Keep rollin rollin rollin rollin WHAT. I’m tempted to shirk my responsibilities and simply write out all of the lyrics to the Limp Bizkit classic (and true national anthem) “Rollin’” and call it a day. So very, very tempted. I guess I’m already here, so let’s get to goin’.
The Dolphins may have found an offensive identity
It may not be flashy. It may not be the Air Raid offense fans have become so accustomed to in recent years. It may not look like when your newphew kicks your ass at Madden so hard the calendar skips to next Thanksgiving. It may be none of those things, but the Dolphins offense is succeeding. “They’ve only scored 30 or more points once during this win streak.” you complain to the empty couch your nephew was sitting on before getting in a convertible to cruise the strip. He’s 15 and cooler than you’ll ever be; just deal with it. If he wasn’t out smoking reefer and wooing broads, he’d point out that Miami’s opponents have only scored 17 or more once during that same win streak. That is to say, the Dolphins’ offense hasn’t had to be incredible because the defense has taken that role. Remember that there have been plenty of teams throughout NFL history with great defenses, yet offenses so inept that it never made a difference. Miami looked like they might be heading down that path through the early part of this season. How times change.
Over the last five games (all wins, in case you forgot), the Fins have figured out a fitting fashion for fulfilling feats of football fictory. Despite Tua’s abysmal performance (30/41 aka 73%, not even breaking 80% accuracy), they managed to produce enough points for a win in a trap game against a weak team right before a bye. Tongues removed from cheeks, Tua had another wildly efficient outing (244 yds 2 TDs 0 INT) even though his typically reliable pass catchers had a few drops to pull his numbers below that 80% threshold (Mike Gesicki had two, including a potential TD, and Jaylen Waddle dropped one that he could still be running with). That kind of high efficiency, low extravagance output seems to be where this current iteration of the Dolphins is most comfortable. We fans feel like we know the weaknesses (and we feel like we’ve always known them and EVERYONE EMPLOYED BY THE TEAM SHOULD BE FIRED), but it finally appears that the staff has accepted them and developed a strategy to work around them. The Dolphins don’t have a workhorse running back, even with a healthy Phillip Lindsay, and the offensive line doesn’t run block very well on top of that. Without a balanced attack, opposing defenses can defend the pass more intentionally and reduce the number of downfield passing opportunities. As a result, the team is forced into their current style of play. The key takeaway after five weeks is: that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The team would most definitely be better served if they could balance their run game with their passing game all the time (as they did against both NYJ and CAR) and being able to back the defense off the line with deep shots to their downfield threats would be outstanding. Until the weak points of the offense are fixed to allow for that, the offense will be what it’s been over this win streak. Miami’s been notoriously ambigous in defining themselves offensively probably since the Ricky and Ronnie show, so it’s refreshing to be able to identify the coaching staff’s approach and, better yet, see it work.
Pass blocking seems to be settling in
“Didn’t you just say the offensive line is part of the problem with the offense’s pigeon-holed style?” you shout toward your nephew as he glides past on his totally sick Darkstar skateboard with Manolo Robles frog deck. Dammit, he’s so fly. Anyway, I did say that, mythical article man. The line’s poor run blocking disallows for balance in the offensive attack. On the pass blocking side, however; they’re showing a little improvement. I’ll borrow an excerpt from PFF’s recap article on the game regarding Miami’s offensive line:
“Say what you will about the Dolphins’ offensive line, but Sunday, it appeared to give Tagovailoa enough time to throw the ball, as the quarterback had a 2.34-second average time to throw.
From a pass-protection perspective, the line looked average. Four of the five starters graded below a 60.0, upon first review, and the unit registered 14 total negatively graded pass protection plays.
The standout on the line was Robert Hunt, who graded 88.5 in pass protection and didn’t allow a pressure.”
You see that? Appeared to give enough time. Looked average. Standout on the line. Those are all nice things. This is the Dolphins line we’re talking about, so to hear multiple positive comments on their performance is outstanding. ‘Looked average’ in Miami O line speak is ‘All powerful and dominant. Destroyer of worlds.’
If the line can keep incrementally improving its pass blocking, it could help open up another dimension of the offense. My theory is that Tua is a little hesitant to look downfield for mid range or deep throws because he’s become so used to getting the ball out instantly to avoid being mauled. There were a few plays against NYG where the line actually gave him a decent pocket, but he went underneath or took a checkdown. I expect that if the line can continue to grow and be more reliable in providing pass protection, Tua will start to trust in them more and begin to push the ball further downfield with more regularity. I’m not counting on them to figure out how to run block at the same time, but I’ll take what I can get. If I can get noticeably improved offensive line play before the season’s out, I’ll be thrilled.
