The Dolphins won’t be great until they can beat someone good

The Miami Dolphins are 6-3, sitting in first place in the AFC East. There’s no reason to hit the panic button. That said, there’s an increasing worry about this team’s inability to win games against good teams.

Miami’s loss in Week 9 to the Chiefs in Germany was notable insofar as how much the team struggled offensively compared to their usual production. It was the worst passing game of the season for Tua Tagovailoa, who was shut out of the first half to such a dramatic degree that even after turning the corner in the second he still threw for fewer than 200 yards.

This is starting to become a trend for the Dolphins, and it’s worrying insofar that this could be a predictor for the playoffs.

  • Combined opponent record in six wins: 0.260 (13-37)
  • Combined opponent record in three losses: 0.740 (20-7)

The biggest issue the Dolphins are facing right now is that they’re extremely one-dimensional. Their offense remains the best in the NFL, scoring a league-best 31.7 points per game, but the Miami defense is pretty terrible. They’re 25th in the NFL in points allowed, and have given up over 350 yards of total offense in four of their nine games.

It’s not just simple statistics where this is a concern. Advanced stats show just how much Miami has become a one-trick pony. In DVOA the Dolphins are significantly below the threshold of a playoff team in several areas.

  • Offensive DVOA: 30.4% (1st)
  • Defensive DVOA: 4.1% (23rd)
  • Special Teams DVOA: -2.3% (26th)

Those defensive and special teams rankings put Miami amongst some truly horrible company including the Packers (22st in defensive DVOA) and Tampa Bay (25th in special teams DVOA).

In theory the offense should be good enough to carry this team through, but that’s not really materializing on the field. It’s only natural that statistics will soar against bad competition and take a hit against good teams, but offensively the Dolphins are playing football like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 2023.

2023 Dolphins’ offensive averages

Win 39 498.1 327 171.2 25.1
Loss 17 309.7 208.3 101.3 17.3

Most alarming about this dramatic offensive drop off is that the Dolphins haven’t really played anyone who is great defensively in 2023. The average defensive DVOA they’ve faced in their three losses is 14th, with Kansas City’s No. 5 ranked defense skewing that average down quite significantly.

The point is that good teams appear to be circling the Dolphins on their schedule and countering them through film and preparation. Concurrently Miami seems unable to modify their offense enough to counteract better defenses, which is a worrying concern when a team’s entire ethos is built around overwhelming scoring and offense, winning games by shootout as a result.

Even as this trend continues there’s not much threat to their season. The remaining Dolphins’ schedule has at least four more easily winnable games against the Jets (twice), Raiders and Commanders. The issue is three games against the Cowboys, Ravens and Bills — all of whom are stout defensively, and have the potential to shut down the offense. Ultimately Miami should be able to cruise into the playoffs unless the wheels fall off all together, but once they get there, then it becomes a different story as they face the top teams in the NFL.

There’s no doubt the Dolphins are a team on the rise, and have the potential to be a serious future threat with sustained success, but as it stands this team doesn’t seem ready to make the push right now. Not unless something changes in the next couple of weeks.