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Mailbag: Week 16 Dolphins vs Packers

The NFL is a bottom-line business. The bottom line says Miami returns home on a three-game losing streak, but the signs the team displayed during that road trip should encourage fans for the home stretch. It starts Christmas Day against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.

Each Thursday, we put out the call for questions on Twitter. We choose three every week to be answered on the mailbag, as well as three for the Drive Time Podcast with Travis Wingfield and three more here on the written mailbag.

Question from @ichardMunroe1 – Which player(s) do you think have improved the most, and are pivotal to the franchise going forward (not QB).

A: This is a fun question for the fact that it has different layers. My first thought was Robert Hunt. Now, most-improved can sometimes insinuate that the starting point wasn't adequate, but Hunt has been a productive player since his 2020 debut. However, this aggressive system that frequently springs Hunt to the second-level for down blocks on linebackers has helped the third-year guard from Louisiana flourish. The Dolphins averaged better than 14 yards per rush running behind Big No. 68 on Saturday in Buffalo (per Pro Football Focus). He has the look of a stalwart on the offensive line.

"He's really big and physical," Offensive Line Coach Matt Applebaum said of Robert Hunt. "And I think he's taken that part of his game to another level, just the physicality play in and play out. And then I think he's improved a lot on his footwork in pass protection and being comfortable in what we're asking him to do from a technique perspective."

By that same token, I would take Jaelan Phillips on the defensive side of the ball. He's the second player in Dolphins history with seven or better sacks in each of his first two NFL seasons, but I think the tape in his second year has taken a massive jump from an already impressive rookie campaign. Phillips figures to bookend Bradley Chubb for the foreseeable future giving Miami one of the top outside linebacker groups in football (Melvin Ingram and Andrew Van Ginkel included).

"It's just that he loves the game," said defensive tackle Christian Wilkins of Phillips. "He cares about the game a lot and puts a lot into it and that's pretty evident – just how emotional he plays and how much he buys in each week to try to be the best that he can be."

Question from @Tyroneb74409823 – Can Waddle break the (former) franchise szn receiving yards record set in '84?

A: He will have to pick up his pace just a little bit. He's averaging 79.8 receiving yards per game which, prorated for 17 games, equals 1,356 yards. That would, of course, leave him just 33 yards shy of Mark Clayton's 1984 season.

I think he'll get there, though. I think the two-game slump that the offense experienced was just that, a slump that was not the norm. Without those two games, Waddle averages 91 yards per game, and if he posts those numbers for the final three, he would end with exactly 1,390 yards – one more than Clayton in '84.

If Waddle can keep doing what he's been doing – improving as time goes on – perhaps he can stretch his average yards per game even further.

"I think how much better he's gotten as the year has gone on," Wide Receivers Coach Wes Welker said of Waddle. "Him just really progressing as a player, the details, over and over, getting all of these different reps. Now it's starting to hit. It's been really cool to see the progress he's made over the course of the season."

Question from @CalanSchroeder - Do you believe Tua was PB snubbed and how motivated is he going to be now that that is out of the way?

A: All year, Tagovailoa and the team have been clear about their goals.

"My feeling on it is, I hope I'm not available for that week," Tagovailoa said of the prospect of making the Pro Bowl. "We have a lot of goals that we set as a team, and that's really the main goal for me and for the team is to focus on this game first, obviously, but make a playoff run, and hopefully we get that opportunity to win those games deep in January and then make a make a Super Bowl run."

As far as the idea of the snub, the voting is the voting. I'm not sure what more Tua could have done. He ranks first in multiple important categories like passer rating, touchdown percentage and yards per attempt.

"Overall, the way he's played, the way he's carried himself, the way he works with his teammates, we couldn't be more happy to have him here and keep having him as our quarterback," said Dolphins Offensive Coordinator Frank Smith.

For more, check out the Drive Time Podcast with Travis Wingfield, available five days a week on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. The Twitter mailbag thread will go up every Thursday at 8:30 a.m.

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