Are you a frustrated, fed up Dolphins fan resigned to another losing season?
Branden Albert has news for you.
“The sky is not falling,” Miami’s left tackle said. “We won a game; the Cleveland Browns are an NFL team with talent. We won the game!... We played against three playoff opponents and played good against them.”
And another thing: “This is not a salvage [job],” Albert added. “We're 1-3. It's not like we're 1-12!”
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In the spirit of Albert’s glass-half-full mood, here are a few reasons for hope:
• The team’s two most accomplishment offensive linemen are returning. Center Mike Pouncey, back from a hip problem, is expected to practice Tuesday (the team has been off the past three days) and said he plans to play Sunday against Tennessee.
Meanwhile, Albert said he will play Sunday after missing the Cincinnati game with an ankle injury.
Pouncey brings a Pro Bowl player to Miami’s offense, and veteran who should upgrade the overall play of the line, which is on pace to allow nearly as many sacks as last year.
“You've got your Pro Bowl center and Pro Bowl left tackle coming back,” Albert said of Pouncey and himself. “[Pouncey] is probably the leader of the offense, probably the leader of the team. Once he comes back, things are going to really start rolling. Once I get back in that lineup, we're going to be fine.
“Us on the offense line need to gel, play a little tougher than we've been doing.”
• The schedule lightens. After playing three road games against three 2015 playoff teams (plus the home game against the moribund Browns), the Dolphins now return home for an NFL-record 44-day homestand, featuring games against three teams that missed the playoffs (Tennessee Sunday, the Bills Oct. 23 and Jets Nov. 6), plus a formidable Pittsburgh team Oct. 16.
“We have to take advantage; we have four in a row, a bye week after three of them,” Gase said. “Lot of days, 44 days we’re here. Take advantage of that!”
• The running game has shown some promising signs. Though the Dolphins haven’t run a lot, their 4.2 per carry average ranks 11th among 32 teams.
Jay Ajayi ran well against the Bengals and is up to 4.2 for the season, on 18 carries.
With Arian Foster out with a hamstring/groin injury and his status unclear for the Titans, Gase gave carries to four running backs each of the past two games. He said he wants to “narrow” that number “to get one of these guys in rhythm.”
Gase wanted to give a fresh look to each of the four backs available the past two weeks but admitted using four is “hard on the offensive line, hard on the backs, hard on me as a play caller as far as who’s in the game, what runs are best to run in those situations.”
Ajayi – while not complaining -- agrees, saying it’s “tough” to find a rhythm with limited carries. “I feel I’m a guy that gets better as the game goes on.”
• Based on personal history, Gase believes his offense will begin to improve.
“We’ve gone through this before twice,” he said. “2012 [in Denver] we sputtered around, went 2-3, we looked terrible, and then it clicked and we rattled off the last 11 straight. Last year in Chicago, it was the same thing. We struggled early and the more comfortable I got with the quarterback [Jay Cutler] and he got with me, it makes things easier. He made less mistakes.”
For perspective, Gase was the Broncos’ quarterback coach in 2012, Peyton Manning’s first year with Denver. And Manning posted subpar 58.5 and 83 passer ratings in two of those first five games, though his rating was between 115 and 130 in the other three.
That’s not the most ideal comparison to these Dolphins, because Manning is in a different stratosphere from Tannehill and the Broncos averaged 27 points in those first five games, compared with 17.8 for this Dolphins team in their first four.
As for Chicago, where Gase was offensive coordinator last season, the Bears opened 0-3 last season; Cutler posted a 67.5 rating in his first game in the new offense, played much better in the second (116.2 rating) and missed the third.
The Bears went 6-7 after the 0-3 start and Cutler ended up with his best passer rating ever (92.3) in his one year with Gase.
Tannehill, incidentally, has an 87.3 passer rating, slightly above his career average but below his 88.7 last season.
• According to his agent, the Dolphins are re-signing tight end Dominique Jones, who was cut before the season. Tight end Jordan Cameron missed Thursday’s game and remains in the concussion protocol. Miami had an open roster spot after releasing guard Jamil Douglas on Friday.
• With Albert out, Laremy Tunsil got mixed grades in his regular-season Dolphins debut at left tackle, the position he played in college and the position he likely will play for Miami full-time eventually.
“He did a good job,” Gase said. “We had a couple of mistakes, a couple that hurt us.”
• Under the NFL’s current playoff format, only 14 percent of teams that started 1-3 made the playoffs.