Taking Stock at the Bye

DE Cameron Wake

The Dolphins have arrived at their bye week with a 3-2 record, which most of their fans gladly would have taken at the start of the regular season. They did not, however, arrive at that mark the way most observers would have anticipated and there appear to be more question marks around this team than one would expect of a team with a winning record.

Most of the question marks obviously are on offense, where the running game is producing mediocre numbers and quarterback Ryan Tannehill is getting sacked at a record pace.

Starting with the running game, it's a strange thing actually. With 348 yards after five games, the Dolphins are on pace to finish with 1,113 yards in 2013. That easily would beat the franchise record for fewest rushing yards in a season of 1,205 in 1988 — the Dolphins went 6-10 that year.

More than the sheer numbers, what's been alarming about the running game has been the inconsistency.

The Dolphins' rushing total includes 20 yards in the opener at Cleveland and 22 yards last Sunday against Baltimore. In the other three games, the running game actually wasn't bad, with an average of 102 yards per game and 5.0 yards per attempt.

That said, the running game needs to become more reliable. Even more important, the Dolphins need to do a better job in short-yardage situations after two glaring failures in the last two games.

Of course, there was a forgettable third-and-1 outside run with Daniel Thomas at New Orleans, and back-to-back failures against Baltimore Sunday on the very first drive of the game after Tannehill had hit Mike Wallace with a 9-yard pass on the first play.

How will the running game improve? First and foremost, the line needs to block better. Too often the guys up front have let opposing defensive linemen shoot through gaps.

It also would help if Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas could start breaking a few tackles, because it hasn't happened very often so far this season.

The biggest problem on offense, though, has been the pass protection. It was easier to overlook in the first three weeks when the Dolphins were winning, but it showed up in a big way against New Orleans and against Baltimore.

Tannehill has been dropped 24 times already this season, putting him on pace to take 77 sacks, which would break the individual NFL record of 76, established by David Carr in 2002 when he quarterbacked the expansion Houston Texans.

Tannehill has taken some criticism this season for his lack of pocket awareness and holding the ball too long, and there's certainly merit to that.

The quarterback could help his offensive line by stepping up in the pocket from time to time when there's pressure outside and other times he simply needs to give up on a play and start scrambling.

That said, the offensive line needs to improve its pass blocking, and that involves pretty much all five starters.

The defense wasn't without blame for the two losses, either, though.

Against New Orleans, it was the pass defense that faltered, while the run defense started crumbling a little in the second half of the Baltimore game.

So, as we can see, the Dolphins have some work to do if they hope to be able to make a push for the playoffs.

But there is good news as well.

The first, and most obvious, is that the schedule isn't nearly as daunting now that the five-game gauntlet is over.

The Dolphins return from their bye to face Buffalo at home, and the Bills that day will be quarterbacked by either Thad Lewis or Jeff Tuel.

After that comes a tough two-game swing against New England and Cincinnati, but the quality of opposition drops dramatically after that, with the Bucs, Chargers, Panthers, Jets and Steelers next on the schedule.

More important than the schedule will be the Dolphins getting better because the opposition won't matter if they don't take care of their issues.

On offense, the Dolphins can only hope for more consistency from the running game, better pass protection and more awareness from Tannehill.

On defense, things should get better if for no other reason than the expected return of defensive end Cameron Wake and cornerback Dimitri Patterson, two key pieces who have been out of action in recent weeks.

No question, it's still there for the Dolphins to make something out of this season. It's up to them to fix their problems to take advantage of a more accommodating post-bye schedule.

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