The Dolphins fancy themselves playoff contenders. But instead of roaring to the finish line, their offense is, piece-by-piece, breaking down on the homestretch.
For the second consecutive day, the Dolphins lost a key contributor to injured reserve. On Tuesday, they shut down tight end Charles Clay for the year; on Wednesday, running back Daniel Thomas had his season prematurely ended. While the team provided little details on either, both sustained serious enough knee injuries in Sunday’s season-saving win against Jacksonville to warrant the moves.
In doing so, the already ailing Dolphins offense absorbed two more body blows. The Dolphins will be without two skill-position players who have accounted for nearly a quarter of their 25 offensive touchdowns the rest of the way.
But they’re far from the team’s only concerns. After a relatively healthy season, the Dolphins in December have become a virtual mash unit.
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When Jake Long went down with a triceps injury, it forced them to reshuffle their offensive line.
Plus, Davone Bess’ availability going forward remains a wild card. The team’s second-leading receiver missed last week’s game with a back injury, and still couldn’t work with the team on Wednesday.
The Dolphins are so banged up on offense, about the only position where they could survive another injury, remarkably, is at quarterback. They have one of the league’s best backups in Matt Moore. Everywhere else, they’re down to the felt.
All that raises the question: Do the Dolphins have enough firepower to not only survive the season, but excel when it matters most?
“I’m not worried about that,” coach Joe Philbin said Wednesday. “I was pleased with the way the guys stepped up the other day in the game, and I thought we had a good practice [Wednesday].”
Unfortunately for Philbin and his team, there’s no time for figuring it out as they go.
The Dolphins must win their final two games — home against Buffalo, then at New England — for any shot to make the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
• Clay’s injury might be the most impactful. He could line up nearly anywhere — at tight end, in the backfield and even in the slot. There’s no single player on the roster who can replace him.
But if there was ever a time for Michael Egnew to figure out the pro game, this is the week. The rookie tight end hasn’t played all season, but the Dolphins might have no choice but to play him.
“The coaches are good with letting you know what’s going on,” Egnew said.
“You kind of get a heads-up during practice. You’re called upon more to go in and practice more with the offense.”
Egnew acknowledged he did receive increased reps Wednesday with Clay out, but would not say if he has been given assurances that he would play.
• Marcus Thigpen should no longer be considered a running back. Bess’ injury clarified that.
On Sunday, Thigpen played a season-high 29 snaps, all from the slot, according to Pro Football Focus. He caught his first pass of the season, good for 15 yards.
Rishard Matthews and Marlon Moore also had increased roles, and combined for five catches and 56 yards.
But the Dolphins’ biggest problem all season hasn’t changed: They still don’t have a consistent deep threat to stretch the field. Instead, their passing game, by and large, is limited to a 20-yard window — allowing defenses to sit on underneath routes.
Bess wouldn’t answer questions about his availability for Sunday, saying only that he speaks with team doctors every morning to discuss his progress.
“It ate me up,” Bess said of missing a game for the first time in his career. “I can’t even explain it. Just a really weird feeling that I don’t ever want to get used to.”
The Dolphins’ revamped offensive line, strangely enough, seems like the least of their worries.
With Jonathan Martin at left tackle and Nate Garner at right last week, the Dolphins had their fourth-best running game of the season (180 yards) and allowed just one sack.
“Anytime you play with new linemen … it takes a while for everybody to get a feel for each other,” Bills coach Chan Gailey said. “Continuity and communication in that area is probably the most vital of all the groups in football. They have to be on the same page. Them needing to play together is one way to solve any issues they might have.”
Of course, if any of the starting five would get hurt over the last two weeks, the Dolphins would really be in trouble. Little-used reserves Will Yeatman and Josh Samuda would be the next men up.
• At running back, not a whole lot changes with Thomas’ injury. Reggie Bush will continue to get the lion’s share of the carries, and Lamar Miller had already all but supplanted Thomas as the team’s No. 2 option.
That move up the depth chart can now be made in ink. Miller has gotten just 36 carries this year, but his 4.6-yard-per rush average is the team’s best.
The Dolphins do need to decide on who will be their goal-line back, which was probably Thomas’ biggest contribution this year. Philbin wouldn’t tip his hand on who that might be, but fullback Jorvorskie Lane could be a possibility.