It was just 15 months ago that the thought of the Miami Dolphins challenging for a playoff berth would have resulted in an outburst of laughter. However, the team’s rapid ascent from the depths of 2019 has it in prime contention to reach the postseason.
The Dolphins remain a developing team, but reaching the 2020 NFL Playoffs would bolster the team’s confidence and serve as a key building block for the future.
To reach the status of a playoff team, the Dolphins need to deal with some issues that remain a concern for Head Coach Brian Flores.
Here are five keys to the Dolphins making a playoff run:
1. Fix the Run on Both Sides of the Ball
Having a solid running game come postseason is something that most NFL teams strive for, and right now, the Dolphins’ running game is weak, averaging just 3.6 yards per carry. Part of the problem can be attributed to injuries, but when the leading rusher on the team has only 387 yards in the team’s first 11 games, a clear problem exists.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Dolphins have had numerous problems in controlling opposing rushing attacks. Getting shredded for 217 yards and three scores in the opener indicated that a problem existed, with a playoff berth a shaky proposition for any team allowing 4.8 yards per carry. Getting the problem in check could be the fix that’s needed.
2. Force More Turnovers
While a push to get opponents to cough up the ball seems like an obvious suggestion, simple numbers show just how important such a focus means to the Dolphins.
In six games this year, Miami has collected one turnover and has a 3-3 record to show for it. Yet, when it manages to collect multiple turnovers in a game, it has won four of five contests.
Cornerback Xavien Howard is having his best season yet and has seven interceptions on the season. The problem is that there’s a four-way tie for second place with no player having more than one pick.
When it comes to fumble recoveries, the Dolphins have also been unable to force enough big plays to put other teams on notice, something that has to change.
3. Stop the Sack Attacks
During the first four games of the 2020 season, the Dolphins allowed only six sacks, in part because of the contributions of rookie tackle Austin Jackson.
In the first few games following Jackson’s Oct. 9 foot injury, the Dolphins line appeared to be weathering his absence.
However, even though Jackson is now back in the lineup, pass protection has developed some serious issues. Among the most prominent are the 10 sacks allowed in the past two games, a number that sounds like it came from last year’s edition of the Dolphins. Whoever is behind center for Miami has to be better protected if the playoffs are the goal.
4. Tua Needs to Up
Rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa may end up sitting out Sunday’s game, but will ultimately be back as the Dolphins’ starting quarterback.
In his four starts this season, he’s thrown six touchdown passes and has yet to be picked off. That’s a positive sign thus far, but it largely stems from the safe approach the team has taken to his play-calling.
Tagovailoa is the Dolphins’ quarterback of the future, so he needs to start developing his game and putting up bigger numbers. He’s starting to forge a strong connection with wide receiver DeVante Parker, but also needs to have a healthy Preston Williams and take some chances when he goes deep. That may keep opposing defenses from simply focusing on his short-yardage pickups.
5. Deal with the Gauntlet
Should the Dolphins reach the postseason, they’ll obviously be facing quality teams. While they’re double-digit favorites against the Cincinnati Bengals this Sunday, the Dolphins’ final four games come against the Kansas City Chiefs, New England Patriots, Las Vegas Raiders and Buffalo Bills. Those first two games will be played at home followed by a pair of road clashes.
The Chiefs are the defending Super Bowl champs and have the AFC West virtually locked up with a 10-1 record.
While New England may have a record of 5-6, it could end up being a dangerous spoiler. That game will be followed by a road trip to Las Vegas to face the Raiders.
The season finale in a presumably frigid Buffalo may end being for the division, though the Bills appear to have the inside track to win the AFC East.
In short, if the Dolphins can win on Sunday and then split their final four games, they very well could make it as a wild card.
If the season ended today, the Dolphins would have a wild-card berth. Reaching the postseason at all would mean a giant leap forward for the franchise, but that road is currently obscured because of the above issues. Improvements in those areas will be a challenge but aren’t insurmountable.
Going back 50 years ago, another unheralded Dolphins team came out of nowhere to reach the playoffs and laid the groundwork for a Super Bowl dynasty. The 2020 edition of the Dolphins may not have the caliber of talent that 1970 unit had, but there’s still enough skilled players to offer a spirited bid for the postseason. Addressing the current flaws that exist serve as a roadmap to make that happen.