Miami Dolphins defensive end Shaq Lawson made a money grab this offseason, and there’s absolutely no shame in that since that’s what free agency is designed for.
The Dolphins offered the former Buffalo Bills first-rounder $30 million over three years, giving the defensive lineman an opportunity to become a full-fledged starter playing for his old Clemson position coach Marion Hobby, and Lawson jumped at the opportunity.
"It ended up being the warm [weather] or the cold, so I ended up coming here,” Lawson said, comparing his Dolphins contract with the deal Buffalo offered to re-sign its leading sack producer (6.5) from 2019. "But it was a close decision.”
Problem is, that money — the $20.8 million in fully guaranteed salary being paid over the first two seasons — came with the task of addressing Miami’s biggest need on defense, serving as an edge setter and primary pass rusher.
Miami’s right side edge spot was the major missing piece last season, and Lawson’s addition was supposed to allow Dolphins coach Brian Flores to turn up the volume on his hybrid 3-4 defense, which struggled tremendously last season.
However, Lawson’s struggles were glaring in the season-opening loss to the New England Patriots.
Play after play the Patriots tested Lawson’s ability to make the right decisions, running the quarterback read-option at him and fellow newcomer Emmanuel Ogbah, and those zone reads produced a whopping 217 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
“I was hard on myself,” said Lawson, who finished the game with three tackles and one quarterback hit in his 60 snaps. “As a leader, as a defensive line, period, it starts up front and all the guys on the d-line. We took full responsibility for not stopping the run. We just hold ourselves accountable and we’ve just got to continue to do better and stop it this week.”
Lawson is aware of the challenge Miami faces is week containing Josh Allen, a quarterback with similar skill sets to Cam Newton, last week’s quarterback, because he played the previous two seasons with Allen.
“He’s a dog,” Lawson said of Allen. “I said that when I was there. The guy is a dog and that’s what you need at quarterback…. He’s grown a lot. Just watching his film now, he looks a lot better than he was last year – 10 times better. Throwing the ball – the guy can already run – and just a strong, physical guy. Just a dog.”
Allen led the Bills in rushing last week, gaining 57 yards and scoring a touchdown on 14 carries in Buffalo’s 27-17 win over the New York Jets. In the 29 games he’s player Allen is averaging 5.7 yards per attempt, and has scored 18 rushing touchdowns.
But more importantly, Allen seems to have toned down on the inaccurate throws that plagued him earlier in his career, completing 33-of-46 passes (71 percent) while throwing for 312 yards and two touchdowns.
If Allen delivers another three-touchdown performance against the Dolphins it will be tough for Miami to win Sunday’s season opener, and could force Flores and his staff to rethink some of the team’s personnel choices on defense.
“There were just a couple of corrections that we needed to correct on each play. Obviously, we could coach it better, we could play it better,” defensive coordinator Josh Boyer said when asked about defensing the zone reads that gave the Dolphins problems. “I think the thing that will help us defensively – whether it’s coaching, playing – is just being consistent on a play after play basis. It really comes down to everybody just doing their individual job.”
The Dolphins believe facing similar quarterbacks in back-to-back weeks could benefit them because it provides Miami’s defenders an opportunity to right their wrongs, and get some redemption.
“Anytime you get a chance to see how a quarterback runs and does certain things and certain plays, you get a better understanding of how to defend them and how they were attacking us,” Dolphins linebacker Kyle Van Noy said. “I think we’ll be ready for all of those these week because we got a good challenge the first week, and Josh Allen is just as big a problem as Cam Newton running the ball.”
The hope is that daily practices against Allen and Buffalo’s offensive line will provide Lawson and the Dolphins an edge, one that can help the Dolphins properly set the edge this time around.
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