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Miami Dolphins: Why 60 Sacks is Possible for Defense in 2013

It looks like help may finally be on the way for Cameron Wake in the pass-rushing department

No NFL defense has recorded 60 or more sacks since 2006, when the San Diego Chargers and the Baltimore Ravens managed 61.0 and 60.0 sacks respectively.

In the six seasons since, only eight franchises have brought down the quarterback at least 50 times.

But the 2013 Miami Dolphins defense is capable of reaching the 60.0 sack total and leading the entire NFL in that category.

Of course, from the looks of practice, the Dolphins could top that milestone before the bye week if they were allowed to face the Dolphins’ offensive line every Sunday. While the offensive line–in particular left tackle Jonathan Martin–has struggled mightily through 12 days of training camp, the Dolphins’ front seven might just be THAT good.

We know Cameron Wake is that good. He was named a first-team All-Pro last season for good reason. We know the defensive tackles are pretty good too, led by two former Pro Bowlers and a first-round pick.

The uncertainty lies on the right side of the line, where second-year defensive end Olivier Vernon and first-round pick Dion Jordan are battling to see who will be the first player on the field when the Dolphins open the regular season on September 8.

However that competition shakes up, the Dolphins are capable of making a run at 60 sacks in 2013. And Here’s why:

Cameron Wake

It’s probably wise to begin any discussion regarding the Dolphins’ pass rush with Cameron Wake. 15.0 sacks in 2012, the fourth-highest total in the entire NFL, should tell it all.

Surprisingly, it doesn’t.

The frequency in which Wake pressures the quarterback provides a truer representation of his impact. Did you know that Wake’s 86 quarterback pressures were 10 more than the 76, 20.5 sack-man J.J. Watt recorded and one more than the 85 Aldon Smith, who put up 19.5 sacks for the 49ers, managed last season (according to Pro Football Focus)?

His sack totals don’t quite compare, but Wake has been just as dominant of a pass rusher as Watt and Smith, who are considered by many experts to be the league’s top two defensive players.

If he can turn more pressures into sacks in 2013, Wake is more than capable of approaching the legendary 20-sack total himself.

Not to mention help is finally on the way.

Wake has had to carry the load himself the past three seasons, being paired with the likes of Koa Misi and Jared Odrick rushing from the opposite side. But the Dolphins invested a third-round pick in 2012 and the third-overall pick in April to provide Wake with some assistance in getting after the quarterback.

The combination of Olivier Vernon and Dion Jordan, who are currently competing for the starting right defensive end spot, should help alleviate some of the constant double teams Wake has received.

Opposing offensive lines had a difficult enough task trying to devise a way to slow down Wake. Now, they could have at least one other legitimate pass-rushing threat to game plan for–possibly two.

And the Dolphins will employ formations on passing downs that feature Wake, Jordan and Vernon all rushing the passer. Surely a scary thought for opposing quarterbacks if Jordan and Vernon can carry over their success in training camp to the regular season.

Dion Jordan

Many experts were critical of the Dolphins for trading up to the third-overall pick to nab Dion Jordan. Some claimed he didn’t have the strength to set the edge in the Dolphins’ 4-3 scheme and that his natural position is at outside linebacker in a 3-4.

When Jordan missed all of Miami’s OTAs and both full-squad minicamps due to league rules prohibiting his participation as he finished his college semester at Oregon, most lowered their expectations for Jordan in his rookie season.

But it might be time to raise the bar.

Jordan has showcased elite pass-rushing traits during his first week of practice, dominating second-year tackle Jonathan Martin with a handful of would-be sacks.

Some feared his arsenal of pass-rushing moves would be raw initially, but the rookie has demonstrated a lightening-quick speed rush, a lethal spin move and a more effective bullrush than expected. He’s held his own during individual drills as well, winning the physical battles in the trenches many draft experts felt he couldn’t.

Given his draft position as the third-overall pick, he should probably be expected to excel anyway. At least when you consider the immediate impact of his recent predecessors.

The last two pass rushers taken in the top 10 exploded onto the scene as rookies. Von Miller, who was the No. 2 overall pick in 2011, put up 11.5 sacks in his first season. And Aldon Smith, the seventh overall selection of the same year, came close to breaking the rookie record with 14.0 sacks.

If Dion Jordan is entering the league as an elite talent like Miller and Smith, why can’t he be as productive as they were as rookies?

A double-digit sack total is a realistic expectation for Jordan’s rookie season. And if it comes to fruition, the Cameron Wake/Dion Jordan duo might just become the league’s best one-two punch.

Olivier Vernon

While Jordan has looked the part of stud pass rusher, he’s no guarantee to start. Olivier Vernon has been one of camp’s biggest surprises and won’t be topped on the depth chart without a consistent effort from the rookie.

