Yes, I know it is a tad bit early to start talking about the playoffs (PLAYOFFS!; I.E. Jim Mora), but with half a season left to play the Dolphins are few minor adjustments away from reaching the postseason for the first time since 2008. Many might believe that this talk of a Dolphin postseason might be a little premature, but with Dolphins, Bills, Jets, and Patriots all at 3-3 before last week, it is not far out of the realm of possibilities either.
Miami, who is legitimately two screw-ups away from being a 5-1 team are consistently improving each week with the unexpected play of rookie Ryan Tannehill and their underrated defense. Still though, first year head coach Joe Philbin shouldn’t be satisfied with their 3-3 record, but looking towards shoring up their few week spots to become a complete team. Some Dolphins adjustments are very obvious (pass defense) and some are relatively unknown. I will give you 5 adjustments that Miami must make to be considered a respectable playoff contender.
5. Get a commanding lead and keep it: 4 out of Miami’s first 6 games have been decided by 4 points or less! 2 out of those 4 games were overtime losses against the Jets at home and a week later against the Cardinals on the road. Miami has had a stigma the past few years for always making games as close as they can, and more times than not they find ways to lose instead of finding ways to get a W. The Dolphin’s last two games against the Cincinnati Bengals and St. Louis Rams were two of those close games they squeaked out with every Miami fan almost suffering cardiac arrest toward the later stages of each game. Although Joe Philbin would assuredly like a big lead, it is nice to know that the offense and defense for Miami is starting to find ways to win those close games instead of painfully lose them. Bottom line for the Dolphins though is that they cannot expect to win every game by 3 points, sometimes your going to lose the close ones because you let the other team hang around too long and Dan Carpenter simply needs to make kicks to win games or put them out of reach.
4. Continue to dominate in run defense and fix secondary lapses: The Dolphins defense lead by first year defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle is a surprising bunch that has propelled Miami early in the season. Paul Solai and Randy Starks anchor a vastly underrated defensive line as both players have plugged the line and have halted almost every team in run defense with the exception of the Rams. The Dolphins are 4th in the league in rush yards allowed which is a major stat when explaining the Dolphins good start. Defensive end Cameron Wake has also been instrumental for the Miami defense with 6.5 total sacks already with most of them coming in the last few games. Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett anchor a very strong line-backing corp as they have continually met runners in the hole to limit gains. Enough about the run defense though, our pass defense which is a lowly 28th in the league after giving up 284 yards/game has been the 2012 Dolphin’s Achilles as they have continually given up huge yardage through the air which is mostly attributed to our secondary play. Nolan Carrol, who played decent last week against the Rams, repeatedly gets burned for big gains. Carrol who sees limited action normally, has been thrust into a more predominant roll with starting CB Richard Marshall out with a back injury. I expect a better performance from our secondary though as Marshall will be returning to the starting line-up this Sunday against the Jets. Marshall and Sean Smith are a formidable corner-back tandem if both are playing well. If Marshall can stay healthy and keep Carroll off the field, I believe our defense can shut down just about anybody, including those damn Patriots!
3. Win as many division games as possible: This goes without saying, but Miami has already missed a great opportunity to beat division rival New York at home as Dan Carpenter missed crucial field goals at inopportune times to seal the game(Miami lost in OT). The AFC East is a very tight knit division this year with all teams knotted at 3-3 just a week ago. If the Dolphins record is the same as say New England’s at the end of the year, we will need all the division wins we can get to get the tie breaker and a playoff birth.
2. Roll Tannehill out and get Reggie Bush some sweeps or tosses: Tannehill has already exhibited true athleticism and great speed for a quarterback through the first 6 games. Heck, Tannehill played receiver in college! Roll him out and let him make plays with his legs and rocket arm. I believe this will boost the Dolphin’s scoring attack and put more points up than our season average of 20. Also, our runner Reggie Bush has vastly improved running dives and north and south, but it seems that is the only running plays he gets. Joe Philbin and Mike Sherman need to continue the north south style of running, but throw some tosses or sweeps in there to keep the opposing defenses honest. This way, teams can’t load the box up and hold us to 19 total rushing yards like St. Louis accomplished last Sunday.
1. Find a reliable 3rd receiver: I think this is the most important adjustment Miami has to make before the trade deadline October 3oth. Contrary to most football “insiders” belief about the Dolphins at the beginning of the year that we have very few weapons, I believe we are just one weapon away from causing havoc on the remainder of our schedule. With the exception of Marlon Moore’s “pretty” good game against Cincinnati (3 rec., 43 yards, and a touchdown), nobody has stepped up for Miami to help out play makers Reggie Bush, Brian Hartline, and Davone Bess. Yes, I know Fasano has snatched a couple touchdowns this season and is playing pretty well, but we need a true 3rd wide receiver option to be a true offensive threat. I think Miami is really close to being that type of team but we need that 3rd receiver. There are rumors that Dwayne Bowe wants out of Kansas City and Miami might be a suitor for his talents, but those rumors have not been acknowledged by Miami nor Kansas City front offices. As of now, it is just rumor but it’s nice to think about. Bowe has had the reputation as a diva, but he is certainly a #1 type receiver with his size and a knack of catching balls. Again, I believe if Marlon Moore can step up or we can get Dwayne Bowe, the sky is the limit for this offense not just this season but for many years to come.
These are only 5 adjustments that the Dolphins will need to address to transform themselves into a true playoff team. I don’t believe there isn’t more we could talk about, but so far Miami has exceeded expectations and they shouldn’t try and change much because no team is perfect, well with the exception of the 72′ Dolphins. Working on the few obvious weak spots for Miami will improve the team leaps and bounds, but adjustments are never easy to fix. The Dolphins have had a bye week to work on some of these things and they will get a chance to show what kind of team they will be during the second half of the season against the New York Jets in their house. Miami will have a chance to avenge their overtime loss to New York earlier this season and more importantly, get their first division win.