a dig route to Deebo Samuel but the ball is overthrown into the waiting hands of Howard, who returns it 29 yards to help give Miami a 30-7 halftime lead.
8. Ogbah wins a one-on-one to force first fumble as a Dolphin
With a 43-17 lead late in the fourth, the Dolphins put the 49ers away with the third takeaway of the game. Ogbah draws a one-on-one and uses a chop-rip to swipe the initial punch of the tackle, then uses his outside hand to rip past his man en route to the quarterback. Ogbah attacks the football, forcing it free, and Christian Wilkins falls on it to close out San Francisco.
9. Minimal margin for error when testing X
Miami's top-ranked third down defense shines again with one of the more-impressive interceptions on the season for Xavien Howard. First, the Jets assign a tight end and running back to Emmanuel Ogbah, who flies into the Jets backfield forcing Joe Flacco to slide off of his spot. Then, he throws a crossing route to wide receiver Jamison Crowder. Howard undercuts the throw for a brilliant, full-extension interception.
10. Wilkins finds the football in the hook zone
It's not every day you see a 315-pound defensive tackle intercepting a pass. As he did all day vs. the Rams, Josh Boyer dials up a six-man pressure look against a five-man protection. Four of the six possible rushers come, including Ogbah's free run, which forces an expedited throw from Jared Goff. Wilkins steps in front of Cooper Kupp for the interception.
11. Ogbah and Van Ginkel create a defensive touchdown
Akin to the turnover prior, Miami shows a six-man pressure look against the Rams empty formation. This time, all six come and Ogbah gets another free run on the quarterback. Just as Goff reaches back to throw, Ogbah attacks the ball and forces the fumble. Van Ginkel comes off his block, scoops up the rock and returns it 78 yards for the Miami touchdown.
12. Zero pressure strikes again, Rowe's first INT of the season
This time, the Dolphins show a seven-man pressure look as the Rams go with four wide and a running back flanking Goff. All seven show blitz but two back out. Two of those blitzers are Jerome Baker and Bobby McCain. Baker comes free right up the middle while the running back picks up McCain's blitz off the edge. Goff attempts to get it out hot but gets hit as he throws. Eric Rowe is matched up one-on-one with tight end Gerald Everett and drives out of his backpedal to intercept the fluttering pass.
13. Four in the first half from the Rams, Lawson's strip sack
And another one. Boyer dials up a six-man pressure that creates a one-on-one for Shaq Lawson against a tight end. Lawson runs the arc while dipping under the block en route to a big hit on Goff. The ball is jarred free and Van Noy returns it 28 yards down to the Los Angeles 1-yard-line.
14. Ogbah and Lawson produce points in Arizona
Ogbah's penchant for finding the football surfaces again as Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray flushes out of the right side of the pocket with Lawson coming free off the left side. Ogbah disengages from his block and punches the ball free. Lawson continues his pursuit by scooping up the ball at the 36-yard-line and takes it back for six. His run was aided by a terrific block by rookie safety Brandon Jones.
15. Howard baits the rookie for a clutch interception
Through the first three quarters of the Dolphins 29-21 win over the Chargers, Miami dialed up pressure looks with plenty of man coverage and no safety help (zero blitz). On a critical third-and-12, the Dolphins drop into deep thirds with Xavien Howard getting 15 yards of depth up the boundary sideline. Justin Herbert gets pressure in the face from Ogbah and fires a deep out to Mike Williams. Howard drives out of his zone turn and picks off his fifth pass of the season to help Miami take a two-score lead in the fourth quarter.
16. Howard steals one at Mile High
Miami's mix of man and zone coverage strikes again as the NFL's leader in interceptions (Howard, 10) pulls down another. On third-and-10, Denver quarterback Drew Lock shuffled away from pressure provided by Van Ginkel. The Dolphins "amoeba package" (players bobbing in and out of gaps and threatening pressure in each) forces a quick throw as Van Ginkel splits a double team. Howard is in perfect position to make a play and he finishes with the interception and a 10-yard return.
17. Van Ginkel keeps Miami alive in Denver
Trailing 20-13 with five minutes to play in the game, Van Ginkel gave the Dolphins a chance when all hope seemed lost. Running back Melvin Gordon surged towards the goal line as the second-year linebacker came from the other side of the formation to force the fumble. Eric Rowe was part of the hit and quickly possessed the loose ball at the 1-yard-line.
18. Needham's first INT of the season
A five-man rush package, spearheaded by Ogbah flattening the edge in the face of Sam Darnold, forces the Jets quarterback out of the pocket. Darnold targeted Jamison Crowder, who was bracketed downfield by Brandon Jones and Nik Needham. Needham stepped in front of the throw for his first pick of the season.
