For much of last season, Miami boasted a top-5 scoring defense, including having the top-scoring defense for several weeks, before finishing sixth overall after the Week 17 loss to the Bills. Miami made several high-profile additions to the defensive side before the 2020 season, most notably Byron Jones and Kyle Van Noy, both of whom made more than $10M last season and were the first and third highest-paid players on the roster (Xavien Howard was second). As of now, Kyle Van Noy will overtake Xavien Howard as the team’s second-highest paid player in 2021, making a cool $13.9M this year. Personally, I think there’s a good chance Xavien Howard becomes the team’s highest-paid player before the season starts, but that’s not what this article is about.

A glance at Kyle Van Noy’s stat sheet from 2020 shows that he made 46 solo tackles, had 6 sacks, forced 2 fumbles, and had 6 pass deflections in 14 games. That’s not worth $13.9M, you say? I say, look more closely. Kyle Van Noy clocks in and completes a lot of the dirty work that helps the entire defense succeed. Coach Flores talks about how a player may play a great game, but it doesn’t always show up on the stat sheet. While he was referring to Raekwon Davis at the time, the same applies to Kyle Van Noy. The savvy veteran – is it safe to call him that since he’s still not even 30? – was the leader of the defense, and I expect an even better 2021 as the rest of the cast will have another year’s experience under their belts.

I wanted to showcase some of the “hidden” value that Kyle Van Noy provides the defense by doing the dirty work with this piece. Let’s look at some examples of Van Noy’s hidden benefits to the defense by looking at what he provides, setting the edge in coverage, and getting after the quarterback in a team sense.

Setting the Edge
If you’ve watched Dolphins games or read some of my previous pieces about the defense, you know that Miami runs a lot of different packages. 3-4, 4-3, 4-2, 4-1, 3-3, 3-2, amoeba, and so on. In several of their more common packages: 3-3, 4-3 extend, and 3-4, Kyle Van Noy lines up on the line of scrimmage (LOS). In most of these packages, his role is to set the edge against the run. You don’t get a stat for setting the edge on the back of your football card, but it’s something that Kyle Van Noy’s done well throughout his career.

In this example against the Rams, we’re going to see him set the edge against TE Tyler Higbee from a 3-4 OLB position. The Rams are going to motion Cooper Kupp and run a stretch zone behind him to the wide side of the field. Elandon Roberts had gotten dinged up at this point in the game, and Kamu Grugier-Hill is in. You can see him shadow Kupp in motion. However, at the snap, Grugier-Hill gets scooped by Rob Havenstein and is taken out of the play. Fortunately, Kyle Van Noy set such a hard edge that Rams RB Cam Akers can’t get outside Havenstein’s block because Van Noy has stoned Higbee there, and Zach Seiler stops him for a 3-yard gain. Van Noy’s edge set forced Akers to try and cut upfield instead of bouncing the play wide. Great play by Van Noy, but you won’t find that in the box score.

Our next example of Van Noy setting the edge comes from the Cardinals game the following week. This time, Miami’s in their 4-3 extend front, with both OLBs, Van Noy and Grugier-Hill, walked upon the LOS. Arizona will run a counter trey out of the gun, pulling the left guard and the H-back. Kyle Van Noy recognizes the counter-trey action and is able to shoulder Justin Pugh, stopping him in his tracks. Jason Strowbridge stones Kelvin Beachum, and Chase Edmonds has nowhere to go initially. Edmonds is able to retreat a step and tries to bounce the play outside. But, Kyle Van Noy is able to get out of the pile, and he and Byron Jones stop Edmonds for no gain.

Later on, Kyle Van Noy makes a great play in a crucial situation in the Cardinals game. With the score tied at 31 in the 4th quarter, Miami needs a stop. On this second down play, Arizona will try and run a designed stretch play with QB Kyler Murray. Van Noy is on the wide side of the formation, and there’s no tight end opposite him, so he’s on the open side. Arizona motions Larry Fitzgerald in, just outside of Van Noy’s outside shoulder to execute a crack block. Van Noy is able to fight through Fitzgerald’s block attempt and maintains leverage so that the RT Kelvin Beachum isn’t able to hook him, giving Murray the chance to turn upfield. Van Noy is able to run Murray out of bounds for a loss of 1, setting up 3rd and 8. Miami stopped the play, forcing Arizona to punt. On Miami’s ensuing drive, Jason Sanders hit what would be the game-winning field goal. Again, this is a pretty big play in a pretty big spot. But Kyle Van Noy doesn’t record a stat here.

