Miami Dolphins Should Look To Find Identity Down Stretch

By Cody Strahm
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Dolphins are currently a .500 a football team. They’re a team that boasts impressive wins and equally embarrassing losses through 10 games in 2013.

Thanks to a mediocre AFC, however, they’re also a team that sits in ideal position to make a run at the franchise’s first playoff berth in five years all the while lacking a true identity on either side of the ball.

What do the Dolphins excel at? What do they struggle with? An answer to either question is far from black and white.

Here’s what we know about Miami for sure: A porous offensive line has inhibited quarterback Ryan Tannehill‘s development even if some of the blame for the offense’s inconsistency can be attributed to a young signal caller who lacks invariability. We also know that a remolded linebacker corps has proven to be a downgrade so far, as linebackers Philip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe have struggled to shed blocks, fill running lanes and make tackles.

Even with those two indicting revelations, however, the Dolphins are still a mystery.

Offensively, the Dolphins have only managed an average of 307.8 yards per game, which is second lowest in the entire NFL. Only the 1-9 Jacksonville Jaguars average fewer yards per contest. However, the 21.8 points per game Miami is averaging ranks higher than eight teams.

Despite numbers that suggest the Dolphins have one of the league’s worst offenses, there have been times this season where it has been quite effective. Tannehill, for example, ranks 13th in the NFL in passing yards. He’s on pace for nearly 4,000, and no quarterback not named Dan Marino has ever reached that milestone in Miami.

Yet, thanks to an offensive line that has conceded more sacks than any other team and what has unfortunately become a below average group of wide receivers, the Dolphins’ identity isn’t a dependable passing game.

Miami hasn’t found consistent success running the football either. Far from it.

In Weeks 8 and 9, the Dolphins ran for a combined 313 yards and Lamar Miller averaged 5.7 yards per carry. The Dolphins had three of their worst rushing performances in team history in Weeks 1, 5 and 10, however. In said games, Miami combined for a whopping 44 yards on 48 carries. Clearly, a productive rushing attack isn’t an identity Miami can claim.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Dolphins have allowed 364.9 yards per game, which ranks 21st in the NFL, but the 22.5 points per game they’re conceding is a solid 12th.

The Dolphins’ defensive line, which owns three of the league’s stoutest defensive tackles in Randy Starks, Paul Soliai and Jared Odrick, suggests Kevin Koyle‘s unit should excel at stuffing the run. It doesn’t, however, as the Dolphins rank 25th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game. The disappointing additions of Wheeler and Ellerbe at linebacker, who grade as two of the NFL’s worst run defenders according to Pro Football Focus, are a big part of the team’s struggles to defend the run.

Miami’s pass defense has been much improved in 2013. After finishing 27th against the pass in 2012, the Dolphins are currently slotted 19th defending it this season. The signing of cornerback Brent Grimes has helped tremendously, as the former Atlanta Falcon has provided blanketing coverage and flashed some ball-hawking ability as the NFL’s third-most efficient player at the position according to Pro Football Focus.

19th of 32 is still below average, though. And although Miami’s defense has been less vulnerable through the air this season, it has still had difficulty containing opposing tight ends and fielding a consistent pass rush.

Through 10 games, we’ve seen the Dolphins throw and run the football productively at times but also struggle mightily to do either at others. We’ve seen a defense that has the pieces to stop the run fail to do so and a pass defense that has progressed but still has flaws.

A bend-but-don’t-break defense would technically have to be Miami’s identity at this moment in time given the team’s solid standing in points allowed per game. But a true and reliable identity would center around the ability to consistently throw, run or stop opponents from doing either.

Thanks to a top-heavy AFC, the Dolphins are capable of making the playoffs this season without a true identity. But finding one soon could ensure a playoff berth and actually looking like they belong upon arrival.

Cody Strahm is a Miami Dolphins contributor at Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.

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