Miami Dolphins Progress Report: Where Does the Team Stand Headed into Week 16?
The Miami Dolphins' dreams of a postseason berth may be over, but their season is not, and they are fighting like it still matters.
Of course, jobs are on the line, but it's not like the Dolphins are doing just enough to scrape by either.
The Dolphins blew the Jaguars out in a 21-point rout, their second-biggest win of the season behind a 22-point Week 2 win over the Raiders. It's no surprise, then, that those teams have the two worst records of any teams the Dolphins have faced.
What can be gleaned from a big win over another bad team? Let's see what sort of conclusions we can draw in this week's progress report.
Primary Talking Point
The coaching staff finally figured it out. They maximized quarterback Ryan Tannehill's athleticism, allowing him to use his legs to make plays outside the pocket.
It was one bootleg after another, with Tannehill taking a healthy amount of his snaps from directly under center, but that wasn't all; a few zone reads also crept their way into Miami's game plan.
Either way, it's clear that an offense tailored to Tannehill's strengths is key for his development.
It was by far his best performance of the season; yes, it came against the hapless Jaguars defense, but that was as sharp as we have seen Tannehill look in his rookie season.
The Dolphins may have picked up the win, but not without a price.
Cornerback Nolan Carroll, tight end Charles Clay and running back Daniel Thomas suffered knee injuries and are all listed as questionable for this week's game against the Bills. Clay and Thomas have already been placed on season-ending injured reserve.
Wide receiver Davone Bess missed the Jaguars game with a back injury and is also listed as questionable for Sunday's game against the Bills.
Ryan Tannehill: See above; had his best statistical performance as a professional on Sunday against the Jaguars, going 22-for-28 for 220 yards, two touchdowns and a 123.2 passer rating. Also ran eight times for 52 yards, showing off the athleticism that made him a top 10 pick. Tannehill has now gone three straight games without an interception (111 straight pass attempts).
Anthony Fasano: Fasano has had a quiet season up to this point, but had a season-high six catches for 56 yards and a touchdown. This marked his second consecutive game with a touchdown.
He gets extra credit for one particular catch he made, coming back for a ball that was thrown a bit behind him on third down. Fasano may not be an elite tight end, but there's something to be said for having a reliable security blanket over the middle for a young quarterback.
R.J. Stanford: Played just 15 snaps, his lowest since Week 10, and gave up completions on all three throws into his coverage. The Dolphins have been banged up at cornerback this year and need their depth guys to step up.
Rishard Matthews: He had a career-high three receptions for 23 yards, but had an early drop on a pass that could have resulted in a touchdown.
Tannehill could have put the ball in a better spot, but the ball hit him in the hands; Matthews has to come down with it.
- Ryan Tannehill's 123.2 passer rating made Sunday the best performance of his career to date, but it has historical impact, too. Tannehill is one of only 16 games over a 120 passer rating for a Dolphins quarterback in the 13 years since Dan Marino retired, and their first in nearly a full calendar year. (Matt Moore had a 122.3 passer rating vs. the Bills December 16, 2011.)
- The Dolphins have been a bit too predictable this year on first down, running the ball 226 times against 158 first-down pass attempts (the fourth-fewest in the league), and on Sunday, the Dolphins ran on five of their first eight first downs and 19 of their 29 total first downs. They weren't necessarily more successful when they started passing, but their passes were more successful with play-action and bootlegs taking advantage of the defense playing the run aggressively on first down.
- The Dolphins' dominance against the run has been the key to much of their defensive success. Only seven teams have allowed less than 100 rushing yards on more occasions than the Dolphins (eight). That being said, their pass defense has been a weak link; only five teams have allowed more than 250 passing yards on more occasions than the Dolphins (seven).
The Miami Dolphins need a lot of things to go their way if they want to make the playoffs. Alain Poupart of MiamiDolphins.com outlined their path to the playoffs:
Bottom line: #dolphins need 5 things to make playoffs: 1) Win last 2; 2) NYJ lose once; 3) PIT beat CIN; 4) BALT beat CIN; 5) CLE beat PIT— Alain Poupart (@apoupartFins) December 18, 2012
Winning their last two may be a bit of a long shot; they get a home game against the 5-9 Buffalo Bills to start the arduous journey, but a trip to Foxboro to take on the 10-4 New England Patriots in Week 17 could be too tall a task for a young team that has had trouble finding consistency this year.
Hard-fought battles with both teams in the previous meetings seem to suggest the Dolphins could pull it off; just don't be surprised if no one thinks they will.
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 or via team press releases.
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