The Miami Dolphins (5-5) were able to hold off the San Diego Chargers (4-6) and earn a 20-16 victory Sunday. The win earned the Dolphins a tie for the final AFC Wild Card spot. Granted, Miami has faced a huge amount of adversity this season. However, they have remained extremely inconsistent on a weekly basis.
This begs the question: Who are the 2013 Miami Dolphins?
After a brilliant 3-0 start to the season, the Dolphins stalled and lost their next four games. A pivotal overtime win against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 9 seemed to right the ship—but only for a moment. The next week, Miami lost to the then-winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers which raised some concern.
Now, just one week later, the Dolphins were able to convincingly close out a tight game against a very talented Chargers team for their fifth win of the season.
This type of weekly fluctuation does not bode well for the remainder of Miami's 2013 season. After all, the most important characteristic for a playoff team is consistency. The Dolphins simply don't have that at this juncture.
So, why are the Dolphins so inconsistent? There are numerous reasons.
First, second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill has been unable to make a progressive leap after a solid rookie season. Tannehill has had his moments, but quarterback play has been average at best in 2013. The Dolphins have only lost one game this season when Tannehill finished with a passer rating over 84.3:
|Ryan Tannehill's Passer Rating vs. Dolphins' Record|
Obviously, more consistent play at the quarterback position is needed. The blame, however, cannot be solely placed on the efforts of Tannehill. After all, Miami's running game has been just as inconsistent as its quarterback.
Despite averaging 4.1 yards per carry throughout the season, the Dolphins have been unable to create a consistent rushing attack:
|Total Rushing Yards Per Game vs. Dolphins' Record|
There doesn't happen to be any correlation between Miami's total rushing yards and its ability to win games this season at first glance. However, an inconsistent rushing attack creates an unbalanced offense, which, in turn, creates an inconsistent aerial attack.
If Tannehill was able to rely on a solid running game, his efficiency would improve in dramatic fashion.
So, what is the constant for these two inconsistent phases of the game? That would be the Dolphins offensive line.
By now, the situation between offensive linemen Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito is well known. This has left the Dolphins without two crucial cogs in the trenches. With these two players absent from the lineup, Miami has suffered.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), the Dolphins offensive line is ranked 15th in pass protection with a 0.0 grade, and 23rd blocking for the run with a negative-22.4 grade. Simply put, with such an inefficient offensive line in place, it becomes terribly impossible for the offense to create any kind of balance.
Miami has a great amount of talent on the offensive side of the ball; however its Achilles' heel for the remainder of the 2013 season will be a very shaky offensive line. This unit has signified the lack of an identity for this team through 11 weeks.
Miami's defense has given up an average of 23.2 points per game so far in 2013—good enough for a 14th-overall NFL ranking. This is nowhere near an impossible number to overcome with a balanced offensive attack.
The Dolphins must find their identity over the last six games of the season if there is any hope for a playoff berth. Looking at their remaining schedule, urgency must be stressed:
|Dolphins' Remaining Opponents' Defensive Ranks|
|Week||Opponent||Rank vs. Pass||Rank vs. Run||Record|
Looking ahead, the Dolphins only face two teams with losing records and a fair amount of top-10 defensive units.
Over the course of the coming week, Miami must find a way to create an offensive identity by playing to the strengths of the offensive line. Whether the forthcoming game plan consists of utilizing more high-percentage passes and stressing the run, or attempting to create space underneath with a vertical aerial attack remains uncertain.
One thing is for sure: Miami must decide on a plan and stick with it. This will create consistency and potentially allow the Dolphins to take the next step and clinch an elusive playoff berth.
Who are the 2013 Miami Dolphins? We have yet to find out.