Taking Stock of Miami Thus Far

12.1. That’s how many points Miami’s Points Per Game Allowed average has improved from the end of the 2019 season through six weeks of the 2020 season. That difference, 12.1, has moved Miami from finishing 32nd in Points Per Game in 2019, to 2nd (yes, you read that right) in Points Per Game Allowed at this point in the 2020 season as we head into a Monday Night Double-Header.

Overall, even in this strange Covid-ridden year, time has made a difference. After six games in 2019, Miami had been outscored by a stupefying total of 211 to 63. That’s a -148 point differential. This year, Miami’s outscoring their opponents 160 to 113, which is a +47 point differential. Obviously, both sides of the ball have improved and have contributed to back-to-back wins by a combined score of 67-17 heading into the bye. Oh, by the way, Miami’s 3-3 and in second place, and could be just one game back tonight after I’m done writing this. That’s a far cry from 0-6 at this time a year ago.

Normally at this point, I’d include a bunch of clips about how the O-line play has improved. Or to show how much the secondary play has really ratcheted up with the return of Byron Jones from injury and the return of Xavien Howard to the lockdown corner he was in 2017 and 2018. Just for fun, here are some stats that back those claims up:

– Miami is tied for 2nd with Pittsburgh in Points Per Game Allowed at 18.8
– Miami is 7th in Total Points allowed with 113*
– Miami is 7th in Opponents Passer Rating allowed at 86.3
– Miami is 8th in Pass Completion Percentage Allowed at 62.2%^
– Miami is 5th in Sacks with 17
– Miami is 1st in Opponents 3rd Down Conversion Rate at 31.3% allowed

*5 of the 6 teams ahead of Miami had played one fewer game heading into the Monday Night Doubleheader.
^ Only two teams, Chicago and Pittsburgh, have held opponents below 60%.

Instead, tonight I’m just going off the cuff about how much Miami has improved.

If you read my introductory piece after I joined the team at DolphinsTalk or know me from various podcasts in the past, you probably know that I’m good friends with Travis Wingfield, host of the Drive Time and employee of the Dolphins. Last year I was fortunate enough to attend the Bengals vs. Dolphins game with him in December and we were credentialed for the game, meaning we got to cover the game as members of the media.

I got to meet Andy Cohen, which was a thrill for this former Dolphin Digest reader. We met all the beat writers. We interviewed several players after the game. We got to attend Coach Flores’s post-game media availability. It was, for me at least, a pretty surreal experience. I bring it up now only for a reason. When the game is in progress, it’s a “working press box” where talking doesn’t happen during plays, and whispers between plays are frowned upon. During breaks and halftime, we got to talk to many of the beat writers you read daily and one theme was common:

No one and I mean NO ONE had a bad word to say about Brian Flores.

He’s got a presence about him that I can’t explain. I’ve been pretty fortunate in my day jobs over the years to work for a Pro Football Hall of Famer and a Major League Baseball Owner. I’ve met many current and former players and coaches from both those crowds, and none of them have the presence of Coach Flo. He’s intimidating. He’s serious. He wants to win. He cares. He gets “it”.

A shot I took of Coach Flores’s post-game presser in Week 16 of 2019.

As Dolfans, with the 5th overall pick locked in at the time, we ALL loved seeing Miami go into Foxboro last year in Week 17 and get a win for the first time since 2008. It was glorious, and it leveled the Patriots a blow that brought them to a knee (cost them a bye in the playoffs). We know what happened a week later.

At 3-3 Miami finds itself set up well for the future. They’re 3-3 with a burgeoning young roster, a rapidly improving defense, and Tua Tagovailoa waiting for his time to come. They also have the seventh most cap space this offseason and have four picks in the first two rounds again. They’re going to be set to finish the rebuild they started in 2019 in fine fashion.

At 3-3 Miami also finds itself setup for possible success in 2020. The Chiefs are up 10 on Buffalo in the fourth quarter at this point, which would mean Miami’s a game out of first place in the AFC East by night’s end if the score holds. The bye provides them with a chance to self-scout and gets healthy. Both of those are huge advantages. Their stretch the next quarter-and-a-half, 6 games, is also pretty winnable.

11/1 – Miami gets the Rams, who right now have only beaten teams from the NFC Least, I mean East. The Rams have to play in Miami at 1 pm, coming off a short week as they play the Bears on Monday Night Football. That’s a tricky offense, but one that Brian Flores is familiar with.

11/8 – At an Arizona team that’s seen Kyler Murray throw six interceptions in the last five games, Kenyan Drake be stuck in neutral, and some injuries have hampered the defense. Chandler Jones is gone for the year.

