How Did The Dolphins Turn Around Their Season?

How The Dolphins Have Had A Magical Run

The Miami Dolphins were on the verge of giving away a game with a late fumble in regulation to the Cleveland Browns in week 3 before the Browns missed yet another field goal. Miami would win in overtime. That is still one more win than Cleveland has this year. The Dolphins would get punished the next two weeks to fall to 1-4 on the season and it appeared that critical win against the Browns would cost them the top selection in the NFL Draft. Clearly that was where they were heading. Or not.

I’m not sure you could have convinced me 6 weeks ago that the Dolphins were about to rip off 5 consecutive wins even if I saw you getting out a flying Delorean with Marty McFly himself. So how did another season of mediocrity in Miami get flipped and turned upside down? Here are some reasons for the season turn-around.

  1. The offensive line they invested so much in started playing together. 4 straight weeks LT Branden Albert, LG Laremy Tunsil, C Mike Pouncey, RG Jermon Bushrod, and RT Ju’Wuan James started as was planned, but was never allowed to because of injuries. That’s a line with four 1st round picks. They aren’t getting as many rush attempts as you might hope, but that’s because they are at the bottom of the league in plays per game (29th in 3rd down conversion offense, 31st in 1st downs per game). However they rank 6th in percentage of called running plays, showing that commitment to the ground game that has been so lacking in recent seasons.
  2. Arian Foster’s (as it turns out) career-ending injury opened the door for Jay Ajayi to take over as the starting running back. Ajayi has run hard, like Marshawn Lynch hard, since being inserted into the starting lineup behind a great line and coach suddenly committed to the run. He has 687 yards in the last 5 weeks. The Dolphins also are 2nd in the league in yards per attempt averaging 4.8 a carry.  Jay Ajayi-Dolphins
  3. Miami stopped beating themselves with turnovers. During the winning streak, Miami has turned it over just twice, once a special teams error, and once an aggressive throw to the endzone by Ryan Tannehill last week. The Dolphins were -7 in TO ratio in the 1-4 start. They are +7 in the 5 game winning streak.
  4. Davante Parker is finally healthy and producing like the first round pick they were hoping for. He has 13 receptions for 182 yards the last two weeks, and the game-winning touchdown against the Rams. He was clutch on that drive too with big catches.
  5. Since being reinserted to the starting lineup, Cam Wake has 7 sacks and has been terrorizing opposing quarterbacks. Andre Branch has been a steadying force on the opposite side too.
  6. The defense, expected to be dreadful, has been excellent. Especially during the 5-game winning streak where they’ve allowed just 18 points per game. While they continue to struggle against the run, they’re actually ranked 8th against the pass. Consider they played Sunday without a pair of starting linebackers, a starting corner, and star safety Reshad Jones. Pretty impressive game-planning by Vance Joseph and company.
  7. One sneaky good area for Miami is 3rd down defense. They are allowing the fewest conversions in the league, just over 4 a game. The opposition is only converting 31.3% of the time, easily the best in the NFL. Teams can’t sustain drives, suggesting the coaching staff is dialing up good schemes at the proper times. The Dolphins bigger issues has been giving up big plays, especially getting gouged in the running game.
  8. Miami has navigated their way to the middle ground in most NFL statistics defensively, but most note-worthy is their forcing of 9 turnovers during this winning streak. Finishing games on the plus-side of turnovers is always going to be a key to victory.
  9. Punter Matt Darr continues to be very good. He is 4th in punting average and has dropped the ball inside the opponents 20-yard line 18 times already this year, near the top.
  10. The Dolphins are one of just six teams that hasn’t missed an extra point yet this season. Don’t laugh. We saw a NFL record dozen missed on Sunday.

The Dolphins are lacking in talent in several areas and there remain several distressing signals that seem to point to an average team more than a great one. During this run they’ve been able to overcome several injuries, but their margin for error is small, especially as it concerns the offensive line, which has been the biggest key, and is now down 3 starters again. If that group gets/stays healthy and they get back some help at linebacker and corner, then they’ll have a chance to have their first winning record since 2008.