Baldinger: Dolphins' rebuild ahead of schedule

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By RADIO.COM

How does a team go from flirting with the worst point differential in NFL history to being in a playoff spot just one year later?

After decades of mediocrity the Miami Dolphins decided on a rebuild and a complete overhaul of the franchise. It may not have been obvious at first, but the Dolphins first decision turned out to be their best and most significant, that being the hiring of a rookie head coach, Brian Flores.

Flores began his career with the New England Patriots in 2004 as an assistant scout. By 2018 Flores worked his way up the Patriots ranks and was the linebackers coach of one of the greatest dynasties in NFL history.
No less than 24 hours after the Patriots secured their 6th Super Bowl, Brian Flores was hired as head coach of the Miami Dolphins.

The Dolphins started their year being outscored by opponents 163-26 through the first four weeks, and would eventually find themselves sitting at 0-7.

Despite going winless in his first two months as an NFL head coach the Dolphins never quit on Flores. Slowly but surely the Dolphins begun to show signs of life and a competitive edge that not many 0-7 teams possess.

By the second half of the season Miami was poaching practice squad players off of other rosters just to field a team. The Dolphins would go on to win five of their final nine games including a win on the road in New England spoiling the Patriots chances for a first round bye in the postseason.

How was Miami able to turn things around so quickly? To put it simply, coaching, and spending more money on lock-down cornerbacks than any other team in NFL.

Miami is currently shelling out $115.5 million dollars on the defensive side of the ball this season and it’s been worth every penny.

On the latest episode of “Baldy’s Breakdowns” on Radio.com and the Radio.com app, Brian Baldinger and Jason La Canfora give credit to the Dolphins defense, specifically Xavien Howard for the teams 180 turnaround.

“Xavien Howard, he’s as good as there is in this league right now” said Baldy. “From reading routes, to not letting you get off the line of scrimmage, to just sticking right to you, and then being able to play the ball in the air.”

Not a lot of the old regime remains with the Dolphins since Brian Flores has taken over but one of the common denominators between then and now is the 2018 interception leader Xavien Howard.

In May of 2019 Xavien Howard signed a contract for 5-year/$76.5M to stay with the Dolphins. This contract made Howard the highest paid cornerback in the NFL.

After an injury plagued 2019 Xavien Howard is back on the field with his team and looks like he hasn’t skipped a beat. Howard has seven interceptions through Miami’s first 11 games, he joins Sam Madison as the only Dolphins to post multiple seven interception seasons.

Howard’s seven interceptions are currently more than seven other teams in the NFL and tied with three more.

Howard has 19 interceptions in just 51 career games, and an interception rate of .37 which means he’s averaging a little more than one interception in every three games. Joe Schad of the Palm Beach Post puts things into perspective when he says “he's [Howard] intercepted passes at a rate better than any and all of these greats: Deion Sanders, Charles Woodson, Champ Bailey, Darrelle Revis, Darrell Green, Rod Woodson, Ronnie Lott.”

Today, the Dolphins currently have a record of 7-4 and are in a playoff spot in the AFC.

Since their 0-7 start last year the Miami Dolphins are 12-8 in their last 20 games. The Dolphins have gone from a league worst -188 point differential last year to currently fifth best in the NFL at +79. The Dolphins also allow the second fewest points per game only second to the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers.

Brian Flores has shifted the culture in Miami. The Dolphins have established an identity as a team that prides itself on defense, it starts with potential Coach of the Year Brian Flores and ends with potential Defensive Player of the year Xavien Howard.

Miami trails Buffalo by one game in the AFC East and will close their season with the Bengals, Cheifs, Patriots, Raiders and Bills.

The Dolphins control their own destiny, the only question left for them is how significant will the final game of the year at Buffalo prove to be?

Check out “Baldy’s Breakdowns” on Radio.com and the Radio.com app or wherever you find your favorite podcasts. New episodes available every Wednesday.

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