Dolphins defense needs to get back to forcing turnovers, pressuring QBs like its normal self – The Denver Post


The trademark for the Miami Dolphins’ defense over the past two seasons has been big plays. It’s a game-changing unit that can turn a game in its favor by pressuring the quarterback, getting him down or forcing opponents into turnovers — and maybe even scoring on those opportunities.

You couldn’t tell by watching this team through the first quarter of the 2022 season.

The Dolphins, while 3-1 through a four-game gauntlet to start the season, have just one interception among four total takeaways. They have registered seven sacks. Only three teams have taken down the quarterback fewer times through four games: Carolina Panthers, Las Vegas Raiders and Arizona Cardinals. Miami is second-worst in the NFL in pressure percentage, at 13.4 percent of opponent dropbacks, according to Pro Football Reference, ahead of only the Los Angeles Rams, surprisingly.

Last year, the Dolphins were fifth in the NFL in sacks (48). In pressure percentage, Miami was third in the league at 28.5 percent. The Dolphins were 14th in the league with 14 interceptions, but going back to 2020, that season Miami was tied for the NFL lead with 18 interceptions.

“Turnovers is a thing that we stress, and we’ll continue to stress it,” defensive coordinator Josh Boyer said on Thursday. “Those are usually game-changing or momentum-type plays for a defense. Yeah, we’d obviously like to have more than we have. There’s no question about that. I think any time that you present problems [for an opponent], whatever they may be, it presents an opportunity for progress.”

Many of those problems the Dolphins can present an opposing offense start by rushing the passer, and Miami is still not getting very many pressures.

“Sometimes it can be a scheme thing, sometimes it can be an individual thing or a matchup-based thing,” said Boyer, who added he doesn’t base a pass rush’s success on sack statistics. “Or another thing is when you pressure at a high rate, the ball comes out a little bit faster and you’re seeing quicker routes and a lot more check-downs.”

On paper, the Dolphins should have one of the fiercest pass-rush units in the league. Returning most key contributors from last year’s defense, adding edge defenders Melvin Ingram and Trey Flowers ahead of the season should only provide a boost.

Ingram has done his part. The 33-year-old veteran was named AFC Defensive Player of the Month as he has two sacks, a forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and a touchdown through September.

Defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah and second-year outside linebacker Jaelan Phillips only have one sack each. Some of the exotic blitzes Boyer, who now is running the defense without ex-coach Brian Flores’ backing, has dialed up in the past have seen counters made from opponents.

“Our goal is to affect the quarterback with the pass rush,” said defensive line coach Austin Clark, who noted early missed opportunities for Phillips and Flowers in the loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 29. “I like the pieces we got. The effort is there. We’ve just got to finish a little bit better overall.”

The Dolphins snagged an interception on their first defensive series of the season, but they have not picked off a passer since. Cornerback Xavien Howard’s tipped ball in the end zone that safety Jevon Holland hauled in was one of three takeaways against the Patriots on Sept. 11, as Miami won the turnover battle 3-0 in that season-opening win. Since then, an Ingram fumble recovery against Buffalo in Week 3 is the lone turnover forced.

Howard has been hampered by injuries to his groins, and the defense hasn’t had fellow cornerback Byron Jones opposite him, still on the reserve/physically-unable-to-perform list this week. Having the two at their respective posts — and healthy — is vital for the overall success of the defense, with tight man coverage in the secondary complementing the blitzes, even from the safeties in Holland and Brandon Jones.

On the edge, the Dolphins can look to win some 1-on-1 matchups on Sunday against a Jets offensive line that has three tackles — Mekhi Becton, Duane Brown and George Fant — on injured reserve and another, Max Mitchell, unlikely to play with a knee injury. Brown may come off IR before the game, though, and Alijah Vera-Tucker kicking out to tackle could provide a solid tandem.

“We prepare like Duane Brown is out there, Alijah Vera-Tucker,” said Clark. “You look at the way they use their offensive line, they’ve got a bunch of different guys. That’s a small piece to the puzzle in terms of knowing your personnel and how you’re rushing a certain type of guy. It’s definitely a part of it.”

Helping the Dolphins’ potential to create more sacks and turnovers is that they have been solid in run defense, outside of a few long rushes and quarterback scrambles to mobile passers they’ve faced in the Ravens’ Lamar Jackson and Bills’ Josh Allen. Getting New York into third-and-longs will provide chances to put Jets quarterback Zach Wilson, who was intercepted twice last week against the Steelers, under duress.



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