For the second straight year, the Miami Dolphins are 2-0 after the season’s first two weeks. But something feels much different about this team. And for the first time in more than a decade, the Dolphins should be the favorites to win the AFC East.
So why should you feel differently about the Dolphins after just two games? First and foremost, they got two impressive wins on the road. Miami is usually an outstanding home team to start the season, but rarely does it have a lot of success on the road. That hasn’t been the case this year. The Dolphins defeated the Los Angeles Chargers in a wild shoot-out in Los Angeles in Week 1. Then, in Week 2, they ground out a win against the New England Patriots in Foxboro, Mass., in primetime. Those were two very different games, but both ended up being wins for the Dolphins.
What makes this version of the Dolphins feel different? There are several reasons, but the main one is QB Tua Tagovailoa. Heading into Year 4, Tagovailoa was in a make-or-break stage of his career. He admitted that he considered retiring this offseason after suffering multiple concussions last season.
Tagovailoa Appears Reinvigorated
Through two games, a case can be made that Tagovailoa has been the best quarterback in the league. Not only has Tagovailoa led his team to a 2-0 record against two formidable opponents, but he’s racked up 715 passing yards while averaging 9.5 yards per attempt. He’s getting rid of the ball quickly to avoid sacks (one through two games), and the offense has benefited greatly, scoring 60 combined points.
While Miami didn’t light up the scoreboard in the 24-17 Week 2 victory, we saw a lot of promising developments from Tagovailoa and the Dolphins’ offense. One example was his touchdown drive right before halftime. With just 1:49 left, the Dolphins got the ball on their 25-yard line. Miami scored a touchdown eight plays later after seven consecutive completions by Tagovailoa. He quickly got the ball out of his hands before New England could settle into its zones.
What was so fascinating about this drive was that River Cracraft, Durham Smythe and Braxton Berrios were the main targets in the passing game. Tyreek Hill finished the drive with a 2-yard touchdown, but the complementary players torched the Patriots’ defense. Tagovailoa found ways to get the other non-stars involved in the offense – which wasn’t always the case last season. Now, defenses must be cognizant of the other receivers on the field, not just Hill and Jaylen Waddle.
Now, the Dolphins weren’t perfect on offense in Week 2. Tagovailoa threw a bad interception when targeting Hill down the field in the fourth quarter. It was an ill-advised throw that just got caught up in the air. It was his second straight week with an interception despite playing pretty cleanly in both contests. Coach Mike McDaniel hopes to limit those types of plays because the Dolphins’ offense is nearly unstoppable when it stays on script.
Dolphins Bring a Balanced Offense
This isn’t just a pass-happy offense. In Week 2, Miami had 30 passing attempts and 30 rushing attempts. Raheem Mostert led the team in rushing yards with 121 yards and two touchdowns.
That’s what makes this offense so deadly. The Dolphins have so much speed all over the field that one misstep can be the difference between a 3-yard gain or a back-breaking touchdown run. And that’s precisely what happened in the fourth quarter when Mostert had a 41-yard touchdown that ultimately won the game for Miami.
Waltzing in untouched 🙌 Have a night, @RMos_8Ball!
— NFL (@NFL) September 18, 2023
Under McDaniel, the Dolphins have found a way to be balanced but explosive on offense. They can run the ball just as efficiently as they can throw it. That is a recipe for success throughout the regular season. If the Dolphins can continue to win on the ground, they will be one of the league’s most difficult offenses to contain.
Miami’s Defense Makes Clutch Plays
The offense is the engine for the Dolphins, but the defense makes them the favorites in the AFC East.
The Dolphins gave up a ton of points in Week 1 but got a stop at the end of the game to beat the Chargers. They did that again in Week 2, stopping Mike Gesicki and Cole Strange just short of the line to gain on fourth down. Miami allowed just 288 yards of offense and created two turnovers. That was without up-and-coming star EDGE Jaelan Phillips, who missed the game due to an injury.
While the defense is still a work in progress, Miami has the pass rushers up to get after quarterbacks and the secondary players to take the ball away. And now, they have one of the NFL’s best defensive minds, Vic Fangio, running their defense. The hope is that CB Jalen Ramsey (meniscus injury) can return later in the year to give them another boost on defense.
The New York Jets lost QB Aaron Rodgers for the season, and the Patriots started with an 0-2 record, so the AFC East will come down to the Buffalo Bills and Dolphins. While Josh Allen is the more proven quarterback, the Dolphins offense is more consistent and explosive. They’ve shown that they can run the ball, create chunk plays in the passing game and get stops on defense when needed. Being able to do those three things consistently is what makes this team so dangerous.
As long as Tagovailoa can stay healthy, there is no reason why the Dolphins shouldn’t be the favorites in the AFC East. After all, the Dolphins are 10-4 in their last 14 games that Tagovailoa has started and finished, dating back to last season. Time will tell how this division will shake out, but the Dolphins have all the makings of a Super Bowl contender this year.
Marcus Mosher is an NFL writer with a decade of experience in podcasting and writing for various NFL websites, including Bleacher Report, Pro Football Focus and The Athletic. He is currently a managing editor at USA Today Sports Media Group and the host of the Locked On Cowboys Podcast. Marcus has been working full-time covering the NFL since 2015 and works as a betting expert for Gambling.com. You can follow him at @Marcus_Mosher.