The Miami Dolphins will return home in Week 5 with a chance to redeem themselves in front of their fans against the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens. If Week 4 was a battle of the undefeated, Week 5 may be aptly termed a battle of the defeated as both teams find themselves licking their wounds in the wake of embarrassing Week 4 losses.
Here, we'll break down everything you need to know heading into Week 5. We will take you through division standings and an updated injury report, and we will highlight the areas in which Miami must improve if it wants to get its season back on track after a tough loss in front of a national audience.
After struggling against the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets in the first two weeks of the season, the Patriots seem to be rolling at a steady pace. They thoroughly beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 3 and followed up with a seven-point victory over the Falcons.
The Patriots initially struggled on offense under the burden of being forced to rely too much on rookie receivers Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson. Veteran receiver Danny Amendola missed most of the first four games this season, and dominant tight end Rob Gronkowski has yet to dress for a game.
Quarterback Tom Brady's chemistry with the rookies took a noticeable turn for the better in Week 3 as he threw two touchdown passes to Kenbrell Thompkins, and that trend continued in Week 4 as Thompkins caught six balls for 127 yards and a touchdown.
On the other hand, the Jets took a big step backward in Week 4 against the Tennessee Titans. With a 2-1 record and their only loss coming by a field goal against the undefeated New England Patriots, the Jets had the look of a surprisingly solid team as they headed into the match with the Titans. But then Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith took five sacks and accounted for four turnovers, while his defense was dissected by the Titans passing attack.
The Buffalo Bills were able to bounce back from a second toughly contested division loss by beating the Dolphins' upcoming opponent, the Baltimore Ravens. The Bills intercepted Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco five times and came away with a three-point victory. The team is now 2-2 with a habit of showing unusual strength against tough opponents.
In a testament to the unpredictable nature of injuries in the NFL, the Dolphins dressed defensive tackle Paul Soliai for the Week 4 game against the New Orleans Saints despite consistent reports during the week that he looked unlikely to play.
On the other hand, star defensive end Cameron Wake practiced the entire week and reports seemed to indicate him likely to receive playing time against the Saints, only to be told by the coaching staff just prior to the game's start that he would be inactive. He was limited in Wednesday's practice, and his availability against the Ravens is unknown.
The reason for the surprising turnabout may have something to do with the nature of the two players' positions. As an edge-rusher, Cameron Wake is forced to constantly plant and cut on his injured knee, as he needs to be able to show flexibility at the bottom of his pass rush.
As a 1-technique defensive tackle, Paul Soliai is not forced to show the same ability to plant and cut on his injured knee. His job is more strength and leverage based. Even so, Soliai was limited by the injury as according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required) he only played 22 out of 71 snaps during the game. He was a full participant in Wednesday's practice and is likely to play this Sunday.
Linebacker Koa Misi headed into the game questionable with a shoulder injury that kept him limited in practice all week. He played during the game, but was also clearly limited as he saw only 23 out of 71 snaps. While part of that lack of participation was likely due to the Saints' personnel packaging tendencies, the fact that backup linebackers Jason Trusnik and Jelani Jenkins combined for 24 snaps during the game shows that his injury kept him off the field for stretches. He was limited in Wednesday's practice.
Corner Nolan Carroll started the game, but he missed 25 plays with an undisclosed injury. He returned to the game and broke up a few passes, but Carroll also let up an important 13-yard touchdown to tailback Darren Sproles. He was limited in the team's practice on Wednesday.
Corner Dimitri Patterson sat out his third straight game and continued not to practice on Wednesday. He is not likely to be available against the Baltimore Ravens.
Rookie safety Don Jones did not practice on Wednesday. Jones became a special teams star in Week 3 thanks to a jarring hit on punt returner Harry Douglas, which forced a crucial fumble late in the contest. His availability for the game against the Ravens is unknown.
