No Fly Zone
When the Dolphins signed Byron Jones to a free agent contract this March, Dolphins fans conjured up thoughts of former, proven lockdown cornerback tandems in franchise history. Jones and incumbent Xavien Howard were never going to draw comparisons to Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain through four games, but the pair have limited opposing passing attacks in the two games in which both were on the field.
Jones exited the Buffalo game after forcing a third down incompletion on the opening series. The groin injury would force him out of the lineup for the next two games in Jacksonville and home for Seattle. But he was back on Sunday and so too was Miami's impressive pass defense.
In the two games with Jones and Howard available from wire-to-wire, the Dolphins have surrendered only 268 passing yards combined (134.0 yards per per game). The NFL's current No. 1 pass defense is the Indianapolis Colts, who've limited opposing passing attacks to 179.6 YPG. Jones and Howard, when on the field together, have been targeted 11 times and permitted just five receptions for 57 yards, no touchdowns and an interception; a passer rating of 23.7, per Pro Football Focus.
"It's cool to be out there with one of the best," Jones said. "That dude always finds a way to get the ball. He has a very natural instinct to get the ball. Getting some insight from him and what's happening on the left side of the field and I'm telling him stuff that's happening on the right side of the field. It was fun. It was definitely fun."
For Howard, interceptions come in bunches. Dating back to December of 2017, no player has more interceptions than Miami's ball hawking cornerback. Howard has 15 interceptions in 27 games over that span. Four of the interceptions came in back-to-back games in 2017. Three more game in a two-game period between Weeks 2-3 in 2018 and four more in another back-to-back stretch against Buffalo and New England in that same season.
After snatching three interceptions in as many games in 2020, Howard now ranks tied for 17th in franchise history in that department.
Sunday's 43-17 victory was the first time this season both Jones and Howard played more than 50 percent of the defense's snaps in a game. Monday, Howard talked about the benefit of getting Jones back in the fold.
"It feels great having Byron (Jones) back," Howard said. "He helps out a lot on the defense. Just me and him on the corners outside, we're just competing and really just trying to be the best out there right now."
To capitalize on good coverage, the defensive backfield needs a quality rush from the front. The complete team effort of putting together all three phases of the game, and all 11 players on the field, is often the driving force of big wins in the NFL. Jones knows that the relentless pressure of the defensive front, and the five sacks on the day, impacted the performance of the opposing quarterbacks.
"I can't explain how important having good pressure on a good quarterback is to the secondary," Jones said. "When you make the quarterback feel uncomfortable back there, he overthrows balls. He underthrows it. That's when plays start to really develop.
"The entire defense played well," Dolphins Head Coach Brian Flores said. "It's never just one or two guys. It's a team game. (Defensive Coordinator) Josh (Boyer) called a good game, the d-line played well, they had a good rush and we mixed the coverages and blitzes. It was a total team effort. Guys like (Andrew) Van Ginkel, (Zach) Sieler, (Jerome) Baker and Elandon Roberts played well too."
All four of those players listed by Flores recorded sacks in Sunday's win.
"We were doing a good job stopping the run against a really good run team with a bunch of good running backs, so it's the culmination of everything – the combination of everything together – that makes a special performance," Jones said.
Smiles and Takeaways
Courtesy of the three turnovers forced by the defense Sunday, Miami has now created a takeaway in 11 consecutive games dating back to last season – the longest current streak in the NFL. The final turnover occurred on a sack by defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah. Defensive tackle Christian Wilkins fell on the ball then raced to the sideline to hand it to his head coach.
"I could tell (Flores) was smiling underneath his mask," Jones said behind an ear-to-ear grin. "I don't know why Christian (Wilkins) did that. Christian's a fool, so he's going to find a way to have fun with the game. It was cool to see, especially to cap the win off in that manner."
Despite his defensive background, Flores cracks a smile any time the Dolphins produce positive plays. Defensively, in the kicking game, or scoring points, the head coach just likes to win.
"Every time we step on the field, we're looking to win," Flores said. "That's how we prepare. That's how we compete."
"Any time we get a turnover, I'm excited," he added. "Every time we make a big play defensively, make a play in the kicking game, or score, you can pretty much assume I'm smiling through my mask."
Tight end Mike Gesicki said that moment was indicative of the team buying in to Flores' program. The mindset of being team-first players who are willing to sacrifice for the greater good of the team.
"Everybody trusts Coach Flores and we rally around him," Gesicki said. "You have to buy into the head coaching and I think that's what everyone has done."
Gesicki's 70-yard play helped push his yards per reception mark on the season to 15.6, second among all NFL tight ends with at least 10 receptions. It was one of five plays offensively for Miami that eclipsed the previous season-high for longest gain (27 yards from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Gesicki in Week 2).
The Dolphins third-year tight end talked about that play in his Monday media availability.
"I kind of knew I was getting the ball before the play because when we came out of the huddle, 'Fitz' (Ryan Fitzpatrick) said 'Hey, Mike come on.' Whenever he says my name, I'm like it doesn't matter if I have 10 guys around me, he's going to throw it up to me," Gesicki said.
That style of play has endeared Gesicki to the 16-year veteran quarterback, who ranks fourth in total QBR and is Pro Football Focus' 10th-highest graded quarterback on the season.
"He's the greatest teammate I've played with," Gesicki said. "The thing that makes him special is that he makes the guys around him better players. If I could play with him for the next 15 years, I would do it. He's the man."
With touchdown drives on the first two possessions of the game, Miami did something the organization hasn't accomplished since 2011. The Dolphins also opened the Week 3 game in Jacksonville with back-to-back touchdowns, just as they did on Sunday in San Francisco.
Flores gave all the credit to Offensive Coordinator Chan Gailey for the offense's eruption. After the 43-point onslaught, Miami is now 12th in the NFL in scoring at 27.2 points per game.
"I let Chan handle the offensive side of the ball," Flores said. "I have a little bit of input but he's got a great offensive mind."
Back to Work
While the Dolphins certainly enjoyed the victory, especially on a five-plus-hour flight back home, Jones says the results serve as a reminder to keep pushing.
"It kind of validates the hard work we've been doing; but understand that it is truly a week-to-week basis," Jones said. "It's good to validate some of the work that we've been doing throughout training camp and throughout the week and not really seeing results we wanted to see, so it was nice to get a win like that; but now it's onto the Jets."
The Dolphins were originally schedule to travel to Denver next Sunday to take on the Broncos, but will not host the New York Jets as the NFL shuffled the schedule to accommodate other postponements.