By Jeremiah Thermidor
Miami Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland should be grinning from ear to ear. He has certainly regained some credibility for hiring Joe Philbin who, after six games, has positioned this team to make a run at the playoffs. Miami fans called for Ireland’s job in the preseason. But they’re not calling for it now. Instead they’re enjoying the recent success by the 3-3 Dolphins. Philbin has had to make some tough decisions so far, including starting a rookie quarterback over a very capable veteran. But he made the right call, and it’s paying off for a team which many thought would end the season last in the AFC East. The Dolphins, though, are currently in a four-way tie atop the division. So, Miami is right in the middle of what could become a horse race to the finish line.
Miami rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill has passed for 1,454 yards with four touchdowns and six interceptions this year. His quarterback rating of 112.0 against St. Louis was a season-high. What’s incredible about those statistics is Tannehill seemed to make substantial improvements each game. In fact, his quarterback rating has steadily gone up every week since Miami’s loss to the Jets in Week 3. Tannehill won the starting job over veteran Matt Moore in the waning days of training camp, and it didn’t seem like the right choice at the time. However, Tannehill has proven he’s the real deal after showing he has solid game management skills and the ability to make the players around him better. Just ask Miami wide receiver Brian Hartline.
Although Hartline hasn’t made any noise the last couple of games, he’s absolutely enjoying his best season yet. Hartline has caught 29 passes for 514 yards and a touchdown. He played the best game of his career in Miami’s matchup against Arizona with 12 receptions for 253 yards and a score, which set a franchise record for the most yards by a receiver in a single game. But in order for Hartline to have achieved the success he did, some players had to go. But the significant changes the Dolphins made at the wide receiving position weren’t based on the talent of the players but were more about eliminating the distractions. The Dolphins traded their best receiver in Brandon Marshall to the Bears over the summer, after he was involved in a physical alteration outside a club. Philbin also cut who may have been Miami’s best receiver this season in Chad Johnson who was arrested for assaulting his former wife. The choice to get rid of those guys seemed to work out with Hartline and Davone Bess stepping up. The only other glaring weakness in the receiving core was with former Miami wide out Legedu Naanee who the Dolphins released this season when it became evident he wasn’t and wouldn’t be contributing at all to the offense.
Miami’s offensive line made a few upgrades, most notably with rookie Jonathan Martin starting at the right offensive tackle spot and John Jerry handling his business as the right offensive guard. With those guys doing their jobs, the entire line has never performed better. They’ve excelled in run blocking and have made life easier for Tannehill, providing him with ample time in the pocket to make good decisions while not giving up too many sacks.
Miami’s running back core is pretty much the same as last year besides the addition of a few new players who have definitely held their own this year. Jorvorskie Lane has done an outstanding job as a short-yardage threat while rookie Lamar Miller has shined when his number has been called. Miller is averaging 5.5 yards a carry which is a team best. But he’s certainly learning from the best in seven-year veteran Reggie Bush. Bush has rushed for 434 yards and three touchdowns on 98 carries this season. He’s had to deal with a knee injury but his desire to be the best in the league has rubbed off on the young rushers on the team who look up to him. In fact, all of Miami’s running backs have at least one rushing touchdown this year.
Miami’s defense is one of the most feared in the league thanks to the solid coaching of new defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle and a group of veterans who have adjusted well to the changes. The Dolphins moved from the 3-4 scheme to a 4-3 alignment over the summer. They’re not giving up many yards on the ground and they’ve put considerable pressure on every quarterback they’ve faced. Randy Starks is taking care of his duties and more at the left defensive tackle spot. He’s raked in 16 tackles, 3.5 sacks for 19 yards, 2 pass deflections and even an interception. Cameron Wake, who moved from outside linebacker to defensive end, is also having a standout season with 22 tackles and a team-high 6.5 sacks for 40 yards. Miami’s secondary has improved just slightly. The team got rid of their best cornerback Vontae Davis before the season via a trade, which may not have been the best move. However, Richard Marshall, who is a new face this year, was performing well until his back injury forced him to miss the last two games. The Dolphins haven’t fared too well with shutting down premier receivers but are getting better in that area. Starting cornerback Sean Smith is trying to take his game to the next level by wanting to shadow top receivers, which sets a good example for younger guys like Jimmy Wilson and Nolan Carroll who have the potential to be great players.
As far as special teams is concerned, coach Philbin hasn’t had any complaints with return guy Marcus Thigpen, who brought back a punt 72 yards for a touchdown in Miami’s Week 1 matchup against Houston. Dolphins kicker Dan Carpenter hasn’t had the best season so far. He’s missed several crucial field goals which resulted in losses, sinking the perception many had of him being one of the league’s clutch kickers. Miami’s kickoff coverage unit hasn’t made any obvious mistakes. But there is always room for improvement. The Dolphins are currently evaluating all their positions prior to their Week 8 matchup against the New York Jets. A win over the Jets would, of course, put Miami one step closer towards making it to the playoffs for the first time since the 2008 season.
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Jeremiah Thermidor is a freelance writer covering all things Miami Dolphins. His work can be found on Examiner.com.