Why the Playoffs Are Still a Possibility for the Miami Dolphins in 2011
After just two weeks of regular season play, the Miami Dolphins' fanbase has officially hit the panic button.
Two consecutive defensive debacles have cast a sentiment of doom and futility over the franchise, whose offense and special teams also sputtered in Sunday's loss to the Houston Texans.
Despite all of this gloom, there is some good news: The Dolphins still have 14 games left to play. So, theoretically, Miami could still go 14-2, win the AFC East and host a parade on Dan Marino Boulevard.
But let's be honest, that's not going to happen.
However, that doesn't mean the playoffs are out of reach. As Adam Schefter tweeted this morning, "Of the 177 teams that have started 0-2 since 1990, 22 have made the playoffs (12.4 percent)."
It's a very, very, very, very, very long shot, but Miami's playoff dreams aren't dead yet. Here are six reasons why.
The Patriots and Texans Are Both Playoff Teams; Schedule Gets Easier
Sure, the Dolphins have looked pretty atrocious through the first two weeks of the NFL season, but there are two positive caveats here:
1. They've only played two games.
2. They played two likely division champions.
Both the Patriots and Texans boast lethal offenses and vastly improved defenses, and both are Super Bowl contenders. Fortunately, the Dolphins face teams like the Browns, Giants, Chiefs and Redskins in the coming weeks, so they will have a chance to right the ship before it's too late.
Daniel Thomas' Return Provides the 'Fins with a Stable Rushing Attack
If Daniel Thomas was healthy during Miami's Week 1 loss to the Patriots, the Dolphins could have plausibly won that game. Reggie Bush's futility running between the tackles forced the 'Fins to abandon their bread and butter and throw the ball a whopping 49 times.
Thomas shredded the Texans' defense for 107 yards on 18 carries, and there's no telling how much damage he could have inflicted on the Pats.
Regardless, Thomas' presence substantially bolsters Miami's chances of winning—assuming he maintains his success. The Dolphins can now let Thomas pound the rock and properly utilize Bush as a more situational and dynamic player.
Offensive Line Should Only Get Better
Tony Sparano's preseason offensive line shuffle (signing Marc Colombo, moving Vernon Carey to guard) spawned widespread concern. After all, he made similar moves last year and they proved catastrophic.
Through Miami's first two games, the line has looked marginal, but there's reason to believe it will improve.
First of all, Mike Pouncey should get better every game. The rookie center has been surprisingly effective, and he held his own (for the most part) against New England's star-studded defensive line in Week 1.
Secondly, Colombo and Carey are probably still adjusting to their new roles, but cohesion will form with time. Colombo has been a liability at times, but if he can stay healthy, he should be serviceable for the duration of the season.
Finally, Jake Long has been nursing a shoulder injury for almost an entire year now, yet he still hasn't fully recovered. The optimist will say that Long will get healthier as the season progresses, and Miami's cornerstone tackle will regain Pro Bowl form. However, the pessimist will say that Long, who has yielded an uncharacteristic 1.5 sacks in Miami's first two games, can't get healthier so long as he is playing.
If the optimistic outlook prevails, the Dolphins' line should be in good shape.
Many of the Team's Major Problems Are Easily Reparable
The Dolphins' most pressing concerns after Week 2 include: special teams, red-zone offense, pass defense and passing attack.
Theoretically, Miami's special teams and red-zone woes could be corrected; however, they have been major issues since 2009, so maybe Tony Sparano just doesn't know how to coach those two areas. But it might be time for the 'Fins to bring in kicking competition for a struggling Dan Carpenter, try anything to fix the coverage units' struggles and let Brian Daboll mastermind a new red-zone strategy.
Unfortunately, the two bigger problems on the table—passing defense and offense—won't be so easy to cure. Unless the Dolphins can acquire some veteran cornerbacks, opposing offenses will continue to expose their lack of depth. And, well, Chad Henne is Chad Henne. Unless the rest of this team elevates their game, he won't be able to lead a playoff surge.
They Can't Keep Losing at Home...Right?
For a team of Miami's caliber, their home woes are astronomically improbable. The Dolphins have lost 11 of their last 12 home games dating back to 2009, and their struggles are starting to seriously affect attendance.
We can't rip the Dolphins for losing to the Patriots and Texans this season, but we can rip them for losing to the Bills, Browns and Lions at home towards the end of last season. There's simply no excuse.
On the bright side, it can't get much worse. Not only are the Dolphins mathematically bound to reverse their home struggles, but their next four home games feature matchups versus the Broncos, Redskins, Bills and Raiders.
Chris Clemons Should Return Soon
A hamstring injury has kept Miami's starting free safety Chris Clemons sidelined for the first two weeks of the season. His replacement, second-year safety Reshad Jones, has been a train wreck.
His aggressive style of play has cost the Dolphins multiple big plays already, and he had a particularly awful night against the Patriots. Although Clemons is no Pro Bowler, he will likely provide a solid upgrade from Jones.
It's also possible, as Dave Hyde of the Sun Sentinel suggested this morning, that the Dolphins should look into veteran Darren Sharper if Clemons' injury will keep him out for an extended period of time. Either way, stability at free safety should arrive soon, and Miami's cornerbacks will reap the benefits.