Why the Dolphins Are Making the Playoffs

This is not a jinx. This is not a jinx. This is not a jinx.

I know that upon reading the title of this article, my fellow Dolphin fans are thinking: “please just don’t jinx this.” I certainly understand why. In the past ten years, the Dolphins certainly haven’t played very well. Their record over that time has been 68-92, for a terrible win percentage of 42.5%. No, it isn’t the most depressed NFL fan base…the Bills, Browns, and Lions with 63-97, 52-108, and 48-112 records respectively, have been far worse off. However, when one of your top five positive recent memories is Cleo Lemon leading the charge to beat the Ravens in Week 15 to avoid being the first team to never win a game, I think the Dolphins recently would certainly qualify as depressed. After all, the only year we did make the playoffs over that time was because Tom Brady was hurt. It showed in the playoffs after Ed Reed and the Ravens picked off Chad Pennington more times (5) than he had been the entire regular season.

But, I’m here to tell you that this year it’s finally different. Despite the many questionable moves of Jeff Ireland (trading Brandon Marshall for a 3rd round pick, Vontae Davis for a 2nd rounder, and cutting Yeremiah Bell to name a few), the Dolphins have built a team poised to contend for this season.  The reasons?  A focus on pass defense (particularly the front seven) and passing offense.

In a pass first NFL, you need pass rushers that can get to the quarterback and cover guys that can make plays against big time receivers.  The front seven of the Dolphins may be the best in the NFL at attacking the quarterback, and it’s not always by getting a sack.  Greg Bedard of Sports Illustrated created a statistic called Pressure Points. This stat gives credit towards players/teams that get sacks, hits, hurries, or draw holds on opposing players.  (For more details on the stat click here) Through the first two weeks of the season, no team has had more pressure points than the Dolphins (and by 5% in fact!)

The beginning of that starts with former CFL great, Cameron Wake.  There may not be a more prolific pass rusher in football.  Over the past two years, no pass rusher has drawn more holding penalties (20) and it hasn’t even been close.  Wake uses his ridiculous explosiveness and speed to blow by right tackles and the result isn’t fun for the quarterback….just ask Tom Brady:

Wake isn’t the only guy that gets after the quarterback though.  Defensive end Derrick Shelby and defensive tackle Randy Starks know how to attack the quarterback as well, and already have two sacks apiece this year.  And the third pick in the draft, Dion Jordan, isn’t even seeing the field that much. But, soon enough he should be able to make a great pass rush even better

While the Dolphins defense has been built for a couple of years now, the biggest difference between this Dolphins team and the one from the past couple of years is the offense…specifically their quarterback and receivers.  Just for fun, let’s look at the list of quarterbacks that have started a game for the Dolphins since Dan Marino retired:

1. Jay Fiedler
2. Damon Huard
3. Ray Lucas
4. Brian Griese
5. A.J. Feeley
6. Sage Rosenfels
7. Gus Freotte
8. Joey Harrington
9. Daunte Culpepper
10. Cleo Lemon
11. Trent Green
12. John Beck
13. Chad Pennington
14. Chad Henne
15. Tyler Thigpen
16. Matt Moore
17. Ryan Tannehill

With the exception of the one Chad Pennington year in which we won the division (and really the 2nd half of the year for Matt Moore two years ago), there hasn’t been average to above average play from any of these guys.  Is it a coincidence that Ryan Tannehill is 17th on this list, the greatest  number on the planet?  I think not! That should be all the information we need to know that Tannehill is good. But in case you want more, let’s look at some numbers of the “young guns,” the 2nd year QBs and Colin Kaepernick, to see how Tannehill’s numbers compare:

QB1:  (47-73, 64.4% completion, 664 yards, 9.1 yards per attempt, 6:2 TD:INT ratio, 109.6 QB rating)

QB2: (71-107, 66.4%, 827, 7.73, 4:2, 94.3)

QB3: (61-93, 65.6%, 663, 7.13, 3:1, 92.7)

QB4: (88-139, 63.3%, 975, 7.01, 5:4, 84.1)

QB5: (53-94, 56.4%, 689, 7.33, 3:4, 72.5)

Those QBs in order:  Russel Wilson, Ryan Tannehill, Andrew Luck, RGIII, Colin Kaepernick.

And here’s the thing: all of those guys have some great running games to help them out, with the exception of Tannehill.  At some point, doesn’t it count for something when you put up great numbers week after week?  While all of the others may make the headlines, with the exception of Wilson, no one in that bunch has put up the numbers Tannehill has.

It’s not just the numbers either.  Twice last week against the Falcons at the end of each half, the Dolphins had the ball, needed to score before the end of the game. and needed to do it without leaving too much time on the clock. Both times Tannehill calmly led them downfield to score.  That’s the type of poise and leadership needed from a floor general.  He made all types of throws too:  check down drags over the middle, comebacks, outs, and even showed his mobility from time to time.  I will be the first to admit that I was not on board with the drafting of Tannehill (as I mentioned I thought Moore played pretty well in that 2nd half of the season), but the improvement has been great.  Against some pretty good competition the first few weeks, the Dolphins have been getting touchdowns instead of field goals. Plus, they have ability to come back even if they are behind.

For Tannehill to succeed of course, he needs a line and guys to throw to. He has been given both of those (okay, the line is sometimes still shaky).  A decent amount of the time Tannehill has had plenty of time in the pocket and when he doesn’t he has gotten the ball away.  His receivers such as Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline, and TE Cassius Clay have made plays all over the field when he’s thrown it to them.  Even Brandon Gibson has gotten involved.

Quickly on Hartline: is there a more underrated receiver in the league?  Last season, the guy had over 1,000 yards receiving. But, barely any mention of him and because he’s white everyone assumes he is just a possession receiver that gets open occasionally as a safety net.  While he’s not scared to go over the middle (this has helped make him widely successful), you will also find him running outs and jumping up and making plays on the sidelines.  Right now, I have him as the 6th best receiver in the AFC behind AJ Green, Andre Johnson, Wes Welker, Reggie Wayne, Dwayne Bowe and Demaryius Thomas. Although, I think he’s closer to the last three than some people think.

The Dolphins certainly have their problems. Through three weeks, their running backs have combined for under 200 yards rushing. The Dolphins also allow opposing running games to flourish, even ones that usually don’t.  Part of what has made the Dolphins so good though has been their bend, but don’t break defense. While allowing the 21st most YPG this year, they are 9th in points points allowed. But, eventually some of those numbers will probably regress to the mean.

The Dolphins have a solid team and should be taken very seriously.  Last week they won without their best player, Cameron Wake, and he should be back this week to wreak havoc.  This may not be the Dolphins of ’72, but don’t be surprised at the end of the season when they finish 11-5 atop the AFC East or even 12 wins and a first round bye.  And finally, just finally, we may be back for good.

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