The NFL in 2020 has seen its fair share of surprises. The Steelers are undefeated through 10 weeks, the Patriots are below .500 more than halfway through the season and the Cowboys are the worst team in the NFC. But perhaps the biggest of them all is the sudden surge of the Miami Dolphins, who through 10 games hold a 6-4 record and for the first time in 3 years, are in position to make the playoffs. So how has Miami gotten here and are they set up for a legitimate success in the 2020 season and beyond? One word answers this question: absolutely.
Ever since their last playoff appearance in 2017, the Miami Dolphins have been lingering at the bottom of the AFC East. They have not had a winning season since that wild card berth 3 years ago and the best highlights of each year have been their annual upset wins over the New England Patriots in memorable fashions especially with the Miami Miracle in 2018. In a 2019 campaign in which Miami won just 5 games and wound up with a top 5 draft pick, one has to wonder how this turnaround came so quickly. There are several answers to that question but one of the more important comes in coaching.
Just after the 2018 season, Miami fired head coach Adam Gase and replaced him with Patriots defensive coordinator Brian Flores in February. Flores was the mastermind behind a New England defense that had not only just won the Super Bowl while suffocating the league’s best offense to just 3 points, but was 7th in the league in defensive efficiency (known as DVOA) which is one of the highest marks the Patriots have been throughout the Bill Bellichick era. Flores’ defensive experience and winning knowledge has certainly rubbed off on Miami in the 2020 season.
The Dolphins, through 10 games, stand with a 6-4 record which puts them in second in the AFC East and tied for the last playoff spot in the AFC. Unlike other AFC contenders such as the Browns and Ravens, Miami has come through in some tough matchups. In back to back weeks, the Dolphins defeated two playoff contending teams in the Rams in which the defense dominated and the Cardinals where the offense out dueled the blistering Arizona air attack. Close losses to Seattle and Buffalo, both Super Bowl contenders, also show Miami has what it takes to stay in big games, which will only improve with experience. These impressive performances have been led by a well balanced team, but one who has thrived on the lost art of defense.
The play of homegrown pieces such as Xavien Howard and Christian Wilkins added to a 2019 offseason in which Miami added All-Pro cornerback Byron Jones, playoff hero Kyle Van Noy, an efficient Shaq Lawson at linebacker and reigning Super Bowl champion Emmanuel Ogbah joined the d-line. All of these guys have been key to a stout Miami defense as Howard has emerged as a top defensive back in football with 6 interceptions, tied for first in the league. Jones has served his role as a shadow on opponents’ best weapons as he has rarely even been thrown at this season, defending just 2 passes. While Van Noy has been fairly average and Lawson has underperformed, Emmanuel Ogabh has sure made up for it as he holds 8.0 sacks on the year, 4th in the league. If the saying defense wins championships reigns true, Miami sure has the group to do it.
While the defensive side of the ball has been lockdown, we can’t forget about the contributions on offense. Through the first 6 games, Ryan Fitzpatrick played decent and the offense was working well enough for a 3-3 record. But with the offense revolving around 2020 breakout Myles Gaskin and with the passing game lacking, a change seemed imminent. Heading into week 8, Miami named the fifth overall pick from the 2020 draft the new starting QB in Tua Tagovailoa. The former college football playoff hero has gotten off to a fantastic start to his NFL career as he has led Miami to a 3-1 record with him under center. Keep in mind that Tagovailoa has played 3 of those games without Gaskin and had to rely on a less than impressive receiving core outside of Devante Parker, who has underperformed this year. Regardless though, Miami has managed 26.4 points per game this season which is in the top half of the league. Even with their struggles this year, Miami looks like a playoff team and a lot of improvement could be coming in the offseason.
In the 2021 NFL Draft, Miami owns the rights to the Houston Texans first round pick, also known as the ability to select LSU WR Ja’Marr Chase or Alabama wideouts Devonta Smith or Jaylen Waddle. With their own pick presumably coming between 15-22, Miami could fill needs at running back with Clemson veteran Travis Etienne, get protection on the line by selecting Big Ten guards in Wyatt Davis/Jaylen Mayfield or even sure up at linebacker with Notre Dame breakout Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. With an estimated $43 million in cap room coming this offseason and big names in positions of need on the market such as WR Allen Robinson, LB Lavonte David and a bounty of veteran linemen, Miami has vast opportunities to improve the squad.
A fantastic start to the 2020 season has Miami set to be in play for a playoff spot deep into December and possibly even clinch their first berth since 2017. With such a young team already showcasing major potential, a flexible salary cap situation and a bounty of draft picks, 2020 looks like it is going to be the start of something special in south Florida.
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