Miami Dolphins Discover New Identity of Toughness Under Dan Campbell

Erik FrenzSenior Writer IOctober 18, 2015

Oct 18, 2015; Nashville, TN, USA; Miami Dolphins interim head coach Dan Campbell is dumped with Gatorade after a win against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium. The Dolphins won 38-10. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Dolphins made no more than a few changes to their roster since their Week 4 loss to the New York Jets in London. Why, then, did they look like a completely different team in their 38-10 takedown of the Tennessee Titans in Week 6?

Two words: toughness, aggression.

The Dolphins defensive line attacked the backfield. Their offensive line played physical at the line of scrimmage. The coaching staff committed to the running game. 

Basically, every trait the Dolphins have needed to show this season was on display.

Think interim head coach Dan Campbell likes what he has seen? According his demeanor and comments during his postgame press conference (via Andrew Abramson of the Palm Beach Post), he does:

Ever since being promoted to the top spot on the coaching staff, Campbell has preached his goal to instill toughness and competitiveness into his team. It only took him two weeks to achieve that goal, and it only took three hours on Sunday, from 1-4 p.m. ET to prove he had achieved that goal. 

In the process, two names emerged from the roster that have been lost in the shuffle in the first four games of the season: running back Lamar Miller and defensive end Cameron Wake.

At an average of 16.3 rush attempts per game and 69.3 rushing yards per game, the Dolphins entered Week 6 with the fewest rush attempts per game and second-fewest rushing yards per game in the NFL. They finished Week 6 with 32 attempts for 180 rushing yards, more than doubling their per-game averages on the day.

Miller didn't quite hit that elusive 20-carry plateau—a mark which he has missed for 25 straight games—but with 19 carries for 113 yards, he had much-better production than anything we've seen from him this season so far. The Dolphins found a groove in the running game and stuck with it.

Miami Dolphins running game
2015First 4 games (per game)Week 6
Carries16.332
Yards69.3180
Yards/carry4.35.6
Touchdowns02
Source: NFL.com

That's more than Joe Philbin could say at any time in his tenure as the Dolphins' previous head coach. 

Of course, it's much easier to commit to the running game when it's productive. The Dolphins' offensive line moved the Titans' defensive line off the ball repeatedly, opening giant holes for Miller and the other Dolphins backs.

It's hard to ask offensive linemen to start firing off the ball when they spend most of the game playing on their heels, but the Dolphins found a rhythm in the running game and rode that wave for four quarters.

On the defensive line, the Dolphins showed more aggression than we've seen from them at any point this season. Whether their struggles were linked to scheme, play-calling or simply mentality, the Dolphins rediscovered their identity on the line in Week 6.

Dolphins run defense
2015First 4 games (per game)Week 6
Carries36.818
Yards160.563
Yards/carry4.43.5
Touchdowns0.80
Source: NFL.com

The Titans totaled 63 yards on 18 carries (3.5 yards per carry), marking the first time the Dolphins defense held its opponent to fewer than 100 rushing yards this season. The Dolphins defense also combined for six sacks, led by arguably the best defensive player on the roster in Cameron Wake (four sacks).

Wake had been a sleeping giant for the first four games of the season and had been held without a sack, but he woke up (no pun intended) and created suffocating pressure on the Titans quarterbacks. He forced a fumble on two of his four sacks on Sunday.

Make no mistake; Wake and Miller spearheaded much of the Dolphins' success, but this was a collective team effort that has been recharged with the change at head coach.

Campbell has his team playing motivated at a level that we never saw under Philbin this year. Players are even saying "they're having fun again," according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel's Omar Kelly:

The fun went far enough to result in a Gatorade bath for Campbell's first win, but the Dolphins can't get complacent with the win.

The Dolphins will need to play this way if they want to make something of their season. At 2-3, there's still plenty of time to turn it around and make noise in the playoff hunt, but there is still an uphill battle to be fought. The Dolphins return home for Week 7 against the Houston Texans, followed by a three-game road trip against the New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills and Philadelphia Eagles.

If the Dolphins can continue to forge their new identity under Campbell as the head coach, there's no reason they can't find continued success in their journey back to the playoffs.