Nov 17, 2013; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes (21) intercepts a pass during the first quarter against the San Diego Chargers at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

By the Numbers Part Two: Defense and Special Teams

 

Sup guys, as promised here is the second part of my by the numbers analysis of the Dolphin’s season so far. Found some pretty interesting stuff on special teams and rushing defense so hope you enjoy the read. Thanks again to ESPN and Football Outsiders for the stats and as always I welcome all comments, questions and thoughts and will do my best to answer or respond @thecuffester on twitter and @cuffeap on instagram.

Defense

Where we’re good

Sacks:                                      32                           NFL Rank: 11th
Points/game:                          22.3                        NFL Rank: 10th
Opponent Passer rating:      75.8                         NFL Rank: 4th
Interceptions:                         14                            NFL Rank: 6th
Passing TDs:                          12                            NFL Rank: 5th

That’s more like it. The ‘Phins defense has still been pretty solid. In particular, the secondary has shown some incredible improvement. The Dolphins are just one of five teams in the NFL who have more interceptions than passing touchdowns allowed and have held opposing QBs to a passer rating of just 75.8. This is in no small part thanks to the excellent play of Brent Grimes (who’s resigning should be an offseason priority), but also to the outstanding efforts of Reshad Jones, Dmitri Patterson and ever improving play from Nolan Carroll.

The addition of two athletic linebackers in Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler has greatly improved the ‘Phins coverage over the middle and while we still allow a few too many passing yards, this unit has the look of a solid pass defending corps in an increasingly pass heavy league.

 

Where we’re not as good as you think

Rush Yds/game:                    123.8                  NFL Rank: 26th
Rushing TD’s allowed:          11                       NFL Rank: 24th
Rushing DVOA:                      3.0%                  NFL Rank: 30th

Two seasons ago, the Dolphins had the 3rd best run defense in the league. Last year Miami had the 13th best run defense in the league. This year, the once vaunted Miami run defense is giving up 123.8 rushing yards per game, ranked 26th in the league. This is not the kind of trend you hope for. To add insult to injury, both of the ‘Phins star Defensive Tackles, Randy Starks and Paul Soliai will be free agents after this season. The DVOA statistic (Defense-adjusted Value over average) in very basic terms calculates how successful each team is in relation to the average team in the league adjusted for schedule. The positive value indicates that offenses have a better than average chance of scoring when they run against us. Not good.

The Dolphins will probably address this need through free agency or the draft, but if Miami is going to make a playoff run, they will have to be much stronger against the rushing attack. Not satisfied by the above info, well, this Sunday the Panthers ran for 136 yards on 29 attempts average 4.7 yards per carry against just 174 passing yards. Ouch.

 

 

Special Teams

Where we’re good

FG Made:                  20                                        NFL Rank: 11th
Avg. Punt:                 49.5 yds                              NFL Rank: 1st
Punt Net avg:           42.7  yds                             NFL Rank: 6th
Punts inside 20:       22                                        NFL Rank: 6th

Brandon Fields remains one of the best punters in the league (if not the best) and is probably the most under appreciated Dolphins player. While the offense has struggled, Fields has punted 58 times for a league high 49.2 yard average. If the season ended today this average would register just 2.2 yards short of Sammy Baugh’s average of 51.4 yards set in 1940. In addition, Fields has placed 22 punts inside the 20 and his punt net average of 42.7 places 6th in the NFL. All this despite Miami’s allowing 380 yards on punt returns (28th in the NFL). Start appreciating Fields folks, he’s damn good. Also of not, While Caleb Sturgis has been flaky at times, he has performed very well considering how much the Dolphins have asked of him, only missing 3 times inside of 50 yards.

 

Where We Suck

Punt Return Attempts:                    20                      NFL Rank: 22nd
Punt Return Yards:                          167                    NFL Rank: 27th
Punt Return Avg.:                             7.84 yds           NFL Rank: 20th
Opponent Punt Return Avg.:          12.3 yds            NFL Rank: 26th
Opponent Punt Return Yds.:           380                   NFL Rank: 28th

While allowing opponents to pick up 12.3 yards per punt return attempt, the Dolphins have returned only 20 punts all year for just 167 yards. The importance of field position cannot be understated and a good punt return can often be the difference between no points and a field goal. Simply put, Miami needs to be more effective in its return game to provide the offense with better field position and thus more scoring opportunities. Joe Philbin spent significant time with special teams in practice last week and on Sunday Marcus Thigpen did a much better job returning 7 punts for 71 yards. Still this is an area which special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi will certainly be looking to improve as the season winds down.

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