DAVIE, Fla. — The Miami Dolphins have combined excellent defense with execrable offense, producing overall mediocrity: a 2-2 record.
Their .500 mark is actually pretty impressive considering the Dolphins have scored 41 points all season.
“If we show up on offense, you’re looking at a really good team,” quarterback Jay Cutler said. “We haven’t helped the defense out in three weeks.”
The Dolphins rank last in the NFL in points, yards, first downs and third-down efficiency, yet they’re only a half-game out of first place in the AFC East.
That’s because they rank among the top five teams in the league in fewest points and yards allowed.
Offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen acknowledged the disparity between the offense and defense tests team chemistry.
“It is a strain,” he said Thursday. “It’s not fun. You feel like, ‘The defense is playing so well.’ But our time will come too.”
This week would be a good time. The Dolphins play Sunday at Atlanta (3-1), which led the league in scoring last season.
A key to the game?
“Points will probably help us,” coach Adam Gase said drily. “That would be something that would be very nice to have against an offense that can get hot at any moment.”
The Dolphins’ offense has scored three touchdowns all season, as their defense is well aware. They’ve won twice only because new defensive coordinator Matt Burke’s unit has been dominating.
Leading the charge has been safety Reshad Jones. In last week’s 16-10 win over Tennessee, Jones scored on a 38-yard fumble return, recovered another fumble to set up a field goal, shared in a sack at the Titans 1-yard line, and nearly made an interception.
He has more touchdowns this season — one — than all of Miami’s running backs — none.
“Whatever it takes to win,” Jones said. “We win and lose together. If the offense is not playing well, we have to step our play up a notch. Hopefully the offense will do the same thing for us. There’ll be a time, probably, where we don’t play to our standards, and hopefully the offense will be able to back us.”
Offense was the Dolphins’ strength last season when they reached the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
But a season-ending knee injury sent quarterback Ryan Tannehill to the sideline early in training camp, and emergency replacement Cutler has been unable to get the offense going.
Meanwhile, a defense that allowed a franchise-record 6,122 yards last season has been upgraded with the additions of veteran linebackers Lawrence Timmons and Rey Maualuga, and rookie linemen Charles Harris and Davon Godchaux.
Newcomers Timmons and Maualuga have teamed with holdover Kiko Alonso to transform the linebacking group into a strength.
“There’s a lot of experience back there,” defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh said. “They are playing fast. They’ve seen pretty much everything an offense can throw at us.”
Pass defense has been inconsistent, but the Dolphins are much improved against the ground game, allowing 3.1 yards per rush, compared with 4.8 last season.
The ability to stop the run provides a foundation for success.
“The sky’s the limit for this defense,” defensive end Cameron Wake said, “and this team.”
But if the Dolphins are going anywhere this season, they need to score more.
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