Getting Defensive: Ranking the Five Best Plays of 2016 from the Dolphins’ Defense
It’s time to get those picket fences out—we’re going in on Miami’s 2016 defensive unit. Earlier this week we touched on the offense’s five best moments of the past season, so, it’s only fitting we touch on the defense next; I mean, you simply can’t have one without the other. The old adage states defense wins championships. Well, if that’s truly the case then it’s easy to see why the Dolphins are still a ways away from being a true threat to the elites in the American Football Conference. 2016 provided Adam Gase’s bunch at times, with what seemed to be a bottomless well of good fortune. It would be naïve to find oneself under the belief that Miami will be the recipient of the continuous good breaks they received in Gase’s rookie year as head coach.
Most would think that a defense that had their defensive coordinator leave to become the head ball coach at mighty Mile High would have an abundant number of highlights to choose from.
I regret to inform that was not the case.
Scratching out the five “best” plays of the Dolphins’ defensive unit was not easy (the best is in quotations marks because these rankings are up for debate—we enjoy to hear your feedback). However, that shouldn’t be a surprise.
Take a moment, and think about what Vance Joseph and the Dolphins had to work with (especially as the injuries plied on).
This defense came into the year having significant issues at linebacker and cornerback, and we weren’t exactly sure what kind of punch the defensive line was going to pack. Before even making landfall in the emerald city for their Week 1 link-up at Century-Link with the Seahawks, Miami was already missing their rookie DB, Xavien Howard. By Week 5, Miami received the hallow news they would be without their most consistent linebacker for the remaining 12 games: Koa Misi.
I could go more in-depth on the other very notable injuries the Dolphins suffered during the 2016 regular season but, you get the point (no, I did not forget about Reshad Jones). Miami was ravaged by injuries to key defensive players all the way until the season reached its finality.
If fully healthy (which in the NFL is nothing short of a miracle), the defense’s numbers would have been easier on the eyes. The fact that the Dolphins reached the postseason with a 10-6 record is impressive enough. The fact that they did it while giving up the most total yards on defense in franchise history—that deserves some sort of recognition.
So, that’s exactly what we decided to do. Here we recognize Miami’s five best defensive plays of the year.
5. Week 7 vs Buffalo: Isa Abdul-Quddus breaks up the completion to Goodwin
IAQ proved to be a bang for their buck type of signing for Miami. Not only did the Fordham product form a formidable partnership in the Dolphins’ defensive backfield with Reshad Jones, but he also played with great vigilance once Jones sustained a season-ending shoulder injury. In the following week after losing Jones, Miami welcomed the Buffalo Bills into town. Coming off the heels of their impressive win against the Steelers, the Dolphins were looking to prove their upstart play wasn’t anything close to an aberration.
As the game reached its defining moments, Miami was in the driver’s seat but plenty of game time still remained. After storming back to take an unprecedented 21-17 lead, Miami needed one more stop to likely seal the deal.
On 3rd and 10 for the Bills, the Dolphins stack the box with seven defenders. Miami brought the South Florida-like heat with five pass rushers, but Tyrod Taylor is able to get rid of the ball quickly. The speedster, Marquise Goodwin, blows the top off Bryon Maxwell’s flimsy coverage; by the time Maxwell turns his head in the direction of the Bills’ speed demon his chance to catch up is long gone. Thankfully for Miami and Maxwell, Abdul-Quddus makes an outstanding play. From the moment Goodwin burns past the Dolphins’ corner, IAQ is already making a v-line towards number 88. Taylor actually momentarily looks to have his dart of a pass secured by his receiver. However, the hit from the Dolphins’ safety was so fierce that Goodwin can’t help but release his grip on the football.
4. Week 3 vs Browns: Cam Wake’s Strip-Sack-Fumble
Cameron Wake’s first sack of his Comeback Player of the Year worthy campaign was against the worst team in the NFL in 2016. That isn’t meant as any kind of slight, as great players should and mostly do feast on bad teams. This contest against the Browns didn’t get off to the kind of start the emulated the weather that Sunday afternoon in Miami. In late September, the opening minutes of the game felt rather frigid. Ryan Tannehill had thrown an interception on the offense’s first drive of the game and, the boo birds were humming so in tune Mozart would have been captivated by the unity of the Miami faithful.
