An off-season that featured a prolific spending spree and landing top 3 wide receiver prospect Devante Parker in the draft, a stat-stuffed pre-season, and a supposedly surefire 4-game suspension for Tom Brady had the Miami Dolphins looking like a lock for the AFC East division title.
Fast-forward 4 weeks into the season, Miami was 1-3, the contracts have blown up in the Dolphins’ faces, Parker has rarely played, and Tom Brady has played every game, looking like an MVP candidate doing so.
With someone needing to take the blame, head coach Joe Philbin and defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle were both fired and replaced by tight ends coach Dan Campbell and defensive backs coach Lou Anarumo, respectively. Surrounded by obscurity and uncertainty, the Dolphins came out of their bye week, hoping to be able to put out a respectable showing.
They were nothing short of dominant.
The Dolphins decidedly defeated the Titans on the road 38-10, a game that was not as close as the score indicates. The defense ended the day with 6 sacks (4 by Cameron Wake), 4 turnovers, and a touchdown from a Reshad Jones pick-6. The offense scored its first and second rushing touchdown, as well as two through the air to the two tight ends, Jordan Cameron and Dion Sims, who played in his first game since suffering a concussion in week 1.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw two interceptions, one that came off of a drop and another from horrible miscommunication between him and Cameron. But, if a mediocre day by Tannehill can result in a blowout victory, the Dolphins seem to have a working formula going for them.
Let’s be clear; this is not to be expected for the entire season. It was a great showing for the Dolphins, but we can’t get carried away by it. It would be near impossible to sustain that kind of production. What this game does, however, is validate the talent that has been on this team since the start of this season, and prove that, under the correct leadership, they have the potential to be elite.
Dan Campbell has inspired this team to go out and play harder than Joe Philbin ever could. Lou Anarumo is now encouraging the talented defensive line to attack plays, as opposed to Coyle’s strategy which had them simply occupy blockers for the linebackers. This competitive spirit and execution had not been present so far this season. Perhaps this change was the perfect fix and had simply been long overdue.
So now comes the question: are the Dolphins ready to take the next step and become a feared football team?
Very rarely has the phrase, “Damn, we have to play the Dolphins” been said over the past 7 years, after going 11-5 and winning the AFC East title. They’ve simply been too inconsistent and lackluster. We’ve occasionally seen this kind of domination from them before, but something just feels different about this one. No longer will they be considered a finesse and soft team. The first practice featuring Dan Campbell as head coach had the Dolphins practicing the physical 1 on 1 Oklahoma drills.
There were practically zero missed tackles this game, something that has been a thorn in the Dolphins side for quite some time.
On the offensive side, after apparently being allergic to running the ball, they had 32 rushing attempts for 180 yards, and Tannehill actually connected on multiple deep throws.
Ndomukong Suh has yet to show up on the stat sheet significantly, but his presence was felt, clogging up the running lanes and forcing nearly every run to go predictably towards the sidelines where the titans were normally stuffed or tackled for a loss. He has yet to justify his gargantuan $114 contract, but he is proving to be a vital cog in this new defensive scheme.
The offensive line, featuring the return of Branden Albert, only let up two sacks, keeping Ryan Tannehill upright for the majority of the game.
But most importantly, there is one point that stands above all others that provides a ton of optimism: it could have been a lot better. The Dolphins still need to cut back on penalties, called two times for roughing the passer. Tannehill’s interceptions could have easily been avoided. Suh has been largely ineffective in the pass rush, having yet to record a single sack.
The Titans were also only 1-3 coming into this game, but had put up very good showings in close losses, so it’s not as if this was a pushover game. This is a new team, and it is very possible that the Dolphins become an elite NFL team and turn their season around. They could make a run at the wild card spot, since New England has once again practically locked up the division title. While it is still too early to tell if the Dolphins can do this consistently, this is definitely a good sign for things to come. After years of searching, they finally have an identity, and maybe, just maybe, teams will begin to fear the fin.