No name, but a defense to reckon with Dolphins might have successor to Killer B's LIVING UP TO HISTORY

January 15, 1993|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Staff Writer

They still don't have a frothing, frolicking pass rush. They still don't have a catchy moniker like their defensive predecessors, the No-Names or the Killer B's. And they still don't get a lot of respect around the NFL.

So what are the Miami Dolphins doing, riding the coattails of their much-maligned defense into Sunday's AFC championship game against the Buffalo Bills?

"Our players are better, and they're playing better," said defensive coordinator Tom Olivadotti, offering the short-form answer to the Dolphins' long-term dilemma. "The rookies helped a great deal. When [linebacker] John Offerdahl went down, we were able to fill in."

A year ago, the thought of a resurgent defense leading Miami into the playoffs was heresy. For most of Olivadotti's six years, that defense took a constant pounding -- from the opposition, from the hometown fans.

This season, reinforced by draft-day recruits, that changed. Cornerback Troy Vincent and pass-rusher Marco Coleman arrived in the first round of the draft. Linebacker Dwight Hollier came in the fourth. All three rookies will start Sunday at Joe Robbie Stadium. A fourth, defensive end Larry Webster of Maryland, will spell the starters in both the pass-rush and regular defensive schemes.

Buoyed by youthful talent, the defense jumped from 25th in the league in total yards to 10th this season. The rush defense improved from 27th to sixth. The Dolphins' 100-yard rushing yield per game was a franchise record. Not coincidentally, they rose from 8-8 also-ran to 12-5 Super Bowl contender.

Last week, the Dolphins threw a shutout at the San Diego Chargers, forcing five turnovers in a 31-0 romp.

"We've won games, we're in position to get to the Super Bowl," Olivadotti said. "It makes me feel like we've contributed to the team. I've always felt defensively we were competitive, but never good enough to be where we've got to be."

That means competing with Buffalo in the AFC East. This year, the Dolphins stood their ground against the defending conference champions, splitting the season series. On Oct. 4 in Buffalo, Olivadotti went to a revised four-man pass rush out of his base 3-4 defense. The result was four intercepted passes against quarterback Jim Kelly, and a 37-10 runaway victory. Coleman and linebacker David Griggs were the designated pass rushers in the new alignment.

In the rematch on Nov. 11 in Miami, there were no turnovers, and the Bills took a 26-20 come-from-behind victory.

"We didn't get the turnovers the second time," Olivadotti said. "That was the difference. If you don't get turnovers, you better be good on third down."

Kelly, who missed both of the Bills' playoff games with a knee sprain, tentatively has been named the starter in Sunday's game ahead of backup Frank Reich. Either way, Olivadotti says it's the same offense.

"There's not one bit of difference in how they prepare their offensive game plan," Olivadotti said. "I've been through this before. They don't change. And I'm not surprised by Reich. He's a heckuva quarterback."

Neither does Olivadotti buy into the theory the Bills are more vulnerable because of injuries to Kelly and running back Thurman Thomas. With Thomas hampered by a hip pointer, Kenneth Davis has rushed for 172 yards in two playoff victories.

"They have two running backs as good as anybody in the league," Olivadotti said. "They have two quarterbacks as good as anybody in the league."

Two years ago, the Bills burned Olivadotti's scheme of blitzes for 493 yards and a 44-34 playoff victory. This year, the Dolphins appear better equipped to deal with the Bills offense.

That's because Vincent and J. B. Brown -- a Maryland alum -- are the best pair of cornerbacks Olivadotti has had to work with since he had Hanford Dixon and Frank Minnifield with the 1986 AFC runner-up Cleveland Browns.

No less important in the defensive turnaround is the dramatic improvement by linebacker Bryan Cox. In just two seasons, Cox has gone from an obscure fifth-round draft pick to Pro Bowl status. He leads the team with 14 sacks.

"His toughness, intensity, emotion and being physical are all things our defense badly needed," coach Don Shula said.

Olivadotti also shuffled players to suit his needs. He moved Coleman from left outside linebacker to right end. Coleman's six sacks are second to Cox on the team. Veteran Jeff Cross moved from right end to left end.

When injuries sidelined two players (Offerdahl and Mark Sanders) at right inside linebacker, Olivadotti inserted Hollier of North Carolina. Hollier started the last four games.

And when Miami's Dan Marino-led offense produced just five touchdowns in five games at the end of the regular season, the defense bailed out Marino. Reminiscent of the days of the "No-Name Defense" and the "Killer B's," it inspired a three-game winning streak that earned the team its first AFC East title since 1985. That was also Miami's last appearance in an AFC championship game.

If there were any doubts about Miami's defensive revival, they were diminished in last Sunday's domination of the Chargers. San Diego never got inside the Miami 40 in 15 possessions. That performance seemed to vindicate Olivadotti, although he rejects the suggestion.

"I don't have that mentality," he said. "We played well and I'm happy we played well. But I didn't feel I needed vindication."

Satisfaction doesn't fit, either.

NB "Impossible," Olivadotti said, "unless we win the Super Bowl."

Dolphins defense

How the Miami Dolphins defense has ranked among the 28 NFL teams the past six seasons under coordinator Tom Olivadotti, in total yards, rushing yards and passing yards allowed:

Year.. .. ..Total.. .. ..Rush.. .. .. ..Pass

.. ...26.. .. .. ..25.. .. .. .. ..21

1988.. .. ...26.. .. .. ..26.. .. .. .. .14

1989.. .. .. 25.. .. .. ..25.. .. .. .. ..18

1990.. .. .. .7.. .. .. ..16.. .. .. .. ...3

1991.. .. .. 25.. .. .. ..27.. .. .. .. ..12

1992.. .. ...10.. .. .. ...6.. .. .. .. ..14

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