Miami Dolphins

Landry, Ajayi, Suh are gone. Yet the Dolphins are better — and that’s no coincidence

Miami Dolphins running back Kenyan Drake #32 runs for the winning touchdown past the defense of New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski #87 and defensive end J.C. Jackson #27 during fourth quarter of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots at Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday, December 9 2018, in Miami Gardens. Dolphins won 34-33.
Miami Dolphins running back Kenyan Drake #32 runs for the winning touchdown past the defense of New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski #87 and defensive end J.C. Jackson #27 during fourth quarter of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots at Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday, December 9 2018, in Miami Gardens. Dolphins won 34-33. dsantiago@miamiherald.com

Did Darren Rizzi subtweet Jarvis Landry?

Sure seemed that way.

Unless he was talking about Jay Ajayi.

You never can rule out Ndamukong Suh, either.

Rizzi, sadly, didn’t name names Thursday when discussing Miami’s biggest change from 2017, when the Dolphins lost 10 games, and 2018, when they would win 10 should they run the table.

But the tea leaves Rizzi spread might as well have been the New York Times.

“I definitely think we improved our locker room for sure,” Rizzi said. “There’s no doubt about that. ....This is not a drama group. I don’t see the divas and the drama queens or whatever you want to call them. Whatever the right term is or the wrong term, I don’t see that. I see a lot of camaraderie. I see a lot of cohesiveness. I see a lot of going out and wanting to get the job done.”

Short of simply chalking it up to luck, Rizzi has as good of an explanation as any for what the Dolphins are doing this year.

Because the numbers say they should be bad. Like top 10 draft pick bad.

They’re 29th in offense. They’re 29th in defense. They couldn’t pick up a third down with a tow truck. Half their offense is on injured reserve. They are 1-5 on the road. They needed miracle plays to win in each of the last two weeks.

And they have been outscored by a whopping 55 points this year, the eighth-worst point differential in football. That should translate to a 5-8 record, according to the Pythagorean expectation.

And yet, they are 7-6 and are 80 percent to make the playoffs if they win out, according to FiveThirtyEight.

Perhaps their whole truly is greater than the sum of their parts.

The Dolphins are 7-1 in one-score games. Is that just randomness, presaging a major regression to the mean?

Maybe. Or maybe it’s something more. Laugh at intangibles all you want, but this is the second time in three years the Dolphins are in a playoff race they shouldn’t be.

“The work ethic is as good as I’ve been around,” Gase said. “They’re relentless. There’s kind of that never-say-die attitude in there.

“I think it’s really the guys that we put together,” he continued. “That’s kind of who they were when we got them, whether it be through the draft, free agency, even some of the guys that were just added. A couple of these guys I’ve been around before and that always helps when you’ve been around a guy and you kind of know who they are and what they’re about. … The majority of the guys are so just team-oriented and focused that whatever they can do to help us win.”

Again, the subtext is obvious: Moving on from me-guys Landry, Ajayi and Suh was an addition by subtraction.

Feel free to disagree (it is counter-intuitive), but a bit of food for thought: The Dolphins were in the identical situation last year as they are this. And they imploded.

Three straight losses to end the season. Landry and Gase feuding openly on the sidelines. An ugly, embarrassing fight on the last day of the season.

The Dolphins brought in Frank Gore and Danny Amendola for this very moment. At the very least, they will comport themselves better.

“I love it,” Gore said. “A lot of teams are not playing for anything and we’re still in it. We look at it like March Madness. One game at a time and every time we win a game, we’re giving ourselves a chance. That’s big for us.”

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Adam Beasley has covered the Dolphins for the Miami Herald since 2012, and has worked for the newspaper since 2006. He is a graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Communications and has written about sports professionally since 1996.
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