MIAMI -- This is going to sound wild, but the Miami Dolphins are quietly fielding one of the most improved defenses in the NFL.
Considering they ranked dead last in yards allowed per game (414.9), 31st in scoring (29.6) and third-down percentage (51.6%), and 28th in defensive expected points added (-52.1) through the first seven weeks, when they were 1-6.
Since Week 8, however, Miami (3-7) ranks third in EPA (24.6), 10th in yards per game (309), eighth in third-down percentage (31.8%) and sixth in scoring (15). Perhaps what's most impressive about its recent stretch is that in two of its past three games it faced offenses ranked among the NFL's best -- the Buffalo Bills (No. 5) and the Baltimore Ravens (No. 2).
As they enter their Week 11 contest against the New York Jets (1 p.m. ET, CBS), the Dolphins look to keep a two-game win streak going that has been fueled by their play on the less-glamorous side of the ball.
"The defense has done a hell of a job," cornerback Xavien Howard said. "So you know, we just got to keep the team doing that."
During Miami's 26-11 loss to the Bills in Week 8, the Dolphins held Buffalo to just 122 yards in the first half. After the game, Howard said Miami was getting back to a few things that made it successful last season when it tied for fifth in scoring defense (21.1 points per game). That trend continued over the following two weeks; one reason in particular has been the frequency with which defensive coordinator Josh Boyer blitzes his defensive backs.
"The more you do some things and the more you see people's answer to it the more it evolves," Boyer said last week.
The Dolphins blitzed their defensive backs at the eighth-highest rate last season, and do so more frequently than any other team in the NFL in 2021. Over the past two weeks, specifically on third down, Miami has dialed up a DB blitz 21 times. It created havoc for Houston Texans quarterback Tyrod Taylor and Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson.
It also set the tone in consecutive Dolphins victories.
This defensive philosophy is a byproduct of a deep and versatile safeties room that has continued to play well despite a season-ending foot injury to Jason McCourty. Rookie Jevon Holland and second-year player Brandon Jones have combined for 21 tackles, a sack, an interception and a fumble recovery over the past two games.
"I think every game plan is a little bit different," coach Brian Flores said. "It won't always be blitz-heavy like it was last week. Sometimes it's a coverage game, sometimes it's a blitz game, sometimes it's a mix of both.
"To have the flexibility to play different styles is something that we want to be able to do. I think what the young safeties are doing -- we're putting a lot on their plate and they are getting better every day."
The Dolphins have an opportunity to continue their defensive revival over their next four games. Their opponents -- the Jets, Carolina Panthers, New York Giants and Jets again -- rank 11th, 21st and 31st in expected points added over the past three weeks, respectively. The Jets actually lead the league in yards per game since Week 8, but the Panthers and Giants rank 23rd and 28th, respectively.
Miami is in a position where it needs to extend its win streak to at least six games to get back to .500 and give itself a fighting chance to make a playoff push. Flores said his team is simply trying to take the season one game at a time, while Boyer admits that he always had faith in his unit to get back to the level of play it has shown in recent weeks.
"I've always felt good about our players," Boyer said. "What our record was, or some of my calls were, you appreciate the humility of failure because it drives you to get things right ... Give our players credit. They played physical, they executed, they made more plays than Baltimore."