Jalen Ramsey seals the win for the Dolphins with a leaping interception, his second of the game.

Pressure Point: Rise of defense bodes well for Dolphins’ late-season hopes

The most positive aspect of the Miami Dolphins’ gritty 20-13 win over the Las Vegas Raiders was that the players most responsible for the outcome weren’t named Tua, Tyreek or Raheem.

Instead it was a superlative defensive effort led by Jalen Ramsey, Bradley Chubb, Jaelan Phillips, Christian Wilkins and Zach Sieler. But really, there were honorable mentions throughout defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s unit, which repeatedly bailed out a mistake-prone offense, that won the day.

The defense limited the Raiders to two field goals off of three Dolphins turnovers, two of them in Miami territory.

It took fourth-quarter interceptions by Phillips (aided by Wilkins hitting quarterback Aidan O’Connell) and Ramsey to finally put away a Raiders team that has been revitalized under interim coach Antonio Pierce.

It was arguably the most significant result so far for the 7-3 Dolphins. Much more than the 70-20 shellacking of the Broncos or any of the other one-sided wins in the first half of the season.

It bodes well for Miami in what lies ahead over the final seven games of the season. Because a stalwart defense is going to be essential during a stretch run that includes the Jets (twice), Cowboys, Ravens and Bills, as well as the Titans and Commanders.

Ramsey saves day for Dolphins

There is every reason to have faith in a Miami defense that has been trending upward in recent weeks, particularly since the return of Ramsey, who showed All-Pro form with two interceptions, including a spectacular acrobatic grab in the end zone that finally extinguished Vegas hopes.

“I’m really hoping they throw at him, honestly. I mean, both interceptions were out of control in difficulty level,” Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said of Ramsey. “I think the whole team has gotten a little bit better to a degree since he’s been on our team or since he’s been back and that’s the type of effect that players of that caliber can have on people.”

It was all needed on an uncharacteristic day for the offense. Yes, Tua Tagovailoa threw for 325 yards and two touchdowns. But he also lost a fumble and threw an interception.

Tyreek Hill dazzled as usual, with 146 yards on 10 receptions, including a 38-yard runaway touchdown.

But Miami struggled to get the running game going. Exciting rookie De’Von Achane was lost early to another knee injury. Starting right guard Robert Hunt was out with an injury.

Raheem Mostert averaged a subpar 3.9 yards a carry in grinding out a tough 86 yards. But he couldn’t make enough headway on the final two drives when the Dolphins could have put the game away, and instead punted both times.

Mistakes hamper Dolphins offense

In fact, Miami punted on all three of its possession in the fourth quarter before the game-ending kneel down.

It was the defense that got the job done in impressive fashion. In the second half, Raiders possessions ended with three punts, three interceptions and a failed fourth down.

No wonder I felt most confident in Miami’s chances when the defense was on the field. The only blemish was allowing Davante Adams to get deep for a 46-yard touchdown pass from O’Connell. Otherwise, the Dolphins limited Adams, a likely future hall-of-famer, to 36 yards on his other six catches.

It sure helps having elite cornerbacks Ramsey and Xavien Howard, with 10 Pro Bowl selections between them, finally on the field together and performing as envisioned.
No. 3 corner Kader Kohou had one of his better games, including breaking up a third-down pass for Adams and a tackle for a loss.

Standout emerge on defense for Dolphins

Meanwhile, linebacker Bradley Chubb has emerged as a major disrupter and dominant force of the front seven, effectively quieting criticism of his lackluster performance in his first partial season with Miami after being acquired from Denver and given a $110 million extension in November 2022. Reunited with Fangio, Chubb has five sacks in the past five games.

“I think that there’s a lot of very prideful, very high-quality players on that side of the ball, and you figure it’s just a matter of time with the way that our defense is orchestrated from a coaching perspective, starting with Vic [Fangio],” McDaniel said about the improvement of the defense.

Cohesive defensive effort stymies Raiders

What stood out Sunday was an overall cohesive effort by an improving Miami defense that came into the game ranked 12th in the NFL in total defense, allowing an average of 322.4 yards per game. They limited the Raiders to 296 yards.

But most important, the Dolphins defense pitched a much-needed shutout in the second half while the offense managed only two field goals after the intermission.
Ramsey was asked after the game if he feels this is a defensive team now?

“No, no, I don’t never like to say nothing like that. It’s just a team. We’re all together. At times they’re going to have our back, at times we’ve got to have their back,” Ramsey said. “We do have to play a little bit better complementary football at times, and we’ll continue striving to do that and be that team that we feel like we can be.”

That is what it will take to hold onto the AFC East lead and with the division for the first time in 15 years in the face of a challenging finish to the season.

Dolphins can’t quell doubts as comeback fizzles in Frankfurt

Craig Davis has covered South Florida sports and teams, including the Dolphins, for four decades. Follow him on the site formerly known as Twitter @CraigDavisRuns.

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