Miami Dolphins State of the Union: Where Does the Team Stand Headed into Week 5?

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Miami Dolphins State of the Union: Where Does the Team Stand Headed into Week 5?
Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE
It was all smiles for the Dolphins back in April, but do they still feel that way after a 1-3 start?

Could the Miami Dolphins finally be on their way up and out of the AFC East cellar?

That's how a lot of fans feel in South Beach, even despite the team's 1-3 start to the season. 

The Dolphins have certainly been more impressive in defeat than their record would suggest.

That being said, the real measure of a team is the win-loss record.

So let's take a look at where things stand headed into Week 5.

 

Ryan Tannehill? Yes He Can-nehill

If you are only looking at the statistics, Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill has been a monumental disappointment four weeks into the season. He's in the bottom half of the league in nearly every stat that matters (and barely in the top half in YPA), and is one of the two or three lowest in several of those figures.

But if you are only looking at the statistics, you don't know a great deal about rookie quarterbacks, because it's never just about the numbers. We are just four games into the first season of Tannehill's career, so there's plenty of time for things to change for better or worse, but right now, Tannehill looks like he can play quarterback in the NFL.

He manned up to a vicious Cardinals blitz, and he did so in historic fashion.

According to ESPN's Stats & Info department:

Ryan Tannehill faced extra pressure on 25 of his 44 dropbacks and completed 16 of 22 passes for 306 yards, a touchdown and an interception against at least five pass-rushers. Tannehill’s 306 passing yards against at least five pass-rushers is the highest single-game total by anyone since the start of the 2008 season. 

More impressive for Tannehill is who it came against—entering Sunday, the Cardinals defense led the league with a 34.1 completion percentage and 3.6 yards per attempt allowed when sending at least five pass-rushers.

Courtesy NFL Game Rewind.
In the face of the pressure, Tannehill kept his eyes downfield. That's the mark of a quarterback who belongs in the NFL.

On the play to the left, he rolled out away from Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington and was able to hit wide receiver Brian Hartline for a 30-yard pickup.

On the play to the right, the pass rush worked its way through the pocket once again. Instead of scrambling, as he may have done at Texas A&M, Tannehill stood in, stepped up in the pocket and delivered a strike to Hartline that picked up 57 yards.

Courtesy NFL Game Rewind.
Heck, even with a free man coming, he still kept his eyes on his target and delivered a catchable ball to Davone Bess that picked up 17 yards.

There have been some ugly moments—three interceptions in a seven-minute span against the Texans (two off batted passes), a pick-six to start the second half against the Jets, three late turnovers against the Cardinals that gave way to a comeback—given all that, "ugly" may be kind in regard to those moments.

But outside of those moments, there have been long strings where Tannehill looks poised, comfortable even. And it may interest you to know that Tannehill’s 94.8 rating in the fourth quarter this season is 11th-best in the league, according to ESPN's Stats & Info.

The future is bright for Tannehill.

 

Next Step: Complementary Defense

Brick walls. Benito Mussolini. My old manager at McDonald's.

These are things that are more merciful than the Dolphins run defense.

Defensive linemen Paul Soliai and Jared Odrick have been as stout as expected, but as a unit, the linebackers have been the most impressive against the run. That was expected from linebackers Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett, but the biggest surprise of the group has been linebacker Koa Misi.

The 2010 second-round pick out of Utah had a hard time finding a place in the 3-4 defense, but he seems to have adjusted back to life in the 4-3 front.

Courtesy NFL Game Rewind.
The Raiders ran the ball right in his direction on 1st-and-10 in the second quarter, and they got the hole they wanted at the line of scrimmage.

Courtesy NFL Game Rewind.
Running back/fullback Owen Schmitt came up to make the lead block, but Misi was having none of that. Schmitt is nearly 10 pounds heavier, but Misi had no problem stacking and shedding the blocker.

Courtesy NFL Game Rewind.
He engaged the fullback, tossed him to the side and made the clean wrap on running back Darren McFadden. Some backs would still be running, but Misi is able to take on two offensive players in the span of about 0.7 seconds.

There's nothing sexy about this play; just a smash-mouth run stop by Misi.

If the Dolphins run defense is a brick wall, their pass defense is a sheet of toilet paper.

One-ply.

In truth, it hasn't all been awful, with the Dolphins giving up the third-lowest completion percentage in the NFL at 54.7, but they've been gashed for 7.4 yards per pass attempt and had just four sacks in three games before making Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb into a big red tackling dummy.

The front seven is vicious against the run, and that will obviously put the ball into the hands of opposing quarterbacks more frequently—that's plain to see from the fact that the Dolphins have been thrown on more than any other team in the NFL.

All the Dolphins can hope for is that their recipe for success against the Cardinals works against future opponents—that being to shut down the running game and force the offense to be one-dimensional, thereby allowing the defense to tee off on the quarterback.

 

Running Wild

Raise your hand if you thought the Dolphins were poised to be a pass-happy offense with head coach Joe Philbin and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman leading the charge.

Don't worry, you're not alone. The Dolphins, to this point, have 134 rush attempts against 143 pass attempts. Talk about balance.

That's thanks to the dominance of running back Reggie Bush. He is currently among the league's best backs on a per-carry basis, ranking fourth in the NFL in that category.

But Bush's performance and the success that has meant for Tannehill have dictated Bush to be the focal point of the offense.

It's plain to see why. The threat of the run allows Tannehill to line up under center, forcing defenses to respect both the run and the pass. It has also made play-action one of Tannehill's best friends.

Furthermore, it has opened up the passing lanes to make for easy completions on even tough throws. 

When a receiver is this open, it's easy to throw him the ball. 

The running game is a great weapon in and of itself, but the effect it has on the passing game may be the best thing the Dolphins could possibly ask for with a rookie under center.

 

Moving Forward

The Dolphins have laid the foundation for future success with a solid defense and an effective running game. They have gotten above-average play from the quarterback position at times, and if they can clean up the miscues, they will be okay on the offensive side of the ball.

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I'm really interested to see what wide receiver Jabar Gaffney brings to the table for the offense. The Dolphins have utilized a lot of two-back sets to take advantage of their running game, and now with three legitimate pass-catchers at receiver, they may try to spread it out a bit more.

But the Dolphins can't forget what has worked well for them to this point and what has helped their quarterback grow to this point. The best thing they can do is keep things consistent to avoid throwing too much at him.

That's how the Jets ended up with the mess that is their offense. But that's another story.

 

Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained firsthand.

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