Somehow, someway, the Miami Dolphins seem to be surviving. A team that went on a 4 game loosing streak managed to win two of its last three and all while the scandal of the Martin – Incognito fiasco looms over their locker room. Miami won on Sunday and with that win they gained back control of their own destiny through the rest of the season hoping for that 6th playoff spot.
After losing to Tampa the previous week the media seemed to write off the Dolphins as they hosted the up and coming Chargers at Sun Life. An NFL investigation, committees being put together and the loss of another starter in Mike Pouncy from the line up all pointed to another long day that filled the stadium with “Fireland” chants and banners. In the end a beleaguered team and dejected fans walked away that day with a win, a mistake filled win but a win non the less.
Dolphins – 20 Chargers – 16
The win ties the Miami Dolphins with the New York Jets for the final AFC playoff spot with two games left against their AFC East rivals and leaves the Chargers one game back in the race with Miami owning the tie-breaker. But even with a win the Dolphins still manage to leave a lot of questions on the table heading into the last six games of the season.
Coming into this game on Sunday the Dolphins allowed 140 yards rushing to Tampa and only managed to turn out 2 and with a makeshift offensive line that was all it could muster. Against the Chargers the Dolphins managed to gain 104 rushing yards but still allowed 154 from the Chargers. A defense that used to be known for their run stop prowess, top seven two years ago, has been missing all season plummeting them to 25th allowing 119 yards per game on the ground. With Miami still yet to face the Jets (2), Bills, Panthers, and New England (All top ten rushing offenses) Kevin Coyle and the Dolphins need to come up with a solution before it’s too late.
The one bright spot in the the Defense however, is the resurgence of arguably the best off season signing by the Dolphins thus far in Brent Grimes. In the final play Sunday, the 5’10 cornerback leaped up to swat away Rivers’ pass int he end zone sealing the win. Grimes, a question mark at the start of the season was just coming off an Achilles injury but since has proved a factor in every game recording 35 tackles, 3 interceptions and a 94 yard pick six. A schedule that features two rookie quarterbacks in three of the last six games, Grimes and the pass defense might just decide the outcomes of those games.
With three starters out, 2 very likely out for the rest of the season, the Dolphins offensive line is undoubtedly the biggest issue day in and day out. Against the Chargers the line held strong opening up lanes for the rush and giving Ryan Tannehill time to pass for a total 268 yards and by all accounts the line was much better than expected. Unfortunately the line just looks better than it actually is as the Chargers are one of the worst pass rushing teams in the NFL and yet still managed to get to Tannehill – sacking him 4 times though out the game. The O-line will not be fixed by patchwork players and tough times are still ahead, the one thing that the Dolphins can take away from this win is the moral victory of the line and that might ease their struggle in the up-coming games but in the end Tannehill might just continue to go after the “Most Sacked” record.
In his 2nd season as the starter, Tannehill continues to show promise of being the quarterback that the Dolphins have missed since the Marino days. Tannehills efficiency was evident on Sunday even with the glaring interception (22 of 35 with 268 yards a touchdown) that was just a terrible read. His poise in the pocket and athleticism gives the team a chance every time they get on the field and mistakes on his part won’t necessarily cost the Dolphins the game, they still cost them a win. Against Tampa Tannehill overthrew his favorite target in Hartline and against the Chargers he under-threw Wallace, both passes were as close to sure fire touchdowns as you can get. This recurring problem with the long ball could very well cost the Dolphins the season and with not much time left to get the so called “chemistry” worked out Sherman will need to change his approach and play to Tannehill straights with roll outs, play action and quick slants.
In the midst of the locker room turmoil the coaching staff has had to manage a team filled with distractions brought about the NFL investigation, the media and the lack of talent left on the offensive line. The O-line issues began in week two of the season when the line gave way to 4 sacks on Tannehill against the New Orleans Saints, mostly from the left side where Martin was anchored. No one ever thought to think the issue on left side was more of a mental nature that took the Dolphins to a 4 game losing streak. In this aspect the coaching staff (regarding play calling) cannot be blamed as no matter how good the play call might be, a weak offensive line will just not do. The situational play calling however is another story. Sherman brought with him a college mentality to the offense that relies on time and good protection to develop plays. In the absence of protection and time adjustments have to be made and Mike Sherman has been very weak in making those adjustments. Looking back on Sundays win one can say that the coaching staff has finally found a way to adjust but lets not forget that once again the Chargers are one of the worst pass rushing defenses in the league and this win only conceals the fact that the big issues are still there. The Dolphins still only managed 5 rushing first downs against the Chargers, 4 of them on 2nd and long situations and only attempted the rush 3 times on eleven 3rd and three (or less) to go. So even with a win Miami’s coaching staff still seems stubborn to use the run to put themselves in a position for effective play action that will give Tannehill more time to find an open receiver down field. The next six games will be a test to see how stubborn the coaching is and if changes will need to be made come the 2014 off-season.
All in all the win feels like a gulp of fresh air for a team drowning in turmoil and a franchise being burned in effigy under the “Circus is in town” mantra. The fact that the AFC is the weakest it has been in recent years will help the Dolphins stave off the meaningless games that are only good enough for pride when the playoffs are out of reach. The highly touted and questioned off-season moves must begin to pay off, weak o-line or not, to finish off the season in a way this once proud franchise used to because as it stands a win against a perfect opponent is about as good as a forfeit from the Chargers.
By Sergio Peralta