I got a chance to talk to Kevin Nogle from SB Nation's Miami Dolphins site, The Phinsider. Kevin was gracious enough to talk to me about the Dolphins and answer some of my questions so we can gain a better understanding of the Ravens' week thirteen opponent.
Q1: The Dolphins have been one of the league's more surprising teams this season. Currently vying for a playoff berth at 7-5, what can you attribute the success of this year's team to?
A: I think the main thing is that the team is growing. Over the past few years, the Dolphins have been a young team, trying to figure out how to win. This year, they are finally starting to take those steps forward, and proving that they can play with the top teams in the league. They have already beat the Patriots once this year, they took the Packers and Lions to the final minute of the game, and they had an 11-point lead on the Broncos in the fourth quarter. They are a team that can play with anyone, they just have not yet proven they can finish. Once they turn that corner, they should be a lot better.
Q2: Ryan Tannehill is a guy that has improved steadily every year, leading this year to a 92.1 QB Rating. The thing most clearly improved has been his accuracy, going from a 60.4 completion percentage to a 66.5 completion percentage this season. We all know that he has Mike Wallace and we all know what Wallace can do from his time in Pittsburgh, but what other weapons is helping Tannehill be a true franchise quarterback for the Dolphins?
A: The biggest thing that has seemed to help Tannehill has been new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor. This is the first year since high school Tannehill has not been in a Mike Sherman offense, and it was probably time for him to shake it up and learn something new. Lazor is playing directly into Tannehill's strength, and he is blossoming because of it. Tannehill does not have the best long ball, and the team has turned away from the deep pass, instead looking for intermediate and short passes, getting the ball out of Tannehill's hands and into the hands of the playmakers who can make things happen.
Q3: The Miami Dophins have one of the best defenses in the league this season, allowing only 19.3 points per game to the Ravens 20.2 points per game allowed. It appears as though most of that is through one of the league's best pass defenses, currently ranked second in the league in passing yards allowed per game. The Dolphins have Brent Grimes and Cortland Finnegan at cornerback, which has certainly been a large portion of their success with the passing game. However, Finnegan might not be able to play this Sunday. If he can't suit up, is there any major depth to this secondary unit or are the backups prone to mistakes?
A: It's funny because, the Dolphins do not have a lot of depth in the secondary, yet they are still getting it done. Finnegan has been out since the fourth quarter of Miami's Week 10 game against the Lions. He was replaced by Jamar Taylor, who, in his second year, started to show he could be a good option for Miami at cornerback - only to then have his shoulder dislocated and be out for likely three weeks (this is week two of that span). The next guy up for Miami would likely have been Will Davis, but he is on injured reserve. The team signed R.J. Stanford last week to fill out the depth in the secondary, then he played 69-percent of the snaps against the Jets. He and Jimmy Wilson will likely serve as the corners opposite Grimes. Miami seems to have been lucky with plug-and-play cornerbacks so far this year, but I do worry that, eventually, the luck will run out.
Q4: Ravens fans know and loved Dannell Ellerbe, but unfortunately he left Baltimore for his new home in Miami. I see that he has only started a single game this season for the Dolphins after having a great year last year. Has he been as loved in Miami as Ravens fans loved him here? And with his injury sidelining him for the year, how has the run defense fared?
A: The linebackers as a whole last year were a frustration, to include Ellerbe. This year, he was moved from middle linebacker to outside linebacker, where it was felt he would be able to shine - only to have a hip injury end his season before it ever really started. I do not feel that there is a lot of love for Ellerbe among Dolphins fans, but there is not a lot of dislike for him, either. Fans are highly frustrated with the other high-priced linebacker Miami signed before the 2013 season, Phillip Wheeler, but I think the only real feeling for Ellerbe is that he is overpaid. I think he will end up being a free agent next year, because the Dolphins have used Jelani Jenkins in his place this season, and Jenkins has turned into a tackling machine. He is making Ellerbe expendable, at least at the price Miami would have to pay Ellerbe next season ($9.85M salary cap number, with a $1.4M dead money number if he is designated a June 1 cut, saving Miami nearly $8.5M). I like Ellerbe and think he could have a role with the Dolphins, but his salary is way too high for a player who "could have a role."
Q5: What are your thoughts on how this game goes? What is your final prediction?
A: I really think this game is a toss up. Both teams do things well, both teams have some questions that still need to be answered. I think the Miami run defense will show up after being embarrassed the past couple of weeks, but the real question is, which Miami offense will show up. I am going to lean toward the Dolphins in a close game, because it is in Miami, and, after years of disappointing at home, they are finally starting to defend their own field - and the crowd is starting to show up. Somewhere around 23-20, 24-21, even something like 30-27 would not surprise me, despite two defenses that do no give up points. I just think it comes down to a field goal, and I give the edge to Miami in South Florida.