With a big
win over the Atlanta
Falcons this weekend (1pm ET, FOX), the Dolphins will climb back to .500 and
position themselves for a realistic shot at a playoff berth.
And, if the
Indianapolis Colts can defeat the now vulnerable New England Patriots, the
Dolphins would be tied for first place in the AFC East.
prospect at the start of the season would have been almost unthinkable to
anyone but a real homer. Yet here we are facing that very prospect in, as
ESPN’s Chris Berman would say, “Week 9 of the National…Football…League”.
injuries that key rivals have suffered, consider that 10-6 could very well be
good enough to get in. For the Dolphins, assuming they defeat the Falcons, that
means a 6-2 run over the back eight.
If we look
at how this team played during the first half of the year, with very winnable
games against the Jets and Bills, the Dolphins have already demonstrated that
they have enough talent to do it.
at San Diego (Dec. 11), Oakland
(Nov. 27) and New England (Jan. 1) loom as
tough tests. Still, the overall record of Miami’s
opponents during that backstretch is currently a dismal 20-32 (.385).
The key to
all this is getting past Atlanta
because, realistically, any team at 3-5 at the turn is pretty much done.
So how can
the Dolphins pull this job off? How do they make the playoffs a reality?
the key will be the newly named “R & R” combination of Ricky Williams and
Ronnie Brown. Their combined ability to carry the ball over 40 times a game
will pose a major stamina problem for teams, especially as the season
progresses and they (and their beleaguered offensive line…more on them in a
moment) continue to improve.
mind that, of the teams the Dolphins play on the back stretch, only San Diego and Tennessee
have run defenses ranked in the top half of the league (statistically).
for the Dolphins to play more ball control and wear teams out in the fourth
for offensive coordinator Scott Linehan to continue to explore ways to get
Ricky and Ronnie on the field at the same
time. We’ve seen that, indeed, Brown is a very dangerous threat in passing
game; a big guy with legitimate wide receiver speed that even safeties have had
some trouble guarding.
As for the offensive
line, it is apparent that they are currently better run blockers than they are
pass blockers. This is a good thing in the sense that line coach extraordinaire
Hudson Houck now has them good atsomething.
As for the
passing game, Linehan will stay true to his convictions by continuing to take
deep shots. At various points, you have to expect that the odds will tip in the
Dolphins’ favor as teams load up to stop R & R.
the Dolphins ought to stay with Gus Frerotte for as long as he is healthy and
continues to protect the Dolphins from game-killing plays. His maturity, poise,
and knowledge of the offense are desperately needed at this time.
it is and will continue to be about the creativity and sheer brilliance of Nick
Saban and his defensive staff. It helps immensely to have some mature veteran players
in their front seven, guys like Kevin Carter, Keith Traylor, Jason Taylor,
Vonnie Holliday, Jeff Zgonina, Zach Thomas, and Junior Seau. Those players know
the game so well that they can pull off the more complex approaches that Saban
favors and, quite frankly, must use to hide the weaknesses this unit has.
very well be the key to the whole defense. He has pulled off the unexpected in
making people forget about the loss of Tim Bowens and Larry Chester. His latest
demonstration against the Saints was overpowering and destructive as he single-handedly
ruined their offensive continuity.
he’s the type of player that makes others around him better. Right now, he may
very well be the team’s MVP.
Rule #1 of
a successful defense: Be Strong up the Middle. The Dolphins are that, though there
will be some ongoing concern with Taylor’s
foot injury and his ability to run and tackle.
bigger worry continues to be defending the pass. While a defensive genius like Saban
is quite capable of minimizing this problem (e.g. zone schemes), expect ongoing
frustration with this issue.
the Kicking Game, the Dolphins have three huge field position assets in Olindo
Mare, Donnie Jones, and Wes Welker.
ability to consistently nail touchbacks is an underrated skill. Since the
introduction of the K-ball in 1999, he has the most touchbacks in the NFL with 97
and the most touchbacks in the NFL (130) since 1997.
Jones has been
better than many thought. He currently ranks a respectable 10th in
the NFL in gross average (44.2 yards) and, more importantly, 2nd in Net Average
(40.3 yards). Yes, he has been inconsistent at times. That he has good coverage
men supporting him has helped.
Welker the cult hero, he is the John Offerdahl of punt returners. His
aggressive style of play has him ranked #3 in the AFC in punt return average.
Jones, Welker, and the coverage teams must continue to allow the Dolphins to
better control field position than their opponents can, thus presenting the
offense and defense with better opportunities to be aggressive.
injury, the Dolphins are a team that figures to get stronger and smarter as the
season gets longer. And injury is a key here because the Dolphins aren’t
blessed with great depth.
this team can position themselves for a legitimate playoff run. A win over the
Falcons starts the ride.