If I had told you the Dolphins would be 3-2 at their bye week before the season started, you would have been thrilled, admit it. The schedule the first five weeks seemed brutal, having to face Andrew Luck, Matt Ryan, Drew Brees and Joe Flacco in that order. You would have taken it. But after opening up 3-0, many fans are disappointed with the Fins 3-2 mark at the break. The bye week comes at a great time for the team and gives me an opportunity to look at how the season is going so far.
Things I Liked:
· Ryan Tannehill. I went into this season with a cautious optimism about Ryan Tannehill. I saw a lot of good things last season, and heard all the reviews this off-season, but, as a long-suffering dolfan waiting for our next franchise QB, I didn’t want to get too excited. Tannehill’s play so far this season has indicated that my optimism is warranted. He is averaging 276 yards a game, which ranks him 9th in the NFL. He has shown he can make all the throws, though his deep ball needs work. He has proven that his ability to run can be a weapon, and obviously he can take a hit. He needs to hold onto the ball, and he still stares down receivers way too much, but he has shown great improvement over last season and is developing into the franchise QB Dolphins brass imagined. He is the team MVP at the break and a main reason the Fins are 3-2.
· Charles Clay. Tannehill might be team MVP, but tight end Charles Clay is the biggest surprise. Like many dolfans, when Dustin Keller went down with a season ending knee injury, I wondered what the Fins would do. Trade? Waiver wire pick up? Neither, it was next man up and Clay has exceeded everyone’s expectations.. He has 3 touchdowns on the year. ( 2 TD receptions, 1 rushing TD.) He ranks 3rd on the team with 23 receptions and ranks 2nd in receiving yards with 297. 5 of Clay’s 23 receptions are over 20 yards, 2 are over 40 yards. Those are big chunk plays! With all the money that Miami spent on revamping their receiving core, it has been Clay who might be Tannehill’s most trusted target and big play receiver.
· Paul Soliai. I know Pro Football Focus rates Randy Starks better than Soliai, but in my mind Soliai anchors the defensive line. He constantly needs to be double-teamed. Several times a game he is the driving force that collapses the pocket around opposing QB’s. I would not be surprised if Soliai signs an extension and Starks does not.
· Jared Odrick. Now that Odrick is playing in his correct position at defensive tackle, his play has looked like the 1st round pick the Dolphins had hoped for. He is another disruptive force in the backfield, can stay on the field for all downs, and his constant hustle and effort catches your eye.
· Caleb Sturgis. I already feel much more confident in Sturgis then I did in Dan Carpenter last year. A lot was made of Miami using a 5th round pick on a kicker, but current hindsight makes it look like a smart move by Ireland and Company.
Strangely enough, even though I am pleased with the Dolphins winning record at the break, there have been plenty of things that I haven’t like so far this season.
Things I Didn’t Like:
· The Offensive Line. The lines poor play has been talked about ad nausea the past couple weeks. Funny how losing magnifies your flaws. The most upsetting part for me about their play on a whole is watching them get whipped one on one. Jonathan Martin has justified all of our preseason fears. I noted early on that Tyson Clabo looked eerily like Marc Columbo, sadly he has proven me right. Guards Richie Incognito and John Jerry have not been any better, If they do not improve, O Line coach Jim Turner should be shown the door. DolphinsTalk.com blogger Darren Shore suggested trying Jerry at left tackle, a position he proved capable of playing in 2011 when Jake Long got hurt. You could then swap Martin back to right tackle or even try him at guard. I don’t know what it is going to take, but something needs to get done and fast or the season could crumble apart quickly.
· The running game. I realize this goes hand in hand with O line play, but it is not all on them. Lamar Miller is averaging a very respectful 4.2 yards per carry, but he isn’t getting enough touches. He needs more than 10 carries a game (his current average.) Daniel Thomas’s play has been poor, which is why I originally predicted he wouldn’t make the final 53-man roster. Mike Sherman's play calling has not helped. It may be a pass happy league, but teams that can run the football win games, especially in November, December and January. A running game will make the passing game better and would help keep Tannehill upright. And if it is 3rd and inches, go with the QB sneak!
· 3rd Down Defense. Week in and week out the Fins have a problem getting off the field on 3rd down. It seems that they have no problem shutting teams down on 1st and 2nd downs but collapse when 3rd comes along and give up big yardage.
· Opposing Tight Ends. We were told this off-season the Dolphins revamped their line-backing core to get younger, faster and improve in pass coverage. Yet so far, opposing tight ends have been having career days against Miami. To be fair, the Fins have faced some good tight ends, and it does not all fall on the linebackers, (Reshad Jones has been beaten as well, ) but this is unacceptable and defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle needs to come up with something.
· Dion Jordan. He has been effective, but in a very limited role. There is no apparent reason the coaching staff is handling him with kid gloves. I realize he was hurt, but you traded up to get him for a reason, it is about time we start to see him more.
· 2013 Draft class. I was expecting more of an impact. When your 5th round selection of a kicker has had the biggest impact, something is wrong. Like with Jordan, injuries to cornerbacks Will Davis and Jamar Taylor have played a part, but that is no excuse for the rest. The draft class has under performed. Third round pick offensive tackle Dallas Thomas has been inactive for EVERY game. It is even more upsetting when I see the Chicago Bears starting Jordan Mills at right tackle and he was selected 2 rounds after Thomas. The draft report on running back Mike Gillislee was he was a good pass blocking back, yet he has only been active for 1 game. Thomas and Gillislee are even more upsetting when considering Miami’s problems with protecting Tannehill. And when Taylor was in the game, Dolfans wished he were inactive.
The big question coming out of the break will be what the Dolphins look like going forward. I don’t know what to expect. Hopefully, they will get healthy with a week off. A couple of things I hope to see moving forwards.
Things To Look For For the Rest of the season:
· Tannehill using his feet more to get out of trouble. Some of the sacks can be blamed on Tannehill holding onto it too long. I would like to see him step up in the pocket and take off a little more. It will give opposing defenses one other thing to worry about. While doing so, he needs to protect the football better.
· More Dion Jordan. Olivier Vernon started slow, but has picked it up the last few weeks. Even so, Jordan is a playmaker and needs to be out on the field. If he can’t get out there for any reason other that injury, then there is a problem.
· Hopefully Dimitri Patterson and Cam Wake are back healthy. That would be a big improvement for our defense.
· Look for more tight end Dion Sims on pass plays. He can help out with blocking and be a safety valve for Tannehill.
· More carries for Miller. More offensive touches for Marcus Thigpen. Fewer touches for Daniel Thomas.
I am really excited to see what this team looks like after the bye. I expect them to come out blazing against the Buffalo Bills. The homer in me could see them going 13-3, running the table against everyone and splitting with the New England Patriots. The realist in me could see them splitting with the Pats and the New York Jets. I also see tough games against the Cincinnati Bengals and the San Diego Charges (both at home), and losable games on the road, like the Bills and the Pittsburgh Steelers ( I know the Steelers suck, but it could be a trap game with the Patriots the following week.) Prediction : I am going to split the difference and say the Fins finish at 11-5 and make the playoffs. I hope everyone enjoys the bye week and has a great weekend!
Carl C. Crowley