Dolphins refute the 'gravity' label as they prepare for crows

MIAMI – The Miami Dolphins, the same team that hung 70 points on the Denver Broncos in Week 3, scored just one offensive goal against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 16.

They won 22-20.

These are the new Dolphins, led by Mike McDaniel.

In 2022, Miami was an offense-heavy team. He ranked sixth in yards per game, but ranked 24th in scoring defense, 18th in yards allowed per game, and 21st in expected defensive points added. When their offense faltered, as it did noticeably over the final month of the season, the Dolphins' fledgling defense and running game exposed the team as one-dimensional.

The perception of Miami as a fast, slick team that will be overwhelmed by physical opponents is a narrative the Dolphins could put to rest for good with a win this weekend over the top-seeded Baltimore Ravens (1 p.m., ET, CBS).

“If you spend your time worrying about novels, I'm going to be a tired person,” McDaniel said. “I think it's kind of weird. I feel like — I haven't checked lately — but I feel like we're pretty good at stopping the run and running the football. That's generally not related to gravity.

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“Whatever. I mean there's always going to be something.”

After an early-season offensive explosion that had some searching for an NFL record, Miami's defense has become the most reliable unit during the final stretch of the 2023 season. That's not to say Miami's offense has faded, as the Dolphins lead the league in scoring. 30.9 points per game and yards per game at 411.5. But they have threatened little since Week 8, averaging 367 yards per game over the past two months, sixth in the NFL. Miami is down significantly in terms of yards per rush, at 3.9 yards per carry; He averaged a league-best 6.3 yards per rush through the first seven weeks of the season.

However, the defense picked up any slack. Since Week 8, the Dolphins rank second in defensive EPA (61.98), first in scoring (15.9 points per game) and yards per game (253.8), and fourth in sacks per dropback (9.4%). With two games remaining in the regular season, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio's unit has already set a franchise record for sacks in a single season with 52.

In Week 16, Miami held the Cowboys, the NFL's top-scoring team over the past month, to 20 points.

It's a stark turnaround for a team that's missing its best pass rusher in Jaylan Phillips, a starting middle linebacker in Jerome Baker, and a starting safety in Jevon Holland.

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“Well, every offseason it's a new deal,” Miami quarterback Tua Tagovailoa said. “I would say it sounds corny, but every season, you always hope and pray that this is the team.

“I think what sets this team apart from any other team is the leaders that we have on offense and defense, and people that are willing…to hold others accountable for what they need to do. I would say that's what looks a little different this year maybe more than other years,” With the teams we have.”

Maintaining that against the Ravens will be a challenge, especially after Baltimore beat the San Francisco 49ers, 33-19, in Santa Clara. While Sunday's win over Dallas ensures a berth in the playoffs, a win over the Ravens would secure Miami's first AFC East title since 2008 and maintain its quest for the conference's top seed.

“That was the ultimate goal for the team, so they'll be very happy with it. It's going to be secondary right now to this game and winning this game,” McDaniel said. “You want this kind of match. You want to face the best, and that in itself justifies our interest 100%.

“But you want to talk about a team that will make you pay if you're outside the lines where your focus should be. They'll teach you, fast and furious, to respect them. Our hands are full in that regard, but we're also in a really great moment to be present and enjoy, because we're building on A full season of work.”

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The Dolphins have the attention of Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, who said he sees similarities between the Dolphins' defense and the defense he faces in practice. The Ravens' defense is giving up a league-low 16.3 points per game.

“The defensive line is exceptional,” Jackson said. “[Their] High school is great too [and their] The linebacker.

“Yes, I see the similarities.”

ESPN Ravens reporter Jamison Hensley contributed to this report.

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