The Miami Dolphins’ blueprint for success

After back-to-back victories, the Dolphins’ vision for a winning team is taking hold. ‘We got a helluva team in the making,’ coach Joe Philbin said.

09/17/2013 12:01 AM

09/17/2013 12:57 AM

This was the vision of how the Dolphins would play when general manager Jeff Ireland and coach Joe Philbin crafted their blueprint back in February. And through two joyous Sundays, the Dolphins and their success-starved fans are watching that vision come to life.

The man behind center has made the biggest jump of the second-year quarterbacks, exactly as offensive coordinator Mike Sherman predicted.

The defense is creating more turnovers.

Brent Grimes has been a significant upgrade over Sean Smith as a No. 1 cornerback.

Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler are making a bigger impact than predecessors Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett.

The offense is more explosive, even without tight end Dustin Keller, a key piece of the offseason overhaul.

“We got a helluva team in the making,” Philbin told his players, voice rising, after Sunday’s win in Indianapolis. “It doesn’t get any better than that!”

Yes, it’s a small sample size, too soon to form any definitive conclusions or print playoff tickets.

But this is the best the Dolphins can justifiably feel about themselves since 2008, even more so than 2010, when Miami opened the season by winning at Buffalo and Minnesota but finished 7-9.

Also consider this: Since 1990, 63 percent of NFL teams that start 2-0 make the playoffs.

“Miami, you’ve got a football team to go ahead with your basketball team now!” Tony Dungy announced on NBC Sunday night. “I think Miami’s legit.”

And Jimmy Johnson said on Fox: “The Dolphins are pretty good. Really physical front.”

There will assuredly be adversity through this journey, including defensive tackle Paul Soliai’s knee injury in the fourth quarter Sunday.

Question mark

Soliai’s availability for Sunday’s game against Atlanta is in question; the Dolphins aren’t sure yet whether he will be able to play. But the injury is not believed to be season-threatening.

“We’re not certain how Paul’s condition will be as the week goes on,” defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said.

If Soliai misses a game or two, Randy Starks would resume starting alongside Jared Odrick. But Soliai hopes to be able to play Sunday.

What’s the most uplifting sign so far, aside from the 2-0 record?

It has to be the growth of Ryan Tannehill, who produced a subpar 76.1 quarterback rating as a rookie. He now stands at 94.6 after two games, which ranks 14th — ahead of Robert Griffin III (89.6), Drew Brees (87.4), Joe Flacco (78.1) and Tom Brady (74.1), among others.

“Ryan’s play speed is a little bit better,” Philbin said. “He’s seeing things on the field a hair quicker.”

Tannehill, who ranked in the bottom third or quarter of the league in most offensive categories last season, now ranks in the upper half in most.

He’s 10th in completion percentage, 12th in yards, ninth in average gain per completion and sixth-best in interceptions.

“Having gone through an NFL season and an [offseason program] as a starter, he has grown into the position, has tremendous confidence,” Sherman said. “He shows me great composure when he’s on the field.”

The Dolphins’ vision of fielding an offense with quick-strike ability materialized on their first drive Sunday, when Miami needed just 2:19 to travel 58 yards in six plays, punctuated by Mike Wallace scoring on an 18-yard catch and run on a screen.

“That screen was set up for Mike if we had the right look. If we didn’t, it would have gone to the other side,” Sherman said. “It’s predicated on what the defense is giving us.”

Defensively, the Dolphins believed Ellerbe and Wheeler would make a greater impact than Dansby (now with Arizona) and Burnett (Oakland), and Sunday’s game offered some evidence, with Wheeler’s sack ending the Colts’ final drive.

Ellerbe had 14 tackles in the game, Wheeler 12.

“Their play speed has been good, blitzing has been good,” Philbin said. “They’re aggressive. They’re off to good starts.”

Said Coyle: “They fly around, play with great energy. They play at a very high tempo. We’re really pleased with them.”

Nice pickup

And Grimes, who had a key interception in the fourth quarter Sunday, looks like the Dolphins’ best cornerback in years.

On Monday, he tried to downplay Sunday’s game against Atlanta, which did not re-sign him after last season.

“He has played well, fit into the scheme well,” Philbin said.

Still, for as much praise as Philbin dished out in his news conference Monday, he is pushing his players for more.

“The film tells us there are major areas of improvement that have to be addressed quickly,” he said.

But let’s be clear: There is satisfaction internally about the blueprint coming together so quickly.

“It looks good right now,” Wheeler said. “It’s a great confidence builder. We feel like we can beat anybody.”

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