Today we're going to take a look at a few Dolphins trends and how they might influence Sunday's game. This isn't meant to be an exhaustive list, or even necessarily the most important trends and matchups to focus on. Rather, it is a highly idiosyncratic look at trends which caught my eye this week and might prove interesting in Sunday's game. Please feel free to supplement this article with any trends you've noticed. Now, let's get to it.
Luck of the Finnish
The Dolphins are 5-6. How they got there is a mystery. Miami won their first three games, and were outgained in every one of them. In each successive game they were outgained more than the previous game. First Cleveland outgained the Fins by 16 yards. Then Indianapolis outgained the Dolphins by 50 yards. Followed by Atlanta outgaining Miami by 93 yards. Only in the Cleveland game did the Dolphins have a positive turnover differential. Yet somehow the Dolphins managed three consecutive wins to start the season. And if that isn't weird enough, the Dolphins have continued the trend all year long, having been outgained in eight of eleven matchups. Miami has been outgained by an average of 49 yards per game this year. Only three other NFL teams have been worse: Dallas, with an amazing minus 93 yardage differential, Jacksonville at minus 92, and Minnesota at minus 71. Minnesota and Jacksonville are predictably two of the worst, if not the two worst, teams in the NFL. Dallas and Miami are doing it with smoke and mirrors.
By way of comparison, the Jets have a small minus 8 yardage differential, just what you'd expect with a 5-6 team. So how is Miami doing it? Well, they're good at creating turnovers, ranking 6th in the league in interceptions, only two behind the league leaders. Yet turnovers really can't explain it; Miami has only had a positive turnover differential in two of their wins this year, and overall the Dolphins are dead even on turnovers. Special teams also don't explain it, as the Dolphins' special teams have been uniformly average this year. So we are left with this: if you are a Dolphins fan, your favorite team has been extraordinarily opportunistic this season. And if you are not a Dolphins fan, they have been extraordinarily lucky this year. You can guess where my opinions might lie on this issue. Time for the luck to run out.
They Can't Run
Miami's running game has been abysmal this year, ranking 26th in the NFL with only 85 yards per game. And lately, the Dolphins have been ... ummmm... what's worse than abysmal? Catatonic? Over the last three games the Dolphins have averaged less than 53 yards rushing per game. In two of those three games Ryan Tannehill has been their leading rusher, and in both of those games their leading running back has had less than 10 yards rushing. And now the Dolphins' second leading running back, Daniel Thomas, is out for Sunday's game. This nearly nonexistent running attack will be matched up with the best run defense in the NFL. If this plays out as it should (always an iffy proposition with the Jets), the Dolphins should be reduced to a one dimensional attack on Sunday. Which brings us to...
They Can't Hide
As bad as the Dolphins' running game has been, their pass protection has been worse. The Dolphins lead the league in sacks allowed with 44. Tannehill is on track to go down a disastrous 64 times this year, which is David Carr territory. In only four of the Dolphins' eleven games has Tannehill been sacked LESS than four times. Combine the most porous offensive line in the NFL with a nonexistent running attack, sprinkle in the Jets better than average pass rush and completely dominant run defense, and you have the recipe for an all out assault on Tannehill this Sunday. With no running attack to worry about, the Jets should be able to concentrate almost solely on pass rush and pass defense. We should see a bunch of nickel and dime packages on Sunday, along with a bunch of blitzes. If all goes according to plan, Tannehill should have no place to hide amidst an avalanche of pressure.
Consistency: The Hobgoblin Of Little Teams
The last trend I want to look at is the Dolphins' extraordinary consistency this year. Miami has scored no fewer than 16 points and no more than 27 points every game this year. In all but two of their games the Dolphins have scored between 17 and 24 points. Likewise, on defense, in all but two of their games the Dolphins have allowed no more than 27 points and no fewer than 16 points. This level of consistency is truly extraordinary, and it has led to a slew of close games. Eight of the Dolphins' eleven games have been decided by four points or less. Contrast that with the Jets, who have had five of their eleven games decided by thirteen points or more, and have had only four games decided by four points or less. Something's gotta give in this game. And since, to paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson, consistency is the hobgoblin of little teams, and we all know from Ghostbusters that hobgoblins don't do well in New York, it appears obvious how this trend will play out. The Jets are lined up on the runway for a decisive victory over our Finnish friends.