The defense is hitting its full stride
On the opposite side of the ball, the defense is back to their old (i.e. 2020) ways. New Phinsider author Sumeet gave the defense their due in his 3 Reasons Why article and he’ll get no disagreement from me. The defensive line pressured backup quarterback Mike Glennon, keeping him sliding around like a giraffe on roller skates. Because he’s tall. Like a giraffe is tall. You’ll get it later. The defensive pass rush recorded 3 sacks (2 from ascending DE Jaelan Phillips on his way to setting the Dolphins rookie record for sacks with 8.5 on the year) and 8 QB hits. The secondary added 5 pass breakups and another interception from Xavien Howard (along with what should have been a second by either Howard or Jevon Holland in the end zone, but, alas). This game marked the fifth in a row that the defense held the opposing offense to 17 points or fewer. That’s as rad as your nephew throwing dice in the alley and making absolute bank. There’s a potential future where the Dolphins’ D has your-nephew-level studs in Howard, Holland, and Phillips. Add in the solid play from contributors throughout the rest of the defense and improved schemes by the coaches/coordinators and the defense could be well on its way to being elite.
Given how volatile NFL offseasons traditionally are, it’s impossible to say if the team can retain all of the players and talent necessary to build a long lasting dominant defense or not. Regardless, there’s a chance that the defense could be good enough to carry this year’s team through the end of the season and into the playoffs. The Fins are officially In the Hunt, so everyone better get themselves mentally prepared to watch meaningful football into January. If the defense can continue playing as lights out as it has been, it could go even further than that.
Jason Sanders is starting to worry me
Last year he was $anders. Automatic. The Colonel. This year he’s not doing so hot. Sunday saw him miss his 6th field goal of the year, which is double the amount he missed all last season. Last year he was essentially another Justin Tucker and currently he’s just another guy. That is, as your nephew would say from backstage at a Foo Fighters show, “Not righteous my bronando.” Sanders has the fourth highest salary among kickers (by yearly average), but is 4th worst in field goal percentage. I don’t want to hit the panic button and cut the guy or anything crazy like that, but I expect Miami to bring some competition in next offseason and have Sanders on a short leash. That kind of discrepency is hard to justify for too long. I’m not smart enough to know what’s off this time around. It could be Michael Palardy’s holding vs. Matt Haack’s or a change enacted by a Special Teams coach or Sanders might have lost some confidence in his game. No one can really say but him. I like Sanders and really hope he can sort out the difference between his success of last year and struggles this year. Here’s to him closing out the season strong and peaking heading into next season. Speaking of peaking:
Miami is peaking at the right time
We all know it’s five in a row. Better than that is that the five consecutive wins lead straight into a late season bye week that will give the players a much needed break. DeVante Parker and Michael Deiter each returned against the Giants, which helped buoy the offense. A number of players missed that game, but could return to face the Jets with an extra week of rest. Phillip Lindsay, Patrick Laird, Malcolm Brown, Greg Mancz, Greg Little, and Adam Shaheen could all be coming back for the offense along with Brandon Jones and Trill Williams for the defense. We might even get a Will Fuller sighting. Teams that play their best and healthiest football late in the year can be the most dangerous. No team has ever gone from 1-7 to 10-7 before, but why not the Dolphins? That would be as bodacious as your nephew. By the way, this is him and he totally rules.
What doesn’t rule quite yet is the probability of the Dolphins making the postseason. They were at 1.7% before this week and now sit at 6%. That’s all going to change in a hurry as more AFC teams cannibalize one another and the Dolphins just keep on keepin’ on. After the bye week is round 2 with the New York Football Jets. Next come two away games, one against the Saints and another against the Titans who are both trending downward, and a closer in Hard Rock against the *Patriots, who Miami beat to start the year. The path isn’t a total freebie, but at least until New England, it feels a lot like Miami’s to lose. It’s going to be a fun few weeks, so get ready. This formerly hapless team may actually have haps.
Do you really believe in your heart of hearts that Miami will win out? Do you have a second heart inside your normal heart? That’s not great. See a doctor. I’ll be taking the bye week off of this column along with the team because I won’t have anything to say, so bye, bye, bye for now. Except for all our chatting in the comments. I guess bye after that.