By Shawn S. Lealos
The Miami Dolphins opened the season with high hopes, but after losing three of their first four games, the Dolphins fired head coach Joe Philbin. Dan Campbell took over the role of interim head coach and immediately led the Dolphins to two straight victories over the Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans, scoring 38 and 44 points in those games. After such a hot start, they Dolphins stumbled and dropped their next two before beating the Philadelphia Eagles this past Sunday after Sam Bradford was knocked out of the game. Now, they set their focus on the Dallas Cowboys.
Sitting at 4-5, the Dolphins may have a losing record, but they still have a chance at the postseason. Outside of the division leaders, the entire AFC is up for grabs. The Pittsburgh Steelers have six wins and everyone else has five wins or less when it comes to the Wild Card race. With Miami having a lot to play for, and the Cowboys falling quickly, this is a game that Miami seems to have an advantage coming into. With a win over the Eagles, who just beat the Cowboys, the Dolphins have to believe that they can win.
Miami Dolphins on Offense
When the 2015 NFL season started, it was quarterback Ryan Tannehill who was the focus of the offense. However, once the Dolphins fired Philbin, it was the running game that took over with Lamar Miller leading the way. In the three losses before Philbin was fired, Tannehill threw the ball over 40 times each contest. He also threw five interceptions and six touchdowns in those games. Since the focus changed to the running game, Tannehill has only thrown over 40 passes in one game and has eight touchdown and four interceptions.
Lamar Miller opened the season with 131 rushing yards through those first four games. Since Campbell took over as head coach, Miller has run for 390 yards with five touchdowns. Rookie running back Jay Ajayi just made his NFL debut two weeks ago and has run for 89 yards in two games for an average of 8.1 yards per carry. He has proven that he deserves more touches.
Rishard Matthews and Jarvis Landry have led the way in the passing game, with Matthews leading the way in passing yards with 647 yards on 42 catches. Landry leads the team in receptions with 60 for 587 yards. Combined, they have seven touchdown receptions.
Miami Dolphins on Defense
Ndamukong Suh is the biggest name on the defense, joining as a free agent in the offseason. However, he isn’t the key member of the defense. His four sacks rank second on the team. His 30 tackles ranks seventh. Suh also has four passes defensed. However, while his numbers are not there, he is still one of the most disruptive forces on the team and has opened things up for his teammates.
With Suh taking the focus on other defensive linemen, it opened up the game for players like Cameron Wake. While he doesn’t have many tackles, only bringing down nine runners, he leads the team with an impressive seven sacks on the season. Jelani Jenkins is tied with Suh with seven tackles for a loss.
In the defensive backfield, it is Reshad Jones who is the star. He leads the team with 83 tackles and 64 solo tackles. He also has six passes defensed and three interceptions. The Dolphins rank a low 25th in total defense, 20th in the passing game and 30th against the run. They rank 23rd in the turnover ratio with nine turnovers, but have gave up the ball 12 times.
Miami Dolphins’ Players to Watch
Jarvis Landry and Rishard Matthews: Both Matthews and Landry are getting open for Tannehill often, catching a combined 40 passes in the last three games. For the Cowboys’ 26th ranked pass defense, that can only spell trouble. Miami’s young wide receivers bring a physicality to the field that the Dallas secondary needs to neutralize early.
Reshad Jones: Ndamukong Suh is the biggest name on this defense, but it is safety Reshad Jones who has made the most noise this season. It was Jones that intercepted Mark Sanchez on Sunday to put away the Eagles and help the Dolphins win. This season, Jones already has three interceptions and has returned two of them for a touchdown. He also has 83 tackles on the season and six passes defensed, a true nuisance in the passing game.
The Dallas Cowboys have lost seven straight and need to finish the season undefeated if they want a chance to make the postseason. The Miami Dolphins have a better chance of making the postseason, but with Tony Romo back, the Dolphins have to stop one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks. Miami is playing better right now than Dallas, but this is a game the Cowboys should win thanks to the return of Romo.
Shawn S. Lealos is a freelance writer who graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2000 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism. He writes for a variety of national publications and has over 15 years of sports journalism experience. Follow Shawn on Twitter @sslealos. Examiner.com.