I’ll go with a combination of both.
A 4-4 record is nothing to be ashamed of. It puts the Dolphins right in the middle of things. It gives them a real chance to make the final eight games meaningful. It also serves as a reminder that many of the decisions made have been the correct ones, especially when it comes to going with
But when you examine those four losses, when you consider that three of them came by three points, when you focus back on a few precious plays that could have turned defeat into victory, you realize how close these Dolphins really are to residing in the upper echelon of this league.
Mixed feelings? Definitely. That by definition is what 4-4 is really all about. But the bottom line on these Dolphins is that they are a good, solid football team. Yes, there are holes. Yes, the secondary had its worst game of the season in Indy. Yes, the running game has struggled to maintain much consistency.
But considering where this franchise has been, the fact that the Dolphins are clearly relevant once again, coupled with the fact that they have so much they can still accomplish, has to provide a source of both optimism and encouragement at this juncture of the season.
Joe Philbin and his coaches deserve a lot of credit for this. The fact that so many players are enjoying good seasons is a direct correlation to the coaching they are receiving. Philbin has set the tone and has provided an important level of stability. And Jeff Ireland and his staff also deserve credit for bringing in so many promising young players.
However, Philbin and Ireland will be the first to tell you there still is a lot of work to be done. No lofty predictions right now. It’s too early for that. But when you list all the positives in one column and all the negatives in another, it quickly becomes evident that the bar is heading in the right direction.
This is a vastly improved football team. Here are my top five reasons why:
• It starts with Tannehill. Always will. I said before the season that this season was all about validating Tannehill as the quarterback of the future. You leave 2012 with the knowledge that he is the right player and you leave feeling good. You leave without that knowledge and nothing else really matters.
Well, now we know. To both the casual and expert follower, Tannehill has already answered all of the difficult questions. In eight games, he has shown us enough accuracy, intelligence, arm strength, mobility, endurance, commitment and overall athletic ability to conclude that he is the real deal. It will be so much easier building the rest of this team now that the most important piece is firmly in place.
• Next, the rushing defense. There is no better defense at stopping the run in the NFL than the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins have been good in past seasons; just not quite this good.
You look at some of the backs they have faced in the first half of the season – Arian Foster, Darren McFadden and Stephen Jackson come to mind – and to think none of them rushed for 100 yards is awfully impressive. This is a combination of many players playing well. In the big scheme of things, it is huge to think that the Dolphins have made so many opponents one-dimensional.
• The special teams have been dominant. We’re talking about coverage as well as protection, kicking as well as punting. Except for one two-game slump,
In the second meeting against the Jets, there was a successful onside kick, a blocked punt and a blocked field goal. Sunday at Indy,
This special teams success is a recurring theme. I can’t remember the last time the Dolphins were this good in this many ways.
But after the best eight-game run of his career, Hartline is on pace to catch over 80 passes for more than 1,200 yards. It is clear that Tannehill and Hartline have formed a nice chemistry, one that they can build on in the second half of the season. You can’t expect another Sunday like his career day at Arizona, but Hartline has been consistently good all season.
• The offense isn’t beating itself. This is huge in today’s NFL. The Colts game marked the fourth straight game Tannehill hasn’t thrown an interception; granted in one of those games he was injured early.
Half of his six interceptions came in the opener at Houston and two of those three picks were tipped balls. It is clear that Tannehill has done an excellent job staying away from the negative play and this is highly unusual for a rookie, especially a rookie with only 19 starts at quarterback in college.
What’s more, the Dolphins have lost just one fumble in their last three games and just seven through eight games. They have also cut down significantly on their penalties – in five of the eight games they have been penalized five times or less, clearly below the league average.
What do we have to look forward to in the second half of the season? Five of the games are at home. Four of the eight are against divisional rivals Buffalo and New England. A tough trip to San Francisco awaits.
At 4-4, the Dolphins are currently one of eight AFC teams without a losing record. They are clearly in position to make a run in the second half of the season and, in truth, wasn’t that the goal all along?