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We have reached the quarter-pole of the season: Four down, 12 to go. What do we now know about the Miami Dolphins? How should we feel? What have we learned and what needs to happen next?
It is as good a time as any for some perspective. The Dolphins are 3-1 and there should be no doubt that they are better in so many areas than they were a season ago. Sure, Monday night’s loss at New Orleans was disappointing. The Dolphins did not play well in far too many phases of the game. Weaknesses were exposed. Old problems re-surfaced. But the despair in New Orleans must be tempered by victories over Cleveland, Indianapolis and Atlanta.
This is an entire body of work we are talking about here. That’s how you must judge these Dolphins. That they have a legitimate chance to leave this imposing five-game season-opening stretch with a 4-1 record is something few of us could have envisioned. That they looked so out of sync in the loss to the Saints is something that must be discussed and dissected.
It is a package deal here, the good and the bad. And right now, with seven of the 12 remaining games at home, with the entire AFC East schedule in front of them, with a struggling Ravens team coming to Sun Life Stadium on Sunday, the Dolphins have a realistic chance to continue this ascent and put New Orleans behind them.
What do we know about these Dolphins that we didn’t know four weeks ago? Let’s start a list:
• We know that Ryan Tannehill’s passing skills have improved significantly, but his ball security remains a concern. Six fumbles is far too many. This must change. Throw in five interceptions – granted at least three of them were not his fault – and you’ve got a clear indication of what needs to be stressed over the final 12 games of the season.
• We know that the defense, when healthy, remains a formidable unit. Keep in mind what we saw in New Orleans was without the best pass rusher (Cameron Wake) and second best cornerback (Dimitri Patterson). To contain an offense like New Orleans, you have to be whole and flawless; the Dolphins were neither. Still, there are far more playmakers on this defense than there were a season ago.
• We know that the offensive line holds the key to this season, that 18 sacks allowed in four games is far, far, far too many. More rollouts for Tannehill? More quick passes? Something’s got to happen, and happen quickly.
• We know that the chemistry between Tannehill and Mike Wallace still isn’t what it needs to be. They appear out of sync, still trying to get a feel for one another. You just look at Tannehill and Brian Hartline and you see the trust and continuity. You look at Tannehill and Wallace and you see only 15 catches and one touchdown. That’s got to change.
• We know that the key free agent pick-ups on defense – Dannell Ellerbe, Philip Wheeler and Brent Grimes – are all major upgrades.
• We know that Dion Jordan is just starting to make an impact on defense and that no rookie on this team has had a bigger impact than placekicker Caleb Sturgis.
• We know that the red zone offense is vastly improved and that Charles Clay has made the loss of Dustin Keller far easier to swallow.
• We know that Lamar Miller is the best running back on the roster and remains the hope for a balanced attack.
• We know that penalties are down, takeaways are up and the Dolphins, by and large, have a much better third down offense than a season ago.
What we don’t know, though, is how the Dolphins will respond Sunday against Baltimore after such a disheartening loss to the Saints.
“We’re about to find out a lot about our team,” said coach Joe Philbin.
Indeed, a 3-1 record, with that schedule, is a nice way to hit the quarter pole. But this is just the first leg. We know the Dolphins are improved; now we need to find out to what extent.
On Thursday, AC in the AM takes a close look at The Pile.
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.