X on a Rare Track
Sunday's Dolphins-Patriots tilt features a pair of the league's best cornerbacks and most prominent ball hawks. Last season, Stephon Gilmore won NFL Defensive Player of the Year, breaking a 10-year drought for defensive backs and that honor. Gilmore racked up six interceptions, 20 passes defensed and allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete just 49.0 percent of their passes when targeting him in coverage.
With three games to play, Howard is allowing a completion rate of 49.3 percent with nine interceptions and 17 passes defensed (on pace for 21).
It had been a decade since Troy Polamalu won DPOY in 2010, but he did something Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard has a shot of replicating in 2020 – making it back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year wins for defensive backs. Charles Woodson won the award in 2009 with a remarkable 13 takeaways produced (nine interceptions, four forced fumbles). Howard could realistically still hit that mark, but he's already topped Gilmore's 2019 takeaway production and Polamalu's in 2010 (seven interceptions, one forced fumble).
With three games left, Howard needs one interception to tie the single-season franchise record, a mark set in 1967 by cornerback Dick Westmoreland.
And he's doing it in era where double-digit interception seasons simply don't happen anymore. The last time a player intercepted 10 or more passes was 2007 (Antonio Cromartie of the Chargers). Even if Howard doesn't intercept another pass, his nine interceptions are the most in the NFL since 2012 when Chicago's Tim Jennings picked off a career-high nine passes.
Miami Dolphins Head Coach Brian Flores has coached both Howard and Gilmore.
"They are both very competitive, obviously very talented, both have very good ball skills, both excellent players," Flores said. "They are both team-first guys. They'll be the first to tell you that it's not their personal situation but more about the team. Both excellent players."
Disruption is the name of Ogbah's Game
Like Howard, Dolphins defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah is near the top of the leaderboard in some of the most prominent defensive statistics. His eight sacks are tied for 10th in the league (fourth among defensive ends) and his 20 quarterback hits are eighth (fifth among edge defenders). According to Pro Football Focus, his 56 quarterback pressures are third among all edge defenders.
Ogbah's three forced fumbles are tied for seventh with two of the fumbles producing defensive touchdowns for Miami. No other player has multiple forced fumbles returned for touchdowns in the NFL this season.
It's not just Ogbah's tangible sack and pressure production that is making an impact. One of Patrick Mahomes' three interceptions Sunday came after Ogbah's pressure forced the former MVP to throw off-balance as he was getting hit by big No. 91. Linebacker Jerome Baker broke an NFL record with a 30-yard sack (biggest loss on a sack without a fumble), but he didn't act alone. Ogbah's immediate pass-rush win forced Mahomes to spin out of the initial trouble and into Baker's crosshairs.
One metric that scores the impact of the sacks and pressures of all defenders is Brandon Thorne's (The Scouting Academy and EstablishTheRun.com) True Sack Rate – a film project to quantify sack production.
The project evaluates every sack on the basis of how it occurred. More points are awarded for splitting a double team than chasing down a quarterback who has escaped previous pressure from another rusher.
Ogbah ranks fifth among all edge defenders in this category with a True Sack Rate of 7.0. He trails only T.J. Watt, Joe Bosa, Za'Darius Smith and Myles Garrett. Thorne scored three of Ogbah's sacks as high quality, which also ranks fifth in that category.
Ogbah's big plays have produced points on the scoreboard for Miami this season, but nobody has lit up the scoreboard more than kicker Jason Sanders.
In fact, only one player in the league has points than Sanders. His 120 points are just four off the pace of the league leader, Atlanta kicker Younghoe Koo.
Sanders got there by topping a franchise record that stood for more than two decades. Olindo Mare knocked down 19 consecutive field goals in 1999. Sanders put 22 straight field goals through the uprights between 2019-2020. Mare joined the Fish Tank podcast this week to talk late 90's-early 2000's Dolphins football on the Miami Dolphins podcast network.
Sanders is first in the AFC in field goals made (30). His 93.7 successful field goal percentage is also tops in the conference among kickers with at least 20 attempts.
Wednesday Injury Report/Roster Moves
The Miami Dolphins today announced they have activated running back Matt Breida off the reserve/COVID-19* list.
Tight end Mike Gesicki and safety Bobby McCain did not practice on Wednesday.
Running back Salvon Ahmed, offensive guard Ereck Flowers, wide receivers Jakeem Grant and DeVante Parker and linebackers Elandon Roberts and Kyle Van Noy were all limited participants in Wednesday's practice.
New England listed 13 players as limited participants in Wednesday's practice.
You can find the rest of the Dolphins-Patriots Week 15 injury report here.
Best Friend Duty
Gesicki didn't practice on Wednesday after exiting last week's game with a shoulder injury. Prior to going down, Gesicki was in the midst of his best back-to-back performance in his three-year career. With 14 receptions, 153 yards and three touchdowns in the first two games of the current three-game homestand, Gesicki elevated his name near the top of the AFC tight end leaderboard.
His 602 receiving yards are third-most among AFC tight ends (Travis Kelce and Darren Waller). His six touchdowns are fourth in the conference behind only Kelce, Waller, and Jonnu Smith. All 11 of Gesicki's career touchdowns have come since Week 12 of the 2019 season – that's second among all NFL tight ends during that span. His 67 receptions are seventh and his 878 receiving yards are fifth in that span among all NFL tight ends.
His best friend, 2018 draft classmate and fellow Dolphins tight end Durham Smythe is doing all he can to get Gesicki to the Pro Bowl.
"I've known he's had this in him since we first got here," Smythe said. "He's progressed a lot in terms of strength, understanding the game … but he's always had this ability, I knew that from Day 1 … I know Pro Bowl voting is (going on) and I'm doing everything I can to get that guy in because I think he's more than deserving this year. It's been fun to watch and I think it'll only continue from here."
Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa won Pepsi Rookie of the Week after last week's 19-7 win over the Bengals. He's up for the award again and on track to take it home with a slight advantage over Washington defensive end Chase Young.
You can send your Miami Dolphins to the Pro Bowl, but don't wait! Voting ends Thursday.