I don’t think that Dolphins fans envisioned that the season would be hanging by a thread ten games in. Even those analyst that weren’t giving the Dolphins much of a chance to sneak into the playoffs, at least thought they would probably be right in the thick of things right up until the last couple weeks. But here we are. Ten games into the 2010 season, and this Dolphins team can’t realistically afford to lose another game.
You could easily use the excuse that the injuries the Dolphins suffered these past couple weeks are just too much to overcome, pack it up, and say “we’ll get em’ next year,” but only the Dolphins are to blame for letting their season become vulnerable to the injury bug. If they hadn’t missed so many opportunities at home early on in the season, more specifically the Jets and Patriots’ games in Weeks 3 and 4, they might have been able to withstand all the adversity that has hit the health of this team.
But as it is, the Dolphins are left with one option: run the table, finish 11-5, and get a little bit of help in order to squeeze into the playoffs in the loaded AFC. Because unfortunately for the Dolphins, most of the league’s elite teams just so happen to reside in the conference.
Even If they do actually pull this off and finish out the season 6-0, it’s going to take the 8-2 Jets or 8-2 Patriots to finish at least 3-3 and hope the Dolphins get the edge in the tie-breaker or the 7-3 Steelers or 7-3 Ravens finishing 3-3 (remember both have already beaten Miami). And that’s also assuming that one of the 5-5 teams from the AFC West or 6-4 teams from the AFC South don’t snag that last wild card spot.
So as you can see, even if it doesn’t officially eliminate them mathematically, one loss is all it’s going to take to end the Dolphins’ playoff hopes.
Is running the table even possible for these injury depleted, uninspired Dolphins, though? If you have asked me a few weeks ago if these final six games were all winnable, I would have responded “absolutely.”
No, these games won’t be as easy as they once appeared on paper, as teams like the Raiders and Browns have played very well in stretches, and other teams like the Bills and Lions are suddenly very dangerous offensively, but they were still lining up to be games in which the Dolphins would have likely been the favorite in.
Of course, I’m leaving out the oh-so -important divisional road games against the Jets and Pats. Games which were very winnable a couple weeks ago, but now seem like complete long shots.
The injuries at the quarterback position and along the offensive line are obviously the main reason for such of drastic change of circumstances. With the banged up offensive line, the Dolphins went from a poor running team, to arguably the worst running team in the league.
There isn’t a team in the NFL that the Dolphins can run on right now if Thursday night was a sign of things to come. Even the healthy version of this year’s O-line didn’t create much push and didn’t pull well enough to get to the second level of the defense, but whatever we saw line up across from the Bears on Thursday night left us all completely void of any hope for this offense.
The strength of the Dolphins’ offensive line has been their ability to protect the quarterback. But giving up six sacks to a team who recorded fewer sacks per play than any team in the league entering Week 11 is more than a cause for concern; it’s a cause for panic.
If this offense can’t run the football, or give the quarterback sufficient time to throw to a slow group of receivers, we are going to see a few more of those lackluster zero to one score offensive performances before it’s all said and done.
Although, Tyler Thipgen gives this offense some mobility, which in theory should offset some of this O-line’s sudden protection issues, he just takes too many risks and just doesn’t have the arm strength to bail out his poor decision making.
That’s why fans should be hoping that Chad Henne is healthy enough to start against the Raiders on Sunday. In my opinion, his struggles have been overblown. You would like his touchdowns to be higher than his interceptions, but the guy hasn’t done so bad considering he’s been leading a one-dimensional offense for weeks and is the victim of poor play-calling more often than not.
If you are looking for any reason at all to believe this team is capable of pulling off a miracle playoff run, look no further than this defense. The Dolphins have very quietly emerged as the sixth best total defense in football, led by the league’s fifth best pass defense. The running game continues to leak some thanks to poor tackling and over-pursuit, but they certainly have the pieces to bring it together.
This defense is young and continues to get better and better each and every week. But if this team wants to make the playoffs, Mike Nolan’s unit is likely going to need to grow up overnight. They are still a long way from becoming a dominate defense. They are good defense, yes, but they’ve yet to play complete football or showcase the ability to take over games.
It’s going to take some forced turnovers and maybe a few returns for scores for this team to create the fire power they need to put enough points on the board.
But then again, when your playing the “if” game this early into the second-half of the season, it’s probably already too late. Whether it be the blown opportunities within the division on prime time, the blown call against the Steelers, or the recent plague of injuries, 2010 is quickly becoming the season that could have been.