That felt like a long time off. I know it was only a week, but it seemed like an eternity. I guess being pulled from the midst of a five game win streak will do that to you. The Fins seemed to think it was a long break too, since they came out of the gate against the NYJ looking like the last full game they played was their high school homecoming.
I had all five of my points written up by halftime and not-a-one was positive. I was ready to throw in the towel and chalk this season up as another close, but no cigar outing. Thankfully, the horrible tendency we all have to knee-jerk jump to conclusions immediately after things happen was struck down by a mighty second half that ultimately resulted in the Dolphins extending their win streak to six games. Who would have thought? That probably depends on your point of view.
They aren’t who we thought they were
Starting 1-7, including a staggering 7 game losing streak, the 2021 Dolphins didn’t instill much confidence in their fan base, to put it mildly. Yet, they’ve now managed to be only the second team in NFL history (along with the 1994 New York Giants) to have a 7 game losing streak, followed by at least a 5 game win streak (the Giants win streak ended at 6). A 5 game win streak should build up strong belief in the players and the fans. Except, this is the Dolphins we’re talking about. Miami could win the Superbowl and everyone would still be sitting back saying “Now, now. Don’t be hasty.” I must admit: I was Denny Green incarnate, believing with all my heart that the team playing the Jets was, in fact, the 1-7 team who started the season. I just knew they were who I thought they were.
I’ve rarely been so happy to be proven wrong. It obviously remains to be seen if the team can hold out the win streak through the end of the season, but I was damn near positive they were going to dash my hopes in the most Dolphins of ways: by losing to a 3 win team at home coming off a bye week. I hope they can all forgive me (since I know they’re all reading this in between practice sessions), but at least my perspective is reasonable. We’ve watched this team have their own playoff destiny in hand multiple times over the last twenty years and, nearly every time, they come out flat. It feels a little like a voodoo curse at this point, really. Instead of black magic, however, I think Miami’s first half is indicative of an issue that’s been plaguing the team all season long:
The team’s slow start comes down to coaching
Miami is 10-9 coming off of a bye week since 2003. New England is tops at 25-6 (I’m assuming the huge difference is counting playoff games), while the Raiders are worst at 3-16. I would think that good coaching staffs can turn a week of rest into a positive. It’s worrisome that the Fins had a week off and came out sluggish, unprepared, and seemingly uninterested. It can’t be a secret to the players and coaches that all of the remaining games are must win games. They have newspapers. To start the game as pitifully as both the offense and defense did against New York was disappointing. On one hand, it’d be nice if the players were self motivated enough to rocket out of the rest period like a bat out of Hell and take it to the Jets without any encouragement from the coaches. On the other, motivating players is one of the key aspects of coaching football.
I want to believe in our coaches so much. They’re in the middle of an utterly preposterous turnaround, but each week I still see bizarre decision making. In the 4th quarter with 12:00 minutes left in the game, Miami had the ball at their own 31 yard line on 2nd and 18, due to a hold by Hunter Long on the previous play. Tua completed a pass to Isaiah ‘The Cat Came Back The Very Next Day’ Ford for 17 yards, bringing up 3rd and 1. Let me remind you, the passing game just picked up 17 yards on 2nd down. So what play does our offensive coordinator whip up? A wildcat run up the middle with Myles Gaskin that nets 0 yards. 4th and 1. Drive over, let’s punt it away.
Just kidding. Let’s have a communication breakdown and snap the ball to the upback, Clayton Fejedelem, who is in no way ready for the ball, fumble, and give the Jets a new offensive drive in Miami territory. Sure, the Jets being the way they are, used that drive to go 3 and out for -12 yards, but the problem is still a problem. As well as the team’s been playing, they have to be firing on all cylinders, including limiting coaching mistakes, to have a chance to run the table. In-game coaching has been one of the team’s bugaboos all year, so here’s hoping the coaches were just a little hungover from their break too.
The defense missed Holland early, but pulled it together by the end
The Bad News: Jevon Holland missed the game against the New York Football Jets on the Covid list and his absence was re-he-he-heally noticeable early in the game.
The Good News: The defense got better as the game went on and managed to suffocate the Jets’ offense without Jevon Holland.
I know. It’s the Jets. They’re bad. Zach Wilson is bad. Their receivers are bad. And so on. They’re still an NFL team (see: Detroit vs. Arizona, Week 15 2021).
