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Ryan Tannehill’s message was clear. “We are in a tough spot right now, but we’re still in this thing,” he said.
The question now begs to be asked: How do they stay in this thing?
The Dolphins are sitting at 4-5 right now. The bad news is that they have lost five of their last six games heading into Sunday’s game against San Diego. The good news is that with seven games left, they remain in a position where their own play can dictate the end result. They don’t need to rely on another team losing at this point and, in truth, they’re in a decent spot given that they have already beaten two of their playoff rivals in the Bengals and Colts.
But right now that’s just talk. For the Dolphins to matter well into December, there are problems that need fixing and they need fixing in a hurry.
From my standpoint, the two most significant problem areas are the rushing offense and rushing defense. Ironically, both are currently ranked 25th in the league, which is not something to be proud of.
Run the ball effectively. Stop the run with consistency. When you break down the Dolphins season, these two basic fundamentals are in some fashion at the center of every one of the five losses.
The Dolphins came into the season expecting to be dominant against the run. They have not been. They came into the season knowing that the running game could be an issue. It has been.
Both of these problem areas were never more evident than last Monday night against Tampa Bay. This was about as sobering a performance as you can imagine. The Dolphins ran the ball for a franchise low 2 yards. Conversely, they allowed the Bucs to rush for 140 yards using second and third string tailbacks.
The run game? “It’s just a lot of little things that add up,” said left tackle Bryant McKinnie. “Two yards on 14 carries? Not good at all.”
The run defense? “We’re not playing as well as we should be playing,” said defensive tackle Randy Starks. “This is a copy cat league so you know San Diego is going to come at us hard.”
I’m truthfully not sure how much the Dolphins can do to fix the running game. At this point in the season, they are what they are and they may very well have to survive with a pass first/pass last offense. We’ve seen a few good games, like on that Thursday night against Cincinnati, but for the most part this has been a season-long struggle.
Remember the opener against Cleveland when the Dolphins rushed for 20 yards on 23 carries? How about the Baltimore game when they gained 22 yards on 11 carries? There is nothing really baffling about this. The offensive line, now minus two starters, has been the weakest area of this team. The running backs have done little to offset the problems on the line. In some ways, you saw this coming.
Stopping the run, however, is a different story. This is perplexing. The Dolphins defense has been built to be physical, built to make life miserable for opposing running backs. They are strong up front, especially up the middle with Paul Soliai, Jared Odrick and Randy Starks, and they brought in a couple of physical inside linebackers in Dannell Ellerbee and Philip Wheeler.
So what gives here? The Dolphins run defense has given up at least 130 yards in six of the nine games and more than 140 yards in each of the last three games. “It seems like the same story every week,” said defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle. “There’s one or two plays that really hurt us. But, overall, yes, I thought we’d be better.”
The missed tackles are especially alarming. I asked Coach Joe Philbin about this earlier in the week. “I’m concerned about it,” said Philbin. “It’s a basic fundamental of football that we need to do better.”
Sure, there are many other factors that could weigh heavily in the outcome of Sunday’s game against the Chargers. Ryan Tannehill’s ability to find Mike Wallace. The pass defense forcing takeaways. The ability to make game-changing plays in the fourth quarter. All are essential.
But if the Dolphins can’t elevate their own running game to at least a respectable level and if they can’t slow down Chargers running backs Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead, I’m not sure whether the other subplots can make much of a difference.
Yes, as Tannehill so correctly noted, the Dolphins “are still in this thing.” But unless we see significant improvement in those two essential areas, the question remains: How long will he be able to say that?
AC in the AM returns Monday with an analysis of the game against San Diego
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.