The 2014 NFL season is now at it's midpoint. It's a good time to look at our favorite team and grade how they've played in the first half of the season.
CURRENT STATE OF AFFAIRS
The Miami Dolphins are currently sitting at 5-3 after a complete 37-0 dismantling of the San Diego Chargers and a three game winning streak. Unlike last season where the Dolphins played in a plethora of close games, Miami has only played in one game this season that was decided by single digits. Statistically, Miami is in the upper half of the league in offense and defense.
OVERALL OFFENSE: B
Over the past few years, Miami has struggled on offense. In Philbin's first two seasons, Miami averaged less than 20 points per game: 18.0 in 2012, 19.8 in 2013. Miami averaged 311.5 yards per game in 2012, and 312.9 yards per game in 2013. In 2014, the Dolphins have improved on those numbers. Miami is averaging 26.4 points per game and 365.8 yards per game this season. League-wise, those averages rank 9th and 11th respectively. Those types of improvements could warrant an A grade, but the offense has been inconsistent over the first half of the season.
PASSING OFFENSE: C
Ryan Tannehill started the season roughly. In the first 3 games, his production level was below expectation level. He was completing only 56% of his passes and the offense sputtered only scoring 58 total points. However, Tannehill turned it around however and is producing at a high level. During Miami's three game winning streak, Tannehill has completed over 68% of his passes, throwing 6 TDs to 1 INT. The offense has average over 30 points per game during that span. The early season struggles weighs this grade down, but the passing offense is improving.
RUSHING OFFENSE: A
The Dolphins were awful last season running the ball. They had one game last season where they were held to 2 yards rushing. This season, their rushing attack is making an impact. They are averaging 137.3 yards per game, good for 4th in the league. Starting tailback Lamar Miller is on pace for a 1000 yard season and 10 rushing TDs. Ryan Tannehill has added an extra dimension to the rushing attack with the read-option, averaging 7.9 yards per carry. This rushing attack has allowed the offense to stay in favorable down and distances and forced defenses to stay honest against the run, opening up the passing game.
MIDSEASON OFFENSIVE MVP: OFFENSIVE LINE
I'm giving this whole group the offensive MVP award. After last season's debacle, the offensive line had nowhere to go but up. Starting the season with five new starters was supposed to be a challenge, but they have made it work. After yielding 58 sacks last season and failing to consistently generate rushing lanes, this current O-line, led by free agent acquisition Branden Albert, has yielded only 17 sacks, projecting to 34 total, over 20 less sacks than last season. This O-line has had two games this season in which Tannehill was not sacked, including against the Chargers, who was only able to muster one hurry all game. Rookie right tackle Ja'Wuan James was called a reach on draft day, but has played very well for a rookie and basically locked down the right side. Once former and now current center Samson Satele was supposed to be a nothing more than an emergency replacement for the injured Pro Bowler Mike Pouncey. Satele has played well enough to make the coaches put Pouncey at right guard. The O-line rarely gets the credit it deserves and this unit has been a major factor in why the offense is putting up better numbers.
OVERALL DEFENSE: A
This defense has had it's moments where it struggled, but for the most part, looked like a playoff caliber defense. Miami only allows 304.6 yards per game, good for third best in the league. Miami only yields 18.9 points per game, again good for third best in the league. Miami has produced 9 interceptions and 10 forced fumbles. They have produced 25 sacks. This defense seems to improve every week and could be the catalyst that propels Miami into the playoffs.
PASSING DEFENSE: A
Miami allows only 201.1 passing yards per game, which is the second best mark in the NFL. This is particularly amazing considering Miami has faced Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler, and Philip Rivers - all QBs that lead explosive offenses that can move the ball well through the air. The secondary has produced 9 interceptions this season, led by Brent Grimes with 4. Reshad Jones returned from a suspension and is playing at a high level, bringing a toughness to the secondary. The pass rush is relentless, generating 25 sacks, fifth best total in the league. Cam Wake leads the team with 6.5 sacks, but anyone and everyone on the defensive front can get to the quarterback. Olivier Vernon is continuing to get left tackles fits after his break out season in 2013 with 4.5 sacks. Even the backups are getting in on the action, led by the 3.0 sacks generated by Derrick Shelby. The defensive tackles have generated 4.5 sacks and continually collapse the pocket. These guys get an A for their outstanding work.
RUN DEFENSE: A
The numbers don't really do this part justice. The Dolphins allow 103.5 yards per game, which is 12th best in the NFL. That isn't great, but isn't bad either. Koa Misi is a good run defender at middle linebacker and has missed games due to an injury. You can tell the difference when Misi plays as opposed to when he doesn't. Teams tend to struggle rushing the ball when he plays and tend to be more successful rushing when he doesn't. In general, teams don't expect to have much success rushing the ball against Miami and that gets an A grade from me.
MIDSEASON DEFENSIVE MVP: CAMERON WAKE
There are a number of players that could be considered for this award - Grimes, Jones, Jelani Jenkins. But Miami's bread and butter is their pass rush and that unit is led by Cameron Wake. He is almost impossible to consistently block one-on-one and has drawn triple teams at times. He has always been an impact player, producing sacks, pressures, hits, and hurries. But he's become even more of a game-changing player this season by not just producing sacks, but also producing turnovers. Three of his 6.5 sacks have forced fumbles that the Dolphins have recovered. Those 3 turnovers have led to 13 points. He's not just forcing negative plays, but now he's taking away scoring opportunities from opponents and giving it to the Dolphins. He's still amazing to watch and he's the defensive MVP thus far.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-
This unit is normally pretty strong, but is slipping a bit this season. Placekicker Caleb Sturgis has an 80% success rate hitting 16 of 20 attempts. Of his four misses, one was blocked, and the others were from 45+ yards, raising questions about his reliability on longer kicks. Despite his numbers, fans are skeptical of Sturgis and most are concerned about his ability to make a pressure kick if the team needed a game tying or game winning kick.
Brandon Fields has been a field position weapon over the past few seasons, but his numbers have dropped off this season. His overall average is the lowest it has been since 2008, nearly 4 yards less than last seasons average. His net average is the lowest of his career. We have seen several shanked punts that are atypical of Fields. The good news however is that Miami's offense has been playing well enough to keep Fields on the sidelines. He has only punted 28 times this season, which is on pace for 56 punts. That's well short of his former low of 73 punts in 2010.
Jarvis Landry hasn't shown much as a punt returner, only averaging 8.1 yards per return good for 18th in the league. However, he has been dynamic as a kickoff returner, ranking third in the league at 31.2 yards per return. His kickoff returns have given Tannehill and the offense good average starting field position.
There have been some moments where the fans have seriously questioned Philbin and his staff. After the heartbreaking loss to Green Bay, fans were ready to turn on them. However, they have coached well during the win streak and fans are warming up to them a little more. Both coordinators continue to put their respective units in positions to succeed. Miami outscores their opponents in the third quarter, showing that the coaches are improving significantly in halftime adjustments. Offensive line coach John Benton has turned the 2013 disaster into a formidable unit in 2014. Despite the questionable moments, the coaches have this team 2 games above .500 at this point during the season for the first time since 2003 and each unit seems to be improving weekly.
OVERALL GRADE: A-
That may seem a little high, but aside from a couple of bad games early in the season, this Dolphins team has been dangerous to face every week. Miami is getting more yards, scoring more points, and shutting teams down better this season and they are improving every week. There is legitimate excitement, albeit guarded excitement, surrounding this team for the first time in years. They deserve a high grade halfway through the season.