What to Make of the Miami Dolphins
Before the season, there was a lot of hype surrounding the Miami Dolphins and their potential to breakout this year.
Prior to their bye week, the Dolphins looked like one of the biggest flops in the league after stumbling out to a 1-3 start. Tannehill did not look like the breakout player many expected, Lamar Miller was an afterthought in the offense, and the defense was far from the formidable force that it was expected to be.
For those who believed in the Dolphins before the year, it was necessary to overlook the negative effect that a coach can have on his team. One day into the bye week, the Dolphins fired their head coach, Joe Philbin. While our Net Expected Points (NEP) metrics do not measure the performance of coaches, it is clear that this team is different with Dan Campbell running the show instead of Philbin.
In the Dolphins' first game after the bye, they steamrolled the Tennessee Titans. Although this win could just be a one-game fluke, it is also possible that this is the start of the rejuvenated rest of the season for the Dolphins.
Reliance on the Run
While Philbin was the head coach, the Dolphins criminally underused Miller as their running back.
In the four games Philbin coached this year, Miller touched the ball no more than 15 times in a game and only had 13 or more rushes in one game. In this time, Miller's efficiency dipped as he never had a chance to establish a rhythm.
Through Week 5, Miller owned a Rushing NEP of -3.37, meaning he lost more than a field goal of expected scoring for the Dolphins with his carries. That ranked 36th among 58 backs with at least 20 carries.
In just one game with Campbell as the head coach, the running script completely flipped. Miller received 19 carries, which was half of what he had in the first four games combined. With those carries, he ripped off a very efficient 113 yards, nearly doubling his rushing total from the first four games.
For the season now, Miller has 244 yards on 56 carries giving him an efficient 4.4 yards per carry. This productivity is highlighted through his Rushing Success Rate -- the percentage of runs that contribute positively towards NEP -- where he has the seventh highest rate among backs with at least 40 carries as 48.21% of his runs are successful. He now ranks seventh in Success Rate among 53 backs with at least 30 carries. (Through Week 5, just 43.24% were successful.)
Right now, Miller has a 2.17 Rushing NEP, right behind Todd Gurley, putting him 14th among 44 running backs with at least 40 carries. Again, prior to the game against the Titans, Miller had a -3.37 Rushing NEP, which gave him a 5.17 Rushing NEP for the game. This impressive game put Miller back where he belongs among running backs. Last year, his 13.69 Rushing NEP ranked eighth among all running backs.
Even with his ineffective start to the year, Miller sits behind Gurley with a 0.04 Rushing NEP per play, ranking him 14th among qualified backs again.
As long as Campbell continues to pound the ball with Miller, this offense should continue to be more potent going forward.
Passing Game Emergence
While the passing game and Tannehill's breakout have not gone according to plan, there is still some hope left for improvement.
The Dolphins currently sit 20th in Adjusted NEP due to their atrocious 28th ranked Adjusted Passing NEP.
But after starting the first two weeks with an Adjusted Passing NEP of 13.28, the Dolphins posted a -19.00 Adjusted Passing NEP in their two games against the Jets and Bills, two top-seven units against the pass, per our metrics.
In Campbell's first game, the Dolphins posted a 6.22 Adjusted Passing NEP, showing signs of improvement in looking like they did for the first two games of the season. Tannehill posted a 7.44 Passing NEP for the week, bringing him to a season long -9.42 Passing NEP. This is 28th among quarterbacks with at least 100 drop backs, ranking ahead of only Peyton Manning, Teddy Bridgewater, Ryan Mallett, and Nick Foles.
In Week 6, Tannehill improved his Passing Success Rate from 40.9% to 43.4%, ranking him 27th among qualified quarterbacks. If he can maintain a steady improvement in this category, then his efficiency and season outlook should improve. Last year, Tannehill's Success Rate of 50.71% ranked seventh among 37 passers with at least 37 drop backs despite posting a 16th-ranked Passing NEP (46.72). He can be consistent.
Tannehill has little help surrounding him in the passing game as the Dolphins offensive free agent signing, Jordan Cameron is the 13th ranked tight end in terms of Reception NEP. Additionally, Tannehill's receivers are equally unimpressive as Rishard Matthews, Jarvis Landry, and Kenny Stills rank 22nd, 61st, and 76th respectively among receivers in Reception NEP.
Equally as troubling is that Matthews is the only pass catchers who is efficient. He has the second highest Reception NEP per target among receivers with at least 22 targets. Neither of the other receivers are in the top-30, and Cameron sits at 16th in this stat among tight ends who fit the qualifier. Landry's per-target Reception NEP places him near the bottom of the league based on his volume.
Again, while these appear troubling, there are some signs of hope. Matthews and Cameron posted 8.50 and 5.61 Reception NEPs against Tennessee respectively. This could serve as the turnaround going forward as the passing game is showing signs of life now.
Overall, going forward the offense has a chance to come alive as the Dolphins play many teams outside the top-10 in Adjusted Defensive NEP for the rest of the season.
While the defense received hype prior to the season based on signing Suh and their previous success, it has failed to live up to its potential. The Dolphins rank 20th with a 34.02 Adjusted Defensive NEP.
In Week 6, the Dolphins' defense finally met the preseason expectations by sacking Titans quarterbacks six times, and forcing four turnovers. While the rushing metrics remained about even in this game, the Dolphins posted a -10.08 Adjusted Defensive NEP and a -16.09 Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP, vaulting them from the worst pass defense in the NFL to 19th.
The Dolphins did this without a big game from Suh, who still has yet to produce at the level expected from him.
Once Suh can add to the impact seen from the rest of the defense against the Titans, the Dolphins can look to play at the level expected of them from before the season.
While the Dolphins stumbled out of the blocks to start the year, it is clear that their new coach Dan Campbell has the ability to turn their season around.
Between leaning on Miller with the run game, improving the passing efficiency, and having the defense approach expectations, there is still hope for the Dolphins season.
This is a team that has plenty of talent and now has the coaching to match it. Invest in the Dolphins going forward in fantasy football, even if their playoff odds (9.3%, per our algorithms) aren't sky high.