On their best days—and Sunday was one of them—the Dolphins bear a striking resemblance to those Dallas teams of the early '90s. Wannstedt, the former Cowboys defensive coordinator, is now the Miami coach, and Turner and Wise are reprising for the Dolphins the roles they played in Dallas. Of course, Miami quarterback Jay Fiedler doesn't compare with Aikman, a future Hall of Famer, but in their 26-13 conquest of the defending Super Bowl-champion Patriots, the Dolphins showed that they have upgraded in three areas: at running back, tight end and the line, essential to the Dallas formula for success. Last year, without those upgrades, Miami fell out of the playoffs early after a second-straight 11-win season; with them, Miami leads the AFC East at 4-1 and has Super Bowl hopes.
The franchise back is Ricky Williams, who's averaging 113 rushing yards and 24 carries a game. The efficient tight end is rookie Randy McMichael, who against New England caught his third touchdown pass of the season. And the depth on the line has been improved by the addition of reclamation projects Marcus Spriggs and Jamie Nails, formerly of the Bills.
"People always give so much credit to the running back, but this offense demands that you have balance," Turner said on Sunday. He's right. When you think about why Miami's perennially inconsistent offense has improved so much, you think first of Williams. But three other imports, at a total 2002 salary-cap cost of less than $2 million, have been vital.
McMichael, out of Georgia, was a find in the fourth round of the draft, probably falling that low because some teams considered the 6'3" 247-pounder too light. "He fit us perfectly—a receiving tight end who can block," Turner says.
Buffalo gave up on Spriggs and Nails, choosing not to re-sign either after the 2000 season. Spriggs got his first start at left tackle on Sunday filling in for the injured Mark Dixon, and the Dolphins hardly missed a beat. The 330-pound Nails, meanwhile, has controlled his weight (it's down from about 390) and is playing a steamrolling left guard. Of Williams's 36 runs on Sunday, 24 went between center and left tackle.
Throw in the other new face—Turner, the former Redskins coach and Chargers coordinator whose game plans are famous for including 250 to 300 plays a week—and it's a different world in Miami every Wednesday, when the offense convenes to go over strategy for the next game. "With Ricky, Randy, Jamie and Marcus, we're so much better off on offense than at any time since I've been here," says ninth-year center Tim Ruddy. "We go into a game with a lot more options."
Fast starts are nothing new for the Dolphins. In the last four years they opened 3-0, 7-1, 5-1 and 6-2 but didn't advance beyond the divisional round of the playoffs. Can they go further this year? The temptation is to say yes, but that's been the feeling every recent October. However, this team is right to be more optimistic. One number among Sunday's stats was an indication of why this season will be different Time of possession: Miami, 39:59.
"It used to be we'd never have any breathing room at halftime," said linebacker Zach Thomas. "We're not relying totally on our defense anymore."
Revival in Kansas City
Chiefs Piling Up Yards, Points
St. Louis fans who need a refresher on what a potent offense looks like can just drive across the state. There they'll find a Kansas City team that's moving the ball and scoring the way the Rams used to.