The Five Biggest Dolphins Reasons for Optimism at the Bye
The Miami Dolphins put themselves in position to make a run at the playoffs when they got to their bye week with a 3-3 record following consecutive blowout victories against the San Francisco 49ers and New York Jets.
The Dolphins initially were scheduled to have their bye on the weekend of Nov. 22 in Week 11, but those plans were changed when the NFL reshuffled a bunch of games in light of COVID-19 positive tests involving the Tennessee Titans and New England Patriots.
The Dolphins obviously find themselves in a much different position at the bye than they did at their bye last week when they went into it with an 0-4 record by a combined score of 163-26.
This year, the Dolphins have outscored their opponents by 47 points, giving them the fourth-best point differential in the AFC behind only Super Bowl contenders Baltimore (+75), Pittsburgh (+62) and Kansas City (+48).
So how did the Dolphins get here? More importantly, what are the biggest reasons for the team to be optimistic heading into his final 10 games?
1. The Starting Secondary Is Legit
The obvious blueprint on defense was to build a really strong secondary and have everything feed off of it, much like what the New England Patriots had in 2018 when they won the Super Bowl with Brian Flores as their de facto defensive coordinator.
It's why the Dolphins made Byron Jones the highest-paid cornerback in the NFL (since surpassed) when they signed him as a free agent and then doubled up by using the last of their three first-round pick on Auburn cornerback Noah Igbinoghene.
But we're finally now getting to see the Dolphins secondary at peak efficiency after Jones battled injuries in the early weeks and Xavien Howard continued to work his way back to his Pro Bowl form of 2018.
Complementing those two have been safeties Eric Rowe and Bobby McCain, two former cornerbacks with obvious coverage skills.
The Dolphins still could use a top-notch slot corner, but even then the coverage the Dolphins have gotten downfield the last two games with Jones and Howard in the lineup has made a huge difference.
Of course, it's easy to point out that the opposing quarterbacks the past two weeks were a hobbled Jimmy Garoppolo, journeyman C.J. Beathard and aging Joe Flacco, but it doesn't change the fact that the Dolphins secondary is looking like it could be a difference-maker for the rest of 2020.
2. Defensive Ends Emmanuel Ogbah and Shaq Lawson
It didn't start off particularly well for those two veteran free agents, as they were part of a shoddy effort in run defense in the opener against the New England Patriots.
But over the past several weeks, the two of them have been consistent factors.
Ogbah has been the impact pass rusher this team so severely lacked last season, while Lawson has made contributions in all areas.
3. Flores Can Coach
One sign of a good coach is being able to win in different circumstances.
Well, Flores found a way to squeeze five wins last year out a roster that very generally could have been described as sub-par, including the season-ending shocker at New England when half the 53 players on the active roster at the time entered the NFL either as seventh-round picks or undrafted free agents.
Then this year Flores guided his team to easy victories against sub-par opponents, with the Dolphins defeating Jacksonville, San Francisco and the Jets by 18, 26 and 24 points. While some fans have poo-pooed those wins as coming against bad teams, aren't good teams supposed to handle bad teams this way?
And then you can look at penalties, another sign of good coaching, and you'll find the Dolphins among the least-penalized teams in the NFL.
So, yes, it should be clear by now that Brian Flores is a good NFL head coach.
4. The Offensive Line Should Keep Getting Better
The Dolphins invested even more in the offensive line in the offseason than they did in the secondary, and the results clearly have been impressive.
Now, no one is suggesting this is an elite offensive line at this time, but think back to this time last year and marvel at just how much better the group is.
And the best part is that the offensive line absolutely should do nothing but get better.
Let's not forget that the Dolphins have had two rookies starting in every game, with Solomon Kindley starting at right guard for all six, Austin Jackson at left tackle for the first four, and Robert Hunt at right tackle for the past two.
How the Dolphins will line up after Jackson returns from his foot injury remains to be seen, but logic says that all three of them should get better with the more game experience they get.
5. The Special Teams
It's easy to dismiss the special teams when you start breaking down teams and contenders, but those sometimes can be the difference in making the playoffs or not making the playoffs.
And the bottom line is the Dolphins got great work out of their kicking game in the first six games.
Jason Sanders has been perfect and is on his way to becoming the best kicker in team history; Matt Haack quietly is having a very good season (not one of his seven punts against the Jets was returned and he averaged a very good 40.3 net yards); and Jakeem Grant is coming off a great game on punt returns with four returns of 14 yards or longer, topped by a 30-yarder.
Just as importantly, the Dolphins haven't allowed a punt return of last 20 yards or a kickoff return of at least 30 yards all season.
Again, this is the kind of thing that could pay off down the stretch.