My first assessment of this team came shortly after their loss to Buffalo on September 20th. I was convinced they were doomed for another tough season. Then they beat Jacksonville convincingly and gave a respectable effort versus Seattle. After further review of their schedule I thought it was even possible they could pull off a winning season. Well, I think we can all agree they look like they belong as a winning team in the NFL.
Miami has roared through a 4 game winning streak to improve to a 5-3 record with the softest part of their schedule ahead. The front office wisely replaced Ryan Fitzpatrick with Tua Tagovailoa to see if the hyped rookie could hold up both physically and mentally. So far so good (despite a small sample size). The defense looks to be on the verge of a top 10 unit and that might be a conservative assessment. The offensive weapons have had their moments and the offensive line has held up reasonably well. All of this with perhaps the youngest team in football is a recipe for long term success and you have to tip your cap to both GM Chris Grier and HC Brian Flores for making this happen so quickly. It hasn't always been pretty, but you cannot argue with the results.
OFFENSIVE LINE IS BLOSSOMING
Miami has a potential superstar on their hands in Tua. I had my doubts but boy did he look like a guy who could carry this team in Sunday's win over Arizona. If he stays healthy I cannot see this team being out of many games. The key part is healthy and that will be under the protection of his blossoming offensive line. Miami drafted Austin Jackson, Robert Hunt and Solomon Kindley this year and all have impressed so far. I like the depth on this unit as well. They should only get better with experience.
RECEIVERS ARE SOLID
The receiving group is solid overall with potential Pro Bowler Devante Parker. Preston Williams has flashed but those hands need more consistency. Mike Gesicki should produce some stud numbers once he and Tua build a rapport while Chicago castoff Adam Shaheen has latched on with Durham Smythe to form a respectable tight end group. I'd still like to see a smooth, speedy, do it all type of receiver to be drafted.
RUNNING BACK UNIT IS A BIG DISAPPOINTMENT
On the negative side we have the running back unit. Myles Gaskin has done a nice job in a role I don't think they ever intended him to have. He has produced some plays and looks like he belongs. But beyond his overachieving you don't have much to elevate this group from bottom of the barrel status. Jordan Howard has been a big disappointment and Matt Breida didn't seem to win over the coaching staff. I think Miami will have to invest an early pick in a back who can shoulder 15-20 carries per game to help Tua drive the offense.
DEFENSE BENDS BUT DOESN'T BREAK
The defense has been very good despite giving up too many yards for my liking. Give them credit for intercepting 7 passes and forcing 10 fumbles already this year. Xavien Howard has been a machine so far and kudos to Eric Rowe for playing some top shelf safety. The list of contributors is too many to review but holy smokes has Emmanuel Ogbah been the signing of the offseason. Thought to be a short term bridge/contributor he has already racked up 7 sacks in what should be a Pro Bowl season. Another great surprise has been Zack Sieler who looks to be the most consistent overall player on the defensive line. However, in that line is a bit of an issue. The pass rush has been great and their have been plenty of tackles for losses, but the run defense is suspect. In 6 of 8 games they've given up well over 100 yards on the ground. Miami will need to target a run stuffer in the draft or free agency and probably needs a middle linebacker who can sniff out runs on a more consistent basis. The overall defense is in great shape and I see guys like Christian Wilkins, Jerome Baker, and Kyle Van Noy (among others) who should be wearing aqua for years to come.
JASON SANDERS IS ON FIRE
Normally I don't mention kickers but Jason Sanders has been on fire. He hasn't missed a field goal or extra point this season. He has quietly been an unsung hero on this team.
DOLPHINS SHOULD WIN AT LEAST 4 MORE
Looking over the next 8 games I see no reason why Miami cannot win at least 4 of them. The Chargers, Broncos, Jets, Bengals and Patriots (wait did I say Patriots) are all struggling. Who knows, maybe an upset over the Chiefs or Bills is in order as well. The larger point is Miami looks like a team bound for the playoffs if they aren't bitten too hard by the injury bug. The offense has a commander who can make all of the throws and the defense, despite the yardage surrenders, does enough to overcome other teams marching down the field. Lets cross our fingers that the running game on both sides of the ball improves so that Miami can make it to January football.
ENJOY THE RIDE BECAUSE IT LOOKS TO BE AWESOME
Guys, I think we are on the door step of having a team we can no longer complain about every Monday morning. I have full confidence in Brian Flores, and this team is young enough and inexpensive enough to be held together for several years. Sure there are tweaks to be made in almost every unit, but the core is very strong. I almost walked away from the team this summer until my 8-year-old son told me that quitters are not allowed. I think Santa may be bringing this kid a Tua jersey for Christmas (FYI, as a left hander he is thrilled Tua is the QB) for making sure his old man stayed true to his football heart. Fins Up Everyone! Enjoy this ride because it looks to be awesome.