It’s lucky Week 13, so we all knew the ghost of Dan Marino would roll into Hard Rock stadium, start filling his dip spit cup, and watch the Dolphins thump the Carolina Panthers.
We all knew that, right?
Momentum is starting to build
I can’t remember the last time the Dolphins won four games in a row. I’m sure I could, but I don’t want to because these four feel so good after such a weak start. Naysayers will say “Nay! Four games doth not a season make!” and other old timey nonsense to distract from the fact that the Dolphins have managed to put together a nice collection of games over the last month. It’s true, one of the opponents was the Jets, but a win is a win. Our team that started so pitifully at 1-7, surrounded by calls for Deshaun Watson, mass firings, and selling the team to any other wealthy oligarch, is now 5-7 with an upcoming Bye Week sandwich surrounded by two New York slices of bread. The 4-7 Giants and 3-8 Jets are the next games for Miami, both at Hard Rock Stadium and both extremely winnable. If the team from this past Sunday’s game against Carolina shows up, we could be some very encouraged fans.
This week brought the entire team together to play a complete game for the first time all season. Offense, defense, and special teams all got involved and laid waste. It was arguably Tua’s best game as a pro, with the second year passer going 27/31 (87%) 230 yds, 1 TD, 0 INT and leading the offense to 33 points. He set a franchise record as the only quarterback to have two consecutive games with a completion percentage of 80% or higher. He looked comofortable in the pocket, was decisive with the ball, and didn’t make any panic plays behind an offensive line that still likes to fancy themselvs Bilbo Baggins every so often (kind of often). His former Alabama teammate and rookie wideout Jaylen Waddle continued his strong season, pulling down 9 receptions for 137 yards and a TD en route to a career best showing.
Even in some of the recent wins, it rarely felt like everyone was firing on all cylinders. Either the defense would dominate and the offense would sputter, just barely doing enough, or the offense would make a few plays and the defense would give some right back. Other times Jason Sanders would miss some field goals and Michael Palardy would kick with the wrong foot and Blake Ferguson would snap the ball into the Goodyear blimp causing pandemonium and chaos as throngs of stadium goers fought the hordes of space invaders pouring out of its deflating husk. Not this game little fellas!
Against the Panthers, the whole team was on point. There was even a blocked punt for a touchdown on the first drive to set the tone. That kind of complete success seemed to spread out from one unit to another and, eventually, to nearly all of the players.
The whole roster is getting involved
Tua and Waddle did their thing, which is becoming more common and expected these days. Myles Gaskin added two touchdowns on the ground. Most encouragingly, some of the less prominent names made some noise too. Durham Smythe was the most productive tight end on the day, grabbing all 5 of his targets for 32 yards and serving as Tua’s safety valve on a number of plays. Mike Gesicki was quiet (3 rec, 17 yds), which may have helped allow Smythe to be more of a focus in the passing game. The more weapons Tua has trust in, the better. Newly acquired running back Phillip Lindsay got involved, despite only having one practice under his belt, adding a spark to the backfield by carrying 12 times for 42 yards with a smash mouth attitude. Eight different players caught a pass and the aforementioned Smythe even got two carries for some reason. Who cares? It’s fun!
Defensively there were contributions from all over the land. Christian Wilkins had 5 tackles, including a tackle for loss and sack. Duke Riley blocked the punt early on that was returned (approximately 1.5 yards) for a touchdown and added 3 tackles while getting more involved with the defense. Later in the game, a few backups even got some time on the field with Sheldrick Redwine and Javaris Davis getting in on the action. I don’t labor under the delusion that the team has suddenly become rife with elite talent from top to bottom. It’s still a nice change to see more than the tiny handful of marquee players getting meaningful snaps and making the most of them. Great teams need to have serious depth. The dropoff from the top line players to the bottom can’t be precipitous. The more our coaches can get contributions from the whole kit & caboodle, the better the team will be able to weather injuries, install varied packages, and stay competetive deep into the season, hopefully for multiple seasons to come.
