Maybe a 5-3 record now doesn’t seem notable by NFL excellence standards. Only one of four AFC teams with that record is currently on a playoff footing, and the ground is not exactly firm under those Kansas City Chiefs.
But for the Miami Dolphins, 5-3 is a revelation.
It’s an accomplishment.
It’s the best record the franchise has managed at the halfway point of any season since 2003.
(Yes, the past decade has been a dark time.)
These Dolphins are imperfect on many levels. The interior offensive line needs improvement. The linebacker corps isn’t exactly speedy. The quarterback’s deep ball accuracy is so poor the team has shifted away from taking shots down the field.
And yet this team is on a three-game win streak with a chance Sunday at Detroit to extend it to the longest winning streak by a Dolphins team since 2008.
So these Dolphins at midseason are enjoying good times.
How did that happen? How have they gotten here?
If you’re handing out midseason grades — and I am because you like that sort of stuff — you have to start with highest grades and that goes to the defense.
That unit delivered a shutout last week against the San Diego Chargers and dominated in the victory against Jacksonville the week before. That unit is No.3 in the NFL in points allowed per game. That unit boasts perhaps three of Miami’s four best players in defensive ends Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon and cornerback Brent Grimes.
And that’s the unit that is getting great play from safety Reshad Jones, coming off his early season suspension, and defensive tackle Jared Odrick, whose timing is great because he has playing better than he ever has in a contract year.
The Dolphins defense has had three players win AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors the first eight games this season.
“We’ve got some good players on defense,” Grimes said in his typically understated way. “We play some good defense, that’s what we try to do. If we go out and play our game, we can make it a tough game for anybody. We just try to do that week in and week out. Obviously, every game is not going to be 37-0, but we take pride in trying to make it a tough day for the offense.”
Miami’s defense has been good before. Remember, this is the franchise that wasted the Jason Taylor, Zach Thomas, Sam Madison, Patrick Surtain and Tim Bowens years.
But this defense is lately doing something few others have done around here. This defense is delivering turnovers and, yes, scoring points. The Dolphins have nine interceptions and nine fumble recoveries, and their 18 turnovers ties for second most in the NFL, behind only Houston’s 21.
“We’ve had a relatively good pass rush since we’ve been here. Our scoring defense has been relatively good since we’ve been here,” coach Joe Philbin said. “I think our takeaways, at least right now where we stand, have kind of been accelerated ...”
Last week, the Chargers began their game with the Dolphins with only five turnovers in their previous eight games. The Dolphins took the ball away four times in that game.
“That’s got to be a big part of what we do from here on out,” Philbin said. “I’d say that’s the one thing that is the difference.”
The next biggest reason the Dolphins are in the postseason conversation at the season’s midpoint is the improved play of quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
He came into this season with a 79.1 career quarterback rating. His rating is 90.9
That dramatic increase must be tempered some because ratings are up across the board as the NFL has emphasized allowing receivers to have more freedom while making life harder on defenses.
But for the Dolphins, improvement at the quarterback position is, well, improvement for the entire offense. And that beats the alternative.
“I’m definitely progressing,” Tannehill said. “I think that I’m not where I want to be at by any stretch, but I’m progressing. I’m seeing improvements, seeing better throws, seeing the ball coming out quicker, creating some plays out of the pocket.
“I think we always say make the plays that are there, take advantage of the looks that we get, making the throws when we get a shot and give our guys a chance to make a play. I think you see the kind of playmakers that we have on the outside. So it’s just a matter of me getting them the ball.”
The Dolphins have become more of a horizontal pass offense in that they don’t throw the ball down the field as much as even they would want. But offensive coordinator Bill Lazor is trying to maximize what Tannehill does better.
And that’s better than beating his head against a table while his quarterback misses deep throws.
The approach is working for now. The Dolphins don’t have Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers or even Andrew Luck. But Tannehill is trying to get into the next tier of quarterbacks and maybe that can be good enough.
Maybe that can keep the Dolphins on course to match the 2008 team that surprised everyone with a playoff berth.
“Everybody’s confidence is building,” said center Samson Satele, who played on that last Miami playoff team. “Everybody is more loose on offense, just having fun out there. When we start doing that, you can see us performing a lot better.”
Solved team’s ’13 LT issue
4 good games, 3 terrible games
Good enough to allow Pouncey shift
Still working rust off
Never hear his name, which is good
Has ability to do way more
Dependable, the future
Deep threat turned possession WR
Knee, hands have hurt him
Inaccurate deep but doing other things
Excellent on KO, inconsistent on FG
Oustanding pass rush, good run stop
Struggled vs. Jax & GB, otherwise good
Playing best ball of career
Paul Soliai who?
Rarely doubled but always vs. LT
Durability is an issue
Playing time diminished lately
Why wasn’t he starting?
Worth every penny
Yields yards but only 1 TD
Very good attitude, play speed
Great in 4 games, but the suspension hurt
Good at FS, better at SCB
Work in progress
Struggled early, way better lately.
Trying to regain form
2.8 yards per carry
Size, experience keep him on roster
Role player filling his role
Fits role as backup
Valuable in an emergency
Solid on field, but that moment off?
Should be, better be better.
Slow starter, always great in Dec.