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Let’s look at the big picture first. Through eight games, the Dolphins are sitting here today at 4-4. They are in prime position to make a second half run. They have beaten two of the top teams in the AFC in Indy and Cincy. Their defense is making game-changing plays and their offense seems to be creating a more balanced look.
Had the Dolphins not beaten the Bengals last Thursday night, this midseason report would have had a decidedly different tone. The Dolphins would have lost five-in-a-row and three straight at home. There would be little to build on and not much to feel good about heading into the final two months of the season.
But now there is hope. Real hope. Earned hope. At midseason, the Dolphins find themselves about where they should be: in the middle of the pack. They have gotten there in an unusual way: Win three, lose four, win one. But that no longer matters. You can argue that the most difficult part of their schedule is over. But in this league, with so much parity, do we really know that for sure?
What we do know is this: The Dolphins only play one team in the second half of the season with a sure-fire playoff resume and that’s the Patriots. Their defense is finally healthy and certainly capable of top five status and their offense seems to be adjusting to the injuries and the shortcomings in pass protection.
By now, there should be very few surprises with this Dolphins team. We know what we have. We know who they are. When this team plays well, when it limits the turnovers and the sacks, there is nobody on its schedule it can’t beat. But when the mistakes surface, when there is no balance on offense because the score dictates an all-out passing attack, this is when trouble comes.
Face it: These Dolphins have some clear, unavoidable limitations. How they deal with those limitations, how they adjust to them during the course of a game, will likely define their entire season. But I’ll take 4-4. It makes them relevant. It makes them matter. It puts them in a position where December could have real meaning. And really isn’t that what it’s all about?
“We have to stress more consistency and completeness,” said coach Joe Philbin. “We have a ton of things we still need to work on.”
So with midseason here, with a nice little hiatus until Tampa Bay a week from tonight, let’s break down this team a little further.
QUARTERBACK: When the season began, I said it was all about Ryan Tannehill and I haven’t wavered in that opinion. Tannehill had an up-and-down first half of the season. His challenges in the second half are clear: Improve his pocket presence, use his athletic ability more, build more chemistry with Mike Wallace and cut down on some of those ill-advised throws.
RUNNING BACK: Lamar Miller has clearly separated himself as the lead back and actually is on pace to come close to a 1,000 yard season. His fumbles and occasional dropped passes remain a concern, but we’ve seen a steady improvement here over the course of the year. That’s encouraging.
TIGHT END: Charles Clay has been one of the more pleasant surprises on the team, replacing the injured Dustin Keller. You can even make the argument that Clay has been the most consistent offensive player through the first half of the season. Michael Egnew has also been a surprise, both in a new role as a lead blocker and catching passes. Still, you always wonder what might have happened had Keller stayed healthy.
WIDE RECEIVER: Eight games in, we are still looking for the same Wallace we saw with the Steelers. The big plays just aren’t coming. We see glimpses, but not the overall consistency. Finding more ways to get Wallace the ball has to be a huge priority in the second half of the season. Meanwhile, the loss of Brandon Gibson was a significant one, leaving the Dolphins void of much depth.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Poor pass protection has resulted in 35 sacks through eight games. Spread around the blame. There is no one culprit. The addition of Bryant McKinnie seems to have helped. But the best remedy for poor pass protection could be an improved rushing attack. Look for the Dolphins to stress that over the final eight games.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Clearly, the strength of this team both from a talent and depth standpoint. My vote for first half MVP of the entire team is defensive tackle Jared Odrick, who has 3 ½ sacks and could be Pro Bowl bound. Randy Starks has also played very well. But the upside in the second half has to be a healthy Cameron Wake. If the Bengals game was a sign of things to come, then Wake (5 ½ sacks) could be heading for another double digit sack season. I also look for Dion Jordan to be more of a factor over the final two months.
LINEBACKER: A pretty good group, but not dominating. Dannell Ellerbe is the most important piece, evidenced when he was out with an injury. Philip Wheeler has struggled some in pass coverage, but has done consistently well. Koa Misi is the same Koa Misi every year: Just very steady.
SECONDARY: The Dolphins are in excellent shape at cornerback with Brent Grimes and Dimitri Patterson. They remind me a little of Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain. Excellent in man-to-man coverage. Able to make game-changing plays. Smart and aggressive. Playing only about three full games because of a lingering groin injury, Patterson already has four interceptions and Grimes has two, including his coast-to-coast beauty against the Bengals. Love their fearless attitude. Can’t wait to see what they do in the second half of the season.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Make 10. Miss five of six. Make two. It has been a roller-coaster ride for rookie kicker Caleb Sturgis. But if you’re only as good as your last kick, Sturgis is pretty darn good, given his pressure-packed 44-yarder that tied the Bengals with 11 seconds left. Brandon Fields has been his usual top-shelf self and the coverage and return teams have been adequate.
On Tuesday, AC in the AM focuses on quarterback Ryan Tannehill and the first half of his season.
The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed by The Finsiders Blog represent those of individual writers, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions, policies or desires of the Miami Dolphins organization, front office, coaches and executives. Writers' views are formulated independently from any inside information and/or conversation with Dolphins officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.