Inconsistent week-to-week performance by Joe Philbin’s team has been one of the hallmarks of his 36-game tenure as Dolphins coach, and nobody is more cognizant of that than Philbin.
His 17-19 record includes a number of impressive wins (at Indianapolis, Cincinnati twice, at Pittsburgh, New England twice, Seattle, among others) but also a fair share of embarrassing, puzzling losses.
This season has mirrored Philbin’s first two: two resounding wins and two lopsided losses, one to a team (Buffalo) that hasn’t made the playoffs this century and another to a Kansas City team that entered 0-2 and without several top starters.
This team’s future, and probably Philbin’s, rest largely on whether the Dolphins – and to a large extent, their quarterback – can snap out of that exasperating penchant of mixing dynamic games with dreadful ones.
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“I am looking for consistency out of this team. We have to start playing at a consistently high level. It’s time,” Philbin said Monday, a day after the Dolphins dismantled Oakland, 38-14, in London to move to 2-2 heading into the bye week.
“I told the team before the game that we’ve been at this thing since July 24th. ‘You know what to do. You know what your job is. We haven’t changed a whole lot.’
“I see things on tape I really like. I told the team there is still a lot of untapped potential there, a lot of room for improvement.”
Offensively, the Dolphins have topped 30 points twice (the 38 on Sunday were the most during Philbin’s tenure) but scored two touchdowns combined in the two losses. That has them ranked 15th in total offense – fifth rushing, 23rd passing – entering the bye week.
Tannehill posted passer ratings of 79.9, 73.6 and 70.4 in the first three games before generating a 109.3 on Sunday.
“I felt like mentally, he was really on top of what was happening,” offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said. “He understood his mistakes. … He was accurate on a number of the quick catch-and-throw screens he threw to the outside, which seemed like a little thing but aren’t always that easy.”
Lazor also is delighted with receiver Mike Wallace, noting “when Mike comes to me on the sideline and tells me he can get open, right now I think Mike is putting his money where his mouth is.”
And, Lazor said “one of the things that stood out to me on the sidelines [Sunday] was the way that our receivers played. You saw guys… that were excited to have the ball in their hand. They were really working as hard as I’ve seen them work to do something with it. They were physical blocking for each other on the perimeter. At times, you can include the tight ends with that.”
Another positive: Lamar Miller has risen to second in the league in yards per carry, at 5.7, behind only Baltimore’s Justin Forsett (5.8).
Meanwhile, the Dolphins defense enters the bye week ranked seventh in the league – 14th against the run and sixth against the pass.
“If we can pull it all together collectively, we can be a very good defense,” coordinator Kevin Coyle said. “I don’t think we’ve played in any of the games, quite frankly, a full 60-minute game. There were periods very good and then some lapses. The encouraging thing is we are taking the ball away” – including Miami’s first three interceptions of the season on Sunday.
Also, “we have as many fumbles recovered as any team in the league [five], which has been an Achilles’ heel for us over the last couple of seasons,” Coyle said. “We are generating good pressure on the quarterback. Our rush defense was better [Sunday]. There is a lot of room to be optimistic.”
What’s more, safety Reshad Jones, suspended for the first four games because of a violation of the league’s drug policy, is eligible to practice beginning Tuesday. But the Dolphins do not need to reinstate him to the 53-man roster until next week, according to the team.
“We will see how he is from a conditioning standpoint and … get him up to speed as fast as possible,” Coyle said. “He’s a playmaker, can be a difference maker for us.”
Coyle also anticipates the return of linebacker Koa Misi from an ankle sprain. “Our depth is going to be better than it has been,” he said. “I’m excited because having a healthy Koa Misi makes our team better.”
As for special teams, Philbin was non-committal about whether he would stick with Jarvis Landry as his punt-returner or promote Marcus Thigpen from the practice squad.
Landry has fumbled two punts, including one on Sunday, and his 5.7 punt return average ranks 20th in the league.
“We like what he’s done,” Philbin said of Landry. “He has made plays. He’s a playmaker.”
The Dolphins, who play next on Oct. 12 against visiting Green Bay, will practice Tuesday and Wednesday. Players will be off the remainder of the week, in according with a league rule requiring four consecutive off days during a team’s bye week.