For the Miami Dolphins, the bigger picture coming out of Sunday’s 23-20 overtime loss to the New York Jets reflects a team getting much closer to forming an identity worth building on. That’s not to say there aren’t some serious areas of concern for Head Coach Joe Philbin, like racking up 11 penalties, turning the ball over twice and giving up one too many big plays on defense.
Still, something that cannot be denied through three regular-season games is the fact that the guys in the trenches on both sides of the ball for Miami are overpowering the opposition. Defensively, the Dolphins have now gone 17 straight games without allowing a 100-yard rusher and the young offensive line is powering the run game at a high level while also improving in pass protection.
“They did well. The pass protection was good,” Philbin said in his day-after press conference today. “We had I think two quarterback hits and I don’t believe we got sacked if I’m not mistaken. So anytime you come out of a game and you have zero quarterback sacks I think you have to feel good about that.
“I thought the run blocking was good although some of it was I thought the backs did some things on their own. We certainly have room for improvement there. Again, I think identity wise as a football team, three games into it we can run the football it appears relatively well and we can defend the run well. We’ve got to expand a little bit from there.”
The Dolphins have the top-rated run defense in the AFC and rank third in the NFL, while on offense they are third in the AFC running the ball and fourth in the NFL, averaging 5.0 yards per attempt. They are allowing just 2.4 yards per attempt and have given up a total of just 194 yards on the ground while rolling up 527.
Philbin knows success on those two fronts is a good start in his first season as a head coach, but he also knows in this modern era where being able to pass efficiently and effectively is crucial, there needs to be some progress made in that area. That is why he has a broader vision of what his offense can achieve beyond a powerful ground attack.
“What I’d like it to be is protect the football number one, which we’re not there right now,” said Philbin, who is preparing his team for back-to-back road games beginning at Arizona this Sunday. “We have six giveaways in three games, so two a game is way too many. So that’s the first thing we’re off the boat on. The second thing is we’d love to be an explosive offense that can make big plays. I think we’ve been excellent in the running game with explosive plays, not as good in the passing game, but we’re getting better as an explosive offense.
“Then the other stuff is, ‘okay, let’s have balance, let’s have flexibility, let’s be multiple formation wise and let’s take what they give us.’ But that’s all kind of fluff. The real stuff is let’s hold onto the football, let’s make some big plays, make first downs and get into scoring position and all the other stuff that sounds good we can do later.”
Another area where Philbin saw improvement on Sunday was on third downs as Miami converted on 10-of-19 opportunities for a 53 percent success rate. There was a good mix on those conversions from the running game and the passing game, with rookie quarterback
Conversely, the defense held the Jets to just 6-of-17 (35 percent) on third downs and came up real big in the red zone. New York made five trips inside Miami’s 20 and came away with only one touchdown, including three trips inside the 10.
“I thought it was very good,” Philbin said. “I believe we gave the ball away to them and they had a first-and-goal at the 3 and we pushed them back and then we picked them off. Obviously, we’ve got to make the play in the fourth quarter. We can’t give up a touchdown in the fourth quarter but I thought overall it was very good. I believe their touchdown percentage was 1-of-5. Most teams would be pretty satisfied with that.”
Now the Dolphins have a solid blueprint to look at going forward, and Philbin and his staff can focus more on the other areas that need to be cleaned up starting in Arizona.