19. Howard gets third career INT against the Jets
With the game nearly out of reach (20-3 midway through the fourth quarter), Howard puts the final nail in the coffin by running the quick-out route for the receiver. Darnold is forced to hurry up his mechanics because of pressure again from Ogbah. Just as the ball leaves his hand, Howard turns to find it, and finishes the play for his third straight game with an interception.
20. X makes it four-straight with an INT
Once again, Howard and Ogbah team up for a takeaway, and it was among the most impressive for both. Ogbah shows his versatility as he lines up as the 3-technique (outside shoulder of the offensive guard) and uses his hands to overpower his man. He thwarts the initial punch and buries Bengals quarterback Brandon Allen as he throws. Howard starts inside in the slot as the Bengals receivers run a switch release (slot goes out, wide out goes in). Howard runs through the natural rub, gets into phase, and turns into a wide receiver with elevation for another pick.
21. Van Noy, Needham close out the Bengals
With a two-possession lead, the Dolphins drop into a zone defense. Quarterback Ryan Finley throws an in-breaking route to wide receiver Alex Erickson. Van Noy drives on the throw and tips the pass sending it towards the heavens. On the ball's descent, Needham is Johnny-on-the-spot for his second interception in as many games.
22. Byron Jones gets his first Dolphins interception
Kansas City set up a screen to tight end Travis Kelce on their first possession of the Week 14 game. Van Ginkel gets cut-blocked, but quickly jumps to his feet in time to get in the passing lane and tip the attempted screen. The ball floats back into the waiting arms of Byron Jones as Miami gets the first of three takeaways off of Patrick Mahomes.
23. Pressure forces off-balanced throw by Mahomes
Ogbah and Lawson line up at the defensive end positions and crash inside at the snap. Ogbah wins inside while Lawson works back around the outside of his block to force Mahomes into a throw from an awkward platform. The pass goes off the hands of his intended receiver and into the waiting hands of Rowe.
24. Hustle play keeps Dolphins alive
Wide receiver Mecole Hardman broke into the Miami secondary on a screen pass that covered 26 yards. Jones and Needham met Hardman downfield with Jones' punch forcing the fumble and linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill falling on the football.
25. One hand is all X needs
Matched up against one of the game's most-dangerous players in wide receiver Tyreek Hill, Howard stays in the hip pocket on a corner route. Mahomes targets Hill with Howard trailing underneath. Howard locates the ball, elevates, turns and goes up with one hand for a highlight-reel interception.
26. Howard punches one out against the Patriots
Catching an intermediate route in the third quarter of the Week 15 game, Patriots wide receiver Jakobi Meyers looked to make a move after the catch, but it was too late. Howard punched the ball free and linebacker Elandon Roberts flew in like Pete Rose diving into home plate for the recovery and takeaway.
27. Fejedelem rescues the streak
With the win all but secured, and the takeaway streak all but dead, the Dolphins extended their run of consecutive games with a takeaway on the final play of the game – a kickoff. With triple zeros on the clock, Las Vegas attempted to execute the lateral play, but safety Clayton Fejedelem found the football and fell on it to close out win No. 10.
28. Byron Jones toe drag swag
Both perimeter cornerbacks (Jones and Howard) back off at the snap and drop into a zone. The pass protection is as good as the coverage downfield as Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen looks for an open Gabriel Davis along the boundary sideline. Jones reads the throw, drives on it and bats the ball initially before securing the catch while tapping his toes inside the white line.
29. Howard hits double-digits
Howard closes out his All-Pro season with his 10th interception. Buffalo quarterback Matt Barkley was looking for tight end Dawson Knox, who was matched up with Jerome Baker on a crossing route. The route bled into Howard's coverage area as he came off his man, elevated, and became the first NFL player with double-digit interceptions since Antonio Cromartie had 10 for the Chargers in 2007.
On most turnovers, multiple pieces come together to create the big play. Coverage pairing with the rush, multiple hats to the ball to cause a fumble, the pass rush working symbiotically to generate team pressure -- no one player is every solely responsible for the big plays. Howard led the Dolphins with 10 interceptions. He also forced one fumble and was in the hit that helped cause another putting him around the ball on 12 of Miami's takeaways. Ogbah forced three fumbles, but he also put pressure on the opposing quarterback on nine of the interceptions (per Pro Football Focus) the Dolphins pulled down giving him a pressure or sack on 12 of the takeaways. Kyle Van Noy forced two fumbles, recovered two more, and his tipped pass against the Bengals was intercepted by Nik Needham giving him a direct hand in five of the 29 takeaways.
For more context, check out The Film Room's Brett Kollmann on today's Drive Time Podcast with Travis Wingfield. Travis and Brett broke down the Miami defense including the biggest component of any perennial defense in the takeaway department: effort.
"The defenses that major in turning the ball over … it's all about mentality and effort," Kollmann said. "This Dolphins defense constantly showed out in the mentality and effort department in 2020."