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  • Writer's pictureJamie Nunez

Phillips out, how can the dolphins fill the void?

In the fourth quarter of the NFL’s first-ever Black Friday game, Miami Dolphins linebacker Jaelan Phillips suffered a devastating season-ending Achilles injury against the New York Jets.

The Dolphin's defense held the Jets to just 29 rushing yards, the Jet's lowest output in a game in 17 seasons. A week prior, the Dolphin's defense held the Raiders to only 36 rushing yards, which was their lowest output in a game in six seasons. But this Miami defensive unit has yet to look this great all season, partly because Phillips missed three games in the first third of the 2023 season.

In the first month of the season, Miami ranked among one of the worst in the league in defensive categories such as rushing defense, yards per rush, and yards per play. From week five to week 12, the Miami Dolphins ranked in the top five in eight of nine defensive categories.

Phillips becoming healthy enough to play consistently weeks 6-12 as well as the addition of All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey in week eight surely boosts these defensive rankings. After a tough and unhealthy start, Fangio and company started getting the job done on the defensive end with a record of 8-3 sitting two and a half games ahead of the Buffalo Bills in the AFC East going into week 13.

The long-term impact of losing Phillips will without a doubt alter the schemes and play-calling for defensive coordinator Vic Fangio going into the postseason.

This Miami defense may not feel the full effects of Phillips’ absence until week 16 when the Dolphins take on the Dallas Cowboys on Christmas Eve. The Baltimore Ravens and Buffalo Bills follow, putting an end to the regular season and thus being the final “competitive” tests before the postseason begins. The next two weeks the Dolphins will face the Tennessee Titans and the New York Jets again both with a combined record of 8-16. The two teams are bottom five in the league in points per game. It's not exactly a challenge for this Dolphin defense.

Through 12 weeks, no team has more than four players with four or more sacks. Except for the Miami Dolphins who have six players with four or more sacks on the season. This defensive unit was just starting to click on all cylinders and with the loss of Phillips for the season is a brutal one for Fangio and the Dolphins.

“He’s an inspirational player in the sense that he just plays so hard and relentless, so you see him doing that and that you’re like, all right, I’ve got to up my standard and it’s contagious throughout the defense so that’s obviously tough for us there. But we’ve got guys who will be able to do a really solid job.” Wilkins said about the loss of Phillips.

As McDaniel likes to say, “Adversity presents opportunity”. The Dolphins will look in-house and beyond to fill the void with Phillips gone. Through 12 weeks, Pro Football Focus has linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel ranked as the ninth-best pass-rushing edge rusher in the NFL. Miami’s Bradley Chubb is 17th on this same list. Van Ginkel is only behind players such as Myles Garrett and Micah Parsons. Elite company.

A pick-six Sunday in Washington from none other than Van Ginkel is exactly what you want to see from your linebacker unit after suffering a brutal loss.

Defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah will also see a good amount of opportunities on the field as well. With the emergence of Phillips this season, Ogbah has taken on a lesser role. Now with Phillips out for the remainder of the season, Ogbah will now find himself with more opportunity to help fill the void. Ogbah has four sacks and an interception on the season playing only 20% of snaps. Ogbah has previously finished with back-to-back nine sack seasons as a Miami Dolphin.

Linebacker Bradley Chubb will be taking on more of a load as well with Phillips out. Chubb has been having a fantastic season thus far. He has a quarterback hit in nine of the Dolphins last 11 games along with five sacks since week six, bringing his total to six sacks on the season.

Defensive end Zach Sieler and Defensive lineman Christian Wilkins both have surpassed their career highs in sacks before week 13 has even kicked off. Sieler has five sacks and Wilkins has six and a half sacks so far through the 2023 season. Sieler will have more opportunity to prove that he is indeed worth his new three-year 39 million dollar contract extension. While Wilkins is looking for a contract extension as well, a much more hefty extension.

Miami’s general manager Chris Grier knew the defensive front could use not only much-needed depth after losing Phillips but a player who brings championship pedigree by signing former All-Pro and SuperBowl champion Jason Pierre-Paul.

Pierre-Paul appeared in one game this season with the New Orleans Saints and played in 14 games for the Baltimore Ravens last season where he had 26 tackles, three sacks, and an interception, he started in 13 of the 14 games.

There is no way of knowing a definitive direction head coach Mike McDaniel, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, and the Miami Dolphins will head now with Phillips out season. A combination of in-house help and a former SuperBowl champion will have to do the trick.

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