After finishing last in the AFC East with a 5-11 record in 2019, the Miami Dolphins are in position to not just secure a playoff spot in 2020 but to win the AFC East. This turnaround from a rebuilding season to a chance at winning their division has been quite the turnaround for this team. Their defense has been leading the charge, something that was the exact opposite in 2019.
Miami has gone from worst to (almost) first in terms of scoring defense. They allowed the most points per game (30.9) in 2019. So far in 2020, they are tied for fourth, allowing just 20.1 points per game. Prior to their Week 9 win over Arizona, they were ranked first in points per game allowed.
While scoring defense has improved dramatically, there are some specific defensive stats that have not changed much from last season:
Rushing Defense YPG:
2020: 26th (131.8)
2019: 27th (135.4)
Passing Defense YPG:
2020: 21st (252.5)
2019: 26th (262.4)
2020: 22nd (384.3)
2019: 30th (397.8)
These are the areas in which the defense have taken a much needed step forward:
2020: T-3rd (14)
2019: T-30th (16)
Third-Down Conversion %:
Red-Zone Defense (% teams score TDs when they enter red zone):
2020: 68% (opponents have been in RZ just 25 times)
2019: 62.7% (opponents were in the RZ 59 times, T-4th highest in NFL)
Percentage of Drives ending in an Offensive Score:
2020: 28.9% — third-lowest in NFL
2019: 45.9% — highest in NFL
Here are four reasons why the Dolphins have been able to show dramatic improvement:
Winning the turnover battle
Forced turnovers is a stat that caught my eye. Through eight games this season, they have almost as many turnovers as they had in the entire 2019 season. This ties into how much their turnover differential has improved. Currently, their turnover differential is plus-5, one of the highest in the NFL while in 2019 it was minus-10.
The signing of Kyle Van Noy
The Dolphins had an active offseason that may have contributed to this significant defensive improvement. They brought in 13 new defensive players through free agency and the draft. Some of the notable names included cornerbacks Byron Jones and Noah Igbinoghene, linebacker Kyle Van Noy and defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah. The most intriguing of these additions is Van Noy. The seven-year veteran was brought over in free agency from New England, where he played three seasons under current Miami head coach Brian Flores, who served as New England’s linebackers coach from 2016-2018. Since 2017, every defense Van Noy has played on has been a top 10 scoring defense. His leadership and experience with the Patriots made him a strong acquisition for Miami.
Miami has blitzed significantly more this season than they did in 2019. The Dolphins currently have blitzed 41.6% of the time, which is exactly a 10% increase from last season. The increase in blitzing has them close to besting their 2019 totals in sacks (23) and QB hits (64). They already have 20 and 54, respectively, with eight games remaining.
Miami has been fantastic in the 33rd Team’s Discipline Index this season. They rank fourth in the NFL in the statistic with a score of 1.68, indicating they are being coached at a high level. Their penalties per game have been reduced from committing 5.75 in 2019 to 4.75 in 2020. Their penalty yards allowed per game have also decreased from 48.06 to 40.63.
Miami’s high level of defensive play has led the way and given the Dolphins a unique opportunity to go from worst in their division to first after just one offseason. Their defensive turnaround is and will continue to be one of the best offseason repairs in the NFL.