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Halfway through the season and Miami is playing winning football. This week brings a true test in Philip Rivers and an elite attack. 4 PM game is San Diego where the Chargers are -4 with a 48 O/U.

Make no mistake, Miami must be prepared for a shootout. San Diego has won 3 of their last 4 games after starting the season 1-4. They are averaging 29.6 points per game and allowing 27.4 points per game. Their competition has been pretty good (Denver twice, Oakland, KC, Atlanta) so they are battle tested. Even worse, Philip Rivers has only thrown one stinker in that stretch. He is playing good football.

Even if Rivers has a modest day, running back Melvin Gordon is having something of a breakout season. He's rushed for 768 yards and 9 TDs. Miami's defense has been playing much better but this isn't Ryan Fitzpatrick and a gimpy Matt Forte they are attempting to shut down. If given time Rivers will carve them up (think Jimmy G in week 2) and run away with this one early. Melvin Gordon's YPC weren't too hot at first but the last two weeks he has really picked it up. Missed assignments or bad angles could be catastrophic as he can break it for big runs.

San Diego's defense is better than in years past but certainly vulnerable. They have 18 sacks, 11 interceptions and 10 forced fumbles. But again, they are giving up a lot of points with opponents having scored 13 rushing TDs and 14 passing TDs in 9 games. If Miami can get into the red zone it won't be impossible to come away with points.

Last week I had said the defense forcing turnovers was the key to victory over the Jets. I was partially correct as some late Fitzpatrick interceptions helped Miami get a few extra points via field position. But they still let Ryan bleeping Fitzpatrick make some big throws to extend drives. They can't get away with that against Rivers. They have to shut him down or at least keep him at a pedestrian level to reduce the chances of a shootout. Scares me to say it, but this week I think its on Ryan Tannehill.

I loved that Gase criticized himself for not getting the ball to Jarvis Landry more. That tells me he is going to dial up plays for #14 in San Diego and IT NEEDS TO HAPPEN. Look, Miami isn't going to change what is working. I fully expect a heavy dosage of Ajayi and hope he rips off another 100+ yards of rushing. But what will be even better is a performance similar to the Houston game last year. In that game Tannehill put the ball in the hands of his playmakers where they found a lot of space to operate. Slants, quick outs and half back screens decimated Houston's "vaunted" defense. I'd like to see something similar today.

The injury report is out and thankfully the Kenny Stills situation was illness, not injury. With Devante Parker still gimpy, Leonte Carroo still raw, and Jakeem Grant not really being utilized Miami needs more than just Landry out there catching passes. Marqueis Gray and Dominique Jones have been wonderful surpises at TE, but Miami needs some explosiveness on the field. Hopefully Stills and Landry will give Tannehill some quality routes that produce points.

Speaking of Tannehill, he has gone 3 games without a turnover. Yes, he should have had a couple last Sunday, but he got away with a few bad passes. We say this every week, but he is what he is - a game manager who can rip a few clutch throws every week. Put the ball in your receivers' hands and lead them so they can accumulate YAC. Nothing more, nothing less. He doesn't have to take over and be Dan Marino, just play a clean game where your receivers do the work. Like Houston last year, he can take all of the statistical credit while not having to truly air it out.

Barring any crazy injuries I feel pretty good about this one. Tannehill is due for some numbers and Gase has these guys believing in both him and themselves. Rivers will get his but it won't be enough to prevent Miami from being over .500 for the first time since Week 1 of last year.

Miami 33

San Diego 27

Passing Game: C

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill has had flashes where he has looked above average. His long ball has developed very nicely. He can make any throw, and has shown improvement in recent weeks with regards to his pocket presence and awareness. However, he struggles with consistency. He hasn’t been helped by his receivers much, and he took a real beating during the first 5 games due to some horrible offensive line play.

Jarvis Landry has been the only receiver that has been reliable. Kenny Stills, aside from his notorious drop in the Seattle game, has actually been a help to the offense, but disappears for stretches. Devante Parker, for all his talent, has been a huge disappointment. He can’t seem to shake the nagging injuries, and his questionable dedication to maintaining his body is holding him back. He should be dominating, but he’s barely noticeable many times. With Jordan Cameron on IR and Dion Simms still coming back from his concussion, the onus has fallen on little known backups Marqueis Gray and Dominique Jones to carry the load at tight end, and they have performed better than expected, both in the running game and as receivers. Dion Simms’ return should help even more.