Going back through the All-22 of Miami’s games, it’s almost too easy to find good examples of Kyle Van Noy dropping into zone coverage or taking a RB in man coverage. He’s so smart and does it naturally to the point where it’d almost be too boring to include that in this piece. For example, you can look at Nik Needham’s interception in the Bengals game where Kyle Van Noy drops into coverage and deflects the pass giving Needham the easy pick. There are lots more plays like that, trust me. But I’ve got three plays, mainly, I wanted to highlight.

First, against the Patriots in Miami, we see the Dolphins line up in their 3-2 dime package.  Shaq Lawson, Raekwon Davis, and Emmanuel Ogbah are upfront, with Elandon Roberts and Kyle Van Noy at linebacker. Now, think back to week one and remember the damage that Cam Newton caused Miami on the ground. Remember? Newton racked up 75 yards and a pair of TDs against the Dolphins while running for 5 yards a clip. Needless to say, Miami was more prepared for the rematch.

The Patriots are going to throw a screen to the outside receiver here. At the snap, watch Van Noy’s head. He takes a shuffle step while looking directly at Cam Newton. I guess that he’s got some sort of spy or Green Dog blitz call on this play. But once he notices RG Shaq Mason and RT Mike Onwenu move outside the tackle box and upfield, he reads the screen to Damiere Byrd. Shaq Mason does a good job and actually has the angle to block Van Noy, but he’s able to stop and slip underneath and make a shoestring tackle of Byrd for a 2-yard loss. Also, note that Xavien Howard maintained great leverage taking on the screen block on the outside, forcing Byrd to turn back inside behind Mason and Onwenu.

Next, we’ve got two plays from the Raiders game in Week 16. First, we see the Raiders in an empty set and Miami in a 3-3. Jerome Baker is out of view here as he’s in man coverage on the running back who is split out wide. We’re going to see Van Noy on the left side. There’s no tight end, so he’s got a 1-on-1 rush opportunity versus the massive Trent Brown. The Raiders throw a slot screen to Hunter Renfrow. While there’s no coverage assignment here for Van Noy as the Dolphins were in man, watch the hustle from Kyle as Trent Brown cuts him. Van Noy gets up and assists on the tackle. As the defense’s veteran leader, that’s what you want to see. That’s what younger players need to see. Give max effort and help your team make a play. More on this later.

The next play might be one of the most underrated Kyle Van Noy plays of the season, and it’s one of my personal favorites. He won’t register a statistic here, but he impacts the play several ways.

The endzone camera doesn’t capture Van Noy at the beginning of this play – he’s outside of the shot – so here’s the sideline camera so I can showcase everything Van Noy does here.

This is a 2nd & Goal play for the Raiders. They’re going to motion TE Darren Waller across the formation and snap the ball with him at full speed, running a shallow speed out underneath of Jason Witten. Kyle Van Noy is aligned head-up on Witten. Notice Bobby McCain behind Van Noy in what looks like Man Free coverage but is actually straight man. I suspect this is just Kyle Van Noy having done his preparation and freelancing a little bit here to make a play. At the snap, Van Noy comes off of Witten and blasts Darren Waller before he can cross the LOS, knocking him from the 7-yard line back two yards to the 9-yard line. If you slow the play down, you can see Derek Carr peak to Waller at the snap and come off him quickly to read Witten, who Bobby McCain picks up. Rowe stays with Darren Waller in man coverage. Van Noy gets up, allows Waller to go into his route, knowing Rowe is responsible for him, and picks up the RB who leaks into the flat. As Van Noy picks up the back, Christian Wilkins gets pressure on Derek Carr and forces him to throw it away.

I know this doesn’t seem like much, but Miami is able to stop the Raiders on the next play, 3rd & Goal, forcing them to quick a field goal. In what would end up a 1-point win for Miami, saving four points here was vital. Yet again, this goes down in the box score as an incomplete pass for Derek Carr and a pressure for Christian Wilkins. That’s it. But Van Noy is able to eliminate the primary read of Derek Carr and the check down option for Carr as he was evading Wilkins. A big play that mostly goes unnoticed.

