The Miami Dolphins have entered their bye week, which has come at the best possible time for the team.
Despite myriad injuries on defense, as well as a schedule that featured four out of the five opponents sporting a winning record (combining for a record of 16-9), the Dolphins are 3-2.
Prior to the season, fans would've been relieved to see the Dolphins with such a record. I even predicted that if the Dolphins could go into the bye at 3-2, they would be on a fast track toward the playoffs (I actually said 2-3 would be good enough).
That was before they started 3-0, and before they lost their last two games due to a collapsing offensive line and a defense that has atrophied thanks to key injuries on every unit.
Now the Dolphins are trending downward, but can we expect to see this spiral continue, or will Miami rebound once again and right the ship?
Here's a look at what we should expect Miami to do coming out of the bye, on its way toward the stretch run of the season.
Notice how I said look worse, not get worse.
That's because this offensive line cannot get any worse than it is right now. The Dolphins are on pace to allow 77 sacks this season, up five from the pace they were at prior to their game against Baltimore.
That pace is only going to go up in their final 11 games of the regular season.
Let's look at each of these team's pass rushes one by one.
Start with Buffalo, a team that's not only better than its 2-3 record might indicate, but better than many people expected it to be. The Dolphins' defense will likely shut down their offense, but Buffalo's pass rush will give Miami's offense a headache come Week 7.
Buffalo is ranked third in the league with 18 sacks this season, and its defensive line is as good as Miami's is (if not better).
New England already has 13 sacks this season, but without Vince Wilfork up the middle, it is certainly weaker up front. But after them are the Cincinnati Bengals, who also have 13 sacks and have great depth up front.
Then once they get into December, Miami gets the Jets twice (and their defensive line is already one of the best in the league), return games against the Bills and Patriots, and the Steelers (who have the worst pass rush of any of Miami's last 11 opponents).
Each of these teams save for Pittsburgh is more than capable of getting to the quarterback, and will be a challenge for Miami's offensive line.
They will look much worse than you think, but that's the most negative thing I can say about this team right now. In other aspects, Miami matches up well with each of its final 11 opponents.
Any fix to the Miami Dolphins' offensive line will have to be internal, and it won't come from new personnel already on the roster.
Miami is going to have to scheme its way out of this. Luckily it has been able to see that it can have success when it does.
The problem is they discovered this by accident. It took a 4th-and-10 desperation play during the eventually failed final drive to see Ryan Tannehill successfully roll out of the pocket to attempt to make a play.
But look at what happened when he did: he found Brandon Gibson 46 yards up the field to get Miami into field-goal range.
Had the results been different (meaning had the Dolphins coaching staff not screwed the pooch on first down with the spike, followed by Tannehill taking that terrible sack on second down), that throw would get the praise that it deserves.
Expect to see more throws like this, as this is not only the best way for Tannehill to avoid sacks, but also the best way for Mike Wallace to "eat more" (more on that later).
As for the other ways, expect more screens to Marcus Thigpen and Lamar Miller, as getting those players the ball in space will not only help Tannehill in terms of avoiding sacks and turnovers but also help open up the offense going forward.
Miami knows what works now, and that is moving the pocket to allow Tannehill to make the big play, and getting Thigpen and Miller the ball in space (not Daniel Thomas, please, not Daniel Thomas).
I'm probably giving Mike Sherman way too much credit on this one, but I expect him to do both. Miami's season depends on that, and so far doing that has been successful.
With so many new pieces on both sides of the ball, it should take some time to really come together. Mike Wallace will likely look like a disappointment at the start as he attempts to form a chemistry with Ryan Tannehill during actual game action (far different than on the practice field).
I'm not the type to say I told you so, but I am doing a little dance right now.
But what did I say would happen as the season went on?
Well I didn't make any predictions as far as hard stats go along, but I did say that the chemistry will get better as the season goes on.
I'm sticking to that and will be ready to do that same dance again as the Dolphins get to that 11-5 record I predicted in June, but this is solely on Mike Wallace.
If Tannehill is allowed to get out of the pocket and make plays, Wallace will be the biggest beneficiary of that as he will have more time to get open farther down the field.
If Tannehill can find him, expect more beautiful throws that actually hit Wallace in stride.
To go along with those throws, expect more short passes to Wallace that will go for 10 yards in the air, followed by more yards after the catch. Miami has already gotten Wallace into the game with those types of throws in the last two weeks, and will likely use them a lot more.
The chemistry and timing between Tannehill and Wallace will get better, and the Dolphins offense will do the same, despite the offensive line continuing to look worse.
Here's something to take solace in as you look at the struggles of the offensive line and the team as a whole: When Miami's defense is healthy (or pretty close to it), it is 3-0.
Thank God for this bye week, because Miami's defense will get healthier. That seems to be the belief with the Dolphins, per James Walker of ESPN.com:
“I mentioned to the players on defense I think we’ll be the healthiest we’ve been since the opening game,” Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle explained. “I’m not sure how everybody’s status will be, but I know it will be better than [Sunday] and it will be better than we had in the last couple of weeks.”
That's what a week off can do to a team.
The healthier the defense is, the better they play, which is one of the most obvious statements ever uttered on any sports website in history. For a Dolphins defense that's very top heavy, this couldn't be further from the truth.
My opinion: if Cameron Wake is healthy and plays the whole game against Baltimore, I truly believe the outcome would've been different, for he would've meant at least one more sack on a 3rd-and-long on a Ravens scoring drive.
That's all you need to know about this defense. Yes, they have underachieved the last two weeks. That will change as they get healthier and get more of their regulars into the game.
So how should we expect the Dolphins to finish the season?
Fairly well actually, despite the problems that the offensive line will have.
Miami does know how to adjust, which they showed against Indianapolis and Atlanta. A healthier defense will steal some games, while the offense will manage to be productive despite its flaws running the ball and protecting Tannehill.
I'm a believer in Tannehill after the beating he has taken in the first five games and the success he has almost single-handedly brought this offense. No reason for me to lose faith in him now.
Miami will finish the season at 11-5, going 8-3 to end the season and taking the first wild card spot, with Denver, Indianapolis, New England and Cincinnati winning their respective divisions.
Since I don't have a game to give you five reasons why the Dolphins will win this week, I'll leave you the Miami Dolphins fight song as my song of the week, along with my NFL picks for this week here.
HOME TEAM IN CAPS
Lines provided by Yahoo Sports
CHICAGO (-9) over New York Giants
BUFFALO (+9) over Cincinnati
Cincinnati escapes Buffalo with a close victory.
St. Louis (+9) over HOUSTON
Houston will win, but not by nine.
MINNESOTA (-3) over Carolina
Pittsburgh (+3) over NEW YORK JETS
Philadelphia (-1.5) over TAMPA BAY
KANSAS CITY (-7.5) over Oakland
BALTIMORE (+3) over Green Bay
CLEVELAND (+2.5) over Detroit
SEATTLE (-14) over Tennessee
Jacksonville (+27) over DENVER
Denver will win by 21 points, as they'll take it easy in the second half.
New Orleans (+1) over NEW ENGLAND
Arizona (+11.5) over San Francisco
The Cardinals are better than everyone thinks, this game will be closer than anyone thinks.
DALLAS (-6) over Washington
Indianapolis (-1.5) over SAN DIEGO
Last Week: 8-6 (7-7 ATS)
Season: 47-32 (37-36-4)
All statistics provided by Pro-football-reference.com
Be sure to catch Thomas hosting Dolphins Central Radio. This week's guest is Chris Perkins from the Sun-Sentinel.