When most of us remember last year’s Dolphins-Baltimore game, it’s the constant onslaught of all-out, hair-on-fire blitzes the Dolphins threw at Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson.
Dolphins defensive players have memories of the blitzes, but they have memories of something else, too.
What they remember is their swarming mentality.
“That was the big thing,” linebacker Jerome Baker said. “You pop on the film, no matter if it was a simple ‘out’ route, whatever it was, we all ran to the ball. It’s just fun to watch when we watch the tape. That’s the key to it.”
He’s right. Take a look at the game video from the Dolphins’ 22-10 victory over the Ravens.
There are numerous snapshots of multiple Dolphins defenders around the ball. Tackling. Making hits. Ripping at the ball. You didn’t just see this with blitzes on Jackson. It was anyone with the ball. The Dolphins came at the Ravens in ravenous pods.
The defensive aggressiveness went way beyond blitzes, and that must be the case again Sunday when the Dolphins (1-0) visit the Ravens (1-0).
“The main thing for us is we ran after the ball last year,” Baker said.
It’s always important to remember the devastation and confusion the Dolphins can bring with those blitzes.
Last week, safety Brandon Jones had the NFL’s fastest blitz, according to NFL NextGen Stats, at 2.14 seconds. It resulted in New England quarterback Mac Jones fumbling and Dolphins linebacker Melvin Ingram scooping up the loose ball and running it in for a 6-yard touchdown. It would have been the fifth-fastest sack in the NFL last season.
Dolphins defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah was tied for fourth-fastest blitz, getting to Jones in 2.67 seconds. The 20th fastest sack last season was in 2.57 seconds.
These guys can get there. Fast.
The Dolphins blitzed 27.3 percent of the time last week against New England, which tied for ninth in the league.
And when considering whether the Dolphins should be blitz-heavy again, disregard the argument about Jackson playing for a contract. You could argue it both ways. You can contend he won’t run because wants to avoid contact and stay healthy just as much as you could contend he will run because he wants to have a great year so he can get the big money.
Focus on the Dolphins.
Dolphins defensive coordinator Josh Boyer said every team in the league will study past games, so he expects Baltimore to be well-schooled in how it got schooled by the Dolphins last year. Boyer said said there’s a balance between repeating a successful strategy and having the element of surprise. But he said the key is putting your players in a position to succeed.
“Ultimately, that’s what it’s really about,” he said.
So as everyone debates whether the Dolphins defense will throw those all-out blitzes at Jackson once again, go back to Baker’s words about the swarming defense and consider the damage the defense can do aside from blitzes.
Turn on last year’s Baltimore video.
In the first quarter you see defensive back Eric Rowe strip the ball from Ravens wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, and although the Ravens recovered the fumble, you see five other Dolphins defenders —cornerbacks Byron Jones and Justin Coleman, linebackers Andrew Van Ginkel and Jaelan Phillips, and safeties Jevon Holland and Brandon Jones — around the ball.
In the second quarter there was a swing pass to running back D’Onta Freeman, and although cornerback Xavien Howard was there for the tackle, Holland and Rowe were also on the scene.
Even a third-quarter 9-yard gain was an example of a swarming defense. After Freeman caught the pass and ran upfield, you saw defensive lineman Christian Wilkins tracking him down from behind and linebackers Elandon Roberts and Duke Riley and Brandon Jones waiting in front.
On and on it goes.
The Jets didn’t send a lot of blitzes at Jackson last week. They blitzed 20.7% percent of the time and it resulted in two sacks, four pressures and two quarterback knockdowns.
The Jets also didn’t consistently pressure Jackson, and as a result he had a good-enough-to-win performance at 17 for 30 for 213 yards, three touchdowns, one interception and a 98.3 passer rating.
One way or the other, the Dolphins will put pressure on Jackson.
“Everybody pursuing, everybody flying to the ball, that’s really one of the only ways to contain him, just to have a bunch of hats on the ball at all times,” linebacker Jaelan Phillips said.
There’s reason to think the Dolphins might deviate from their blitzing strategy of a year ago. Recall that Baltimore had numerous injuries. That made a strategic difference for the Dolphins and Jackson.
“Let’s just say he didn’t have all of his weapons,” Baker said, “so he couldn’t do a lot of the things he usually does.”
The Ravens might have running back J.K. Dobbins (knee) and left tackle Ronnie Stanley (ankle) make their season debuts this week. That could make a difference in the Dolphins’ approach.
Taking everything into account, the best insight into the Dolphins’ defensive strategy against Jackson and the Ravens might come back to what Baker said about being a swarming defense, and what linebacker Elandon Roberts said about the Dolphins’ defensive mentality.
“We’re big hitters,” Roberts said. “I don’t think you can name one guy that isn’t hitting. I think that’s what we do best is fly around and hit.”