Dolphins Playoff Hopes Sink in Baltimore Harbor

Riding a six game winning streak, the Miami Dolphins came crashing down to reality in Baltimore getting trounced by the Ravens 38-6. From the opening kick, the Ravens proved much more worthy of a playoff spot than the flailing Dolphins. The middle of the Miami defense was dissected like a high school frog by Joe Flacco and whichever receiver he chose.

The Miami Dolphin linebackers were out of position the entire day as Flacco completed pass after pass to open receivers. Ryan Tannehill made bad decisions and seemed to be telegraphing his run/pass option leaving the Ravens a step ahead of the Dolphins in nearly every situation. The patchwork Miami offensive line was clearly over matched and the vaunted defensive line could not slow Flacco and the Raven’s passing game.

It was a miserable game for the Dolphins, one that showed where this team resides in the playoff picture. On the outside looking in. With four games remaining Miami’s post season hopes are still alive, but the cleanup crew after this game will be very busy. In a familiar theme, injuries on the offensive line betrayed the hopes of Miami Dolphin fans. Pro bowl tackle Brandon Albert and center Mike Pouncey watched their teammates struggle.

Adam Gase has his hands full this week as Miami begins another December looking undermanned against playoff caliber teams. Miami must get better quickly at home against the Arizona Cardinals before entering a three game AFC East season finale. At 7-5 Miami enters the final quarter of the season hanging on to playoff hopes. This team has outplayed expectations and yet the dismal performance in Baltimore rings hollow, like some know-it-all spewing, “I told you so” all over the Dolphin faithful.

Is it time to backpedal on where this team belongs in the big picture? Should Miami fans brace themselves for the inevitable December crash? This is the same team that leaped overwhelming hurdles at 1-4. Adam Gase must find a way to right a ship that nearly capsized in Baltimore harbor. Offensive line play clearly seems to be the determining factor for Ryan Tannehill, the running game and even the Miami defense.

When the Dolphins run the football, every other facet of their game plan seems to follow. Given time, Tannehill can pass the ball as well as any QB in the league. Given rest, the defense plays fast and loose, but converting only 4 of 13 on 3rd down derailed the necessity of keeping Joe Flacco off the field.

Baltimore found a soft spot in the middle of the Miami defense and Vance Joseph never found an answer. It is about this time of the season that exposes the weaknesses of inferior teams in the NFL and Miami may have been exposed. Linebackers biting on play action left gaping holes for TE seam routes that Flacco exploited at will. Kiko Alonso played the game with a cast on his wrist, leaving Mike Hull and Neville Hewitt desperately trying to fill the void when he left the field. They proved unable to keep up with Pitta and Dixon.

The Dolphins must now exit the season much as they entered, with questions on the offensive line and at linebacker. Pouncey and Albert returning to the lineup could solve the line issues, but there are no pro bowlers healing in the wings at linebacker. The Dolphin defense can expect to see this same formula for the rest of the season and must find a way to sure up the middle.

Dolphin fans must temper their expectations with the reality that healthy horses are required over the long 16 game season. Only an off-season influx of talent at linebacker can solve the weakness on defense. Decisions must be made on the offensive line where availability may become the one ability Miami must reconcile with.

It should be interesting to see if Adam Gase and “leaders” in the locker room can squeeze four more games out of a team that relies as much on emotion as talent to win. As the playoffs approach, the teams with talent and emotion begin to proliferate the playoff brackets. Miami may find a place in the race, but this team seems a few pieces short of playing in January.