To preview this week’s key AFC East divisional matchup in Miami, I asked Kevin Nogle of The Phinsider five questions on the Dolphins.
1. Are Jay Cutler and the offense finally getting some chemistry going as they get further into the season?
Cutler is still an enigma, but the offense has started to show some life. Cutler's mechanics have been bad this year, with way too many throws off his back foot and trying to rely on arm strength to complete throws he should not be making. He has good moments, which are immediately followed by frustrating throws to no one. Basically, it is exactly what you would think the quarterback position would be with Cutler.
As for the offense, if they continue to realize that this team's identity is Jay Ajayi, and the offensive line continues to find a way to get him a little space, we should see them start to find even more success. Ajayi looked really good against the Atlanta Falcons last week, and hopefully they stick with him heading into this weekend. More Ajayi should open up some of the passing game, allowing for Cutler to start to find his own rhythm. It is obviously all connected, but the first thing that has to happen for the Dolphins is to get Ajayi on track.
2. What were the primary factors leading to the Dolphins' upset in Atlanta?
I think it was the offensive line. They finally, somehow, got Ajayi the little bit of space that he needs to start breaking tackles and making people miss. Ajayi is such a great runner after contact, but when first contact is coming inches after he gets the ball, it is hard to find success. On defense, the Dolphins are a really impressive unit, even if people have not realized this yet. They are third in the league in scoring defense, and that includes games against Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, and Philip Rivers. The first game against the Jets and the Saints game in London were the only two games in which the Dolphins allowed more than 19 points. That is the unit that has been a surprise this year, and if they keep it up, they should win some more games like they did against the Falcons.
3. Based on how they've played so far, is Miami's 3-2 a record an overachievement, underachievement, or properly representative of their performance?
Yes to all three? I really still have no idea how to assess the Dolphins after their first five games. They have overachieved given the offensive struggles early this year. They have underachieved based on the defense's ability to keep opponents from scoring. And, they are about right for a team that made the playoffs last year and should have gotten better this year. I said before the season (and losing Ryan Tannehill for the year) that I could see the Dolphins go 8-8 or 9-7 and still be a better team than the 10-6, Wildcard team from last year. I still think that is true, though a quarterback change in training camp is never what you want to see. I would expect Miami to be able to piece it together and stay in playoff contention this year, but that may just be trying to hope for a good year. Hopefully in the next few weeks, we will finally be able to tell what the Dolphins are in 2017.
4. Since the start of the season, have the Dolphins created or answered more questions pertaining to whether or not they are playoff-caliber?
[Created] More. And, really, all of them center on Cutler. Not that they are all his fault - it is hard to effectively play quarterback if the offensive line is not pass blocking - but it all comes down to the quarterback position. They have the skill players with Ajayi, DeVante Parker, Jarvis Landry, and Kenny Stills. They have the defense, including Cameron Wake, Ndamukong Suh, Lawrence Timmons, Kiko Alonso, and Reshad Jones. They have players who are developing in young cornerbacks Xavien Howard and Cordrea Tankersley. They have T.J. McDonald getting closer to returning from his eight-game suspension. In other words, they have answered a lot of pre-season questions this year, but they still have more coming as each week, the passing offense fails to show up. If Cutler can get that position locked down - even to an average level - the Dolphins should be ready to press for the playoffs.
5. Knowing more about the 2017 Fins than you did when these teams met back in Week 3, how do you think they match up with these Jets? Has their play proved a team built like the Jets could be a mismatch for them, or are they fully capable of proving Week 3 was an outlier?
I expect this to be a better showing than last time, in part because this team has started to mature into itself, in part because they feel they were embarrassed by the Jets last time, and in part because this is a game at home. This is only their second true home game of the year, so they should still be getting a rush out of being at home. If they are going to be a playoff contender this year, they cannot afford to be swept by the Jets. I think the Jets always match up well against Miami, but I think there are ways for Miami to attack the Jets and find success. The fact that they appear to have finally realized they have to get Ajayi running, and the Jets are 28th against the run this year, should allow for a strong ground game, which usually ends with the Dolphins winning. If Ajayi runs for more than 75 yards, the Dolphins are 9-0 over the past two years. That has to be their goal, and I think the matchup against the Jets will allow that.