By: Chip Turner
After stumbling out of the gate to a 1-3 start, the Miami Dolphins are in second place in the AFC East at 3-3. They followed up their blowout of the San Francisco 49ers with the first shutout of the NFL season; a 24-0 win over the Jets that was not as close as the score indicates. As they head into their recently rescheduled bye week, we look back at their season thus far.
There were two glaring weaknesses on the Dolphins in 2019: the offensive line and the running game. While those two are often directly related, it is an indication that the running game is particularly ineffective when your QB is also your leading rusher.
To fix the offensive line, the Dolphins picked up G Ereck Flowers in free agency, then used three draft picks in the first four rounds this past April to solidify a perennially weak line. Thus far, the results have been a pleasant surprise. Austin Jackson played as well as one could have hoped until he was injured during the Seattle game, Solomon Kindley has been mauling people at guard, and Robert Hunt filled in admirably when Jesse Davis shifted to left tackle for Jackson.
The RB success is not as obvious, but it’s equally surprising. After signing Jordan Howard in the off-season and trading for Matt Breida, the lead back for the Dolphins has been…neither. Instead, 2019 seventh rounder Myles Gaskin seized the job and quite literally ran with it. Solid but unspectacular thus far, he is carrying for a 4.1 YPC average, showing excellent vision and use of his blockers, as well as being an extremely reliable pass-catching option.
The passing game under Fitzpatrick has been similar in production to 2019, which is to say, “pretty good.” As billed, Fitz has been equal parts magic and tragic throughout the first six games, while DeVante Parker, Preston Williams and Mike Gesicki continue their development into a legitimately dangerous receiving corps.
With veteran offensive coordinator Chan Gailey calling the shots, the offense has dramatically improved from the first six games from last year. With Tua waiting in the wings following a quick cameo on Sunday, the question is not if this offense will take another step forward, it’s when.
This unit was completely overhauled in the off-season, and it showed over the first few weeks. Kyle Van Noy, Emmanuel Ogbah, Shaq Lawson, Elandon Roberts and Byron Jones joined a handful of rookie draft picks on defense, and the immediate results were less than desirable. Through the first four weeks? The Dolphins gave up an average of 410 yards per game,
but then something happened in Week 5 against San Francisco.
While there are plenty of prose-filled explanations and flowery adjectives to account for it, the main reason is simple; they got Byron Jones back after his week two injury. Since Jones has been back? The defense has given up just 261 yards per game over the past two weeks.
Is that a very small sample size? Of course. Are the Jets exceptionally bad on offense? Of course. However, the Dolphins just recorded that 1st 2020 league shut out, and the first since those same Jets were blanked in October of 2019 by the Patriots. That is not a small feat, and this Josh Boyer coached defense is getting better…fast.
Quick…before Jason Sanders, who was the last kicker who didn’t make you nervous during every single field goal or extra point for the Dolphins? I could not remember either, so I looked it up. It was Olindo Mare back in 2006.
Sanders has been spectacular. He’s perfect for the season and was named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week after Miami’s thrashing of San Francisco. Not to be outdone, Matt Haack has become one of the best in the business at dropping punts inside the opponents 20.
However, since not everything can be perfect, Jakeem Grant has given everyone reason to be a little bit nervous in the return game. Is he fast and elusive? Yes. Will he likely return a punt or two for a score at some point this year? Yes. Will he probably give someone heart failure when punts keep clanging off his hands and face mask? Also, yes.
While 3-3 is not a phenomenal record, it also doesn’t give an indication of how far this team has come over the past year. What was generally considered to be one of the worst teams in NFL history last September has become a team that nobody wants to play. They play smart, they play hard, and they play disciplined.
That speaks to the success and reflects the values of one man: Brian Flores. The team has rallied around him, and it shows in the joy they play with. It shows in players rallying around each other after a score. It shows in Christian Wilkins running across the field to give Flores the ball after a fumble recovery. Compare today with the atmosphere at the end of 2018 under Gase. Compare it to the situation in the Jets locker room right now; it’s night and day.
In summary? The first six games of the season were a mixed bag that you can draw one conclusion from: progress is happening, and this team is heading in the right direction. Around the NFL, people are starting to notice what is going on in Miami. Remember, Flores himself warned people it was coming after the Dolphins beat the Patriots in their house last year. “There’s joy in hard work, and this is it,” he said. “And this is just the beginning, trust me on that one.”
Please welcome Chip Turner to PhinManiacs and please check him out on Twitter @ChipTurnerPA