Ryan Tannehill and 5 More Players Responsible for the Dolphins' 3-1 Start

Alan HubbardContributor IIIOctober 2, 2013

Ryan Tannehill and 5 More Players Responsible for the Dolphins' 3-1 Start

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    Now that we've put a few days between ourselves and the Miami Dolphins' Monday night meltdown in New Orleans, we can all come back to the same conclusion: The 2013 Miami Dolphins are a good team. 

    They are not flawless. Indeed, Miami has a handful of flaws that are not sustainable. If the Dolphins want to maintain their status as playoff contenders (because right now, yes, they look like playoff contenders), they must find a way to win the turnover battle and protect their quarterback, among other things. 

    But let's take a moment to bask in the knowledge that the Dolphins are 3-1 after a quarter of the season. Yes, Monday night's game was difficult to swallow, but how many teams really could have gone to New Orleans on Monday night and won? If you answered very few, you're correct. 

    That one loss does not eliminate what the Dolphins did in their previous three games. They won two challenging road games—one against an increasingly impressive-looking Colts team—and pulled off late-game heroics to knock off Atlanta. Despite being brought back to Earth in Week 4, the Dolphins are still off to a very strong start. 

    Let's take a look at the six players responsible for Miami's 3-1 start, beginning with its young quarterback. 


Ryan Tannehill

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    In a league dominated by quarterbacks, it should come as no surprise that the main reason Miami is 3-1 is its second-year gunslinger, Ryan Tannehill. Tannehill showed enormous promise last season as a rookie. This year, he's living up to that promise. 

    Through the first three games, Tannehill completed 66 percent of his passes for 827 yards, four touchdowns, and just two interceptions. Compare to that to his first three games of last season (he completed 53 percent of his passes for 615 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions) and it's clear he's much improved. 

    But it goes beyond Tannehill's stats. You can see it when you watch him drop back. Overall, he's gotten better at finding the open man, delivering accurate balls, and shaking off mistakes. Plus, we saw exactly what Tannehill is made of in the final drive of the Falcons game. This is a young man whose composure is not easily rattled. 

    Yes, Tannehill still has some issues to work out. He tends to hold onto the ball for too long some plays, a contributing factor to his 18 sacks. He also must protect the ball better. After a three-interception game against New Orleans, his interception and touchdown totals now match. He's also fumbled the ball six times in four games. 

    But these are all correctable mistakes that seem less serious when you consider that Monday night was only Tannehill's 20th professional start as a NFL quarterback. He's a big reason why Miami is 3-1, and he's a big reason why the team will continue to find success. 

Brian Hartline

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    The Dolphins added two new wide receivers in Mike Wallace and Brandon Gibson this past offseason, yet it's been the mainstay, Brian Hartline, that's been the most reliable pass-catcher so far. 

    He leads the team with 21 catches for 272 yards and two touchdowns. He averages 13 yards per catch. His hands are arguably the surest on the entire team. 

    More importantly, Hartline and Tannehill share the kind of chemistry Wallace and Tannehill appear to still be searching for. Their mutual trust is what the best receiver-quarterback duos are built upon. 

    That trust is good almost to a fault. Monday night, Tannehill fired a quick pass in Hartline's area, expecting him to be there on the slant route. Sensing the quick throw, the corner jumped the route and snatched the ball from the air. 

    Still, there's no denying these two have a special connection, and it's a connection that should continue to bear fruit as the season progresses. 

Charles Clay

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    Not many people would have guessed that Charles Clay would fill in for the injured Dustin Keller as well as he has, but then not many people would have guessed the Dolphins would be 3-1 right now. 

    Nevertheless, Clay has proven to be a valuable weapon for the Dolphins offense. His skills as a receiver are finally coming together. He's second on the team with 20 catches for 245 yards and a touchdown. He's also responsible for the Dolphins' longest pass play, a 67-yard catch-and-run. 

    His sole touchdown reception, which came late in the game against New Orleans, was an impressive display of sure hands and concentration.

    Meanwhile, Clay's versatility adds a unique dynamic to Miami's offense. He can line up at tight end, split out wide, go down at fullback, or position himself at the wing. Clay even has one rushing touchdown from the fullback position.

    Clay is quickly becoming a favorite target of Tannehill's, and for good reason. If his production continues, Miami may forget about Keller a lot sooner than anyone anticipated.  

Lamar Miller

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    This one could be seen as a point of contention for some, considering Lamar Miller's limited playtime. However, I would argue that what he's done with the ball in his time has benefited Miami's offense a good deal. 

    Miller has just 43 carries for 196 yards, but he's averaging 4.6 yards per carry. That's an impressive average, which makes it all the more mind-boggling why he continues to split carries with Daniel Thomas, who averages just 2.8 yards per carry. 

    Still, Miller has shown the decisiveness, burst, and quickness we expected to see. He has somewhat of a tendency to stretch out runs that don't need it, but similar to Tannehill's errors, this one is correctable. 

    Miller's two touchdowns have both come in important situations. His first against the Colts was Miami's second of the game and effectively put pressure on Indy's offense, which ultimately worked in the Dolphins' favor. Meanwhile, his touchdown against the Saints came when the Dolphins desperately needed it, closing the score gap to 14-10. Just try to ignore what happened after that point. 

    Miller may not be the largest contributor to Miami's 3-1 record, but he has been a boost. You can only hope offensive coordinator Mike Sherman eventually realizes that Miller is the superior back and stops giving away his carries to Thomas. 

Brent Grimes

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    Corner Brent Grimes may not be leading the league in interceptions (he has one), nor does he have a huge amount of deflections (he has five). However, those numbers speak to the fact that Grimes, post-Achilles injury, is still a very, very bad man.

    It's easy to understand why his stats are so low when you consider that teams have only thrown it in Grimes' direction just 21 times, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Miami's opponents have thrown the ball a total of 173 times.

    From those 21 targets, Grimes has allowed only 12 receptions for 163 yards and zero touchdowns. The longest play he's given up was for 47 yards, a play in which he had great coverage on Indy's T.Y. Hilton but the receiver simply made an outstanding play.

    How did Grimes respond? By coming up with a huge interception in the end zone later in the game.

    Grimes gives the Dolphins something they haven't had in a long time at corner: a guy teams are afraid to throw to. While Miami's secondary depth has been exposed in recent weeks, there's no question its No. 1 spot is secure with Grimes.

    That makes offseason priority No. 1 very clear. Grimes must be re-signed to a long-term deal.  

Caleb Sturgis

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    Miami's rookie kicker, Caleb Sturgis, has been nothing short of a sure thing this season. He's a perfect 7-of-7 for field goals, six of which have contributed to Miami's three wins. 

    He nailed three against the Falcons in Week 3, keeping the Dolphins close enough to mount a game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter. He's showed that length is not an issue, too. He's hit field goals from 50 and 54 yards this season. 

    Some people may have scoffed at selecting a kicker in the fifth round of the draft, but Sturgis so far has made the pick worth it. He gave Miami the opportunity to drop the more expensive and deteriorating Dan Carpenter before the season began. The Dolphins haven't looked back since. 

    Sturgis may not have had his hero moment yet, but at the rate he's playing, his time will surely come. For now, he's been a reliably valuable contributor to Miami's 3-1 start.