Pressuring the QB
Obviously, Kyle Van Noy was productive in terms of sacks last year, tallying six. But impacts the pass-rush in other ways as well. Josh Boyer and his staff scheme up many different pressure packages in 2020, and Van Noy was a key cog for the whole “machine,” if you will. Here are two examples of how Van Noy helps other players land sacks.

Going into the game against the Chargers, Miami had ripped off four straight wins. Defensively, Miami had used various things to pretty good effect. Against San Francisco, it was varied coverages. The Jets game saw Miami use many twist games and tease some zero blitzes late. Miami should forever haunt Jared Goff for what they did to him using zero blites. And they used all these elements against the Cardinals.

Against the Chargers, Miami knew they had rookie meat in the opposing backfield, and they sent a message early with a slot blitz from Nik Needham for a sack on Justin Herbert. On this play, Miami’s aligned in their 3-3 Diamond (nickel) package. At the snap, both Raekwon Davis and Emmanuel Ogbah slant toward the formation’s strong side. Kyle Van Noy is on the edge, outside of Ogbah, and he attacks Bryan Bulaga with an inside move that’s almost reminiscent of a wrong arm – the technique used to defeat pulling blockers against the run – and wins. This causes Kalen Ballage to help by chipping Van Noy inside, effectively double-teaming him, forcing Herbert to break outside the pocket right into Nik Needham, who got a free run from the slot for the sack because Ballage couldn’t step outside to pick him up.

A few weeks later, against the Bengals, we see Van Noy and Emmanuel Ogbah work a pick game. Miami’s aligned in a 3-2 package, with Van Noy between Christian Wilkins and Ogbah. Van Noy will attack upfield at the snap and effectively run a T-E stunt, or pick game, with Ogbah. Van Noy quickly blows past RG Quinton Spain, who helped against Wilkins at the snap, but rather than bending his path toward QB Brandon Allen; Van Noy is going to pick Bengals RT Bobby Hart, allowing Emmanuel Ogbah to cut inside for what should have been a sack. Fortunately, Shaq Lawson came from the backside to clean up the miss for a sack.

Van Noy was mic’d up for this game, and he let Emmanuel Ogbah know that he missed one! Check this out at the 3:39 mark. You can hear Van Noy telling Ogbah that he gave the sack to him. They both missed but gave one to Shaq.

If you watch the whole video, there’s a play before where he and Christian Wilkins execute a similar game, and Wilkins nearly gets a sack. Good stuff from Kyle Van Noy!

I had the afternoon off today and checked through Twitter and came across this clip of Kyle Van Noy’s interview from the Pat McAfee Show (@PatMcAfeeShow).

At this point in time, with Ryan Fitzpatrick being a free agent, Kyle Van Noy is the elder statesman of the Miami Dolphins…at 29! Kyle talks about this with Pat and acknowledges that he signed up for being the leader and helping Coach Flores build the team. Besides Elandon Roberts, who was also a Patriot before last season, no one else had experience in a Brian Flores-Josh Boyer defense. And Kyle Van Noy’s leadership and experience playing multiple roles – outside linebacker, off-ball linebacker, mike, defensive end – in the defense are intrinsic resources that we as fans will never know the value of. And that, to me, and presumably to the Dolphins, is worth its weight in gold.

What’s more, is Kyle’s exactly right about Miami having so many young players and rookies in 2020 that didn’t have the advantage of having a normal offseason program. As these players move into year two in this defense, we’re likely to see jumps from guys like Noah Igbinoghene, Brandon Jones, and Jason Strowbridge. We’re going to see veteran players improve as well. To me, that’s the most exciting part when you look at the 2021 Miami Dolphins defense – it’s likely to be better than it was in 2020. And the 2020 version was statistically among the best in the league.

I hope this piece demonstrates the hidden value that Kyle Van Noy brings to the Dolphins. As Coach Flores said, it’s possible for a player to have a great game and not have anything in the box score. While Van Noy isn’t rolling donuts each week, some of the season’s biggest plays were made by him and often went unnoticed. Hopefully, this will give you something to look for in 2021. Until next time, FinsUp!