Miami Dolphins looking complete approaching home opener

The home fans will get their first live look at a Dolphins team that finally appears to have an offense that, with the defense, makes it whole.

09/21/2013 4:43 PM

09/22/2013 8:43 PM

DATE OPP RTG
Dec. 16, 2012 vs. JAC 123.2
Oct. 14, 2012 vs. STL 112.0
Sept. 15, 2013 at IND 107.4
Nov. 25, 2012 vs. SEA 97.1
Dec. 23, 2012 vs. BUF 93.8
Oct. 7, 2012 at CIN 92.3
Sept. 16, 2012 vs. OAK 91.0
Nov. 4, 2012 at IND 90.9

A new year has brought new hope for Dolphins fans, who finally get their first home game of a promising young season Sunday.

But it also has brought a new identity to the franchise they support.

For years, the Dolphins’ philosophy, spoken or not, was to play strong defense and score enough points to win.

But with Miami’s 2-0 start, there have been some encouraging signs that the offense is finally ready to hold up its end of the bargain.

“We don’t want our defense to be the best on the team,” Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace said this week. “We want to be the best on the team. We want this to be an offensive team. If the defense has the same mentality, we can be a great team.”

For proof, look no further than Sunday’s opponent, the Atlanta Falcons (1-1). They have made the playoffs in four of the past five seasons and came within a play of reaching the Super Bowl a year ago.

Not coincidentally, they’re also loaded with offensive talent, from Matt Ryan to Julio Jones to Roddy White to Tony Gonzalez.

In years past, such a matchup would have been disastrous for the Dolphins. The defense would hang in as long as it could, but would eventually wear down without sufficient help.

Since 2002, the Dolphins have finished in the NFL’s top half in scoring just three times, and never higher than 12th.

Better numbers

The Dolphins ranked 27th in total offense last year, including 26th in passing yards per game, a major reason why they sputtered to 7-9.

But early signs indicate things might at last be different. Through two weeks, the Dolphins are one of the NFL’s better passing teams, averaging 276 yards. More importantly, their scoring is up 5.5 points per outing after managing the sixth-fewest points in the league a year ago.

And, remarkably, they’re actually favored Sunday against Atlanta.

“You’ve got to put up points to win,” slot receiver Brandon Gibson said. “It’s become such a passing league that it’s a requirement to have two, three good receivers, a good tight end and a pass-catching back.”

Added Gibson: “We’re building something here. We want it to be special.”

The breakthrough is the result of the team’s offseason spending spree (bringing in Wallace and Gibson). But the biggest difference might be with Ryan Tannehill, who has been noticeably more accurate and efficient than he was as a rookie.

The stats bear it out. His completion percentage has jumped from 58 percent to 65 percent, and his yards-per-pass output is up by more than 20 percent.

“I can’t tell you what it is, [but] I am more comfortable,” Tannehill said. “The guys are catching the ball really well, which obviously helps.”

Dolphins coach Joe Philbin, predictably, blanched this week at a suggestion that his team’s identity is changing. And Philbin wouldn’t answer when asked how many points the Dolphins need to score to consistently win.

Still work to do

However, recent history indicates the Dolphins had better continue their current clip — and possibly improve upon it — if they want to snap a five-year playoff drought.

Through two games, Miami has averaged 23.5 points per outing, tied for 15th in the league. However, the 12 teams that made the playoffs a year ago combined to score 26.5 points per game during the regular season.

Miami has some other math on its side.

Since the NFL expanded to 32 teams in 2002, 57.6 percent of the teams starting 2-0 made the playoffs. With a win Sunday, the Dolphins’ odds would spike again. Only 16 of the past 55 teams that won their first three games missed the playoffs.

Granted, that history hasn’t been kind to the Dolphins. They started 2-0 in 2010 and 3-0 in 2002. Each time, they were merely spectators when the postseason arrived.

“No one’s going to care that we were 2-0 if we’re 2-1,” right tackle Tyson Clabo said.

“It’s nice to win. You want to be relevant. But I don’t want to be relevant now. I want to be relevant at the end of the season.”

• Chris Clemons is expected to play Sunday after being listed as questionable Friday with a hamstring injury.

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