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2015 Dolphins Draft Picks
A month ago I wrote about the 2nd quarter of the season telling us whether or not this team has promise or is a dud. My focus points were on the coaches making changes, the OL gelling, the running game setting the tone, the defense finding consistency and finally the QB playing solid football. The 2nd quarter offered 4 straight home games against mostly beatable opponents and a chance for Miami to be near .500 heading into the bye. A few days later the Tennessee game happened and once again all seemed lost...
But here we sit at the bye week with the team pulling off impressive wins, finding something of an identity and suddenly in the discussion as a relevant force for the 2nd half of the season. Jay Ajayi has emerged as the offense's top weapon and is burying defenders with yards after contact. We have to give a tip of the cap to the offensive line because they are opening up highway lanes which he is bursting through. It helps that all five starters have finally been on the field together and are playing with a confidence which we have not seen in a long time. The defense has shut down two legitmate running offenses in the past two weeks. The demotions of Jason Jones and Mario Williams have allowed Andre Branch to step up and Cameron Wake to finally log some serious snaps. Donald Butler has been an improvement over the oft injured Jelani Jenkins as well. This all equates to crediting the coaches for learning from their mistakes and making better decisions.
Start with the cutting of a few players. Dallas Thomas, Billy Turner and Jamil Douglas are gone from the offensive line where they had not developed as expected. Perhaps they weren't bringing the right attitude, work ethic, focus, etc. Whatever it was, Adam Gase saw enough and delivered quite the wake up call. As previously mentioned, demotions on the defense also gave other players a chance to step up with more snaps. Vance Joseph seems to be getting the most out guys who were previously backups or depth. The play calling on offense has changed from pass happy to balance. Using the power of Ajayi to both move the chains and set up the play action pass has been awesome. OC Clyde Christensen joked that it gives Gase a rash having to call the same inside run plays over and over, but hey it works. Kudos to the coaches for finding a winning formula and sticking to it. Quick side note, it appears the the OL (Branden Albert and Mike Pouncey specifically) pressed Gase into going run heavy and he listened. This is what we heard about Gase all offseason and its great to witness a coach who communicates well with his players.
This week is all about Miami resting, healing and diligently studying film to see what else they can clean up (penalties come to mind!). The 2nd quarter ends a week from Sunday when they host the New York Jets. This is a game the Dolphins cannot afford to lose. The Jets are in QB purgatory, their running game has not been as advertised and their defense has allowed 23+ points in 6 of 7 games. The worry is that the Jets' front seven has done a relatively good job of stopping the run - they are currently 4th in yards allowed with opponents only mustering 3.2 yards per carry. If they are successful in slowing down the J Train can Miami counter punch? I still believe Miami's defense will be the key by forcing Ryan Fitzpatrick (or maybe Bryce Petty) into multiple turnovers and 3 and outs. But alas, it may come down to Ryan Tannehill producing a big game. The Jets' passing defense is ranked 29th and is allowing nearly 2 TDs per game through the air. After rumors of Miami looking beyond the Tannehill era he has a chance to build off a couple of solid games and deliver a knockout blow to a division rival. Let's hope Miami concludes this part of the season with another impressive victory.
Jay Ajayi is quite the revelation. Another monster game from the guy that a few weeks ago was considered another bust with no future. Now he is only the 4th running back in NFL history to have back to back 200 yard rushing games, joining O.J. Simpson, Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams. The J-Train leads the NFL in yards per carry and has vaulted to 6th in rushing yards based off two monster games.
The offensive line has mounted a huge turnaround. With all 5 starters finally being healthy, there has been a huge difference in performance both in run blocking and pass protection. In particular, the interior offensive line has done an excellent job in creating cutback lanes for the running backs. Mike Pouncey and Laremy Tunsil have been unstoppable, Jermon Bushrod has also done a good job of moving off and getting contact at the second level. And after an initial rough start, Juwuan James has turned his game around. From a pass blocking perspective, you can see the difference the pass two weeks as Tannehill has been sacked once in two games and is generally finding himself with more time to throw.
The run defense has also improved greatly. With the additions of Cam Wake and Andre Branch at end, two players not known for their run defense, and with some tweaking at the linebacker position, the run defense is getting stronger. The Bills vaunted run game, the backbone of the offense, was held to just 60 yards and 3 yards per carry.
The pass rush is showing up as well. Cam Wake looks like his old self, with 1.5 sacks.
Coaching has played a big role in this short turnaround. Adam Gase has taken control of this team. Benching underperforming players, cutting dead weight. He has sent a message and players are starting to realize there is a new sherriff in town. Vance Joseph has also demonstrated his ability to adjust. The Dolphins were dead last in run defense at the end of week 5 but have been much stouter the past two weeks.
If not for terrible special teams play, the Bills would probably not been in the game the way they got dominated on both side of the trenches. But with a punt block allowed and a terrible holding call on Kenyan Drake that led to a rekick and a nice return for the Bills, it helped to equalize the game for a while. Darren Rizzi's units are usually solid, if unspectacular. But they were spectacularly bad against the Bills.
Penalties need to be cleaned up. Despite winning time of possession 37 minutes to 23 minutes and besides winning the rushing battle 256 rushing yards to 67, the Bills were leading at the half and were in this game throughout. That was because of poor special teams plays and untimely, stupid penalties. I like that the Dolphins are playing with more passion, but they need to know how to walk the line.
With the schedule seemingly getting much easier, the Dolphins may be in position to go on a winning streak and compete for a playoff spot. Two things have to happen for that to continue. The Dolphins need to continue running the football and they need to continue stopping the run. With Jay Ajayi on fire and the defensive front playing better, this is very possible. But one thing the Dolphins have proven over the years is that they can be consistently inconsistent. Let's see if Adam Gase can change that bad habit.