Dolphins' defense has a presence
Miami • You know that saying about drawing a line in the sand, the one that dares someone or something to cross it? The one fueled by arrogance and a mindset that the person on the other side isn't tougher or more resilient?
That's the approach the Dolphins defensive front has fed on, consistently suffocating the run on Sundays for the past four seasons.
This year the Dolphins (2-3) own the top spot in rushing yards (61.4) per game and yards per carry (2.7) allowed heading into Sunday's 11 a.m. home game against the St. Louis Rams (3-2).
Miami is one stingy game away from tying a franchise record for holding tailbacks to fewer than 100 yards rushing in 20 straight games.
Those averages and the possible franchise record mean the Dolphins hold the crown as the NFL's most physical defensive front a reputation Miami's defensive linemen cherish.
The unit actually had T-shirts made that read: "First line of defense."
"You have to get through us before you can get to the linebackers," defensive tackle and former University of Utah standout Paul Soliai said when asked about the shirts.
"Tell him Paul!" defensive tackle Randy Starks yelled from a few feet away.
Soliai and Starks aren't just Miami's starting defensive tackles in this new 4-3 front. They are the heartbeat of the Dolphins defense.
"When you look at the stat sheets, you're never going to see 'Paul Soliai takes on two linemen and Karlos [Dansby] makes a tackle.' That's not a stat," defensive end Cameron Wake said.
"You just see Karlos Dansby with a tackle for loss. You don't see Paul Soliai with 700 pounds [of offensive linemen] on him. Karlos' jersey is clean but Randy and Paul are dirty as hell. Those guys work really hard to keep everyone productive."
And the NFL's starting to notice their efforts. Starks recently was recognized as the AFC's Defensive Player of the Week for the three tackle, one interception and half a sack performance he had in last Sunday's 17-13 win over the Bengals.
Miami's opponents have run the ball 115 times for 307 yards in five games, and 23 of those runs have resulted in lost yardage.
"A lot of teams say they want to do that, stop the run, but then they don't play that way because they're chasing those sacks," said defensive end Jared Odrick.
According to Odrick, everyone new to the Dolphins defensive line must be re-programmed by defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers, who is one of the NFL's most respected position coaches.
That's what happened to him when the Dolphins selected the former Penn State standout in the first round of the 2011 NFL draft.
Priority number one was no longer hunt down quarterbacks. It became rag doll opposing offensive lineman on every snap.
"We're not playing the run on the way to the quarterback," said Odrick. "Stopping the run is the first thing on our mind. Stop the run, make a team one dimensional, and then move on from there [to pass rush]."
But that's only after the opposition waves the white flag on running the ball, and plenty have.
"It's something you got to hang your hat on, take pride in," said Dansby, whose 37 tackles lead the team. "It's the cloth you're cut from."
According to Miami's defenders, the unit's continuity, the chemistry they have in the front seven, is what's allowed the defense to tighten the screws this season.
On Sunday, the Dolphins will be facing St. Louis' Steven Jackson, a three-time Pro Bowler, who annually has been one the NFL's more physical runners. Jackson has produced seven 1,000-plus rushing seasons in his nine years.
"This is another big challenge because that offensive line is nasty," Dansby said. "They play tough up front."