11/15 – The Chargers haven’t been very impressive so far outside of Justin Herbert’s arm. They’re slowly getting healthier, but they’re making a cross-country trip coming off of two straight tough games on a trip to Denver and hosting the Raiders before Miami.

11/22 – At Denver, in my opinion, is the toughest game of the stretch. Their defense is good, and well-coached. The altitude is an adjustment as it always is.

11/29 – The trip to New Jersey basically boils down to one question: Will Adam Gase still be the coach then?

12/6 – I’m not sure if this will be the Burrow vs. Tua match most fans want, but I’ve seen several Bengals game and this is a team with a bad defense and a really bad offensive line.

Taking stock of this stretch, I think it’s entirely possible for Miami to win at least four of these games. That’d really be something. It’d but them at 7-5, or better, heading into the final quarter of the season. A year ago, Miami were 3-9 heading into the final quarter, having won three of the previous five games. What could Miami do this year with the slate they’re set to face?

I know, I know, I’m out over my skis here. One game at a time, just like Coach Flores says. Writing just strictly as a fan here. Isn’t that fun to think about at least? I mean, how many years have we actually gotten to scoreboard watch as the Dolphins’ hopes for the final Wild Card spot were on life support? How many times were those hopes dashed? I know the answer is “a lot”.

As a kid growing up my dad had a subscription to Sports Illustrated. After he’d read it, I’d take a look at it and usually thumb to the Dr. Z’s “Games of the Week” section. In the mid and late 90s, that usually meant that one of the teams in one of those games was usually the Dolphins. They played in big games that mattered. I know Sports Illustrated isn’t mailed out anymore, and I know Dr. Z is no longer with us, but if that section were still being written, it’d be pretty cool to see the Miami Dolphins in it this year.

Back to the present day now. The bye week also offers Miami an interesting conundrum. A fork in the road of sorts. I think I know what the answer is before I ask the question, but I think Dolfans are at least entertaining the thought at this point. Is the Rams game on November 1st officially “Tua Time”?

I tend to doubt it pretty seriously. It just doesn’t make sense to me. Ryan Fitzpatrick, for the most part, has played pretty well this season. He’s done it with two rookies on the offensive line in every game. Miami could very well have three rookies on the line soon when Austin Jackson returns from IR. It’s just hard for me to see Brian Flores turn to Tua given those circumstances.

But if he does…

As someone who spent most of their life in southwest Ohio, I’m not really sure I’ve been around the phenomenon that is Tua. The closest thing I can relate to was as a freshman in high school when the Cincinnati Reds traded for Ken Griffey Jr. Even then, I was probably too young to fully understand just what the Reds were getting. I didn’t watch many Mariners games growing up, obviously! On Sunday, when Tua entered the game with, what like 8,000 fans in Hard Rock Stadium, I wasn’t prepared for the ovation he got. Twitter blew up when he completed a short pass to Patrick Laird. Apparently, 32,000 homes in South Florida tuned in just at the time Tua went into the game. The scene of him sitting on the field alone after the game was tremendous. It’s fun to think about what he is, and what he could be for the Miami Dolphins. He could be the face of professional sports in Miami. He has that gravitas.

Turning to Tua is an option. I think it’s pretty unlikely, but it’s an option that’s there. And I think that’s kind of the fun thing about this Miami Dolphins team. The Miami Dolphins in the Brian Flores era. Everyone I talked to in Miami last year told me that Miami, and really South Florida as a whole, will always be a Dolphins town at heart. The Dolphins just have to reclaim it.

And what better time than now? At present, Josh Allen just threw a pick that’ll clinch a Bills loss and Miami is just a game back. Nice! Miami’s being led by a bearded maniac, Ryan Fitzpatrick, who EVERYONE seems to love. He’s played well. The line is getting better. The defense has really shined the past two weeks. The schedule looks navigable. Tua Tagovailoa got his first taste of playing time. Miami’s got cap space and draft picks in the war chest. They’re riding a two-game winning streak.

It’s fun to think about all those things especially in the vein that it’s not even Halloween yet. Usually, as Dolfans, I think we’ve looked at these things in November and December when Wild Card hopes have been in the balance. But we’re still in mid-October. It feels different to me. The Dolphins have improved. They’re building a culture. They’re winning. And for the first time in a long time, they’re burying teams.

So, while there’s no Dolphins game this Sunday, there’s still reason for me to smile. I’ll drink some nice bourbon. I might light up a cigar and revel in the fact that the Dolphins have a chance to build something really special down the road. They’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel that was two decades of futility. Finally.

Kudos to Coach Flores. Kudos to Chris Grier. Kudos to the staff and players. It’s been fun so far this year. I’m excited to see what transpires for the Dolphins the rest of the way. Enjoy the week off, Dolfans! FinsUp!