Will Miami Dolphins Enter Contender Discussion with Win over Atlanta Falcons?

Old AccountSenior Writer ISeptember 20, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 15:  Ryan Tannehill #17 of the Miami Dolphins throws a pass during the NFL game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 15, 2013 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Miami Dolphins, a team that has won two consecutive road games to begin the season, are quickly proving that the combination of recent drafts and major spending sprees over the offseason is paying huge dividends.

General manager Jeff Ireland used the team’s cap space to focus primarily on the defensive side of the football. He accomplished that with the additions of linebacker Dannell Ellerbe from the defending champion Baltimore Ravens and veteran cornerback Brett Grimes.

Immediately, the defense has been impressive in the first two weeks. It has provided the necessary production expected out of this unit with two impressive performances to begin the season.

It was capable of containing the Browns offense in Week 1 and prevented Andrew Luck from staging a typical fourth quarter comeback in Indianapolis.

Ellerbe is living up to the expectations through the first two weeks of the season. Granted that isn’t a surprise, as Ellerbe has shown the impact he can make when he is healthy.

However, Grimes has provided an unbelievable start to the season, anchoring a Dolphins secondary that lacked a legitimate, talented veteran in 2012. As Rotoworld’s Adam Levitan mentions, Pro Football Focus has graded Grimes as a top-two cornerback in terms of pass coverage through the first two weeks.

The defense has played its part, and last week, the offense rose to the occasion with Ryan Tannehill paving the way with 319 yards passing and one touchdown. Offensive coordinator Mike Sherman instilled a game plan that kept Mike Wallace consistently active in the passing game, and the passing game flourished as a result.

Wallace’s ability to not only challenge defenders down the field vertically but also make an impact in the screen game is a reason why the Dolphins made him one of the higher-paid receivers in the game.

Have there been legitimate question marks surrounding Wallace and the Dolphins' team in general? Of course. The formula to significantly improve a roster through free agency as opposed to the draft is, quite frankly, not the route that most of the recent contenders across the landscape operate.

A fair question to ask is whether or not Wallace can provide enough production on a week-to-week basis and open up the passing lanes for the other receivers—most notably Brian Hartline. Would a defense that added plenty of new pieces in the offseason live up to its potential this early in the season? The results have paid off in the last few weeks.

Ultimately, those questions may not matter in the grand scheme of this season if the Dolphins can show whether they’re capable of competing with the league’s best, beginning this Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons.

Certainly, a challenge will be posed as the Dolphins will need to match point for point with one of the elite passing attacks in the game. Tannehill will need to play up to his capability on home field, a problem described by ESPN columnist James Walker.

All of these concerns surrounding an organization that have contributed to mediocre results for its fanbase over the decade could begin to change when the Dolphins take the field against one of the league’s quality organizations.

In a conference where the lack of dominant teams stand tall, aside from the Denver Broncos, the Dolphins can make a claim to become one of the bigger bloomers in 2013. They have the potential to capitalize on a year where the Ravens are undergoing a retooling phase and the Patriots appear snake-bitten on offense and bring an average defense to the table.

The Houston Texans and the Kansas City Chiefs have talent across the board, but neither quarterback for those respective teams have proven that they are simply a product of being a small piece to a big puzzle.

Fortunately for the Dolphins, the optimism is that their quarterback can prove that he can become on par with his fellow draftees in Luck and Robert Griffin III. Overshadowed by the success of those two stellar rookies, Tannehill finds himself searching for respect and not garnering the attention that he deserves.

From a wide receiver in college a few years back to a young and talented quarterback searching for respect, Tannehill finds himself in the best possible scenario early in his career.

His team has been shunned time and time again, whether it was from in-division rivals such as the New York Jets and the Patriots, or from the other teams who have stepped up to the plate during the Dolphins pursuit of success.

Heading into its first home game of the season, Miami’s finest find themselves with much to gain against Matt Ryan and the Falcons. The task is simple: Defeat last season’s NFC runner-ups and officially emerge as a force to be reckoned with in this unpredictable season.

Matt Miselis is an NFL league-wide columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter.


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