The game-changing potential of Dolphins linebackers Bradley Chubb, Jaelan Phillips and Melvin Ingram has been on display on the field and off for the last few weeks. You see them getting sacks and doing their sack dances on the field, you see them laughing and joking with another in the postgame locker room.
“We all understand football and we all rush the passer so building the chemistry, the chemistry was really already there when we came [together],” Ingram said. “We all play off each other, and it’s been amazing.”
The trio of Chubb-Phillips-Ingram, who have a combined 13.5 sacks, are increasing their quarterback pressure after four games together. They’ve made an impact on the Dolphins’ defense, a group that could use impactful play and group leadership. The Dolphins’ 28 sacks are 17th in the league, and opponents’ 95.7 passer rating against the Dolphins’ defense is fifth-worst for a defense.
The Dolphins are hoping their pass rush trio of Chubb, Phillips and Ingram, trio, an intriguing mix of speed, strength and experience, can make a big impact on opposing quarterbacks, starting with Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert on Sunday night, and continuing with Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen next Saturday night.
If all goes according to plan, Chubb, Phillips and Ingram will become a dominant pass-rushing trio for the rest of the season and lead the Dolphins’ defense into the playoffs.
“We’re super tight, man, super tight,” Phillips said of the Dolphins’ pass-rushing trio.
“We’re good friends. That’s my dawgs. I love them boys, man. I got a lot of appreciation and I’m really grateful for the guys that we have in the room.”
The Dolphins need the combination of Chubb, Phillips and Ingram to be a major force.
The Dolphins’ defense made a living last season with a back-to-front plan, meaning everything started from the back, taking advantage of lockdown coverage talents of cornerbacks Xavien Howard and Byron Jones, and the blitzing skills of safety Brandon Jones.
But with both Jones’ sidelined by injuries, the defense now needs to attack from front to back.
That’s where the game-changing potential of the Chubb-Phillips-Ingram trio comes into play.
The trio’s impact on display in last week’s 33-17 loss to San Francisco. And despite the game’s outcome the trio showed what the Dolphins had in mind when they acquired Chubb from Denver in a blockbuster trade deadline move on Nov. 1.
San Francisco had a seven-play possession to open the second half. On third and six from the San Francisco 49-yard line, the fourth play of the drive, and a time when the 49ers were 5 of 9 on third-down conversions, the Dolphins had Ingram lined up outside of right tackle Mike McGlinchey, Phillips lined up opposite left guard Aaron Banks, and Chubb lined up outside of left tackle Trent Williams.
All three got penetration and controlled potential escape lanes for quarterback Brock Purdy. Phillips was in the middle, Chubb was on the right, and Ingram was on the left. Eventually, Chubb flushed Purdy into Ingram for a sack, which forced a punt and kept the Dolphins, who trailed, 17-10, in the game.
But that wasn’t the only thing the trio did.
On first down from the 49ers’ 45-yard line, the fourth play of the drive, Chubb is lined up outside of left tackle Williams and Phillips is lined up outside of right tackle Mike McGlinchey. San Francisco quarterback Brock Purdy gets pressure up the middle from defensive lineman Zach Sieler and runs right into Chubb, who hit Purdy’s arm and forced the incomplete pass.
On second down, Chubb tackled running back Christian McCaffrey after a 4-yard gain.
It wasn’t an ideal possession, but the Chubb-Phillips-Ingram trio contributed to a stop in ways other than a sack, which is another way it demonstrated its impact.
Ingram, the team’s sack leader with 6.0 and the AFC’s Defensive Player of the Month in September after recording seven tackles, 2.0 sacks, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries, one of which he returned for a 6-yard touchdown, has been revitalized by Chubb’s addition. But Ingram said he’s not doing anything differently.
“Just rushing, man, just doing what I’ve been doing, just trying to win rushes and get to the quarterback,” he said.
Phillips, who had 8.5 sacks last season as a rookie, has 5.0 sacks and has been winning his 1-on-1 battles even when not recording sacks.
Chubb, who has 2.5 sacks, has been getting more comfortable and making more of an impact each week.
Whether the pass rush trio of Chubb-Phillips-Ingram becomes as impactful as other combinations in franchise history such as Jason Taylor and Trace Amstrong, who combined for 31 sacks in 2000, or Cam Wake and Olivier Vernon, who combined for 14.5 sacks in 2015, is irrelevant.
The key is whether this trio can be impactful enough to lead the defense, and the team, into the playoffs.
“All those guys, in different ways, affect the quarterback,” defensive coordinator Josh Boyer said of Chubb, Phillips and Ingram. “And I think the more they play together, the more they work off of each other [the better they’ll get], and then obviously as a staff, we’re getting better at figuring out what they do well together, and try to put them in position to succeed.”