The defense is getting its groove back
Just because some lesser known players got to shine a bit on Sunday doesn’t mean the household names didn’t get their due. Xavien Howard nabbed his third interception of the season, while Jevon Holland continued his case for Defensive Rookie of the Year with an interception of his own. Nik Needham grabbed the third turnover of the day for Miami on yet another interception. Jaelan Phillips came on in a big way with 3 sacks (and barely missed a fourth), showing signs of pass rushing ability that’s been sorely missing since Cam Wake walked off into the sunset. He was joined in the sack department by Emmanuel ‘I’d probably take a reasonable deal if you just offered me one’ Ogbah. The entire defense played the way fans expected them to play after last season. If this defense showed up each week to this level, Miami might have a very different record.
“Just how good was the defense?”, you ask your monitor like it can hear you (it can; GET OUT OF THE HOUSE). Former NFL MVP and always carnival barker for the Brooks Brothers’ circus Cam Newton was pulled for P.J. Walker after going 5/21 (24%) 92 yds, 0 TD, 2 INTs. Those are Kendall Hinton numbers baby. I know Cam isn’t what he used to be (and I personally never thought he was that amazing then either), but holding any quarterback to that kind of ‘performance’ is dominant. There was a busted coverage early on that allowed D.J. Moore to catch a pass and go for 64 yards. If you remove that one lapse, Newton would have thrown for 28 yards. I realize you can’t just ignore a play that actually happened, but I’m going to. Who cares? It’s fun!
This kind of defensive destruction should smother both the Giants and the Jets. Hell, it should smother anyone. I’m not sure if they can play to that extreme five more times, but if they can: watch out. “Defense wins championships” say guys with bad offenses, but sometimes those guys are right. I don’t know if we actually have a championship caliber defense, but they played like it this week.
Coaching is still hurting us in places
Jesse Davis is still at right tackle. The offensive line is still getting blown up on blitzes, losing four rushers against five blockers, and generally putting Tua’s health at risk with alarming consistency. The defense blew the previously noted coverage that allowed a 64 yard pass play. Coach Flores and his booth review team wasted a timeout depressingly early on a preposterous challenge. These might be little things in some cases, but they all count. We all want to see the coaching improve along with the playing. It got better as the game went on and there were some creative play calls on offense for the second week in a row. They seemed to stop overthinking some things, like sticking with Phillip Lindsay as the hot hand late in the game. I just want to believe that the coaches aren’t holding anyone back. The team is coming together and, of course, some of that credit has to go to the coaches since they’re involved with, you know, the team. I’ve seen various reports about players calling a meeting a few weeks back and maybe that set the necessary changes in motion. Something is obviously different, yet there are still areas that I think come down to coaching. The offensive line is the main culprit and they’ve been talked about ad nauseum. Maybe it’s just me, but no matter how well the team does, when I see the same five offensive linemen hop out there to get beaten like drums, it gives me pause. The coaches need to figure out something for the line (as if that’s revelatory). Getting Michael Deiter back next week will hopefully help the issue. I would just really like to see a swap on the ride side along with his return because we’ve seen the ceiling of this configuration and it’s not that high.
7-7 is feeling mighty possible right now
Who’d have thunk it a month ago? Not this guy. The Fins looked for all the world like 53 Ryan Leafs who got lost on their way to jail. Now there’s a very real chance they get to .500 before the final stretch of the year. I don’t think it’s unreasonable at all to envision Miami as the favorites against both the Giants and the Jets. With the Bye in between, that lines up quite nicely for two more victories. After that, it becomes a bit more nebulous. The last three games of the year are at New Orleans, at Tennessee, and a home finale against the *Patriots. New Orleans has been struggling, but is likely to have both Alvin Kamara and Taysom Hill back by then, which will be a boon to their offense. Tennessee is in a world of hurt without Derrick Henry and A.J. Brown. New England is on a scalding streak of their own, having won six straight. I don’t want to look too far ahead (and the team absolutely shouldn’t either), but if you asked me today, right this second, I’d say that Miami can finish 9-8 without too much trouble and I wouldn’t even have to be all that high to say it. That outlook is streets ahead of where I ever thought I’d be after the start of this year. It’s nice to root for a team that still has some kind of chance after the midpoint of the season, even if it’s a small one. Let’s all hope that the Dolphins can stay that team for all of us over the next few weeks.
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