The Dolphins defensive line has been taking a two-front beating recently. The beating in the public forums from fans and media comes as a direct reaction to the beating on the field.
Only one sack over the past two weeks in playoff-race losses had combined with an immense 769 rushing yards allowed in the past four games. Subtract last week’s first half, in which New England ran for only 20 yards on 13 carries, and the Dolphins gave up a whopping 5.7 yards per carry over those four games. That’s not all on the defensive line, but that’s where it starts.
On Sunday, despite the shootout score of 37-35, that stopped. The unit grew monstrous and mighty when needed, similar to The Incredible Hulk that defensive end Cam Wake’s sack celebration references. They picked up four sacks and defensive end Derrick Shelby’s interception.
In fact, the pass rush set up the eventual winning play. Minnesota quarterback Teddy Bridgewater scrambled on first down for only 2 yards. Following an incompletion, Wake’s third-down bring down of Bridgewater pushed the Vikings back to their 11. The punt never got off as third-string defensive lineman Terrence Fede got an arm on it for a safety.
“Whenever a D-lineman makes a play to close out a game like that, it feels tremendous,” defensive end Jared Odrick said.
Wake’s sack was the fourth of Bridgewater and his second of the game. After the Dolphins scored to cut Minnesota’s lead to 14-7 in the second quarter, Wake got Bridgewater on second down, leaving a third-and-14 that led to the first Minnesota three-and-out.
Similarly, defensive tackle Randy Starks’ fourth-quarter sack set up a third-and-14 from the Dolphins’ 25. A field goal followed that kept the Dolphins in front 21-20.
The other sack belonged to second-year defensive end Dion Jordan, the first of the year for the No.3 overall pick in the 2013 draft.
“It felt good. I was able to do a lot of different things for the defense,” Jordan said. “He kind of ran into me and [safety] Jimmy [Wilson].”
Shelby’s interception was also the result of the pass rush, prompting Bridgewater to shove the ball in a panic at Matt Asiata.
“I saw he threw the ball, so I turned and ran for it. I guess somebody came and hit him,” Shelby said. “It popped right up to me. I didn’t want to drop it.”
Odrick, who injured his ankle on the play, said: “I was down on the ground, I didn’t realize he’d intercepted the ball. I was on the ground being a baby looking at my ankle. He landed on top of me. I think he rolled his ankle on top of me.”
Shelby chuckled, “I almost ended the day for him and me.”
Meanwhile, after being trampled underfoot early once again, the Dolphins rose up against the run. Vikings running back Asiata rumbled for 41 yards on nine carries in the first quarter. Minnesota running backs Asiata and Joe Banyard combined for 40 yards on 12 carries the rest of the game.
“Most of the time, we’ve got to focus on the things we’re doing,” Shelby said. “Sometimes, when things don’t go right, you start trying to do too much, that’s when you get gashed.”