By: Hussam Patel
Defense wins championships and it is widely known to any coach, player and fan. Certainly, last year's Dolphins defense was not primed in any way to compete for a championship and was for the most part a disaster, especially in the first half of the season. This year is a whole new defensive team with an infusion of rookie’s, vets and leftovers from previous seasons.
Now look, I'm not rushing to say the Dolphins have a championship defense, after 8 weeks they look pretty good. Hanging around playoff teams like New England, Buffalo and Seattle in one score games, compared to last year is a massive improvement.
A complete destruction of Jacksonville, the 49ers, Jets, Rams and a close win against the Arizona Cardinals, the Dolphins defense looks to build upon their 5-game winning streak against the Los Angeles Chargers at home on Sunday.
Let's take a deep dive into the Dolphins Secondary
One of the best man-to-man corners in this league. Howard has been locking down his defenders and piling up four straight interceptions from the Jaguars game to the Jets game and almost had one against the Los Angeles Rams. In the first half of the Cardinals game, "X" held DeAndre Hopkins to 0 targets, 0 catches and 0 yards as one of the NFL's best wide-outs came into Week 9 leading the NFL in receiving yards.
Sure, he got flagged several time on very questionable DPI calls, yet he held D-Hop to 3 catches and 30 yards. Per NFL’s Next Gen Stats, Howard is giving up 11% completion percentage over expectations allowed. He is exceptional and well worth the contract money, locking down opposing WRs especially with Byron Jones at the other side of the field.
Byron Jones is one of the best man-to-man and zone corners in the league with teammate Xavien Howard; both cogs in this defensive scheme by Brian Flores. The impact of Jones can be seen without him playing. In games which Jones missed because of injury the Dolphins gave up more yards to WRs against New England Buffalo and Seattle.
One could argue with Jones playing the Dolphins could be 7-1 or 6-2. Before the Rams game, Jones allowed 66 yards on 10 targets, no touchdowns, and a rating of 79.6 breaking up key passes that could have shifted momentum in games. In three games, he has allowed six catches for 66 yards on 10 targets (51 coverage snaps), zero touchdowns, and a 79.6 passer rating. Jones did struggle last game against Arizona getting burned on a Long TD pass to Christian Kirk and a weirdly officiated call.
Jones did get his redemption with the above hit which led to a 4th and 1 in which Murray did not keep possession and Miami stopped them on 4th down; leading Tua and the offense to take the lead the lead.
It wasn’t that pretty of a game by Byron Jones but he should be back to top form against the LA Chargers.
Bobby McCain is the unsung hero and leader of this secondary and the most tenured Dolphin. In an interview with Travis Wingfield, McCain takes pride in defending the deep ball, and before the Christian Kirk TD had not allowed a deep pass to be completed. In the beginning of last season Flores converted McCain from a CB to a Safety and it was a rough going but got better as the season progressed later down the stretch.
From Week 4 McCain was ranked seventh among all NFL safeties, 1 spot ahead of former Dolphin and current Steeler, Minkah Fitzpatrick, and he allowed just 3 receiving yards all season in only four passes thrown against him. That’s a zero-opponent passer rating in his coverage area.
He never left the field last game, playing in all 69 defensive snap and is solidifying the back-end and middle of the field, esentially quarterbacking the defense. He Can play nickel safety and blitz the passer making him a staple and versatile defender, the scrapper every team needs.
Can we just take a moment and savor that the Dolphins have not let TE’s beat them this year. Give credit to where credit is due. Eric Rowe is the TE-Eraser He is currently in the NFL's TOP-10 in passes defended with 9, tied with Xavier Rhodes of the Colts. Rowe is a converted S from CB and now firmly in that role for his ex-and current-coach, Brian Flores. Helping in Run Support, Rowe is critical in not allowing a 100 yard rusher by an opposing Running back.
