The Miami Dolphins' offensive struggles continued in their Week 11 win over the San Diego Chargers. The running game was greatly improved although it couldn't have been much worse than the two yards rushing against Tampa Bay. Ryan Tannehill continues to struggle with deep throws, and Mike Wallace continues to underwhelm. Even with all the problems, the Dolphins manage to score enough points to win the game, primarily because of the emergence of Charles Clay and Rishard Matthews.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill completed 22 of 35 passes for 268 yards, a touchdown and one interception. That's not a terrible stat line until you realize Tannehill averaged just 7.7 yards per completion. Over the last three games, Tannehill has thrown just three touchdowns, all of which were caught by Matthews or Clay. The one touchdown he threw was a four-yard pass followed by tight end Charles Clay running over, around and through five Charger defenders on his way to the end zone.
It is important to remember that Clay was not expected to be starting for the Dolphins. When Dustin Keller was lost for the year with a knee injury, Clay inherited the role. Against the Chargers, Clay was targeted seven times for six completions, 90 yards and a touchdown. Clay is a big tight end and a huge asset for Tannehill. A solid tight end will be the best friend of a quarterback who struggles with the deep ball and looks for shorter throws.
Matthews took on a larger role within the offense when Brandon Gibson was lost for the season. In his first start, Matthews caught a career-high 11 balls for 120 yards and two touchdowns. Against the Chargers, Matthews caught four passes for a total of 52 yards. Since taking over the slot-receiver position, Matthews has proven to be a reliable option for Tannehill. The Dolphins have several issues on offense, but the slot position is not one of them.
Sunday was another lackluster performance for Wallace. The Dolphins' star receiver managed just four receptions for 39 yards. He also had one drop on a catchable ball down the field. Wallace was brought to Miami to increase offensive production and has been outperformed by nearly every other receiver.
Wallace has been targeted 85 times this season, more than any other Dolphins receiver, and has totaled just 534 yards and one touchdown. Wallace has the fewest touchdown catches of any Dolphins receiver or tight end who receives regular playing time.
|B. Gibson (IR)||30||326||3||10.9||44|
Tannehill and Wallace show no signs of getting on the same page. The defense continues to stand tall when it absolutely has to, allowing chunks of yardage but making the necessary plays to grab a win. Sunday was an ugly win, but it was a win nonetheless and one that the Dolphins desperately needed.
Miami currently sits at 5-5, tied with the Jets for sixth in the AFC standings. The 'Fins control their playoff destiny thanks to two games with the Jets down the stretch. That being said, the Miami offense is not going to strike fear into any defensive coordinator until Wallace and Tannehill finally click.
If Wallace and Tannehill haven't developed chemistry by now, they likely won't until next season. Miami will have to continue to rely on its lesser known players. Guys like Clay and Matthews have proven to be up to the challenge. Even Daniel Thomas showed signs of life for the running game in Week 11.
This team has been held together with glue and duct tape thanks to scandal, injuries and suspensions. The fact that Miami is in a position to make a possible playoff push is a testament not just to the players, but to the often criticized coaching staff as well.
Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald describes the Dolphins playoff chase perfectly.
"The Dolphins remain alive in a chase for a wild-card playoff spot. They are surviving despite the worst scandal in team history, a loss to previously winless Tampa Bay, an NFL investigation, not one but two committees being convened and banners calling for the general manager’s firing circling Sun Life Stadium."
Salguero continued with a realistic view of the Dolphins' latest victory.
"The Dolphins won on Sunday. And the victory, imperfect and filled with mistakes, was nonetheless a life-giving gulp of fresh air inhaled by a team that had been choking on scandal and bad news for several weeks."
The Dolphins continue to push forward despite all the issues. Say what you will, there is something to be admired by this team's never say die attitude. Miami's defense is good enough to slow down any offense in the league. The offense will not reach its full potential without Wallace being the threat he was in Pittsburgh or without a top-tier offensive line.
But if the offense can nickel-and-dime it just enough for the defense to play with a lead, we may just witness one of the most improbable playoff appearances in recent years. Even if it's done with a group of no-name players making the highlight reels.
All stats courtesy of ESPN.com