This offseason was filled with high priced and big name free agents coming to the Miami Dolphins. They signed wide receivers Mike Wallace and Brandon Gibson, tight end Dustin Keller, offensive tackle Tyson Clabo, cornerback Brent Grimes and linebackers Phillip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe. The Dolphins wanted to present a more aggressive and physical style of defense this year, and Wheeler and Ellerbe are the keys to it.
They got rid of veteran linebackers Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett in order to sign Wheeler and Ellerbe. Dansby and Burnett each recorded over 100 tackles in 2011 and 2012 and were ranked among the best coverage linebackers in football. They were able to get a little younger and in the process get a linebacker (Ellerbe) who played an important role on a Super Bowl winner from last season.
The Dolphins have a very deep and talented front seven on defense. The signings of Ellerbe and Wheeler allow them to play six or seven guys at the line of scrimmage and disguise blitzes and coverages. Against the Cleveland Browns last week, they both tied for the team lead in tackles and also had a combined three hits on quarterback Brandon Weeden. This new aggressive defense came alive in the second half where they had Weeden on the ground 16 times and were able to seal it late with defensive stands.
On Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts, the duo knew they would be tested with Andrew Luck and Coby Fleener. They combined for 26 tackles, two tackles for loss, two passes defended, one QB hit and Wheeler sealed the game with a fourth down sack on the last play of the game for the Colts. Besides the numbers, their physical play and presence around the line of scrimmage made the difference in the game for the Dolphins. They were unable to get Luck to the ground for the majority of the game, but the pressure that was put on him forced him to step out of the pocket and throw many passes out of rhythm.
While heavily criticized for these two signings, it could go down as the reason why the Miami Dolphins win the AFC East and make a run deep into the playoffs.