Dolphins’ recent success on defense to be put to the test vs. Cardinals
It’s been quite the turnaround recently for the Miami Dolphins.
Starting out at 0-2 after two weeks of losses to divisional foes, the Dolphins have since won four of their last five outings.
Next up is a Sunday date with the Arizona Cardinals, who like Miami, enter the matchup on a three-game winning streak.
With an offense that has yet to produce a 100-yard rusher this season and features a rookie quarterback in Tua Tagovailoa in just his second start as a pro, the defense has been leaned on more and more as the weeks progress.
And for the most part, the unit has risen to the occasion over the past five weeks.
The Dolphins defense has tallied 19 sacks through seven games played this season, recording at least two sacks in every game. They sit 11th among NFL teams.
But it’s been the takeaways that have made Miami such a threat on the defensive end. Under defensive-minded head coach Brian Flores, confusion and deception are some of the keys to success.
Failing to register a turnover in the first two contests, the Dolphins flipped a switch. In five games, the team has totaled nine takeaways, seven interceptions and two fumbles.
The stingy defense was on full display against the Los Angeles Rams last week. Jared Goff was held to just one touchdown and committed two interceptions and two fumbles, one of which was returned 78 yards the other way by Dolphins linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel in the Rams’ 28-17 defeat.
Leading the way defensively for Miami is cornerback Xavien Howard.
Howard has been the Dolphins’ top lockdown option this season, recording four of the team’s seven interceptions and eight pass deflections in 2020. The cornerback is tied for first in the league in picks with three other defensive backs.
Up front, Miami’s defensive line has seen nine players make at least one sack. Anchoring the line this year has been defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah. The D-end is tied for seventh in the NFL in both sacks (6) and forced fumbles (2).
Howard, Ogbah and the rest of the Dolphins defense will need to replicate, if not exceed, last week’s performance if they want to have a chance against the high-powered Cardinals offense on Sunday.
Arizona enters Week 9 not only coming off a bye but riding a three-game winning streak and averaging the most yards per game in the NFL (419.1). Much of that can be credited to Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray, who enters the matchup having earned two of the last three NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors and taking home wins in back-to-back primetime showings.
Murray provides the ultimate test for the Dolphins in the running game as well. In Miami’s wins this year, the opposing quarterbacks have been much more stationary, with Jacksonville Jaguars signal caller Gardner Minshew representing the most mobile QB for a team the Dolphins beat.
That won’t be the case whatsoever come Sunday, as Murray has accumulated 437 yards and seven scores on the ground. About half of those yards have come from scrambles, by the way.
Howard will undoubtedly have his hands full with Murray’s No. 1 option in wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. The All-Pro paces the league with 57 receptions and 703 yards through seven games and is tied with Cincinnati’s Tyler Boyd for the most first downs among wideouts (36). He’s the lone pass-catcher to average more than 100 yards per game, and is seventh in the league in yards after the catch (283).
It’ll be an interesting matchup as the Dolphins are tied for first with the Chicago Bears in the touchdowns allowed through the air with eight.
Entering the season, a matchup against the Dolphins wouldn’t necessarily be a game to circle on the calendars. But after both teams’ recent success on the gridiron, Sunday’s billing has the potential to be a fun one.