The Miami Dolphins are preparing for their trip to London, England to face the New York Jets on Sunday at Wembley Stadium. It's the second consecutive year that the Dolphins have made the trip 'across the pond' for a Week 4 game in which they come in with a 1-2 record, having won in Week 1 before dropping two in a row. Despite those striking similarities, the makeup of Miami's roster is quite different than that of a season ago.
Through the first three weeks the Dolphins have been largely a disappointment, especially considering the high expectations that surrounded the team during the preseason. Yes, they have a win, but Miami has played poorly each week and has seemingly regressed with each passing game. Considering the talent on the Dolphins roster, they are most definitely underachieving even with the holes on the team (offensive line, secondary, lack of running game, etc).
The calendar has now flipped to the month of October. Many of the questions being asked about the Dolphins early in the season are being answered, but none of those answers seem to be what Miami fans want to hear. There is still plenty of time left in the season to turn things around and a win over the Jets this Sunday would go a long way heading into the bye week. Here are the top Dolphins questions heading into their Week 4 battle with the Jets in London.
Is this the week that the defensive line breaks out?
It's quite clear that while the Dolphins season as a whole has been largely unsatisfactory, the substandard play of the defensive line has been the biggest disappointment due to the extremely high expectations surrounding the unit. Miami's lone sack of the season came during Week 1 courtesy of rookie Jordan Phillips, who was inactive last week against Buffalo.
Ndamukong Suh has been double and triple teamed every week, but Cameron Wake has been invisible and the only time Olivier Vernon has stood out was when he was flagged for a moronic 15-yard penalty in the final moments of Miami's Week 2 loss in Jacksonville that set up their game winning field goal.
Can Miami get the running game going?
Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor has admitted that he has done a poor job trying to get the Dolphins run game going, shying away from calling running plays after a couple of unsuccessful attempts. It's no secret that in the NFL, running backs get better as the game progresses. They get a better feel for the flow of the game while opposing defenses generally get tired and don't tackle as well in the second half as they did in the first half.
Last week against Buffalo the Dolphins handed the ball to their running backs just 18 times, with Jonas Gray getting nine carries, Lamar Miller getting seven and Damien Williams only two. The thing about it is that while the opportunities were limited, each back ran the ball well. Miller and Gray each averaged 5.4 yards per carry while Williams' average was 8.5. Combined, that's 104 yards on 18 carries (average of 5.7) which is pretty darn good.
Will Brice McCain and/or Jamar Taylor figure out how to stop getting roasted?
A constant trend that we've seen so far this season is that cornerbacks Brice McCain and Jamar Taylor have gotten burned time and time again. They each play a good 10 yards off the line on most plays and still find a way to get beaten by whoever the receiver is that they're covering. Opposing teams are mostly not even throwing to Brent Grimes' side of the field, and you can't blame them.
If McCain and Taylor can't get the job done again this week, it may be time to see what Tony Lippett, Bobby McCain and Zack Bowman can do because quite frankly, it can't get much worse than what we've seen from the guys at the top of the depth chart.
Can a receiver not named Landry or Matthews find a way to contribute?
Heading into the season a lot was made of the Dolphins revamped group of wide receivers, but none of the new guys, Greg Jennings, Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker, have done much of anything so far. Jennings has been targeted the most out of the three newbies, but of the 11 passes thrown his way he's only caught four while dropping three. Only three receivers in the NFL have more drops than Jennings.
Stills and Parker have each been targeted just eight times. Stills has three receptions for a meager 20 yards while Parker, Miami's first round draft pick this year, has made four catches for 49 yards. Two of Parker's four catches have given the Dolphins a first down. If this group is indeed as deep as they are perceived to be, quarterback Ryan Tannehill and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor need to figure out a way to get everyone involved. Of course Tannehill needs time in the pocket to allow his receivers to run their routes, but that's another story.
Speaking of the offensive line…will they show any improvement this week?
Last season one of the biggest problems with the Dolphins was the play of their offensive line, particularly the guards. General Manager Dennis Hickey did little to improve the unit during the offseason, instead banking on the continued development of a couple past draft picks in guards Dallas Thomas and Billy Turner. Thomas 'won' the starting left guard spot but Turner was beaten out by rookie Jamil Douglas on the right side.
Neither of them have played well and replacing one of them with Turner isn't going to make things any better based on how he looked during training camp and the preseason. Miami's best chance is just to hope that one or more of these guys gradually gets better as the season goes on, but I'm not holding my breath. Aside from the guards, what's really killed the Dolphins has been the absence of left tackle Branden Albert. After working his tail off to recover from offseason knee surgery, Albert injured his hamstring during Week 2 and missed half that game and Miami's Week 3 loss to Buffalo.
Jason Fox filled in for Albert and was constantly beaten, especially at key moments during the game. Albert returned to practice on Wednesday at a limited basis and hopefully he'll be able to play on Sunday against the Jets. A healthy Albert, combined with Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey and right tackle Ja'Wuan James (Miami's first round pick last year), will help take some of the pressure off the inadequate guards and keep Tannehill upright long enough to allow his receivers time to run their routes.
Is this going to be Joe Philbin and Kevin Coyle's last week with the Dolphins?
Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin has been on the hot seat several times during his tenure in Miami, but that seat is sizzling more than ever lately. The same can be said for defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle, who has consistently seen his unit fall apart late in the season. Well they didn't wait until the end of the season this year as the defense has been gashed both against the run and the pass in each of the Dolphins three games.
Many people were left scratching their heads when Philbin and Coyle were retained by owner Stephen Ross despite showing no improvement from 2013 to 2014. It seems that the decision allow both coaches to enter their fourth season in Miami was the wrong one. From poor game planning, bad clock management and lack of intensity and ability to inspire, Philbin has done nothing to show why he deserves to be a head coach in the NFL.
As for Coyle, he keeps saying that he needs to simplify the defense. That's what he said at the end of last season and that's what he said again after Miami lost to the Bills last week. How about moving guys around on the line or dialing up some exotic blitz packages to balance out the struggling secondary? Needless to say, if the Dolphins don't show any progress or improvement this week against the Jets it's hard to see why either coach should keep his job. You never want to make a coaching change during the season but Miami clearly needs to shake things up.
Be sure to check out our FinsOn4 Live Dolphins Blog where we will be posting season-long coverage, updates, photos, video, commentary and more throughout the entire 2015 season.
Watch Miami take on the New York Jets this Sunday at 9:30 a.m. on CBS4, your official Dolphins station!
Follow David on Twitter (@DavidDwork)
for more features.