Dolphins counting on dominant defense to carry them to postseason

MIAMI -- They say when people show you who they are, believe them; the same could apply for football teams.

All season long, even during their seven-game losing streak, the Miami Dolphins (8-7) told us who they were -- a defensive-minded team that would rely on the the less-glamourous side of the ball to keep them in games and put their fledgling offense in position to succeed.

During their two month-long resurgence that's seen them win seven straight games, the Dolphins' identity has remained the same. With two weeks left in the regular season that's not likely to change Sunday (1 p.m., ET, CBS) when they travel to Nashville to face the Tennessee Titans (10-5).

The Dolphins' defense hasn't just been good -- it's been the best in the NFL during this winning streak.

Since Week 9, Miami has allowed a league-low 257 yards per game, leads the league with 78.75 defensive expected points added and has held opponents to a league-low 28.6% third-down conversion rate. It's held six of its past seven opponents under 200 total yards and leads the league in sacks this season with 45 despite recording just 12 in the first eight weeks.

The Dolphins have been relentless on that side of the ball, leading the NFL with a 40% pressure rate since Week 9.

"Any time you can get pressure on a quarterback, obviously it opens up things for you in the pass game," defensive coordinator Josh Boyer said. "A lot of times that's not just an individual thing ... it could be the coverage is good enough to allow extra time to get there, or it could be just a great individual rush, or it could be a team rush that's executed well to get pressure on the quarterback. [That allows you] to do a variety of different things and present rushes, whether you're rushing three, four, five, six, seven, eight.

"I think all of that puts a little bit of pressure on the offense."

Miami has needed its defense to be elite because its offense has been pedestrian this season.

During the first eight weeks of the season, when Miami sputtered to a 1-7 record, its offense ranked 27th in the NFL in expected points added (EPA) while its 16.4 offensive points and 302 yards per game ranked 28th and 30th, respectively. Since its winning streak began in Week 9, those figures have risen to 19th in EPA, 16th in offensive points and 19th in yards per game.

Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, in particular, has been a bright spot during the second half of the season. He leads all qualified passers in completion percentage this season (70.1%), and has thrown the lowest percentage of off-target passes since Week 9 (10%) after missing the better part of five games during the first half of the season.

But he's been mediocre over the past two weeks, throwing three touchdowns and three interceptions and failing to eclipse 200 passing yards in either contest. It's the type of play he will need to shake off as Miami prepares for a Titans defense that ranks seventh in defensive EPA since Week 9.

"He's going to have to do a good job from a preparation standpoint -- a great job from a preparation standpoint -- of getting to know their defensive players, their front, their second-level players," Dolphins coach Brian Flores said. "We have to make good decisions with the football. Obviously it's going to be a loud and tough environment, so we've got to deal with that as well, but it's not just Tua. ... We need to have everyone to prepare the right way."

The Dolphins now control their playoff destiny. They can lock up their first playoff berth since 2016 if they win their remaining two games. And if they're still playing football beyond Week 18, it will be their defense that brought them there.