Rich Storry – USA Today Sports
The Miami Dolphins ended their three-game losing streak with their 16-10 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and that victory closed the gap between their national believers and national skeptics.
After having a range of 8 to 23 in the 10 national power rankings we survey, that gap closed to 7 to 14 following the Sunday night victory at Hard Rock Stadium.
In our survey of rankings of those 10 national outlets —CBS Sports, NFL.com, The Athletic, The Sporting News, The Ringer, USA Today, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, Yahoo, and Pro Football Talk — the Dolphins averaged a ranking of 9.5 among the 32 NFL teams, down from their average of 14.5 after Week 6.
Here's the breakdown of the Dolphins' 10 power rankings spots, along with the commentary associated with it:
Ranking: 10 Previous: 16
Analysis: The offense seemed to click early with Tua Tagovailoa back against the Steelers, but it went bad after the first quarter. The good news is the defense showed up when needed.
Ranking: 14 Previous: 23
Analysis: Tua Tagovailoa returned, and the Dolphins got back to winning — but that feels more like a coincidence than cause and effect. Tua played like an extremely rusty quarterback against the Steelers; several near-interceptions would have been turned over if Pittsburgh defenders had better hands. Miami triumphed because its defense put the clamps on Kenny Pickett, forcing the struggling rookie into a pair of fourth-quarter red-zone picks that salted away the victory. A tasty Week 8 matchup against the scuffling Lions' defense could be just what the offense needs.
Ranking: 18 Previous: 15
Analysis: In the four games Tua Tagovailoa has started and finished, the Dolphins are averaging 0.66 EPA per drive, which would be good for No. 4 in the league (just behind the Bills) on the full-season leaderboard. In the other three games, they averaged -0.59 EPA per drive, the same mark as the 29th-ranked Broncos. Tagovailoa got lucky with some dropped interceptions against the Steelers Sunday night, and the offense really slowed as the game went on, but if he’s healthy, the Dolphins are dynamic.
Ranking: 12 Previous: 17
Analysis: They’ll be a factor all year long.
Ranking: 8 Previous: 10
Analysis: Tua Tagovailoa wasn't great in his return, but he was good early on and you could easily see the difference in the offense with him in it. The Dolphins are above .500 with their quarterback back, which isn't that bad of a place for them to be.
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Ranking: 13 Previous: 8
Analysis: Mike McDaniel’s team is rolling with the punches, and while they may be firmly cemented in that second tier, they can beat any club at any time. Holding tight against the Steelers and ending a potential game-winning drive Sunday night flashed the depth of their roster.
Ranking: 10 Previous: 17
Analysis (on the one stat to know): The Dolphins have 61 pressures through seven games, ranking 27th in the NFL — a whopping 22 of those came against the Bills in Week 3. Miami is blitzing often, as it's been known to do over the past few years, but its pass rush isn't generating the type of pressure it's accustomed to seeing. The middle-of-the-pack sack numbers (14, 19th in the NFL) could be forgiven if the pressures were there, but it appears opponents have figured out the Dolphins' tactics. Opposing quarterbacks are getting the ball out at the ninth-fastest rate in the league (2.7 seconds), and in turn, Miami allows the fourth-highest completion percentage in the league. Whether the rush or coverage is more at blame, it's something the Dolphins need to figure out if they're to make a final playoff push come November and December.
Ranking: 7 Previous: 8
Analysis: Tua Tagovailoa’s return to the starting lineup was hot and cold. He still managed to finish the week 12th in EPA per dropback (0.08) after Miami’s Sunday night win over the Steelers, but was saved by multiple dropped interceptions that could have swung the game the other way. His confidence and overall command of the offense didn’t skip a beat, however—a good sign that he and Mike McDaniel will be able to correct mistakes moving forward and return to the type of offense we saw in September, when they led the NFL in offensive EPA per drive (1.14) through the first three weeks.
Ranking: 13 Previous: 18
Analysis: The Dolphins got a much-needed big mentally tough home win against the relentless Steelers to snap their three-game skid after a 3-0 start. They have settled into a middle-road team, trying to strike the right balance of offense complementing the defense, and vice versa.
Ranking: 9 Previous: 10
Analysis: Getting QB Tua Tagovailoa back Sunday night and shepherding him through the game incident free was encouraging. Nearly as important? Miami eclipsing 100 yards on the ground for just the second time this season while taking the ball away three times. The Fins appear to be getting strong just as the schedule weakens, Pittsburgh kicking off a stretch of six consecutive sub-.500 opponents.
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