As the Miami Dolphins come off their bye week, the possibility of making the playoffs remains there, even if it’s a slim one. At 3-4, the position the Dolphins have put themselves in is a tough one, but the schedule in the second half isn’t bad.
If they’re going to turn things around though, the Dolphins have a few things they need to accomplish first.
Improve the secondary play
Overall, the Dolphins pass defense has improved. They are ranked No. 10 against the pass according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric, and statistically allow just 231.4 yards per game (10th best in the NFL) through the air.
There are a few spots where they need to improve, though, and the success is largely due to the front seven not the secondary.
The secondary gets beat long, and has struggled to contain a lot of the better receivers they have come up against. The saving grace has been the pressure from up front, which doesn’t allow quarterbacks the time to have a route develop downfield. Plus, since Andy Dalton in Week 4, the Dolphins have lucked into some poor quarterbacks and mediocre teams.
While that will remain true to some extent (Ryan Fitzpatrick and Case Keenum are not scary), they will see plenty of talented quarterbacks like Philip Rivers, Joe Flacco, Carson Palmer, and finally Tom Brady.
To make the playoffs, the Dolphins have to win games like the ones where they will face those quarterbacks. To do that, they need the secondary to continue to improve.
Step up the run defense
While the pass defense has come along, the run defense is really poor. Football Outsiders rates it as the No. 17 run defense in the league and statistically, they rank as the No. 30. The Dolphins allow an average of 135.6 yards per game and have allowed six runs of 20 plus yards or more.
The one saving grace here is a lack of touchdowns allowed on the ground—just six so far.
The problem with “bend but don’t break” on the ground is that you let the offense dictate the tempo of the game, and drain the clock. It also allows your defense to stay on the field too long and get tired, risking big plays later in the game when they are out of gas.
The Dolphins did a good job against a weakened Buffalo Bills backfield last week, and a fantastic job removing Le’Veon Bell the week before, though they were helped by the absence of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, since they could focus on the run and worry less about replacement Landry Jones.
The Jets, Chargers and Rams have very good running backs, as do the Cardinals, so the Dolphins will be tested far more in the coming weeks and need to improve the run defense.
Keep protecting Tannehill
A healthy offensive line is making a huge difference for the Dolphins. Prior to Week 6, when Branden Albert and Mike Pouncey returned to the lineup, the Dolphins offensive line has allowed 17 sacks. Since they returned? Just one.
While some of those 17 sacks were on the quarterback, it’s clear that having his center and left tackle back is making him more comfortable.
You can’t predict or really, prevent, injuries. All you can do is hope the line stays healthy.
If the Dolphins have any shot at the playoffs, they need to continue keeping Tannehill upright.
Get more consistent play from Tannehill
With that consistent blocking up front, you’ll get consistent play from Ryan Tannehill. His numbers the last two weeks aren’t Hall of Fame worthy—456 yards and a touchdown—but he’s not throwing interceptions or fumbling the ball.
Tannehill has to step up more, especially as defenses adjust to running back Jay Ajayi after his back-to-back 200-yard games. On the other hand, as defenses have to contend with a very good running game, Tannehill should have much more room to throw and the offensive line will have an easier time protecting him.
This was supposed to be Tannehill’s big year but so far it’s been the same old, same old. Now is the time to step up and lead the team.
They need him to do that if they are to even have a chance at finishing the season on a positive note, much less make the playoffs.