Road Trip Worries: Why Upcoming Away Games Could Snap the Dolphins’ Streak
The Miami Dolphins have to be feeling pretty good after establishing themselves as a Wild Card contender with their three game win streak. While the team deserves every iota of credit that they’ve received, there is justifiable concern surrounding the team ahead of their back-to-back West coast road trips against the San Diego Chargers and the Los Angeles Rams respectively. Though the Miami Dolphins have seemingly shed many of their offensive woes that made them so mediocre at the beginning of the season, it is notable that all four of their wins have been home games. The team’s 0-3 record on the road makes me nervous, and there are statistics and trends on both sides of the ball that fuel this fear. So, I felt it sensible to take a look at the potential reasons as to why the Miami Dolphins have performed so much better at home than on the road.
Offensive Efficiency/Running Game
It’s abundantly clear that the most significant driving force behind the Miami Dolphins’ turnaround on offense has been the rise of Jay Ajayi and the running game. After Mike Pouncey returned from injury and Laremy Tunsil began to get into a grove, the rest of the offensive line stabilized and followed the trend of their talented anchors on the interior. The sudden improvement in run blocking came in conjunction with Jay Ajayi’s establishment, and thus the Jay Train left the station. Over the three game home winning streak Ajayi managed an incredible 529 yards on 77 carries, notching 4 touchdowns as well. However, Ajayi and the run game still have yet to establish themselves on the road.
The difference between the Dolphins’ offense on the road has been night and day in regard to the run game. In their five home games, the Dolphins succeeded in chugging out 156.2 yards per game on the ground at an impressive 5.2 yards per tote. On the road, they managed just 65.3 yards per game on the ground at a very pedestrian 4 yards per carry. By contrast, the passing statistics are nearly identical on the road as they are at home. At home, Ryan Tannehill and the passing game directed the offense to 209.4 yards per game at an 88.8 passer rating. In his three road games, Tannehill averaged 232.3 yards per game with an 84.7 passer rating. As you can see, the differences in the performance of the passing game have been insignificant on the road vs. at home. It is obvious that the offense lives and dies in the trenches and, though Jay Ajayi had not been the factor he is now early in the season when the road games took place, it is not a great sign that the Dolphins have yet to field a competent running game on the road. One thing is for certain: the Dolphins need the Jay Train to propel forward throughout this two game road trip.
Special Teams Performance
It’s important to note that the performance of the defense has largely been the same on the road as it has been in Hard Rock Stadium. Any differences in yards/points allowed were fairly similar, and the sack and turnover numbers were nearly identical. However, the play of the special teams, particularly in the return game, has been much better at home than it has been on the road. Kenyan Drake and Jakeem Grant have made an incredible impact in most of the Dolphins’ victories but, for whatever reason, have performed much better in front of the home crowd. On 9 kick returns at home, the team has averaged 32.2 yards per return, including Kenyan Drake’s 96-yard game winner last week against the Jets. On the 7 kick returns during the away games, the return unit was only able to create 21.3 yards per return. The punt returns also followed this trend. At home, the punt return unit was able to create 13.8 yards per return, including Jakeem Grant’s 74-yard touchdown. By contrast, the punt return unit could only manage 6.4 yards per return in Miami’s three away games. The stark difference in return effectiveness in home vs. away games was undoubtedly important. In Miami’s victories, the special teams gave the offense much better field position than in their three away losses and in some cases (as in Sunday’s win over the Jets) made an absolutely integral game-changing play.
In addition to some differences in the return game effectiveness, there also some differences in the performance of Andrew Franks on the road vs. at home. The sample size is admittedly very small; Andrew Franks has made 2/3 field goals on the road against 9/11 field goals at home. Though it may end up being statistically insignificant as Franks gets more attempts over the next two weeks, the 81.8% completions at home is obviously better than 66.7% away. Overall, the special teams has performed better at home than it has away, and in tight contests, every advantage counts.
While the two statistical themes above have surely played a role in the Dolphins’ poor road record, there is no statistic more telling than that of the opponent records for home contests vs. away contests. For the Dolphins’ home games, their opponents’ records are currently a total of 15 wins to 29 losses (.341 winning percentage). Even if the league worst Browns are not included in the total, the win percentage is still sub-.500 (.429 winning percentage). By contrast, their road opponents have had a 15-7-2 record (.625 winning percentage). This tells us that either: A) The Dolphins can only beat up on weak competition, B) The Dolphins simply have had poor luck in the teams they have faced in their road contests, or C) The Dolphins have showed they can defeat mediocre teams at home and have yet to receive a fair opportunity to show whether or not they can compete on the road. Whatever the case, the Dolphins have the opportunity to show they belong in the conversation for the 6th playoff spot over the next two weeks, as the Chargers and Rams are beatable. If the Dolphins can escape this road trip with at least one victory (preferably two) they can build a hell of a case for it.