Is it all coming unraveled for the Miami Dolphins?
Once sitting pretty at 4-3, with what seemed like an easy schedule lying ahead, the Dolphins have now dropped three straight to fall to 4-6. Their season has gone from the brink of the playoffs to the brink of disaster.
How did it get to this point? How do the Dolphins stay afloat in this sink-or-swim scenario?
Here's a progress report of where the team stands now and where things could be headed over the final six weeks of the season.
Primary Talking Point
We don't know whether rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill is going to be the next Dan Marino or the next Chad Henne.
What we do know is that Tannehill, whose progression was once trending ever upward, has seen his stock plummet faster than Enron. The rookie has thrown a combined five interceptions against just one touchdown in the past 10 quarters (two-and-a-half games), and has a passer rating lower than 51 in three of the past four games.
Say what you will about the talent around him. Aside from Brian Hartline and Davone Bess, Tannehill doesn't have much to work with. Reggie Bush belongs on the side of a milk carton, the offensive line is not living up to the hype and the defense is underachieving of late.
All that is true, but another rookie quarterback (Andrew Luck) is shouldering a similar load and getting better results.
Tannehill has had four opportunities to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat with a fourth-quarter comeback, but he is 0-4 in those tries.
Aside from the obvious black-and-white impact of turnovers (4-0 when they win the TO battle, 0-6 when they draw even or lose the TO battle), the past three games have proven that the Dolphins can afford to get nothing less than what Tannehill gave them earlier in the season if they want to compete this year.
The Dolphins have remained one of the luckiest teams in the league in terms of avoiding serious injuries to their players. Wide receiver Jabar Gaffney, defensive tackle Tony McDaniel and tight end Jeron Mastrud are the only players listed as questionable for Sunday's game against the Seahawks.
Davone Bess: The wide receiver caught six passes for 50 yards and scored his first touchdown of the season against the Bills on Thursday night. He now has five consecutive games with four receptions or more, and he's nearly on pace for his first 1,000-yard season as a receiver.
Reshad Jones: Jones had the best overall grade on defense for the game, according to ProFootballFocus.com. Jones logged 12 tackles and had eight defensive "stops" on the night. Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick went 4-of-6 for 37 yards against Jones' coverage, with the safety breaking up one pass.
Ryan Tannehill: See above.
Offensive Line: Yep, the whole unit. It may have previously only been left tackle Jake Long, but the group as a whole has struggled for weeks. Tannehill has been sacked seven times in the past three games (three times vs. the Bills), while the running game has picked up 198 yards on 57 carries (3.47 YPA) in that span.
- The Dolphins rank third in third-down defense this year, allowing opponents to move the chains 33.12 percent of the time. They've allowed conversions on a whopping 47.92 percent of third downs over the past three games, though, for the third-worst average in the league in that span. Were the Dolphins exposed by the Colts? Sure seems like it.
- The Dolphins boast the league's eighth-best defense in points, but a look deeper into the numbers leaves something to be desired early in contests. They have allowed an average of 5.3 points per game in the first quarter, the league's 10th-highest average. Their average of 11.3 first-quarter points over the past three games is the worst in the league.
- It's been a long journey for running back Marcus Thigpen, who went from NFL practice squads to the CFL all the way back to the NFL, and on Thursday night became the first player in Dolphins history to return a kickoff and a punt for a touchdown in the same season. The Dolphins are averaging 12 yards per punt return (their highest since 2000, when they had 13.3 yards per punt return) and 29 yards per kickoff return (current team record is 26.6 yards per return, set back in 1977).
- When teams blitz Ryan Tannehill, he has completed a higher percentage of his throws for more yards per attempt and a higher passer rating than he has against a standard four-man rush. Over the past two games, though, Tannehill has been blitzed 13 times on 71 drop-backs (18.31 percent), according to ProFootballFocus.com; 10 times by the Titans and just three times by the Bills. There's enough tape out on Tannehill now that teams can begin to study his tendencies and strengths. It's up to him to round out his game to make it more difficult to defend him.
- After further review, while the benching of Reggie Bush against the Titans came at an odd time, it wasn't necessarily anything new. The Dolphins have been slowly phasing him out of the offense over the past several weeks, as indicated by this chart:
- Bush's declining production may have a bit to do with that, as well. He is averaging 2.99 yards per carry over the past seven games, way down from his hot start, when he averaged 6.04 yards per carry in the first three games.
The Dolphins are 4-6, riding a three-game losing streak, and they just got done with the easiest part of their schedule. Now, with games against the Seahawks and the 49ers and two games against the Patriots remaining on the schedule, the Dolphins enter the toughest stretch of the season needing their best performances of the season.
Luckily for Miami, four of the final six games are at home, but even sweeping their home games (which would mean a win over the Patriots) would still only put them at eight wins.
It's not time to bury the Dolphins for the 2012 season just yet, but we could soon be grabbing our shovels, and if that's the case, Dol-fans may begin grabbing the pitchforks and making a beeline for general manager Jeff Ireland.
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 via team press releases.
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