MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Jalen Ramsey and Xavien Howard have been talking about the impact they could have on the field together since before the Miami Dolphins even acquired Ramsey this past offseason.
Now that the duo has shared the field for four games, the Dolphins are yielding positive returns of two veteran cornerbacks who were good alone but are proving to be better together.
Entering Monday night’s matchup against the Tennessee Titans, the Dolphins have the ninth-best pass defense in the NFL — up from No. 25 through the first four weeks of the season.
The connection between Ramsey and Howard is a big reason for that.
“He’s a great teammate,” Ramsey said of Howard. “Obviously he’s been elite in this league for just as long as I have. It’s great to team up with him. He teaches me new techniques that I hadn’t tried yet or maybe that I’ve put in the back of my toolbox for a little bit and he brings them back up. That’s been good. We just challenge each other.”
Miami acquired Ramsey in a March trade with the Los Angeles Rams, and his impact was immediate, even after a torn meniscus sidelined him for the first seven games of the season. The All-Pro cornerback could be seen roaming the field during practices, hyping up his teammates on the sidelines during games, and being a vocal leader during team meetings.
“When I tell you, never in my career have I seen someone with a months-not-weeks injury, be as involved in a team,” said Miami coach Mike McDaniel. “Mind you, he had two practices under his belt with this team. To have two practices and have the wherewithal to understand your impact on people and how your injury — I mean our team was in the tank until he talked to the team. He explained, ‘hey, I’m going to do this.’ And then he did it each and every day.”
Ramsey has played in five games since returning from a July surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. He has three interceptions and 10 solo tackles. He’s only been targeted 22 times and has allowed only eight receptions.
In Week 11 against the Raiders, Ramsey intercepted quarterback Aidan O’Connell twice, one of which sealed the win for Miami.
“A lot of interceptions are tips, an overthrow, a really bad throw by the quarterback or something along those lines,” said Dolphins defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. “These were just two really, really great plays.”
Howard, an eight-year veteran and Miami’s longest-tenured player, is coming off a down 2022 season marred by injuries, but has returned to form in 2023. He has 32 solo tackles and an interception, and has allowed 36 receptions on 53 targets. In the four games that he and Ramsey have played together, Howard has only allowed 10 receptions.
Howard admitted during the offseason that he would need to adjust to a new defense under Fangio that would require him to play more off coverage instead of press-man coverage that he’d played for most of his career.
“I’ve got to get used to that,” Howard said in August. “It’s totally different because I’ve got to have that confidence like I’m playing man when we’re playing off also. It’s different.”
Both Howard and Ramsey’s comfort within Fangio’s defense has coincided with the increased play of the defense as a whole.
Through the first four weeks of the season, the Dolphins defense was ranked 26th overall, allowing 374.5 points per game. In Weeks 5-12, Miami had the No. 1 defense, allowing 263 yards per game and 4.4 yards per play.
The Dolphins have held their opponents to under 300 yards in five straight games, including just 245 given up in a win over Washington last week. Commanders quarterback Sam Howell entered that matchup as the NFL’s leader in passing yards (3,339), but was held to a career-low 127 yards passing and 5.5 yards per pass attempt.
Both Howard and Ramsey played 95% of defensive snaps in that game.
In one of their many conversations with each other, Ramsey recalled telling Howard that this team has the pieces and potential to be better than the Los Angeles Rams team that Ramsey helped win the Super Bowl in the 2021 season.
“Just look at it on paper and who we had on the roster in L.A. then,” Ramsey said, “and you put this Miami team on paper and look at our roster, and there’s a lot of similarities. So we have the capability of being that.”
Ramsey also stressed the importance of not jumping ahead, but focusing on one team at a time, starting with the Tennessee Titans.
“We cannot think about that all the time,” he said. “We have to go game by game, week by week, day by day really, because if you get caught up in all that, you’re going to get lost and there’s no need for that. You have to keep growing every day.”
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