Free safety Chris Clemons had been battling a hamstring injury heading into the game against the Saints. The injury dealt him questionable status heading into the Week 3 game against the Falcons and probable status heading into Week 4. He missed three snaps during the Monday Night Football game and was limited in practice on Wednesday.
Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe took a painful chest injury against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 3, which led to limited participation during the week leading up to Week 4. His status was probable for the game, and he played every snap, which indicates that his status for Week 5 is not likely to be in doubt. However, he was limited in Wednesday's practice.
Backup linebacker Jason Trusnik was visibly hurt during the game against the Saints as he came onto the field in relief of injured starter Koa Misi. This resulted in rookie linebacker Jelani Jenkins playing eight snaps during the game. Trusnik did not participate in Wednesday's practice, which leaves his availability for the game against the Ravens in doubt.
What Must Improve
The Miami Dolphins took a definitive step backward against the New Orleans Saints. The question everyone must ask, which the team must answer this Sunday, is whether the team just had a bad night or whether the game was an indication that the Dolphins are not as good as initially thought.
There have been indications that the players were anxious to put the game behind them and redeem themselves against the Ravens. That can be a good thing in some situations. This may not be one of those situations.
The reason is the Saints beat the Dolphins by exploiting weaknesses that had persisted for the entire month of September, even as the Dolphins squeaked out victories against the Indianapolis Colts and Atlanta Falcons in Weeks 2 and 3.
The Dolphins defense showed signs of weakness to backs catching the football out of the backfield against the Indianapolis Colts, according to Pro Football Focus, as Ahmad Bradshaw and Stanley Havili combined for 45 yards after the catch on five total catches. The Falcons exploited this weakness even more effectively with Jason Snelling and Jacquizz Rodgers combining for 75 yards after the catch on six catches.
The Saints broke this weakness wide open with 13 catches by Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas and Jed Collins out of the backfield for a combined 162 yards after the catch.
The Dolphins' issues in pass protection were well advertised heading into the game against the Saints, as the team had already allowed quarterback Ryan Tannehill to take 14 sacks during the first three games. Scoreboard pressure forced Miami to lengthen their focus in the passing game, which in turn necessitated that Tannehill hold the ball longer, allowing the Saints to exploit Miami's weakness in pass protection with four more sacks.
Finally, Miami's weakness against tight ends was also demonstrable during the first three weeks. The Saints broke this weakness wide open by having tight ends Jimmy Graham and Ben Watson combine for 104 receiving yards on five catches, including three total touchdowns.
It is not coincidental that the Dolphins' margin of dominance has been diminishing week by week after a convincing two-touchdown win against the Cleveland Browns in Week 1. By Week 2 against the Indianapolis Colts, the Dolphins were hanging onto a four-point victory by surviving quarterback Andrew Luck's attempt at a final drive. By Week 3, the Dolphins were using a special teams fumble to steal a victory against an opponent that outplayed the team by many measures. By Week 4, the Dolphins were being blown out in front of a national television audience.
The NFL is a competitive league, and the film study process, especially toward the beginning of the season, is able to be refined by opponents week after week.
The weaknesses that led to the Dolphins being embarrassed on national television were not aberrant. They had persisted for a month. It would behoove the team to not be so quick to put the Saints loss behind them, because they will not win another game until they fix these weaknesses.
In the past, head coach Joe Philbin has espoused two statistics that matter to him as temperature checks for where his team is and where they need to be.
One of them is turnover differential. Philbin reiterated to the press recently that the Dolphins are the only team with a winning record and a negative turnover differential.
The other statistic that Joe Philbin has espoused in the past is net yards per attempt differential between offense and defense. Using statistics from Pro Football Reference we find that the Dolphins currently rank 22nd in the NFL in the the differential between the offense's net yards per pass attempt and the net yards per pass attempt allowed by the defense.
From these we can surmise that in the eyes of the team's head coach, the Dolphins are in trouble unless they can get their problems corrected in a hurry.