After ‘sloppy’ effort, Dolphins defense looks to tighten up vs. Panthers’ Cam Newton

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The Dolphins defense followed up a clinic against quarterback Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens with a performance against Joe Flacco and the New York Jets that defensive tackle Raekwon Davis described as “sloppy” but enough to come away with a 24-17 victory.

Frequently showing Cover 0 — man-to-man defense with no deep safety — and sending young safeties Jevon Holland and Brandon Jones on dozens of blitzes, Miami’s defense harassed Jackson into one of his worst games of the season. The Dolphins blitzed Jackson on 51.1 percent of his drop backs, the highest rate they have blitzed any opposing quarterback this season.

Days after the game, cornerback Xavien Howard responded with an emphatic “hell no” when asked if the defense could replicate that game plan the rest of the season, noting teams would see what they did on film and adjust. And adjust the Jets did: the Dolphins blitzed Joe Flacco on 48 percent of his drop backs but New York was often well-prepared, using quick passes to counter the pressure. Flacco completed 12 of 19 passes for 166 yards and two touchdowns when facing blitzes, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.

When the Dolphins host the Carolina Panthers at Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday, they will find themselves in a matchup with another mobile quarterback, this time Cam Newton, and the opportunity to draw from some of their successes against Jackson.

“I think he’s picked up where — he’s the same player he’s been,” coach Brian Flores said of Newton, who will be making his second straight start since re-signing with the Panthers two weeks ago. “Dynamic obviously as a runner, but also as a thrower. I think that gets pushed to the side. He can throw the football. He’s had a lot of production with throwing the football in this league. They’ve got good receivers, a good O-line, a good scheme, good backs obviously. He’s a very good player in this league and can still make a lot of plays. This will definitely be a big challenge for us.”

Dolphins defensive coordinator Josh Boyer said he sees similarities in some of the quarterback runs that Baltimore and Carolina use but the Panthers have “a little bit of a different flavor to it.” Boyer pointed out the explosiveness of Carolina’s running backs, led by All-Pro back Christain McCaffrey.

“It’s just a matter of how they choose to play. They have some — call it normal runs,” Boyer said. “And they also have their quarterback runs that they can implement, which they’ve implemented a little bit more in the past two weeks with P.J. Walker and Cam Newton at quarterback. But they’ve run some of that stuff earlier in the season with [Sam] Darnold too, so it’s not foreign to them.”

The Dolphins had mixed results facing Newton twice as a member of the New England Patriots last season. In the 2020 season opener, Newton completed 15 of 19 passes for 155 yards and ran the ball 15 times for 75 yards and two touchdowns as Miami lost 21-11. In Week 15, Newton completed 17 of 27 passes for 209 yards but only ran nine times for 38 yards as the Dolphins won 22-12.

In his first start of the season against the Washington Football Team last week, a 27-21 loss for Carolina, Newton completed 21 of 27 passes for 189 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed 10 times for 46 yards, including a 24-yard touchdown run.

“This is definitely going to be a game about communication and playing disciplined football,” Flores said. “But it’s not just Cam. McCaffrey is a great player. [Wide receiver] [D.J.] Moore. [Wide receiver] Robby Anderson takes the top off the field. Ian Thomas is a very good blocking tight end. [Tommy] Tremble is a good young tight end as well. They’ve got a good O-line. It’s not just one player that’s their offense. It’s their offense, their defense and their special teams and we have to play a good complementary game in all phases, which starts in practice.”

Baker said the first time the Dolphins played Newton in 2020, they weren’t sure how the Patriots were going to run their offense with him and had to adjust on the fly.

“We would come back to the sideline and try to coach it up,” he said. “It’s pretty hard to do that the way they were doing it. I remember the second game we were coached up and did a better job of containing him. At the end of the day, he is still Cam Newton. He can run the ball, he can throw it, strong arm, he’s a veteran. We definitely have to get after him and throw different looks at him. We’re definitely excited.”

While many may view Newton as a diminished version of himself in his second stint with the team that selected him No. 1 overall in the 2011 Draft, Baker offered a reminder of the competitor Newton is.

“The one thing about Cam is he has something to prove,” he said. “I think a lot of media takes away from his talent now that he’s older. He still has a strong arm. He has a bright mind so he’s seen it all. He has that hunger, that chip on his shoulder.”