Has the Miami Dolphins’ Defense Really Improved or Just Beat Up on Bad Teams? Check Back Sunday

After roughing up terrible offenses the last two weeks, the Miami Dolphins' defense faces an enormous challenge Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles.

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — There are two trains of thought when it comes to Vic Fangio’s Miami Dolphins defense.

The first is the unit has made significant strides since a poor Week 1, and is beginning to look like the group most expected before the season.

The second? They’re good against the bad offenses and bad against the good offenses.

The truth? It’s probably somewhere in the middle.

But we’ll have a far better feel for the group late Sunday night, after the Dolphins go toe-to-toe with the Philadelphia Eagles for three hours on national television.

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Encouraging Miami Dolphins Defensive Stats

What is not debatable?

The Dolphins’ rankings have improved significantly since their Week 1 shootout win over the Chargers.

The Dolphins in the opener put the following defensive stats on the box score:

  • 36 points
  • 30 first downs
  • Conversations on 9 of 15 third downs (60%)
  • 433 yards on 76 plays (5.7 per play)
  • 233 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 40 carries (5.8 per carry)
  • 4 tackles for loss
  • 3 sacks
  • 5 quarterback hits

After Week 1, they ranked:

  • 29th in EPA per play (.17)
  • 23rd in dropback EPA (.06)
  • 32nd in rush EPA (.30)

Now those same stats since Week 1:

  • 120 points (24 per game)
  • 99 first downs (19.8)
  • 25-68 on third downs (36.8%)
  • 322-1629 total offense (5.1 per play)
  • 92-454-4 rushing (4.9 per carry)
  • 30 TFLs (6 per game)
  • 18 sacks (3.6)
  • 50 QB hits (10)

Since Week 1, they have ranked:

  • 12th in EPA per play (-.05)
  • 12th in dropback EPA (0.0)
  • 10th in rush EPA (-.12)

“I just feel like we’re still constantly improving and working on things and doing our best to get things right and be better each and every week,” said Dolphins defensive tackle Christian Wilkins, who leads the team with nine QB hits and ranks second with 3.5 sacks.

“But just urgency, communication, and just understanding what our jobs are. Kind of figuring out and working and understanding how to play together and building that trust because that’s important when you take the field and you want to make sure this guy is going to do his job, or if he does this, then you do that kind of thing. So just building that rapport and that trust amongst each other.”

The Dolphins in Week 6 limited the Panthers’ offense to 14 points and 296 yards, prompting Mike McDaniel to say:

“There were really the most splashes of good team defense, which we’re building on a week that I thought we had our best game with that the week previous. I think our team defense is coming together like we had hoped.”

Context for Miami Dolphins’ Improved Defensive Stats

Here’s the thing about the Dolphins beating up on the Panthers’ offense: Basically everyone has this year.

The Panthers on the season rank 26th in EPA (-.12), 30th in yards per play (4.2), and 23rd in scoring (18.7).

But Carolina is downright explosive compared to the Patriots — who are 32nd in EPA (-.23), 29th in YPP (4.7), 31st in points (12.0) — and the Giants — 31st in EPA (-.19), 32nd in YPP (4.1), 32nd in points (11.8).

Those two opponents have also helped right the ship.

Here’s the problem: The Eagles are not the Giants, Patriots, or even the Panthers.

MORE: Miami Dolphins Depth Chart

They have Jalen Hurts (2022 MVP runner up), D’Andre Swift (NFC’s No. 3 rusher with 452 yards and two touchdowns on 86 carries). A.J. Brown (NFC’s No. 1 receiver, 42-672-2), and the league’s No. 1 offensive line, per PFN’s latest rankings.

It’ll be a stiff test for a defense that failed those tests the previous two times they’ve taken them this season.

The Dolphins gave up a combined 82 points and 847 yards to the Chargers and Bills — the only elite offenses so far on their schedule.

The Chargers rank seventh in EPA (.05), eighth in yards per play (5.6), and seventh in points (25.4).

The Bills rank third in EPA (.16), second in yards per play (6.0), and third in points (28.8).

As for the Eagles? Eighth in EPA (.05), ninth in yards per play (5.5), and fifth in points (23.7).

Things are about to get real, once again.

“The Philadelphia Eagles are one of the best teams in the National Football League,” McDaniel added. “When you are trying to be your very best, you want to play the best. So I know all of our guys will be excited for that.”

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