Tue, 24 Nov 2020

Top News: The Winning Edge

Miami Dolphins
27 Oct 2020, 21:05 GMT+10

Travis Wingfield

No lead is safe in today's NFL. Touchdowns and points are being scored at a record pace. Double-digit advantages don't hold the same definitive game outcome forecast as they did even a few years ago. Go back only one day for the latest example. The Seahawks had won 41 consecutive games with a double-digit halftime lead before the Cardinals erased the 10-point deficit in Sunday Night's wild west shootout.

Earlier in the day, the Titans were a 45-yard field goal away from wiping out a 20-point deficit to the now lone unbeaten in the NFL, the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Lions drove the length of the field with no timeouts and just over a minute left on the clock to steal a win in Atlanta. The Eagles overcame an 11-point margin on Thursday Night Football to capture victory over the Giants.

Seemingly every week, we see a comeback from a previously perceived insurmountable shortfall. There's something to be said about a team that can put games away when nursing a second-half lead, regardless of how big said lead is extended.

The Dolphins have three wins by a combined 68 points this season. In those three games, Miami went to the locker room with 21-0, 30-7 and 21-7 advantages. In all three games, the Dolphins not only preserved the win, they extended the halftime margin with the proverbial second-half victory.

How is Miami doing it?

A relentless, pressure-centric, takeaway-driven defense that comes in waves. In the three wins, Miami's defense is allowing 10 points per game. They've sacked the opposing quarterback 12 times and created six takeaways.

To credit any one or two players would be disingenuous to the construction and makeup of the Dolphins defense. Safeties Eric Rowe and Bobby McCain are balling. The rookie in the room, Brandon Jones, is fifth on the team with 21 tackles. Cornerbacks Xavien Howard and Byron Jones are locking up opposing receivers. Linebackers Jerome Baker and Elandon Roberts are both top 13 at their off-ball position in quarterback pressures, per Pro Football Focus. Christian Wilkins and Zach Sieler are causing a multitude of problems on the interior.

Then there's the edge position, an area of focus this offseason. The Dolphins were aggressive in free agency by signing do-it-all linebacker Kyle Van Noy - more on him in a moment. Joining Van Noy are two classic hand-in-the-dirt defensive ends Shaq Lawson and Emmanuel Ogbah. All three players line up all over the defensive formation, contribute in the running game and give opposing protection schemes a lot to think about in pass pro.

Ogbah is tied for seventh in the NFL with five sacks. He's tied for 12th in QB pressures with 25, per PFF (eight of the players with more pressures have seven games played compared to Ogbah's six) and his 1.83 run stops per game are tied for 16th.

Lawson has 15 pressures of his own. Missing the San Francisco game, Lawson averages three per game and a pressure every 9.7 pass rush attempts. Ogbah, comparatively, registers a pressure every 7.8 pass rush snaps and the league leader in pressures - Myles Garrett - impacts the quarterback every 7.4 pass rush snaps.

So far, Miami's investment in the free agent pair is paying dividends. Monday, Lawson talked about the run Ogbah is on (five straight games with at least half of a sack) and how it could create opportunities for him off the other edge.

"Emmanuel is a beast," Lawson said. "He's been a dominant force. Having him on the other side, hopefully that starts opening me up now, seeing he's been balling like that and things like that. That guy has been incredible. It's been a pleasure to work with him."

That's been the focus of the Dolphins defense in general - playing for one another, as Zach Sieler explained last month.

"We celebrate that kind of stuff. We want to be able to create opportunities for other players," Sieler said. "It's not what I did; it's a team. Team. We thoroughly enjoy watching everyone else succeed as well."

The last two victories were secured despite the absence of some of these prominent figures. Lawson, as previously mentioned, didn't play in San Francisco. Van Noy, who is second among off-ball linebackers with 12 QB pressures, was ruled out of the Jets game prior to kickoff, and fellow linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel, who has a pressure every 11.7 snaps, exited the shutout win with an injury.

Monday, Head Coach Brian Flores updated the status of his two linebackers.

"Van Noy couldn't go (last Sunday) and he's doing everything he can to get back out there," Flores said. "(Van Ginkel) is not quite out of the (concussion) protocol yet, but he's getting closer. He was in all weekend trying to do everything to get back."

The Dolphins first injury report for Sunday's game against the Los Angeles Rams will be available on Wednesday as Miami looks to put the clamps on another opponent.

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