Miami Dolphins Defense Makes Them AFC Darkhorse

The Miami Dolphins swarmed the Buffalo Bills on Thursday Night Football, breaking their identical 5-4 records for the edge in the AFC East and the AFC Wildcard hunt. Now at 6-4, the Fins are still behind the New England Patriots at 7-2. As usual, Miami was led by their elite defense to stump the Bills.

All season long, I’ve been telling football fans that Brent Grimes has played the best at the cornerback position in 2014. Once a Pro Bowler with the Atlanta Falcons, he parted ways with the team after injuring his knee in a contract year. Grimes is not only healthy and back in the elite realm, the stud has been the best in the game and it’s not even close. The glory stat is obviously interceptions and he has a handful of them, so I hope you saw his highlight pick in the endzone against the Detroit Lions last week.

Tonight, rookie receiver Sammy Watkins, was contained to three catches. Last week in the loss to the Lions, it took Calvin Johnson an eye-popping 15 targets to post 100 yards on Grimes, grabbing only seven of those. Not to say Grimes does it alone, Cortland Finnegan is showing that he can still bump and run. The duo corralled the Chicago Bears tandem of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey, to 8 catches for 57 yards. The Green Bay Packers duo of Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, they each hauled in a touchdown. The thing with that, the Cheese Heads obviously air it out with Aaron Rodgers, and it took 23 combined targets to get them going. These upper echelon corners have escalated their play and form a physical matchup for any receiving core.

The secondary got a boost mid-season, with the return of suspended safety, Reshad Jones. He has racked up the tackles since suiting up, which has helped the defense that has shuffled linebackers around with injuries. In his five games this season, he has 33 tackles, 4 passes defensed, 2 interceptions, and a sack.

The pass rush has been consistent all season, led by Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon, who have a combined 13 sacks. They also got last year’s first round pick back, Dion Jordan. A strong pass rush with corners that get in your face has them allowing the 3rd fewest points, and the 4th fewest yards in all of football.

Everything you have read has been hyping up a defense that has played itself into national recognition. The offense doesn’t look special, but they have the talent and scheme that currently ranks them in the top dozen. The growth of Ryan Tannehill will be a week-to-week thing, that’s simply the story of a young quarterback. He’s looking comfortable in the offense, winning four of their last five games. An offense that blends some of what Joe Philbin, did in Green Bay, and what Bill Lazor was a part of in Philadelphia. The waters have been rocky, between Mike Wallace’s frustration and the new system, but they find ways to win like they did a season ago. 2013 was tough, where they persevered through a carousel along the offensive line, and the media circus that came from Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito. They moved past that to hang around the wildcard picture until the end, so you know this team is mentally strong.

Lamar Miller has been asked to do more and mature quicker since losing Knowshon Moreno to injury. Miller has been doing a great job, even playing banged up. Rookie receiver, Jarvis Landry, earned more playing time by breaking out a few returns for big gains. He’s been good in the slot, and the second-most productive receiver on the team, behind Wallace. These guys bring a lot of speed to the field, catching passes from Tannehill, a former receiver that is learning to use his speed more too. Charles Clay is the unsung hero that could really stand out one day, if he was ever part of a team with a cohesive O-line. He’s been the ultimate team player blocking for the pass and the run, yet you probably only see the safety valve catch a 5-7 yard pass here and there. Unfortunately, they lost left tackle, Branden Albert, for the season. His absence was exploited tonight by Mario Williams, who tallied 3.5 sacks. Yet, the Dolphins moved the chains with a balanced offense and overcame that against the rival Bills. By the way, Buffalo has touted a top-7 defense for all of 2014.

Look, the Patriots have owned the division for over a decade now, and they are still the favorites to hold onto the AFC East crown. Actually, they’re one of two favorites to clinch a bye in the postseason. The Pats can and have been beat, including week 1 in Miami, 33-20. New England may very well win the division, that doesn’t mean Miami can’t clinch a wildcard spot and pull an upset if they reach the second round.

No one should confidently go to Las Vegas, or online, and put money down on the Dolphins winning the AFC or Super Bowl. All I’m saying is, that this team is good and they shouldn’t surprise you if they make more noise than you or the media thinks. The defense alone keeps them competitive, The offensive scheme is designed to use their speed. They say speed kills and they have plenty of it.