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  Defense Doesn't Rest
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by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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It’s three wins in a row but still one game at a time for these Dolphins.


That makes Thursday’s game against the Detroit Lions the most important one yet.


Short week for sure, which means little time for rest.


No rest is how this magnificent Dolphin defense gets the job done.



There they were again, blowing up runners, harassing the quarterback, causing turnovers, defending passes, scoring points, and stealing a win from the Minnesota Vikings.


They’re the big reason why there’s still a glimmer of playoff hope in this season.


Consistency has been the key, as well as steady improvement. Really, with the exception of the Green Bay loss, the defense has played well enough to win every game.


The steady improvement has come mostly within the secondary. Part of it has been chemistry, of which time is the active ingredient in a formula with four new starters. The other part has been having the right players in the mix, namely the elevation of Mr. Yeremiah Bell as the starting Strong Safety.


That move was a defining moment. Since his promotion, the defense has yielded just 14.3 points-per-game, versus the 20.7 ppg surrendered over the first seven games. Not coincidentally, the Dolphins are 3-0 during Bell’s watch.


And why is that? Simply put, Bell is one tough hombre against the run and has a terrific nose for the ball. He makes big plays and doesn’t let the other team make theirs.


Same goes for the incomparable Jason Taylor, truly liberated by Nick Saban’s scheme, likely the best defensive player the team has ever had.


There he was again, returning an interception for a touchdown, knocking down passes, forcing fumbles, and just being an overall pain-in-the-neck to the opposition.


Opined the normally reticent Saban, “I can’t tell you how important his leadership is and the way he’s played and the plays that he’s making has affected every game that we’ve played to this point.”


“I can’t make comparisons to other players, but in my opinion, the way he’s played in the last three weeks, I don’t know how anybody could play any better and do any more for their team.”


Can you say “NFL Defensive Player of the Year”?


There’s no question that Taylor and his pals are a godsend to this offensively starved team. Good thing, too. Yesterday, it was as if Alan Page, Carl Eller, and the rest of the Purple People Eaters came back to life as the Dolphins finished with minus-3 yards rushing (a new ignominious team record).


Yes, Minnesota’s run defense is near impenetrable. Defensive tackles Pat and Kevin Williams are why, figuratively and literally. But even a blind squirrel finds a nut now and then, making the Dolphin ground assault against the Vikings beyond pathetic.


Enter Joey Harrington. To those who say that Harrington is Jay Fiedler all over again, I say you are wrong. Harrington (arm strength, quick release) is better than Fiedler, just not good enough to consistently carry a team without some semblance of a running game.


Then again, don’t forget the 17 points wasted by others’ mistakes (a fumble inside the five yard line by Ronnie Brown, an illegal block penalty by Justin Peelle nullifying a touchdown pass, and a missed field goal by Olindo Mare). Those are unforced errors, the worst possible kind, endemic to this unit all season long.


Dick Vermeil has a tried and true formula for predicting success: a combination of runs and pass completions adding up to 50 or more. The Vikings passed this litmus test (61) and the Dolphins failed it (40). Yet the Dolphins still won the game because of scoring defense (14 points).


It’s an odd way to get over for sure, but nevertheless a testament to the resourcefulness of a defensive unit that simply refuses to give up on a season still on the wrong side of the win column.


Here’s a forest-for-the-trees fact for all of Dolphin Nation to consider: this team has now managed to find itself one game ahead of last year’s 10 game pace (3-7 vs. 4-6).


Here’s more: a win on Thursday against the woeful Lions will get the Dolphins to 5-6 and on the doorstep of the land of the living. A win thereafter at home against the Jacksonville Jaguars puts the Dolphins at .500 ball.


From there, with head-to-head tiebreakers in hand over the Chiefs and Jaguars, a realistic discussion on the team’s playoff chances can begin.


For now, I’ll let others mull those long prospects over. This team is still in pretty deep stuff. Finishing the season at.500 would be an excellent (and realistic) achievement given the 1-6 start they had.


Just don’t tell that to Taylor and the Dolphin defense. We get the sense that they won’t be satisfied with that.


For them, there are at least six more games to win.



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