If Week 1 is any indication of things to come, it appears as though the Miami Dolphins defense is much improved, as they limited the Buffalo Bills to just one touchdown in Miami’s 15-10 victory on Sunday.
The Dolphins defense limited the Bills to 166 net yards of total offense — only 50 of which came on the ground — and sacked Trent Edwards three times in an all-around spectacular performance.
It’s true that the Bills are far from an offensive juggernaut. They finished 28th in the NFL in points per game last season, and while they added a threat in rookie running back C.J. Spiller, they also lost a playmaker in wide receiver Terrell Owens.
But while the Bills may not be the offensive equivalent of the 2001 St. Louis Rams, the Miami performance was impressive nonetheless, and especially important for a team with a newfound commitment to defense.
Since Bill Parcells took over as the Dolphins’ Executive Vice President of Football Operations in December of 2007, the Dolphins have largely focused on overhauling a woefully inadequate defense.
Sure, Miami had big-name players such as Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas, but the Dolphins had the league’s third-worst defense in 2007, and their star players weren’t getting any younger.
Parcells first began to rectify the Dolphins’ defense by using high draft picks on defensive players. In the 2008 draft, he selected defensive ends Phillip Merling and Kendall Langford with second and third round picks, respectively. Then in 2009, Parcells focused on the secondary, taking potential shutdown cornerback Vonte Davis with the 25th-overall pick, before nabbing another corner in Sean Smith in the second round.
But despite their efforts, the Dolphins’ defensive unit had another disappointing campaign in 2009. They finished 22nd in total yards allowed per game, 18th in rushing yards allowed per game, and intercepted just 15 passes – good for 16th in the league.
One thing the Dolphins did do well was get to the quarterback. Their 44 sacks trailed only the Steelers and Vikings, but that skill alone couldn’t prevent them from giving up the seventh most points of any team in the NFL.
And so once more Parcells turned his attention towards the defense this offseason. He used his first-round pick in the 2010 draft on defensive end Jared Odrick, and his second-round pick on linebacker Koa Misi. He signed linebacker Karlos Dansby to a five-year, $43 million contract – a deal that was, at the time, the largest in the history of the NFL for an inside linebacker. And he replaced incumbent defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni with Mike Nolan, the former head coach of the San Francisco 49ers.
Odrick, Misi, and Dansby all started on Sunday against the Bills, and were all instrumental in the disruption of Buffalo’s offense. Dansby had an especially good day, recording a sack and a team-high eight tackles.
If Miami is to make the playoffs this year, its defense will have to prove to be up to much tougher tasks. The Patriots and the Jets are both likely to have good offensive units this season, and the Fins must also deal with the likes of the high-scoring Vikings, Packers and Bengals.
But if Sunday’s performance is an accurate indication of how the new Dolphins defense is capable of playing, the AFC East just became even tougher.
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