Weeks ago the Dolphins were the NFL’s dark horse – a tough, physical squad with a rising star at quarterback. A solid 4-3 record (two overtime losses) combined with an especially weak conference had them poised for some potential playoff noise.
Three losses in as many weeks transforms them into the sticky gunk lodged into the soles of your sneakers after a day of mud football.
The Dolphin offense got T-boned by the vicious defenses of the Colts, Titans, and Bills, manufacturing just 30 points against all three of them. Total. Those three teams happen to rank among the bottom eight in scoring defense.
The typical myopic Dolphins fan will point to Ryan Tannehill’s five interceptions in that three game stretch. They’ll point to the declining usage and thus ineffectiveness of playmaker Reggie Bush. They’ll point to the defense’s inability to stop the big play.
While those claims are factual, the core of their issues – on the offensive side of the ball at least – comes down to the battle up front.
Miami’s offensive line composed of several high draft picks, ranks 22nd in run blocking and 14th in pass blocking according to Football Outsiders. Rookie head coach Joe Philbin knows first hand the importance of the big fellas up front. He spent 20-plus years coaching the offensive line in various stints as an assistant.
“Our blocking has to be better,” Philbin said. “That’s just not the offensive line, but tight ends, fullbacks, receivers. It’s kind of an all-encompassing issue right now.”
The virus hatched in the line and spread to the running game, thus indirectly infecting their rookie quarterback.
If they can’t run the ball effectively, it’s a routine third-and-long for Tannehill with limited weapons down field. Naturally, their young passer starts to press, the passing windows get smaller, and loss of possession is the result. Not a complicated formula for failure.
They have nine more turnovers than takeaways in a league where protecting the football is paramount. It’s no coincidence Houston, Baltimore, and Houston lead the AFC and also happen to rank in the top three in turnover margin.
Defenses have also learned a little secret, severely limiting Tannehill’s production. He grades out as the 2nd most accurate quarterback in football when facing pressure, according to Pro Football Focus.
So why blitz? The Bills sent more than four just three times last week. This week poses a major challenge going against a Seattle defensive front that can consistently pressure the quarterback with their front four.
Defenses are sitting back dropping eight or more into coverage on those third-and-long scenarios. With no stud on the outside, Tannehill has nowhere to go with the football against heavy coverage.
Two fixes for that issue: Establish the running game or add a dynamic receiver. Only the former can happen at this point.
It all reverts back to the line. It wouldn’t matter if Arian Foster is in the backfield, they have to get better. Jake Long has to get better. The Dolphins season hangs in the balance.