Opposing Offenses Grounded
Since Byron Jones returned to the lineup for the Week 5 game in San Francisco, the Dolphins defense has been lights out. Collectively, Miami has put on the clamps on opposing offenses to the tune of 8.5 points per game, four takeaways, eight sacks and nine three-and-out possessions across the two wins.
In the defensive secondary, the numbers are eye-popping.
Out wide, Jones and fellow Pro Bowl cornerback Xavien Howard were targeted a combined 22 times. The result: six receptions, 69 yards, two interceptions and three pass breakups, according to Pro Football Focus. That's good for a 27.3 completion percentage, 3.1 yards per target and an opposing passer rating of 2.7.
"When Byron's in there, obviously the level of communication increases because of his experience," Dolphins Defensive Backs Coach Gerald Alexander said. "Having him, X and having experienced guys at the perimeter position allows us to eventually just play good defense."
McCain is the longest-tenured part of this Dolphins defense, arriving in 2015. Howard joined him a year later while Rowe and Jones have combined for 26 games played in Miami. All four played in different conferences in college, never playing a game against any of the others. Still, the meshing of personalities and growth of the relationships has taken hold early in 2020.
Dolphins Defensive Coordinator Josh Boyer says McCain's personality serves as the glue to bring it all together.
"Bobby has a unique ability to get along with all types of personalities, which in turn helps him on the field handle multiple communications with different individuals," Boyer said. "He's been everything that you could want in a communicator. He really quarterbacks our defense, and he continues to work hard at that and he's a really diligent worker."
Miami's defensive backfield did something these last two games that the organization had not accomplished since 2010. The Jets netted only 148 passing yards in Week 6 while the 49ers managed just 128 against the Dolphins in Week 5. The last time the Dolphins defensive unit held the opposition to under 150 net passing yards in back-to-back games was the 2010 two-game stretch against the Titans and Bears.
Spaghetti and meatballs, peanut butter and jelly, coverage and pass rush – some things just go together.
"It's never just one guy," Dolphins Head Coach Brian Flores said. "It's a lot of things coming together. The pass rush complements the coverage, the coverage complements the rush, you've got good calls by Josh (Boyer) and good execution by the players."
Monday, defensive end Shaq Lawson opined about Emmanuel Ogbah's recent sack production and how it could potentially create more opportunities for him off the offense's left side.
"Having him on the other side, hopefully that starts opening me up now, seeing he's been balling like that," Lawson said. "That guy has been incredible."
Miami went big at the defensive end position this offseason in acquiring Ogbah (275 pounds) and Lawson (267 pounds). Tuesday, Outside Linebackers Coach Austin Clark broke down the value of Ogbah and Lawson. First, he discussed Ogbah's willingness to play the run on the way to the pass.
"(Ogbah's) really bought into the concept of setting the edge and playing the run and then getting after the passer and rushing the quarterback," Clark said.
Next, Clark touched on Lawson's return the lineup after missing the road trip to San Francisco.
"I think Shaq, with missing the one game, I think that was tough on him," Clark said. "Against Seattle, he really brought us some great stuff. He's getting better each week and excited about him this week."
As all parts of Boyer's unit come together to form the NFL's No. 3 ranked scoring defense, inside of each unit is another form of complementary football. Ogbah has a sack in three straight games. His bookend counterpart, Lawson, has played a significant role in Miami's defensive surge.
Defensive Line Coach Marion Hobby talked about the importance of both ends playing well to create opportunities for one another.
"We always say if you're any good as a defensive lineman, if you're getting double-teamed, that's a credit; but you can't double-team everybody," Hobby said. "Those guys really have to play well together. Pressure from one side equals pressure from the other. Just over the history of football, the number of bookends that played together definitely complement each other as well."
Back to Coach Clark, he works with the Dolphins pass rushers to refine their game and technique. Linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel recently credited Clark for helping to develop his game in Year 2 for the former Wisconsin Badger.
"Austin Clark has done a great job with teaching me his technique and how to do a better job of setting the edge," Van Ginkel said. "Whether it be hand placement or my feet, not giving up ground but more attacking, I think that's really helped improve me this year."
Tuesday, Clark detailed his philosophy and approach with developing players and their differing toolboxes as rushers.
"You obviously have some core principles like anything else in terms of your get-off, your stance, your alignment; all those basic things that get you going," Clark said. "Then, yeah, I think it's kind of like you have your toolbox. Everybody's got different tools and you never know one, which one you need to use in certain situations."
Back At It
The Dolphins will get back to the practice field tomorrow after the well-deserved break during the bye week. We'll hear from Brian Flores, Dolphins players and cover the day's preparations for the Rams on Top News and Drive Time with Travis Wingfield
Also, coming this week, a feature on Dolphins Safety Bobby McCain.