The Miami Dolphins blew a key opportunity to take command of the final wild-card position in the AFC this weekend, by dropping a 20-16 heartbreaker to the red-hot Carolina Panthers. The Panthers were able to extend their consecutive wins streak to seven, while the Dolphins dropped below the 0.500 mark for the third time this season.
Miami players, coaches and fans will get to celebrate Thanksgiving this year peacefully, as the team is not one of the six playing on Thanksgiving Day. Instead, it will travel up to New York for a Sunday bout with the much-hated division rival New York Jets.
Most Dolphins fans are very familiar with the prevalence of green jerseys at Sun Life Stadium in Miami when the Dolphins host the Jets. This weekend, however, Dolphins fans will hit back with a strong presence at MetLife Stadium featuring over 700 displaced Miami fans organized by a local New York City-based Dolphins fan club that will take over Sections 322 and 323 in what they have dubbed the “2013 #MetLifeTakeover”.
Here we will look at everything you need to know heading into the Week 13 matchup. We will update you on the division standings and injuries. We will take a look at what the Dolphins must focus on improving in order to fend off an early end to the Dolphins' 2013 season.
Division Standings and Playoff Picture
|New England||8-3||288||230||at Houston|
|New York Jets||5-6||186||287||Miami|
|Miami||5-6||229||245||at New York Jets|
On the plus side, Miami’s defeat at the hands of the Carolina Panthers did not significantly impact its fight for second place in the AFC East division, as the New York Jets simultaneously took a bad loss at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens. On the negative side, this should make the sting of defeat all the sharper knowing that Miami had an opportunity to seize control of the position by running a full game ahead of the Jets.
The New England Patriots found a way to extend their lead in the AFC East by hosting and defeating the elite Denver Broncos in a wild finish. The game looked to be heading toward a rare tie until the Broncos turned the football over on a punt return late in the overtime period.
With a little over a month remaining in the 2013 NFL regular season, the Dolphins finds themselves casting their eyes elsewhere in the AFC as they track their chances of claiming a wild-card position in the playoffs.
The Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs are currently in a dogfight for the AFC West crown with both teams boasting a 9-2 record. Whichever among them does not claim the division title will almost certainly claim the first wild-card position in the playoff seeding.
Miami is one of six total teams in the AFC that have a 5-6 record and could vie for one single wild-card position. The other teams are the Jets, Steelers, Ravens, Titans and Chargers. Miami has a head-to-head tiebreak advantage over the Chargers but a disadvantage on the same basis to the Ravens. The Dolphins will play the Jets and Steelers, giving them an opportunity to directly deal losses to both teams while simultaneously claiming a head-to-head tiebreak advantage.
|Jonathan Martin||OT||Illness||Did Not Play|
|Dimitri Patterson||CB||Groin||Did Not Play|
|Mike Pouncey||C||Illness||Did Not Play|
|Chris Clemons||S||Unknown||Left Game - Returned|
|Sam Brenner||G||Unknown||Left Game - Returned|
|Ryan Tannehill||QB||Unknown||Played Entire Game|
The Dolphins' final injury report heading into the Panthers game listed center Mike Pouncey and corner Dimitri Patterson as doubtful to participate in the game. Both players sat out, and their availability for Week 13 remains unclear. Tackle Jonathan Martin was listed as out of the game with an “illness,” and he is not expected back at any point this season.
During the Panthers game, left guard Sam Brenner left the game with an apparent injury. However, he was able to return to the field and, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), only missed a total of four snaps.
Tailback Daniel Thomas was not as lucky. According to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, Thomas suffered a torn ankle ligament that will keep him out of action for a number of games, if not the remainder of the season.
#Dolphins RB Daniel Thomas suffered a torn ankle ligament on Sunday that will keep him out an extended period of time, per source.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) November 25, 2013
Free safety Chris Clemons came off the field Sunday with an apparent injury but only missed a total of three snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. Even so, the injury came toward the end of the football game and Clemons’ effectiveness after he returned to the field was clearly diminished. His situation is worth monitoring as sometimes adrenaline can get a player through the rest of the game only to find during the following week that his injury is more serious than believed.
The same may be said of quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who absorbed a brutal hit on the second-to-last play of the game. Tannehill stood in the pocket and tossed an incredible throw that traveled 63 yards measured on a straight line, hitting receiver Mike Wallace on the hands just shy of the end zone with only 10 seconds remaining in the game. What made the throw all the more impressive was the brutal hit he absorbed as he released the ball.
