Defense Delivering in Red Zone

One of the major reasons for the Dolphins being on the precipice of pulling off the greatest single-season turnaround in NFL history has been their 11th-ranked defense, more specifically their prowess in the red zone.

Last year, Miami was ranked 32nd in run defense and 32nd in red-zone defense, allowing teams to score 34 touchdowns and 17 field goals in 52 possessions from inside the 20-yard line for 290 points. This season, their red-zone defense is ranked sixth as the unit allowed just 18 touchdowns and 17 field goals in 40 possessions inside the 20 for 154 points (12th fewest in the league).

"We spent an awful lot of time in the red area (in training camp), just a tremendous amount of time in the red area," Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said. "I always talk about baseball, but now I'm talking about basketball. I always refer to that as 'the paint.' That's their paint and it's the area that they need to protect.

"The other part of it is just their will. I really think that these guys have done a tremendous job when they get down there of bowing up in that area of the field and not allowing people to score touchdowns."

Over the last 29 series against the Rams, Bills and 49ers, the Dolphins have allowed eight field goals, while forcing 13 punts, and have come up with four interceptions and a fumble. Two series turned over on downs and one was cut short by halftime. Granted, those three teams have a combined record of 13-29.

"It starts during the week in preparation. Like I said after the game, we get out there every day and certain phases we key in on. We take a lot of pride in our defense and obviously, if the team doesn't score, it's hard for them to win. If you hold a team to kicking field goals, it's hard for them to win. It's been good for us," said cornerback Nate Jones, who had two sacks Sunday, including one on Miami's 15 that helped hold the 49ers -- who were within eight points -- to a Joe Nedney field goal in the fourth quarter that cut the lead to 14-9.

Overall, Miami's defense has been in a zone, not allowing a touchdown of any kind over the last three games, all wins in which the Dolphins didn't score over 16 points. No NFL team has done this since the Joey Porter-led Steelers (five straight games) and Titans in 2000. The last Dolphins team with a similar touchdown shutout streak came in 1973, their second and last Super Bowl championship team.

Still, defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni has spent a lot of time on the third-down defense this week because the Rams and 49ers converted a combined 15 of 31 of them, which is a reason why teams are getting into Miami's red zone far too often. That's about 12 percent higher than the Dolphins' seasonal 37.1 success rate.

PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

-- MLB Channing Crowder practiced on a limited basis Thursday with a balky left knee and may miss his first game of the season.

-- ILB Akin Ayodele is working in Channing Crowder's place as the linebacker who stays on the field in nickel and dime packages, as well as the coverage linebacker in the red area.

-- C Al Johnson, who got in for eight snaps last week against the 49ers with regular starting C Samson Satele shifting to right guard, is expected to see increased time on Sunday.

-- RG Samson Satele seemed at home after moving from his customary center spot last week. He did play guard his junior year at Hawaii. By being relieved of snapping, Satele is able to get his hands on defenders a lot quicker. Tony Sparano is looking to boost the running attack between the tackles, which has been a problem since LG Justin Smiley broke his leg last month.


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