We're now 75% of the way through the season, somehow still sitting at a .500 record. Our body of work this year has been characterized by wild inconsistency, questionable coaching decisions, and brief flashes of pizazz that seem to always be followed up by unabashed mediocrity. However, among the turmoil, this team's defense has been a well-oiled machine, constantly toiling to save the game when our offense repeatedly stagnates. Consider these statistics from the Dolphins defense in 2009:
Rush yards allowed per game: 114.711th NFL 8th AFC
Pass yards allowed per game: 234.624th NFL 13th AFC
Total yards allowed per game: 349.3
22nd NFL 11th AFC
Points allowed per game: 24.425th NFL 14th AFC
These statistics are not very dazzling. Remember having Gibril Wilson playing at safety? Remember having Joey Porter not contributing a thing to run support? Remember having Gibril Wilson playing at safety? I think I actually have Gerbil-induced PTSD. I keep getting flashbacks of 60 yard touchdowns. This defense let this team down time and time again last year with the game on the line. We would dominate in time of possession only to repeatedly give up quick scores (see Colts, Saints games) and surrender fourth quarter defeats. Well, in one year, Mike Nolan has completely revamped this unit. He delivered everything we could have expected from him, and those expectations were actually pretty high. Nolan has been known for maximizing the potential of his players and finding ways to best utilize the abilities of each individual. We hoped only to become a 'good' defense. What we got was outstanding. Here are the statistics over the 2010 season thus far:
Rush yards allowed per game: 99.6
9th NFL 5th AFC
Pass yards allowed per game: 201.2
4th NFL 2nd AFC
Total yards allowed per game: 300.8
4th NFL 2nd AFC
Points allowed per game: 19.8
10th NFL 5th AFC
Are you kidding me? We are a top 10 unit in every category of defense, and a top five team in passing defense and total yards. In both categories, we trail only the Chargers as the most dominant unit in the AFC. These statistics come after the injury to rookie Jared Odrick, who initially looked successful before breaking his leg, causing a re-shuffle of the defensive line, as well as issues at a starting cornerback spot after Jason Allen played inconsistently and was released, not to mention the chronic issue of dropped interceptions by the defense. It seems like this unit can get a lot better pretty quickly in one offseason, and already their performance under Nolan is among the best in the league. Several players on this defense are playing at elite status right now:
Paul Soliai Going into the season, Soliai was considered a serviceable backup but not a long-term answer at nose tackle. The aged Jason Ferguson was being dismissed, so many expected the Dolphins to look at nose tackle Dan Williams out of Tennessee in the first round of the draft. However, Williams was taken by the Cardinals and the Dolphins drafted Jared Odrick, announcing the intent to move successful defensive end Randy Starks to nose tackle. After the injury to Odrick early in the season, Starks was relocated back to end and Soliai was given the start at NT. It took several weeks for him to find his stride, but for the past few weeks, Soliai has been an absolute force in the middle. We faced a Raider rushing attack that put up 251 yards on the ground at San Diego, a top 5 rush defense, and held them to sixteen yards. I'll say that again. Sixteen yards. We also limited Peyton Hillis to under 60 yards of rushing. Soliai is a prime example of Mike Nolan's ability to get elite production from players who had previously struggled.
Karlos Dansby Karlos Dansby is one of a select few players on this defense who has shown the potential for truly elite production, and he may have been the only one from which elite production was undoubtedly expected. Dansby has lived up to expectations in every way. He leads the team in tackles and has been constantly active in run support as well as coverage. He finds the ball extremely well and finds ways to get in on the play. He hasn't had any jaw-dropping moments this season a la his touchdown against Green Bay last year, but he has been a rock solid performer. Remember that Vikings game? That play still gets me fired up.
Vontae Davis Davis may be the most complete corner in the league. While he isn't exactly Charles Woodson in terms of hauling in interceptions, Davis is excellent in man coverage (actually, when you cover like he does, you get a lot less targets and thus plays on the ball) and a fantastic addition to run support. He has shown the ability to make plays in open space and his tackling is superb for a cornerback. He's had his moments of slip-ups this year, but this is only his sophomore year. Expect great things from this kid.
Cameron Wake What a monster. I mean really. 12 sacks, 10 tackles for loss. No one in the league has more sacks than Cameron Wake, and only Chad Greenway has more tackles for a loss, and Wake only trails him by one. This is his first year as a starting linebacker in the NFL and he is putting together an All-Pro season. Wake has absolutely terrorized offenses despite being the only viable pass-rushing threat on this team. Koa Misi has shown excellent performances from a rookie OLB, but he has not been a pass-rushing machine by any means. The other team's line knows Wake is coming. They hold him, they double team him. It just doesn't work. The guy's motor is out of control; he actually seems to pick up speed as the game goes on. Rather than the offense wearing him down, he wears them down. Many people doubted Wake's ability to be an effective run-stopper, but once again, the addition of Mike Nolan extracted greatness from a player who was previously an unknown.
Regardless of what happens this season, we know we can go into next season with a powerhouse defense.