Why do the Miami Dolphins have only three interceptions?

Miami Dolphins Cordrea Tankersley and Reshad Jones celebrate at the end of the fourth quarter after Jones’ interception to defeat the Atlanta Falcons in October. (Charles Trainor Jr./Miami Herald/TNS)

DAVIE — The starting cornerbacks for the Miami Dolphins, Xavien Howard and Cordrea Tankersley, totaled 18 interceptions in their last two seasons at Baylor and Clemson.

Eight games into this season, they have a total of none.

“All I care about is winning, but getting a pick would be extra nice,” Howard said Friday. “I do need one. I haven’t gotten one yet and it’s been eight games. I need to get one. I didn’t have one in the regular season last year, either. I did have one in the playoffs against the Steelers.”

The Dolphins have only three total interceptions this season (two by safety Reshad Jones and one by Bobby McCain), which ranks 29th among the 32 NFL teams.

Tankersley, the rookie, nearly had two interceptions (one in the end zone and one on a blitz) and Howard nearly had one (on a fade in the end zone). Their lockers are adjacent. And so, yes, it’s come up.

“At the end of the day, the turnovers are key for the defense,” Tankersley said. “Our job is to get the ball back for our offense. And so getting interceptions is definitely one of our top things to do. But we’ve got to be in great position and use great technique, for all of that stuff to happen. It’s very rare that you’re going to be out of place and have an interception. So, nine times out of 10, if you’re in place and doing the things you’re supposed to do, that’s how you make plays and get interceptions. I’m just going to continue doing that.”

The points of emphasis for Miami in defending the passing game are playing tighter coverage and making more passes in the second half of the season contested. That should, inherently, lead to more interceptions.

But here’s the thing: if players start to go after more picks, that could lead to big mistakes.

“The coaches say be patient, do your assignment and let the plays come to you,” Howard said. “Don’t try to go out there forcing things, trying to play to get an interception, because that’s how you give up explosive plays. So I just try to be disciplined. Trying to be in the right place. If a ball comes my way I’m going to make a play on it. But I can’t force it just to try to go get a pick.”

According to Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke, the first key to more interceptions will be catching the ones they’ve failed to complete this season.

Burke noted how Miami allowed a scoring drive at the end of the first half against Oakland that included near-interceptions by linebacker Kiko Alonso and safety Maurice Smith.

“The starting point is I’d like to catch some of the ones that come to us,” Burke said. “That would be a plus.”

Dolphins defensive backs coach Lou Anarumo says interceptions often come on tips and overthrows.

For example, the biggest interception of Miami’s season, by Jones, came after Tankersley tipped a pass from Matt Ryan late in the game to seal a victory.

Miami coach Adam Gase always talks about how his team is built to play with a lead, which can lead to obvious passing situations for the opponent, successful pressures and quarterbacks making poor, rushed decisions.

The Dolphins hope to gain a lead and pressure Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (tied with DeShon Kizer for the NFL lead with 11 interceptions) into bad decisions on Monday night in Charlotte.

But too often this season, Miami has found itself in a deep, early hole.

Burke cautioned that he does not and does not think it would be wise to preach, “Go get more interceptions!” because that would likely lead to more costly mistakes.

“Five or six plays are going to be the difference in a game,” Burke said. “If you get your hands on the ball and there’s a chance to get a big turnover and change the game, then we have to be able to take advantage of those chances.”

Howard has a promising future in the NFL. But it may be surprising to learn he’s played 15 regular season games, with 14 starts, without an interception. That’s 1,011 regular-season snaps (per Pro Football Focus) without a pick.

Howard is hopeful that discussing the situation will somehow prompt it to happen.

“There are going to be a lot of opportunities out there this last half of the year,” Howard said. “So we’ve just got to make the most of those opportunities. Make a play out there.”

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