Offseason Work Producing In-Season Results
A fifth-round draft pick in 2019, Dolphins linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel had to wait until Week 12 to make his NFL debut. Two weeks later, he would record his first career sack at MetLife Stadium against the New York Jets. Van Ginkel gets his second run at the Jets Sunday, and his first chance to pursue Gang Green's quarterback at Hard Rock Stadium.
Van Ginkel is heating up. After playing in six games and 197 defensive snaps as a rookie, the former Wisconsin Badger had plenty of offseason goals. But one main area of focus for him was increasing his strength.
"I would say the biggest thing is just adding strength, during quarantine, being able to spend time in the weight room," Van Ginkel said. "I was working out with (Washington G) Brandon Scherff a little bit. So just being able to pick his brain a little bit and understand kind of what he does on a regular basis has really helped me."
Though strength is a necessity in the NFL, it's far from guaranteed to produce results. The appreciation for the craft, refining the technique and constantly developing moves and counter moves are part of the daily improvement Head Coach Brian Flores and this Dolphins coaching staff preaches.
For Van Ginkel, one of the biggest champions of his game has been Outside Linebackers Coach Austin Clark.
"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."
The improvements are yielding tangible results on Sundays. Van Ginkel produced 11 tackles (four for loss), four quarterback hits and the aforementioned sack as a rookie. Now in Year 2, he has more than doubled his sack production (2.5), surpassed the tackle total (14), and is one more quarterback hit away from matching his 2019 total.
Trusting Your Eyes
From a second-year player to a 16-year veteran, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick continues to age like a fine wine. Like Van Ginkel, Fitzpatrick is in his second year with Miami. In 2020, he ranks fifth in the NFL in Total QBR. Though he doesn't typically concern himself with statistics, Fitzpatrick is more partial to that metric than traditional passer rating.
"That one (QBR) to me matters more," Fitzpatrick said. "If you throw an interception down by three scores in the fourth quarter, that shouldn't matter as much as an interception with the game on the line. Being able to avoid negative plays, sacks, those type of things are an important thing for a quarterback."
Fitzpatrick did a brilliant job of not just avoiding negative plays last Sunday in San Francisco, but consistently hitting the big shots down the field. Fitzpatrick completed 5-of-6 throws beyond 20 yards for 199 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
The latter touchdown was a 32-yard strike to Preston Williams to answer the 49ers only touchdown of the second half. The score extended Miami's lead to 37-14 with only 4:42 on the game clock in the third quarter.
But the touchdown accomplished more than just giving Miami a three-possession lead with just over one quarter left to play. It helped generate a better level of confidence and chemistry between he and Williams, another second-year player.
"That was a huge play in the game, just in terms of my confidence in Preston (Williams), knowing exactly where he was going to be and for him to make the right read and right decision there," Fitzpatrick said. "That goes a long way in building confidence in guys."
Four of Fitzpatrick's career-best passer ratings have occurred in the last six years (2017 and 2018-20). The advantages a 30-year-old quarterback has over his 20-year-old self might not be physical, but the accumulation of a mental catalog doesn't hurt one bit.
"A lot of it is experience, film study and years of accumulating this catalog in the back of my mind of things I really like," Fitzpatrick said. "The other end of it is getting guys you're playing with to understand how I'm seeing it and where I want them to be."
The Miami receivers knew exactly where to be on Sunday as Fitzpatrick dialed up his 24th career 300-yard game. It was his fifth 300-yard game in his last seven starts and his seventh such game in 18 starts with the Dolphins.
Perfect Placekicker Adds to Trophy Case
The final month of 2019 was one of collecting hardware for Dolphins kicker Jason Sanders. The two-time AFC Special Teams Player of the Week, and December's AFC Special Teams Player of the Month, carried his success over into the new season.
Sanders captured the Week 5 honors for AFC Special Teams Player of the Week with his 5-for-5 day. Though the macro goal is to leave the stadium on Sunday with a 100 percent average, the micro goal is to treat every kick the same.
"It's a matter of how do I treat each kick the same? If that 20-yard field goal that happens in the first quarter, it's the same importance as the fourth-quarter kick," Sanders said. "That's the mentality I kind of have to take with each kick. When I go out on the field, I'm treating that 20-yarder the same as that 50-yarder."
On the season, Sanders is a perfect 14-of-14 with a season-long of 52 yards. The 14 successful field goals are the second-most in the NFL behind Indianapolis' Rodrigo Blankenship. Sanders is one of four placekickers who have played in all of their team's games without a miss this season, and is the only one of the four with double-digit makes in the field goal department.
Sanders' 14 consecutive field goals is the most to start a season in franchise history (topping the 13 by both Olindo Mare in 2001 and Pete Stoyanovich in 1991). Going back to 2019, Sanders has 16 consecutive successful field goals to his resume. By converting his next three field goal attempts, Sanders will tie Mare, who made 19 straight in 1999, for the longest streak in franchise history.
Sunday marked the third game in which Sanders made five-plus field goals. He made a franchise-record seven field goals on Dec. 8, 2019 at the Jets. Sanders owns the best field goal percentage in franchise history at 85.9 percent (55-of-64).