The Dolphins needed a spark.
Miami is in a dime look with six DB’s on the field. The Dolphins simply send four rushers after the Browns’ QB and, before anything materializes for Cody Kessler, the Boogeyman (Cam Wake) comes knocking at his door.
Wake has the wherewithal to knock the ball out of the hands of the USC product and forces the key turnover. The former CFL standout looked absolutely menacing coming off the edge in this instance; the Browns’ right tackle stood no chance.
3. Week 15 @ New York: Tony Lippett’s Interception
Of the many reasons the Dolphins and their fans should send fruit baskets constantly to Denver, the most important may well be the development of the Dolphins’ secondary; especially the growth of one Tony Lippett. Few could have predicted the renaissance that Lippett experienced during his 2nd year as a pro. Remember, Lippett was a receiver until the Dolphins drafted him out of Michigan State in April of 2015, and an accomplished one at that; Lippett won Big 10 receiver of the year honors during his final year at Lansing. Yet, here he was, playing valuable snaps as a staring NFL cornerback only a year and a half later.
In this instance, Miami is lined up in the nickel look. Bacarri Rambo comes down into the box, presumably in charge of covering anything that could potentially flare out into the flat (Bilal Powell torched Miami all night in this game). This means the Dolphins’ cornerbacks are going to be one-on-one with the receivers they’re covering. Bryce Petty decides to fire the ball in the direction of Robby Anderson who had scored earlier in the division meet-up; the ball is underthrown and Lippett makes an outstanding diving interception.
Not only was this the Michigan State’s product most impressive play of the year, but it also shows you just how much he has grown and why Miami thought he could make the switch to corner from the moment he was drafted.
2. Week 10 @ San Diego: Kiko’s Pick-6
The Dolphins were hot. They had won three in a row and they were heading West sitting at 4-4. Leading up to the contest at the now former NFL city, even I will admit it was difficult to see how the Dolphins could manage to slow down the Chargers’ high octane offense that had kept them in every game up until that point. Early on, it seemed Miami was proving that point; the Dolphins found themselves down by double digits as halftime neared. Thanks to a dime of a throw by Ryan Tannehill the Dolphins were right back in the thick of things, and the momentum had begun to shift towards the team from the sunshine state.
The defense fed off this and began to make some impactful plays. However, we’ll all always remember this one in particular:
Right when it seemed San Diego was going to dink and dunk themselves into field goal range, Kiko happened. The Dolphins bring the blitz, as they stack the box with eight defenders. Kiko peels out to compensate for the extra DB’s blitzing and to cover the potential slant. The Dolphins were well prepared here and, in a way, a step ahead of the Chargers’ Pro Bowl QB.
Alonso jumps the route beautifully and the rest is the history.
1. Week 12 vs San Francisco: Suh & Alonso Stop Kaepernick at the Goal-Line
The tension had already begun to build even before the Dolphins and the 9ers took the field at Hard Rock Stadium. Colin Kaepernick had been the subject of South Florida fury after he wore a t-shirt featuring Fidel Castro in the days leading up to the game. However, Ndamukong Suh and Kiko Alonso made sure South Florida had the last laugh.
Miami appeared ready to send the whole house at Colin Kaepernick. Instead, both Kiko Alonso and Jelani Jenkins drop back to presumably spy the 9ers dual-threat QB. While Alonso’s hit reverberated more through the foundation of a rocking Hard Rock Stadium, Ndamukong Suh’s effort on this play is what stands out by far the most. The Dolphins’ star defensive tackle shows off just how athletic he is by being able to quickly change directions and track down San Francisco’s signal caller.
Suh simply places Kaepernick on a tee and Kiko finishes off the game for Miami.
It remains to be seen what the 2017 rendition of the Miami Dolphins’ defense will look like. However, as mentioned earlier, it’s not like this year’s Dolphins’ defense didn’t leave us with anything to be desired.
Even with Vance Joseph now in Denver, it seems that there should be nowhere to go but up for Miami’s defense.