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Can the Dolphins learn from the Broncos' championship blueprint?

An interesting thought came to mind while I was watching Super Bowl 50: The Denver Broncos won a championship this year with mostly inconsistent quarterback play during the playoffs and with at times inconsistent QB play during the regular season.

Peyton Manning, who will turn 40 next month, didn’t have much left in the tank during his championship run. He threw for 141 yards and an interception in what could be his final game. The Broncos won the Super Bowl with other parts of the team overcoming their deficiencies at quarterback.

Can the Miami Dolphins follow Denver’s blueprint of success? Like many teams, Miami also gets inconsistent quarterback play from fourth-year starter Ryan Tannehill. But the Broncos proved you can still win if other parts around the quarterback are strong.

Here are some lessons the Dolphins could learn from Denver:

  • Build an elite defense: In case you forgot, defense can still win championships. Two of the past three Super Bowl winners (Denver, Seattle) had elite defenses, and even the offense-heavy New England Patriots needed a big defensive play to win their Super Bowl. The Broncos’ No. 1-rated defense flustered and battered Carolina MVP quarterback Cam Newton and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in back-to-back playoff games on the way to a title. The Dolphins were ranked No. 26 in total defense last season and have a lot of work to do, despite posessing talented pieces such as Ndamukong Suh and Pro Bowlers Reshad Jones and Brent Grimes.

  • Find dominant edge rushers: Denver recorded 13 sacks in three playoff games, including six sacks of Newton in the Super Bowl. The Broncos also led the NFL in the regular season with 52 sacks. Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware coming off the edge is a nightmare for quarterbacks and offensive coordinators. The Dolphins, who were 25th in sacks last season, need to find their edge rushers, as well. Former Pro Bowler and defensive end Cameron Wake is their most consistent pass-rusher. But he’s 34 and coming off an Achilles injury. Starter Olivier Vernon, who led the team with 7.5 sacks, will be an unrestricted free agent. Having Suh in the middle commanding double-teams is nice, but it doesn’t mean much for a defense if the edge rushers cannot win their one-on-one matchups.

  • Be special on special teams: There is a third phase of the game that doesn’t get much credit. Denver also beat Carolina on special teams Sunday. Broncos receiver Jordan Norwood had the longest punt return in Super Bowl history (61 yards) to set up a field goal, and kicker Brandon McManus was 3-for-3 on field goals. Denver also kept Carolina’s return game, led by Ted Ginn Jr., at bay and watched Panthers kicker Graham Gano miss a key field goal. When quarterback play is struggling, the other two phases need to be sharp to win.

The Super Bowl is not expected for Miami next season. After going 6-10 in 2015, the team just needs to prove it is heading in the right direction. However, the Dolphins can learn a lot from the way Denver built its team to be successful without relying on dominant quarterback play.

Tannehill, who has yet to post a winning season in four years, has some talent but proved he cannot put an entire team on his shoulders.