The Miami Dolphins have been on a roll heading into their Week 12 matchup with the San Francisco 49ers, winning five straight after a 1-4 start. The Dolphins offense has made some plays, particularly in the run game, but the Miami defense has taken some important steps forward.
Football Outsiders ranks the Dolphins defense No. 7 overall, splitting it up at No. 5 against the pass and No. 14 against the run. The 49ers have been wildly inconsistent on offense, and the Dolphins pass rush in particular presents a stiff challenge. We took a few minutes to speak with Kevin Nogle of The Phinsider to get his thoughts on the strengths and weaknesses of the Dolphins defense. Here’s what he had to say.
The pass rush is obviously the strength, with Cameron Wake, Andre Branch, and Mario Williams coming off the edges while Ndamukong Suh, Jordan Phillips, and Earl Mitchell coming up the middle. The linebackers are starting to play better as well, led by Kiko Alonso who has been strong as the team's middle linebacker. They are not perfect, but the entire front seven have been working really well together as of late.
That said, Alonso and the linebackers can be fooled. Alonso plays so instinctively, he is often breaking up plays all over the field. That instinct can get him into trouble, however, as he will over-pursue on counters or cut-backs at times. There have been a couple of examples the last few weeks where Alonso washed himself out of a running play, allowing for a big gain. It is not every play, but it does happen occasionally.
The secondary is the biggest concern on defense for the Dolphins. If the pass rush is unable to get to the quarterback, the secondary can breakdown. Byron Maxwell and Tony Lippett have been playing better, but it is still a big concern. Rookie Xavien Howard coming back would be a big benefit for the Dolphins, but it looks like December at the earliest that he will be able to play (though he was listed as limited in both of this week's practices thus far, so that could be a good sign for the Dolphins). Add in the loss of Reshad Jones to a shoulder injury a few weeks ago, and the secondary is flat out a concern.