Miami’s Holland-less defense opened the game by surrendering a 10 play 83 yard touchdown drive, showing little resistance to a generally anemic offense. No one was interested in tackling and the whole group appeared rudderless. The next Jets possession resulted in a field goal, followed by a quick 3 and out, then yet another long (8 play, 75 yard) touchdown drive. I can’t be certain that having Holland on the field for those few drives would have been enough to cause the defense to put their thing down, flip it, and reverse it, but it most definitely wouldn’t have hurt.
Holland has become a dominant force within the defense and a leader on the field. If the defense had totally collapsed without him, I’d be more concerned than I am. As it stands, they figured it out near the end of the first half and managed to shut the Jets out for their next 7 possessions. It’s great to see that a young player like Holland can be such a critical piece to the team and it’s almost equally great to see that the players around him can still succeed in his absence. Jerome Baker and Christian Wilkins picked up 7 tackles each (Baker added 2 sacks and Wilkins tossed in a touchdown catch for good measure), while the team totaled 6 sacks as they forced Wilson to be uncomfortable in the pocket most of the second half. If the defense can add some depth to hedge against inevitable injuries, they could be positioned well for the foreseeable future.
The offense missed Waddle early, but pulled it together by the end
The Bad News: Jalen Waddle missed the game against the New York Football Jets on the Covid list and his absence was re-he-he-heally noticeable early in the game.
The Good News: The offense got better as the game went on and managed to score 31 points in a win without Jalen Waddle.
I know. It’s the Jets. They’re bad. Sheldon Rankins is bad. Their corners are bad. And so on. They’re still an NFL team (see: NYJ vs. Green Bay, Week 2 2021).
I could copy almost the entirety of the section covering Holland and the defense to discuss Waddle and the offense. In his short time with the team, Waddle has proven to be an integral part of the offense. He’s clearly Tua’s favorite target and he fits the ‘get the ball out immediately before you get decapitated’ style of offense the Dolphins are forced to run. Without Waddle, the offense struggled to move the ball much in the first half, losing an INT and gaining 0 yards on 3 plays for their first two possessions. To my whispering eyes it looked like Tua was out of sorts early, throwing with uncharacteristically poor accuracy, while also sometimes throwing it to players for the opposing team. Maybe I’m overthinking it, but Waddle strikes me as his ultimate safety net, security blanket, thunder buddy, etc. and without him on the field, it took Tua a little longer to get settled in and play well.
Duke Johnson helped offset the early passing struggles with the first 100 yard game from a Dolphins running back since the Industrial Revolution, rushing for 107 yards and 2 touchdowns. I don’t expect Johnson to put up those kind of numbers consistently (there’s a reason he was available when he was), but having running backs with fresh legs this late in the year, like Johnson and Lindsay, might be just enough to keep the running game relevant and help balance the offense. Tua finished the game statistically mediocre, going 16/27 (59%) 196 yds 2 TD 2 INT, but rebounded from his two really squonky interceptions to lead the offense to points and a win when it mattered most. This type of offensive showing likely won’t be enough against better teams than the Jets, but Waddle will be back and he and Tua will resume being just two guys, having a good time.
These next three games will tell us a lot
On deck are the New Orleans Saints who just shutout the Tompa BrAdY Buccaneers. Does that work as a joke? I don’t care. I just love that analysts give him all of the credit when the absolutely loaded TB offense does well, but no one’s pointing out that he presides over the same offense that just scored nothing. Rassin frassin. Oooooo. What were we talking about? Oh yeah. The Dolphins are going to play the Saints in New Orleans. Then they travel to face the Tyan Rannehill led Tennessee Injury Reports before closing out the year against Mac ‘Future #1 Used Car Salesman in the Greater Jacksonville Metropolitan Area’ Jones and the *Patriots at home.
Those prone to hyperbole would say these are the most important three games that Miami has had in as long as they can remember. I’d say it’ll be really nice if the Dolphins can win them all and finish the year strong. I don’t think that this year’s team is one that can make a deep playoff run, but I’d gladly squeak in to get the players some experience with the postseason. How this team performs in a mostly ‘do-or-die’ situation as the one they find themselves in will showcase the areas that still need to be addressed in the upcoming offseason. Of course, they could manage to make the playoffs and have an unparalleled Cinderella story on their way to the Superbowl. That magical tale starts next week in New Orleans. I’ve been burned too many times to truly get my hopes up. So, for now, I’ll just put my Fins up.
Do you think the Dolphins will smack the Saints? Will the Titans have enough players to field a team? Is Mac Jones going to open his dealership in Alabama instead of Florida? Answers to these questions and more in the comment section.