Bottom line, this unit was supposed to be the strength of the offense in terms of depth and talent, and so far they have not lived up to the billing, with the exception of Landry, and even he has hurt his case with some bone-headed personal foul penalties.

Running Game: B

If I were only grading the last 3 games, it would be an A, but that’s not what this is. The running game was BAD, BAD, BAD for the first 5 games. It was an afterthought and the coaches clearly had no confidence in it. The poor line play undermined any effort to develop confidence in it. BUT then, the starting offensive line finally got on the field at the same time, and lo and behold an identity was formed. Jay Ajayi started the season in the doghouse after pouting about being second-string to Arian Foster. Now, Foster is retired and Ajayi is the talk of the league after putting up over 500 yards in the past three games. He is running angry. He shows good burst through the hole, is decisive and powerful. He is showing that he deserves to be considered a cornerstone for this offense for years to come, if he can keep this up over the second half of the season and stay healthy. Damien Williams has been decent if not special as a role player. Kenyan Drake has had moments, most notably in the return game this past week as he scored the winning touchdown on a 96 yard kickoff return.

Passing Defense: B

Miami’s pass D is hard to rate. They’ve given up 10 touchdowns over 8 games. That’s not bad at all. They have yet to allow a QB to throw for 300 yards (though Andy Dalton put up 296.) They are among the best in the league on 3rd down. Once they inserted Cam Wake and Andre Branch into the starting lineup, the pass rush became much more consistent. Ndamukong Suh has been very effective. The team has 19 sacks on the season, led by Wake (5) and Suh (4.5). The defense has 5 interceptions so far, led by Isa Abdul-Quddus (2). Interestingly, no starting CB has a pick yet, with the only CB having made an interception so far being Bobby McCain, this past week against the Jets. Yes, that means that DT Jordan Phillips has more picks than any of our starting CBs. That needs to change.

Run Defense: D

This is the bugaboo for Miami’s D. After fine showings against the Bills and Steelers, it seemed like the team had finally figured things out. Then this past week they were gashed by Matt Forte for close to 100 yards. The Dolphins have given up 100 yard days to LaGarrett Blount (week one) and DeMarco Murray (week five), and have surrendered 4.6 yards per carry to opposing backs so far on the year, which is clearly unacceptable. If they are going to be successful in the second half against teams like San Diego, Arizona and Los Angeles, as well as all their division opponents, they must improve this aspect of their game.

Special Teams: B

Matt Darr has had a pro-bowl caliber season. Until Jay Ajayi’s sudden explosion onto the scene, he was probably the team MVP (a sad statement in itself.) Andrew Franks has been fairly reliable, though he has had some kicks blocked. Hopefully he has worked out the problems he had with that. His kickoffs have been consistently deep. As for the return game, Jakeem Grant has shown the speed and open field vision that made him a draft target this past spring. He has already returned one punt for a touchdown, and he and Jarvis Landry both are averaging about 11 yards per return. On kick returns, Grant is averaging 25 yards per return, and has shown a willingness to bring the ball out of the end zone when it might be smarter to just take a knee, but there is no denying his explosiveness. And of course, Kenyan Drake took one to the house this past weekend, so it seems we have speed and explosiveness in the return game that we haven’t had in a long time.

Coaching: B+

Adam Gase seems to be learning the job of the head coach pretty quickly. He had some pretty awful game plans early on, as did defensive coordinator Vance Joseph. But give credit where it’s due. They adjusted, they grew, they listened to their players and they have improved. Gase has shown strong leadership and a willingness to make tough calls, like benching or cutting underperforming players and adjusting his philosophy on the fly to fit what is actually working well. I like Gase. I am hopeful that he is one of my “building blocks” I wrote about in a previous blog.

Overall:B

The team is 4 and 4, which is not surprising when you look at the rough schedule at the start of the season. But, it’s trending in a good direction, having won three in a row and finding an identity as a bruising, physical running team on offense and an increasingly physical defense, especially in the passing game. My opinion is that this team will go as far as their starting offensive line takes them, especially if they can continue to show progress in their run defense. Going 5 – 3 in the second half of their season is not unrealistic if their offensive line holds up. If they are able to steal a win from either Arizona, San Diego or New England (my projected losses in the second half) then 10 – 6 may even earn them a wild card birth. However, I could just as easily see them losing some winnable games down the stretch to Baltimore, New York, Buffalo… really, anybody. It all depends on how successful Gase has really been in turning the culture around. It will be interesting to see. Go Dolphins!

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