Written by Matthew Cannata. Be sure to follow me on Twitter: @PhinManiacs
The Dolphins have seen their fair share of injuries on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. They’ve also had drama on the offensive line with the bullying scandal. However, the players behind the starters who have been thrust into action have done a phenomenal job of stepping up and making it work. Tonight, I will analyze the offense. Tomorrow will be the defense and on Thursday, I will analyze special teams.
Jonathan Martin started the season at left tackle after the Dolphins allowed Jake Long to leave via free agency to the St. Louis Rams. In the seven games that Martin played in, he had 2 penalties and allowed 6.5 sacks for a total loss of 42 yards. Bryant McKinnie, who was acquired in a rare mid-season trade, was literally thrown into the starting lineup days after he arrived in Miami. McKinnie has appeared in eight games and during that time, he has 0 penalties and has allowed 5 sacks for a total loss of 47 yards. It’s easy to see that McKinnie has helped solidify the line and is an improvement over Jonathan Martin.Richie Incognito was a pro bowl player last year and came back as the left guard. He appeared in eight games (although the last one was only for a brief portion of the game due to injury) and during that time, he had 1 penalty and allowed 4 sacks for a total loss of 32 yards. His replacement, Sam Brenner, has appeared in 5 games. He’s had 0 penalties and has only allowed 1 sack for a total loss of 6 yards. While Brenner hasn’t caught up to Incognito in terms of games appeared in, it’s easy to see that as of now, Brenner looks like he is an improvement over him.
When Dustin Keller was injured in preseason, many people, including me, had serious doubts about Charles Clay. After all, he hadn’t shown much since he’s been drafted and why would we expect him to be the force that we thought Keller would be? How wrong were we all! I have to go back to 2011 for Keller, which is the last time he played in 16 games. In that season, he had 65 receptions for 815 yards and 5 touchdowns. Last season, when he appeared in eight games, he caught 28 passes for 317 yards and 2 touchdowns. Since 2008, Keller’s rookie year, he has never had more than 5 touchdown catches, never had more than 815 receiving yards, and never had more than 65 receptions in a season.
Charles Clay, who has appeared in 14 games this season, has 61 receptions for 684 yards and 6 touchdowns. In addition, he has made several huge plays, which we saw the past two weeks against the Steelers and Patriots. Add to the fact that Bill Belichick thought so highly of Clay that he had Aqib Talib, their number one corner, cover Clay for the vast majority of the game. Clay is a playmaker and is quickly becoming one of the top tight ends in the league. Clay isn’t injury prone and he makes people miss. He is definitely an upgrade over Keller.
Brandon Gibson was injured seven games into the season and was a reliable target for Tannehill. When he went down, he had 30 receptions for 326 yards and 3 touchdowns. That thrust Rishard Matthews into the starting lineup. In the seven games that Matthews has started, he has 36 receptions for 381 yards and 2 touchdowns. This is obviously a slight improvement over Gibson. In addition, Matthews can make the tough catches and stay on his feet. He has had numerous big catches this season on crucial drives throughout various games.
In the end, it’s almost a blessing in disguise that these things happened this season. While Bryant McKinnie isn’t the future at left tackle, it solidified the line and the Dolphins can take their time to get a franchise left tackle. I hope McKinnie comes back next year while the Dolphins groom someone else. They also look to have found their permanent left guard in Sam Brenner. Clay is ascending to the top of the league and Matthews is becoming a very solid receiver who can always be counted on. Jeff Ireland deserves credit for bringing these guys in but the coaching staff deserves even more credit for developing these players and getting them ready to play and make an impact.
Tomorrow night, I will analyze the defensive side of the ball and see how players have stepped up and helped make an impact.