Tannehill came up from that play shaken and limping around the backfield. He executed one more play to finish out regulation; however, he looked visibly less effective on the play and his status as the week proceeds will be worth monitoring.
What Must Improve
The Miami Dolphins are stuck in a pattern straight out of Groundhog Day as they prepare for a Week 13 contest against the division rival New York Jets.
For the third time since squandering a 3-0 start to the season, the Dolphins found themselves with a 0.500 record, poised to jump back into the winning column and take command of the race for the sixth and final playoff seed in the AFC. The Dolphins faced the first such situation in Week 8 against the New England Patriots, then again in Week 10 as they played the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and finally in Week 12 as they hosted the Carolina Panthers. In all three games, Miami blew its opportunity.
On the other hand, the team has now been below 0.500 twice, facing the possibility of plunging two games below the break-even mark that would all but eliminate them from playoff contention. In both games with their backs to the wall, the Dolphins responded. In Week 9, they beat the red-hot Cincinnati Bengals. In Week 11 they beat the San Diego Chargers to climb back to a break-even record. In Week 13, the Dolphins find themselves in this position once again.
In both previous games, the Dolphins had certain advantages working in their favor. The Bengals traveled to Miami on a short week to play the Dolphins on Thursday Night Football. Road teams are often much more adversely affected by very short weeks than home teams. The San Diego Chargers are a West Coast team and traveled all the way to the other side of the country to face the Dolphins. Teams traveling across the country from West to East have a history of underperforming.
The Dolphins will have no such advantages working in their favor this time as they are forced to travel up to New York. The team will face blustery weather as the current forecast calls for 46-degree highs and significant chance of showers.
The New York Jets are stuck in a pattern of their own. While initially it looked as if the Jets only bothered to show up every other game, the loss to the Ravens this Sunday reveals that the Jets may just be an entirely different team on the road as opposed to at home.
The Jets have a 1-5 record in road games and have been outscored a total of 184 points to only 79. However, at home the team is 4-1, including victories over standout teams such as the New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints, and the team has outscored opponents 107 points to 103.
In order to win this Sunday the Dolphins must continue their own pattern of fighting their way out of a hole, and they must prevent the Jets from continuing their own pattern of playing far above their station in front of their home crowd.
In order to do this, Miami finds itself with a familiar dilemma. The team must reignite a faltering ground game. After appearing to get the ground game going in Weeks 7 to 9 with 415 total rushing yards by non-quarterbacks, the Dolphins non-quarterbacks tallied a whopping total of 99 yards rushing in the three games spanning Weeks 10 to 12.
The team won during this stretch in Week 11 against the San Diego Chargers, as that became the only of the three games in which the Dolphins ran for a decent amount of yardage.
Miami does not have the roster talent or coaching wherewithal to win games with the passing game and defense alone.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill and his receivers are far too mistake-prone, especially behind such a porous offensive line. The coaches are not necessarily making up for shortcomings through attention to detail and sound play-calling.
The defense is being asked to shoulder the heaviest load; however, it continually falls short in the most important moments. The team’s run defense has shown a tendency to take a nosedive in the fourth quarter all season long.
In order to win games, Miami must show balance in all areas. It can start be reigniting the ground game. Though tailback Lamar Miller hardly remains blameless for his role in the faltering rushing attack, the team may have an opportunity to enjoy more efficient rushing with tailback Daniel Thomas set to be out for an extended period of time.
If Thomas does miss the remainder of the season, he will have capped off his third consecutive season rushing for significantly less than four yards per carry on average. He averaged 3.5 yards per carry in 2011, 3.6 yards per carry in 2012 and has a 3.6 yards-per-carry average in 2013. His lack of vision and valid instincts continually drowns Miami’s ground game with mediocrity.
The team may turn to rookie tailback Mike Gillislee in order to shoulder the load with Miller. It may also increase the opportunities given to return specialist Marcus Thigpen. The latter is an intriguing option as he has immense big-play ability that is hindered by inconsistent focus.
Thigpen’s first true carry as a tailback in a Miami uniform ended with a one-yard loss because of his own lack of patience. However his second and only other carry involved a nine-yard gain. Similarly he has been thrown the football six times, and five of those opportunities ended with a drop, two incomplete passes, a four-yard gain and a five-yard gain, according to Pro Football Focus. Yet the sixth opportunity gained 50 yards. He may be a maddeningly inconsistent player, but he is also a potential playmaker.