The top story for the Miami Dolphins this year, at least the top on-the-field story, has been the struggles of the offensive line. From day one, the team seemed to be testing exactly how tough second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill is, giving up sacks at an alarming rate. The line struggled to find running lanes, leading the team to abandon the run on multiple occassions, only compounding the pass protection issues.
And that's not counting the injuries, illness, suspensions, and defections that have decimated a line where not a lot of people projected any depth for Miami. But, over the past few weeks, the line has not only proven that there was depth present on the sidelines, but that those "depth" players were capable of coming into a game and playing at a hight level.
Compare the first half of the schedule with the second. In the first seven games, Miami allowed four sacks (Cleveland), five sacks (Indianapolis), five sacks (Atlanta), four sacks (New Orleans), six sacks (Baltimore), two sacks (Buffalo), and six sacks (New England), for a total of 32-sacks, or an average of 4.5 sacks per game. Since then, it's been three sacks (Cincinnati), two sacks (Tampa Bay), four sacks (San Diego), three sacks (Carolina), one sack (New York Jets), and three sacks (Pittsburgh). That's exactly half as many sacks as earlier in the year, with 16 sacks over six games, or 2.7 sacks per game.
The second of the three sacks credited to the Steelers yesterday was not really a sack, either. Tannehill could not handle the shotgun snap, and just fell on the ball rather than risk a turnover. Ruled a sack, there was nothing that anyone could do to have prevent it, other than Tannehill catching the ball.
But, it's not just pass protection that is improving. The team ran for 181-yards against the Steelers, their highest rushing tally of the game. Last week's game at the New York Jets saw the Dolphins run for 125-yards on the league's top run defense, the fourth highest total for Miami this year.
Of course, a large number of the Dolphins' rushing total from yesterday came on two plays. Daniel Thomas broke a 55-yard run, while Tannehill added a 48-yarder of his own. Tannehill's run was the longest of his career, and the longest run by a quarterback in team history, breaking Pat White's previous standard of 33-yards set in 2009.
There is still plenty for the offensive line to do this year to continue to improve, and the line will likely be the top priority for next May's NFL Draft, but that does not change the success they are starting to have now. The combination of Bryant McKinnie, Nate Garner, Mike Pouncey, John Jerry, Tyson Clabo, and Sam Brenner are starting to open up running lanes and protecting Tannehill better. If the Dolphins want to remain in the playoff hunt over the next three weeks, that's exactly what the line needs to be doing.