Are you surprised yet?
The Miami Dolphins are only 3-3, but it sure feels a lot better than that in South Beach. Perhaps that's because they are competitive in every single game, only getting beat by their own mistakes in the final minutes of two overtime games.
Perhaps it's because, for the first time in a long time, there are tangible signs of improvement across the board.
Just what are those signs? Here's a look at where things stand headed into the bye week and where things could be headed from here for the Dolphins.
Ryan Tannehill: Ryan Tannehill's passer rating has climbed steadily since losing to the Jets:
As we will learn in the "stock down" section, his improvement goes hand-in-hand with a decline in the running game. The fact that Tannehill has stepped up to the challenge defenses have presented him by taking away the run is promising for his future in the NFL.
Kevin Coyle: It hasn't always been pretty for the Dolphins defense, but they have been serviceable when it has mattered the most, as we will learn in the "stats to build on" section.
That is thanks in large part to players stepping up in big moments, but also thanks to Coyle's coaching. He hasn't panicked with play-calling when the pressure is on.
The safeties: Chris Clemons delivered the game-clinching interception against the Bengals last week, but both Clemons and Tyrone Culver were victimized on the back end, with Sam Bradford completing five passes of 20 or more yards. For perspective, Bradford and the Rams had nine pass plays of 20 or more yards in the previous five games combined.
The running game: Reggie Bush has had a hard time getting the wheels moving again after an injury against the Jets, and it has certainly shown up on the stat sheet. The Dolphins had averaged over five yards per carry through three games and ranked sixth in rushing YPA. Since then, they have averaged 2.1 yards per carry and have slipped all the way to 27th in rushing YPA.
The Miami Dolphins are far more competitive than anyone imagined them being, having lost two of their three games in overtime and keeping it close against tough competition on a weekly basis.
They picked up momentum headed into the bye week and now get to lick their wounds, which will be especially important for running back Reggie Bush, whose production has tailed off drastically since his injury. If he is back to full health by the time the Dolphins next take the field, assuming Tannehill's steady production doesn't fall off a cliff, the Dolphins offense could be tough to handle.
The way this defense is playing right now, though, the Dolphins can get by with a decent day from either the running game or the passing game. That's the way they've won all three of their games this season—an elite performance on defense accompanied by a passable performance on offense.
It's safe to say that the Dolphins are the team in the AFC East no one wants to face right now.
The Dolphins still have yet to face the Patriots, who they have not beaten in four tries.
The competitive spirit they have shown week in and week out is promising, but the Dolphins' three wins have all come over teams who are at or below .500 to this point in the season. While that doesn't mean much—the Patriots made it to the Super Bowl with the same stigma working against them last year—it serves to remind us that the Dolphins have not yet fully turned the corner.
The Dolphins' identity as an effective rush offense has faded in recent weeks, and the burden has slowly been shifted to Ryan Tannehill's shoulder. He has done well so far and is improving at present, but he'll need to continue to avoid rookie mistakes if the Dolphins are going to continue to win games.
Their three losses have come down to such mistakes.
Stats to Build On
86: Ryan Tannehill's accuracy percentage under pressure, according to ProFootballFocus.com. That is the best accuracy percentage in the NFL.
"Accuracy" percentage under pressure is described as "the percentage of aimed passes a quarterback completes with drops counted as completions."
One of the biggest criticisms on Tannehill coming out of college was that he had to learn how to throw under duress and how not to throw blind into coverage.
He has become especially adept at taking checkdowns while under pressure, but don't tell him he can't complete big throws with defenders in his face.
77.5: The Dolphins' defensive passer rating, which ranks eighth in the NFL. If there were a "stats to ignore" section, passing yards would be right at the top of the list. Sure, they've given up the fifth-most passing yards in the league, but that is a product of opponents having thrown the ball 254 times against them, second-most of any defense in the league.
Their pass efficiency ratings are a much better indicator of where this defense stands:
- 6.3 net yards per attempt ranks 14th in the NFL, right above average.
- 57.5 completion percentage allowed ranks fifth in the NFL.
- 6.6 sack percentage ranks 16th in the NFL.
The defense as a unit is one of the top groups in the league, but specifically, the pass defense is much, much closer to above average than it is to below average.
Clutch defense: I'll spare you the charts and just give you the straight-up numbers: The Dolphins rank first in third-down defense, allowing opponents to convert only 25.8 percent of their tries. They also rank fifth in red-zone defense, allowing opponents to score a touchdown on only 38.1 percent of possessions inside the 20.
As long as the Dolphins keep getting stops where and when it matters most, there's no way you can count them out of any game they play.
Stats to Improve On
23: The number of pass plays allowed of over 20 yards, fifth-most in the NFL. I was effusive in praise of the pass defense in the previous section, but they are not without their flaws.
The play of the safeties was considered a question mark headed into the season, and it appears that the stat sheet agrees at least in part through six weeks.
The Dolphins have been saved a bit by their front seven, which has generated a fierce pass rush and has stuffed the run well, but it's up to the safeties to lock down the big plays to put them in fewer have-to-have-it situations.
4: The number of passing touchdowns by Tannehill, tied for lowest in the league among starting quarterbacks.
Tannehill's improvement is notable, as his passer rating and completion percentage have both increased in each of the past four games, but up until this past week, Tannehill hadn't been asked to put the ball into the end zone too much because the running game had done it for him.
The Rams took that away this week, and Tannehill made them pay for it by throwing two touchdown passes, matching his season total. If teams continue to take away the run, Tannehill's ability to continue to hit pay-dirt through the air will be essential to the team's continued success.
12: The number of turnovers committed by the Dolphins, which currently ranks 22nd in the NFL.
How much does that affect their chances to win? Let's take a look:
- The Dolphins are 2-0 when they do not commit a turnover; 1-3 when they do.
- The Dolphins are 3-0 when Ryan Tannehill doesn't throw an interception; 0-3 when he throws one or more interceptions.
- The Dolphins are 3-0 when they win the turnover battle; 0-3 when they lose it.
- In the Dolphins' three wins, they have only won the turnover battle by one each time.
Remember that whole "glass half-empty" bit about them not beating a team over .500 yet? Their next four games coming out of the bye are all against teams that currently sit at or below .500.
The Dolphins get to spend the week self-scouting, working to improve areas where they've struggled and build upon areas they've done well.
The trajectory for this team at the moment is incredibly positive. It would have been hard to imagine the Dolphins contending for a playoff spot in the preseason, and although we're just six weeks into the season, the hope that games will be played in January has not yet died.
How the Dolphins look coming out of the bye will determine how much longer those hopes stay alive.
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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