Rowe is a critical cog helping to take the pressure off Tua. A leader and soft spoken voice of the Defense, "people keep sleeping on our defense, and that’s fine,” he said. "We’re going to show up every week.” He is a perfect fit and had a prominent role in the win against the Rams. Not to mention picking off Tom Brady last season. Expect Rowe to be in the Dolphins future plans beyond 2021.
Jamal Perry, Kavon Frazier, and Clayton Fejedelem
Jamal Perry played about 50% snaps Week 1 and has seen a dip in snaps at S and CB as a result of rookies stepping up and Byron Jones coming back. Perry is a solid backup and reliable depth piece. You can never have too many defensive backs. Kavon Frazier and Clayton Fejedelem are the ace special-teamers and boosting the unit to be one of the best in the league as they provide depth pieces, both playing snaps at S with their respective teams before coming to Miami.
With a great second half of last season, yet starting a bit slower in 2020, Needham has picked up his play in recent weeks. Against Arizona, Nik Needham allowed just seven yards receiving in the game and added a quarterback pressure. He’s had issues with penalties, specifically DPI and holding calls, and these issues lingered into the beginning of the season.
What’s great is that Flores continues to cite improvements in Needham's play style. While not making big, highlight type plays, he doesn’t necessarily get beat either. He’s earning his playing time as a slot CB and could possibly transition as a boundary corner in packages to give Jones and "X" some rest.
With the upcoming game against the Chargers, look for Needham to get some reps against Keenan Allen, as they both trained together in the off-season, and certainly expect his to be part of double-teams.
Rookie 1st round pick Noah Igbinoghene, the Dolphin's top backup at corner, primarily as the boundary, has struggled replacing Howard and Jones. He’s allowed 13 catches for 219 yards on 22 targets (134 coverage snaps), two touchdowns, zero interceptions, one pass breakup and a 123.1 passer rating. We’ve seen him get beat deep against Stefon Diggs and David Moore in the Seattle game. It's way too early to judge Igbinoghene, the Dolphins are very high on him thrown into very difficult situations.
Be patient Dolphins fans, he’s the youngest player in the league and it will take time for him to grow into his role, just like how Howard grew into his. He was world class speed and outstanding athleticism which was instilled into him at a young age. It was a sight to see as Igbinoghene took kick returns, taking over Jakeem Grant, as the Dolphins were down receivers. Noah was a prolific returner at Auburn
Versatility, Versatility, and Versatility. Jones has played at 5 Defensive positions this season. Brandon Jones threw a key block that helped Shaq Lawson return a fumble for six points, and it can be assumed Lawson does not score if Jones did not make that block. Playing 194 snaps at S, Jones has been particularly effective shooting his gaps in the run game and helping out in the back-end of coverage.
Jones is a hustler and has been since his days at Texas, a violent tackler especially around the line of scrimmage, and as a nickel-back where he’s played in limited snaps. Picking apart Jones’ game is the fact that he can be a liability in man coverage, as he’s got the speed to stay with his receiver but anticipation timing is not where it needs to be for him to effectively break up passes and take down interceptions.
He’s really solid at finding his angles and tackling, as seen in the video above, and he puts in the effort in finding the gaps and making sure he’s spaced out in zone coverage. As the season progresses, his development will be crucial if the Dolphins look to make the playoff push. While a backup behind McCain, Jones has carved out meaningful snaps and impressive plays so far.
With this 3-part series of analyzing the Dolphins Defense, it looks to be special with the player fits and amazing coaching. The Dolphins secondary has the potential to be one of the best in the league and certainly can be on par with Seattle's Legendary “Legion of Boom” and Denver's “No Fly Zone”. This Dolphins Defense should have a nickname with the ranks of the “No Name Defense”. At PhinManiacs we have a contest for Fins Fans to name this defense- take part of this contest to all you PhinManics out there.
As always #finsup
Please welcome Hussam Patel to PhinManiacs and please give him a follow on Twitter @AirXAlpha1721