Newly acquired New York Jets running back Le’Veon Bell sat out the entire 2018 NFL season in his contract protest with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He ended up not getting the amount of money he wanted and took a worse deal, joining a struggling AFC East team in the off-season following.
A ‘big name’ guy just joined the Miami Dolphins’ division, but all the Dolphins should be doing is saying “thank you”.
Why should a team who ranked second to last in rushing defense last season be eager to face Bell twice each season now? Miami fired its dumpster-fire defensive coordinator Matt Burke. The offense isn’t in complete shambles. Most importantly? It already had Bell figured out in 2016.
Bell was the Start-of-the-Week in fantasy football for some analysts, and the talk of the morning pregame shows, against a struggling Dolphins team at the beginning of 2016. Miami’s offense was nonexistent against Seattle, Cincinnati and Tennessee, and barely beat Cleveland, in four of its first five weeks. Surely, they’d be torched by Pittsburgh’s “Big 3 B’s”.
Miami shut down Bell from the get-go. It only allowed him 53 yards on the ground, his second-lowest yardage totals for the season (Baltimore, 32 yards). He was taken out of the game by the Dolphins’ defensive units early, allowing them to crack down on play-maker Antonio Brown and get to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
By forcing the Steelers to an air-attack, the game quickly shifted to the Dolphins control. They saw RB Jay Ajayi more than snag the stat lines that Bell was projected in having all week. Ajayi laughed as he ran all kinds of routes across the field in his 204-yard performance. This defensive stand turned the Dolphins around and was the beginning of their six game winning streak. The remainder of the season would also go onto seeing Miami victorious in nine of 11 to finish the year.
Before anyone brings up the post-season and Bell’s 167 yards against the Dolphins, remember that two of those 29 rushes got him almost 80 of those yards. Miami also had many defensive starters lost to season-ending injuries, and the Dolphins were playing with T.J. Yates under center for a bit. I’d run out the clock too. Discussion over.
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Dolphins’ defense is back
Miami is coming in with arguably the most underrated defensive unit in the NFL. Their plethora of options has even moved Minkah Fitzpatrick into a “back-up” role for two positions currently on the depth chart. They’ll see defensive end Jonathan Woodard, defensive tackle Davon Godchaux, linebackers Jerome Baker, Raekwon McMillan and Kiko Alonso, corner back Xavien Howard, safety Reshad Jones and free safety T.J. McDonald all back as starters (barring any preseason injury). Jumping into the mix is rookie DT Christian Wilkins and hopefully DE Charles Harris back from injury. S Eric Rowe is expected to compete with veteran Bobby McCain and Fitzpatrick is ready to jump in multiple positions.
With these positions not yet finalized, any switch around of the starters still won’t matter. Some of these guys were on the team in 2016 and were apart of the season-success run, beginning with Bell.
They were also there last year, but couldn’t flourish under Burke’s mismanagement. They had bright spots of working together like years prior, but there’s only so much you can do when the coach demands you do something else.
Jets not a factor
With new direction for most offensive and defensive positions, a steadier offense (yes, despite a QB battle) and a defense who already understands Bell’s style, the crackdown on the Jets’ run game (and overall game) will still be under the Dolphins’ control. With questions on whether the team will tank or struggle, Bell and the Jets won’t be in any question on that list.