South Florida Sun Sentinel
MIAMI GARDENS — It’s the halfway point of the Miami Dolphins’ 17-game season, meaning it’s report card time, and the honor roll is within reach. The Dolphins are 6-3, in first place in the AFC East, and overall they’re getting a bit healthier.
Yes, those losses at Buffalo, at Philadelphia and against Kansas City (in Germany) are a major part of the storyline and can’t be ignored. They’re painful.
Still, these are good times for the Dolphins.
You’d be proud, but not satisfied, taking this report card home to your parents.
Amazing things happened in the first half of the season — hey, it’s tough to score 70 points in a game regardless of the opponent — as the Dolphins’ high-scoring offense, led by sneakily charismatic coach Mike McDaniel, became one of the darlings of the NFL.
Miami’s offense established an NFL record for yards through five games. Wide receiver Tyreek Hill established a Super Bowl-era record for receiving yards through eight games. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa established himself as a leading MVP candidate.
Recently the defense, led by coordinator Vic Fangio and buoyed by All Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey‘s return from knee surgery, has shown signs of becoming a consistent playmaking unit. Edge rusher Bradley Chubb has been hot, defensive linemen Christian Wilkins and Zach Sieler have been doing their thing, and the secondary has the potential to be the NFL’s best.
Here’s the midseason report card.
They’ve got to show up at the biggest moments of the biggest games and, according to McDaniel, stop beating themselves. That’s the only complaint. Other than that, the offense is golden, and that’s not being smart-alecky.
This offense, created by McDaniel, operated by Tagovailoa and sparked by Hill, is electric. In addition to scoring 70 points in a game they’ve also scored 30 or more points in four other games. The offensive line has endured through some trying injuries, including to Pro Bowl left tackle Terron Armstead, center Connor Williams and left guard Isaiah Wynn.
The spark provided by rookie running back De’Von Achane offers tantalizing possibilities when you think about Tagovailoa, Hill, Waddle, Achane and fellow running back Raheem Mostert together for the final eight games.
If they can find a way to come through in the big moments of the upcoming big games (we’re talking Dallas, Baltimore and Buffalo, specifically) they’re unstoppable. That’s a big hurdle to get over, but the Dallas and Buffalo games are at Hard Rock Stadium, where Miami is 4-0.
All of the the numbers aren’t necessarily good. At the start of this week’s games they’re ranked 17th overall. They gave up 48 points at Buffalo. They gave up 31 at Philadelphia. The fact that linebackers Jerome Baker and Emmanuel Ogbah are tied with Ramsey and fellow cornerback Xavien Howard for the team lead in interceptions (one apiece) is unsettling.
But this defense has teased that it can be a playmaking unit in big games. The strip-sacks such as Chubb’s against Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes. The 22-yard interception return touchdown by Baker at Philadelphia. The Jaelan Phillips/Justin Bethel late-game sack against Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert.
Having Ramsey paired with Howard, and cornerback Kader Kohou in the slot and safety Jevon Holland on the back end, and Chubb and Phillips and Wilkins and Sieler on the front end, with Fangio calling plays is an exciting prospect.
It only happened once in the first half of the season, and that was against Kansas City.
Special teams: C+
There’s not much to see here. Yeah, they had a 55-yard field-goal attempt blocked and allowed a kickoff return touchdown and so on. But returnman Braxton Berrios has been good recently, kicker Jason Sanders has been decent overall, and the same goes for punter Jake Bailey. Probably the big question is: Do you trust Sanders to make a game-winning kick of 50 yards? That’s his danger zone, but that’s the distance he hit from last year in the New York Jets game to help deliver an 11-6 victory that got Miami into the playoffs.
McDaniel, Fangio, offensive coordinator Frank Smith, offensive line coach Butch Barry and others deserve lots of credit. Think about it. Everything was going well until the second day of training camp when Ramsey went down with a knee injury. Now the entire team is in scramble mode. The ripple effect is huge. At the same time Armstead is being monitored with various ailments, especially a leg injury sustained against Houston in preseason. All the while everyone is hoping Tagovailoa’s offseason jiu-jitsu to help prevent head injuries and the offensive line patches are sufficient.
Somehow, they kept it all together and even managed to surge.
Again, those losses at Buffalo, at Philadelphia and against Kansas City can’t be ignored. The worst thing is McDaniel said the Dolphins are beating themselves in those games, which borders on a coaching issue.
But overall, the coaches did a nice job.
Miami overcame major injury issues and Tagovailoa stayed healthy. Both are impressive. However, the Dolphins are minus-4 in turnover margin. That’s troubling. That can also be erased in two games. But it’s troubling.
Miami is 2-3 away from Hard Rock Stadium and 4-0 at Hard Rock. That’s also troubling even though the losses are against high-quality opponents. And, yes, the 10-0 penalty deficit at Philadelphia is being considered here.
The biggest concern is whether Miami is good enough to win a playoff game. At this point it appears the Dolphins could win at Hard Rock Stadium but perhaps not on the road.
It’s been a successful season so far. The Dolphins are in first place and the future is bright. There’s no evidence yet the Dolphins belong in the same class as Kansas City or Philadelphia, last year’s Super Bowl teams, but that’s fine.
The goal moving ahead is fairly clear based on what McDaniel said caused their three losses in the first half of the season: stop making mistakes at crucial times against top teams.
Bottom line: Miami was pretty darn good in the first half of the season.
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