Vernon didn’t have instant success rushing the quarterback in 2012, only producing 3.5 sacks, but he was a special-teams ace and showed the versatility to stand up at linebacker and drop back into coverage.

He certainly has the raw ability to become a productive rusher, though, and he bulked up during the offseason to become one. Maybe he’s benefited from facing a struggling left tackle in Jonathan Martin, but he looks ready to breakout in 2013 and become a quality starting defensive end.

Dion Jordan will have a say in the matter, but regardless if Vernon is starting or not, the Dolphins plan on unleashing him as a rusher on passing downs. Cameron Wake and Jordan will be on the field together on most obvious passing situations, but nothing is stopping Vernon from joining them.

Like I mentioned, Vernon played his fair share of snaps as a stand-up linebacker in 2012. Putting him at outside linebacker on Jordan’s side or at defensive end with Jordan at linebacker could be a deadly combination with Cameron Wake providing consistent pressure from the opposite side.

Interior pass rush

The Dolphins are more equipped to bring heat from the edge this season, but don’t sleep on more production from their defensive tackles.

Moving Jared Odrick inside exclusively after playing defensive end in 2012 will only increase the Dolphins’ interior rush.

He’ll never be a dominant pass rusher, which is a big reason why he moved to tackle, but he’s far from an incapable one. Odrick managed 6.0 sacks in 2011 and 5.0 in 2012. Only four tackles in the entire league recorded more sacks than Odrick did in 2011 and only six had more last year.

Odrick’s partner-in-crime on passing downs, Randy Starks, can pressure the passer too. There wasn’t an interior defensive lineman in football who had more sacks than the 7.0 Starks produced in 2009. Since signing with the Dolphins in 2008, Starks has managed at least 3.0 sacks per season and has showed no signs of slowing down, putting up a 4.5 sack total in each of the past two seasons.

Throw Starks and Odrick into the mix and the Dolphins could have as many as five legitimate threats to pressure the quarterback on the field on any given play. And that doesn’t even take into account the new-look linebacker corps…


Former Dolphin linebackers Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett only combined for 3.5 sacks in 2012. Albeit on different teams, new additions Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler combined for 7.5.

One of the Dolphins’ priorities during the offseason was to get younger, faster and more attacking on defense. Remodeling a solid but aging linebacker corps was in order to do so.

Both Ellerbe and Wheeler have showcased the playmaking ability they were brought to Miami for so far in camp. Sacks and interceptions have been the theme of their play in practice.

Expect Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle to employ a much more aggressive defense this season.

If he needs to that is.

If the Dolphins’ defensive line consistently pressures the passer, bringing extra numbers might not be required that often. If an opposing team finds a way to contain Wake, Jordan and Vernon, though, look out for the two in dreadlocks to be crashing the line of scrimmage.

Fourth-year outside linebacker Koa Misi, who recorded 3.5 sacks in 2012, is capable of pushing the unit’s sack total into the double digits.

The big picture

Many point to the additions of Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler when discussing Miami’s blueprint to beat New England, as two linebackers who have the athleticism to cover tight ends. I see a bolstered pass rush as the main priority, though, especially as it pertains to ending the Patriots’ stranglehold on the division.

Look no further than New England’s two Super Bowl losses to the New York Giants. How did the Giants contain an otherwise prolific offense on both occasions? By rushing the passer. By hitting Tom Brady.

There’s no other way to slow down New England’s quick passing game. There’s no other way to disrupt their rhythm and timing.

No Wes Welker.

No Aaron Hernandez.

No problem.

The Patriots will find a way to move the football because of Tom Brady. And it really doesn’t matter who is in coverage for the Dolphins. If Tom Brady has time, he’ll find a way to pick them apart.

Take away that time and suddenly one of the greatest players in NFL history will begin to look human in a hurry.

Suddenly the Patriots are beatable.

Beating New England is the aim of these 2013 Dolphins. They’ll have to play other teams too, obviously. 12 others to be exact.

But it’s New England that stands in Miami’s way of reclaiming the AFC East. It’s New England that has set a benchmark for success that Miami covets.

Be good enough to beat them and the rest will take care of itself.


60 sacks might seem like an absurd number. But the Dolphins just might have themselves an absurd amount of talent on their front seven.

A lot would have to go Miami’s way to pull it off or even come remotely close–good health and up-and-comers maximizing their potential to name two.

But the group’s ceiling is about as high as it gets from a pass-rushing perspective.

60 sacks might not be as crazy as it sounds.

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3 Responses to “Miami Dolphins: Why 60 Sacks is Possible for Defense in 2013”

  1. Kyle says:

    What’s the NFL Record?? I think they can beat that!!

  2. Dennis says:

    This pass rush needs nickname like the no names and killer bees. I heard someone call it Miami Vice but Im not sure thats orginal enough. Anybody got any ideas??

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