The Dolphins will not make the playoffs, but they were able to turn their season from dismal and embarrassing to at least respectable. A big reason for the 0-7 start to the season was poor play on defense, a unit that was the most underachieving on the team. In the last four games, Mike Nolan's stop unit has shown why the Dolphins aren't that far from being a playoff contender.
During the seven-game losing streak to start the season, the Dolphins were allowing 23.7 points per game. In their last four games (a 3-1 record), Miami has allowed 10 points per game and had a stretch of three games without allowing a touchdown. Getting ILB Karlos Dansby and CB Vontae Davis healthy has helped immensely, as it has allowed the Dolphins to be more aggressive.
The D-line, though, which is one of the strongest position groups on the team, also has stepped up its play.
We heard earlier in the season that DL Randy Starks was one of the better performing players when the Dolphins couldn't win a game. Starks has continued his solid play and leads Miami D-linemen in tackles and has six tackles for loss. Pro Football Focus ranks Starks as the 20th most productive pass rusher among interior D-linemen.
One of the underperforming players early on was second-year DE Jared Odrick, who played in only one game as a rookie. In the offseason, one source told PFW that Odrick had the potential to be a breakout player. In the team's first seven games, Odrick had only one sack. In the past four, he has sacked the quarterback three times.
"He's figuring it out," one daily team observer said. "(Odrick) is the best pass rusher of the defensive ends." The way we hear it, Odrick is in line to be the starting defensive end in 2012 if Kendall Langford departs via free agency.
Odrick has helped the pass rush, and the rest of the D-line has improved its run defense. The Dolphins enter their Week 13 game against the Raiders seventh in the league against the run and have allowed a team to rush for more than 100 yards once in the past five games.
Part of that credit goes to franchised NT Paul Soliai, who, like Langford, will be a free agent when the season ends, as this group could have a different look in 2012. Top reserve DL Tony McDaniel signed a two-year contract in July and Starks is signed through next season.
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