The Miami Dolphins' playoff hopes rest not-so comfortably on the shoulders of their defense.
In order to continue their push for the playoffs, the Dolphins will have to take out the Buffalo Bills in a crucial AFC East game on Thursday Night Football. Starting tonight against the Bills, the Dolphins' defense will show whether or not they have what it takes to push their team towards the playoffs.
It won't be easy.
The Dolphins are currently trailing the New England Patriots in the division, and are on the outside looking in at the two wild-card spots. Winning the East would be tough, but not entirely out of the question. Miami's best chance, though, would be for Pittsburgh or Indianapolis, or both, to falter thus allowing Miami to sneak into one of those final spots.
While it seems unfair to put the onus on Miami's defense, and hold them responsible for making or breaking the Dolphins' playoff chances, there really isn't any alternative.
Miami’s offense has been, on the whole, average. That’s not meant to be a knock on them, but more a clear representation of what Miami has at its disposal. They have Reggie Bush, a running back capable of being near the top in offense, but there's a middle-of-the-pack, in terms of run blocking, offensive line in front of him (h/t to Football Outsiders).
On the other side of that, the team's offensive line has been good at protecting rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill. They currently rank 11th among the league in pass protection (h/t to Football Outsiders). Yet, just like the rushing game, the passing game has been no better than mediocre for Miami.
Clearly, the offense isn't going to bail out the team like, say, New England's does. That then leaves the defense to rely on, though I'm sure the defense does have it's doubters too.
Maybe they're justified considering that the Dolphins have given up 30-plus points on two different occasions, but there's obviously more to it than that.
Those two games should be taken as individual anomalies rather than truth about Miami's defense. Despite those two large losses, Miami still ranks in the Top 10 in points allowed on the season, and is an above league-average team defensively.
Throughout all this, one thing has remained pretty clear—the Dolphins have been, on the whole, consistently average on both offense and defense.
I'll understand if you are wondering why, given what I just said, I am still calling for the Dolphins to push for the playoffs on the shoulders of their defense, and why this game against Buffalo is important to that cause.
Obviously, I'll tell you.
The Bills represent the type of teams the Dolphins will be facing the rest of the season. With the exception of New England, and Jacksonville because it is ranked near last in both rushing and passing, the teams left on Miami's schedule are all rushing teams.
These teams may have passing weapons, and use the passing game to take pressure off the run, but their strength relies on the running game.
Well, despite Miami's below-average passing defense, they counteract that with a good rushing defense. Their defense is Top 5 in total rushing yards allowed and yards per game. They also are tied for first in opposing teams' rushing first downs.
Not to get too carried away, because stats can sometimes lie, there's something to be said about the quality of rushers faced. Miami did a good job containing Houston's Arian Foster, as much as you can contain a player like him, but were given a heaping of trouble by Tennessee's Chris Johnson.
Which is why tonight's game is so important in that respect. C.J. Spiller is a tremendous running back, maybe more-so than he gets credit for, and Miami knows it will have to be much better (via Dave Carey at CBSSports.com) than they were last week against the run.
With so many other variables, it's tough to put Miami's playoff chase all on one game. If the defense can handle Buffalo and C.J. Spiller, though, it's a good indication that Miami will be prepared to make that push against the good rushing teams remaining on its schedule.
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