Officially clawing their way back to .500 after a 1-7 start, perhaps the most impressive part of Miami's turnaround are the multiple routes to victory. Within the winning streak, Miami has won by turning over the opposition four times, using two different quarterbacks, throwing the ball 41 times and now with a big rushing performance.
Sunday, it started up front in the trenches.
Win the Trenches
Miami rushed for a season-high 183 yards Sunday and topped the previous bar by 50 yards on the ground. Duke Johnson became the first Dolphins runner to top the century mark this year and Myles Gaskin's 30-yard run late in the fourth quarter put Miami in position to extend the streak.
The Dolphins had success running the football to a variety of gaps along the offensive front, including a smooth 15.5-yard average running behind right guard Robert Hunt (Pro Football Focus).
When the Dolphins went left, the results were also consistently positive. Taking the total for runs to the C-gap (outside the left tackle), B-gap (between the tackle and guard) and A-gap (between the guard and center), Miami totaled 83 yards on 14 runs – an average of 5.93 yards per pop. Utilizing the tight ends, some backside pulling guard action and center Michael Deiter as the anchor to it all, Miami picked up six first downs on such runs and four of 10-plus yards.
On that left side is 2020 first-round pick Austin Jackson and 2021 second-rounder Liam Eichenberg. The duo teamed up for a number of big blocks including some double-teams and combination blocks where they team up at the first level, then climb to the linebackers at the second level of the Jets defense.
"We did run good behind some double teams. We had a number of good double teams where we moved people off the ball," Co-Offensive Coordinator Eric Studesville said. "But those big runs, those are involved in a lot of different things. Certainly the back gets all the credit with the yards but it starts with the offensive line; it starts with the wide receivers blocking for us and pushing people by to get extra yards downfield. It's a group effort."
Sharp on the Edge
The edge position in Miami is just like the other spots on defense -- those players will align in multiple positions in a given week. At times, Emmanuel Ogbah will kick inside and rush over the guard – same with Jaelan Phillips – and Andrew Van Ginkel will alternate between a two-point, stand-up look and dropping down to the sprinter stance. Regardless of the look, the Dolphins have been able to generate pressure.
This Dolphins trio all currently ranks inside the top 30 in the NFL in QB pressures, according to Pro Football Focus.
Emmanuel Ogbah's 57 QB pressures rank 10th in the NFL.
Andrew Van Ginkel's 40 QB pressures rank t-28th in the NFL.
Jaelan Phillips' 37 QB pressures rank t-30th in the NFL.
The sack production, swatting balls at the line and setting others up for chances is all part of the job description for this group and really the entire defense.
"Any time that you look at individual stats there's obviously a lot that goes into all 11 guys being on the same page. At the same time, guys doing their jobs well sets somebody up on the defense for production," Dolphins Defensive Coordinator Josh Boyer said. "It's a credit to them for the execution, the communication, the understanding of what goes on, on each given play and the ability to get some production and pressure. A lot of times our guys are very unselfish. You'll see other guys open up stuff for other players and they're just as happy that we're succeeding as a team."
Run to the Football
Perhaps the most entertaining element of Phillips, Ogbah and Van Ginkel's game is the effort. Just like we see weekly with this group of interior guys and chasing screens out to the edge, the Miami defensive ends and outside linebackers pursue the running game relentlessly, even when the ball goes in the opposite direction.
"Ultimately when you're playing team defense, you definitely want to get everyone with a relentless pursuit to the football," Boyer said. "A long time ago somebody said you can measure the love of your teammate by your distance to the ball. Our guys play hard, they play for one another, there's a joy out there and they know people are counting on them. Their effort to the ball is very important."
The More You Can Do
Speaking of being a selfless teammate, Nik Needham has done whatever is asked of him at a high level since arriving in Miami an undrafted free agent in 2019. Needham was a lock down corner at the University of Texas-El Paso, but played almost exclusively on the perimeter (played five snaps in the slot and one at free safety his last year at UTEP, per PFF).
Like all defensive backs that come through Miami under Flores and Boyer, Needham took on some cross-training in his rookie season by totaling 157 snaps inside compared to 531 on the perimeter. However, after landing one of the game's top outside corners in Byron Jones in free agency last year, Needham moved inside without missing a beat. He was targeted 60 times and held opposing quarterbacks to a passer rating of 90.6 on such throws. This year, he's in that same neighborhood with a rating against of 91.8.
It's the type of career arc that exemplifies what it means to play for the Miami Dolphins. Tuesday, Boyer showed his appreciation for what Needham has been able to do in his three years, culminating on Sunday with 44 of his 57 defensive snaps coming in the high post (free safety, he was not targeted in the passing game on 34 coverage snaps).
"Nik's a hard worker, he's very intelligent," Boyer said. "He's played inside and outside from a corner position. He's involved in a lot of communication, especially when he's on the inside … He has a skill set that allows him to do multiple things and he put a lot of time and effort into it. It's a credit to him to be able to have a smooth transition. His ability to understand concepts and conceptual learning at a high fast and high rate -- and I would say this is something he's improved each year that he's been here -- he's just a good all-around football player that can play multiple spots."
Flores also offered his thoughts on Needham's transition to free safety: "Nik is a smart player," he said. "He understands the defense just kind of conceptually, who is supposed to be in what spots. He hasn't had a lot of reps there obviously throughout the course of the year but was able to step in last week, take some practice reps and then really step up for us."
Saints on Tap
Next up is a trip to the Big Easy to take on a team with the same 7-7 record and coming off a shutout victory over Tom Brady and the defending Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
It'll be a big challenge for Miami to extend their winning streak to seven games.
"That's a tough, physical team across the board – offense, defense, special teams," Flores said. "They've got a lot of great players. Obviously they're well-coached, really across the board. Sean Payton, (Pete) Carmichael, Dennis Allen, 'Riz' (Darren Rizzi). I think they do a great job. They've got a lot of really good players. They played well last night. They've been playing well. Like I said, we'll have our hands full."
"We're going to need our best football this week," Boyer said. "We've got a great opponent coming up. Coach (Sean) Payton, Coach (Pete) Carmichael … phenomenal offensive coaches that make it really hard for you defensively."
It will be Miami's first and only Monday Night Football game of the season. The last time Miami beat the Saints was in 2005 when the game was played in Baton Rouge at Tiger Stadium in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.