The obvious and most tangible reasoning behind the Dolphins dramatic decline, is the change at quarterback. Under Ryan Tannehill, the Dolphins averaged 22.7 points per game (7.2 points higher than the current incarnation conducted by Jay Cutler), and 5.8 yards per play (1.3 yards Cutler’s superior).
That’s a column for another day (and trust me, I’m working on it).
Resolution: Ryan Tannehill
Despite Miami’s 4-5 record, the raw numbers are rather eye-popping. Miami has only led for 12% of the season – only the winless Browns have trailed for more minutes. The Dolphins negative 87-point differential is better than just three teams – the winless Browns, 3-7 Indianapolis and the 1-8 Giants.
Jay Ajayi was discarded after leading the NFL in negative runs. Head Coach Adam Gase and the fan base do not see eye-to-eye on the offensive line issues, but even the optimistic coach knows the group needs to play better.
Mike Pouncey was a productive player for several years, but injuries became an increasing concern. He appears to have overcome his physical ailments, but his performance is no longer to standard. Right guard Jermon Bushrod is a problem area that Miami must rectify this spring. The left guard position remains open for audition.
Laremy Tunsil is the present and future at left tackle, while right tackle Ja’Wuan James figures to be back despite his season ending injury (Miami exercised his fifth year option back in May).
Issue: Interior offensive line
Resolution: Jesse Davis, Isaac Asiata and Jake Brendel will get the first crack, but this will be an area of focus come free agency and the draft.
Coming into the season, Dolphins fans would’ve put the trio of Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills and Devante Parker up against any in the league. While the production has been disappointing, the only feasible change would be a Landry departure. Given Gase’s preference to Landry, it’s difficult to imagine a deal not being reached.
Tight end, however, is a positional black hole that has hampered this offense for two consecutive years. No offense runs more 3×1 sets (trips to one side of the formation with a Y (split end) off the backside of the alignment). Relying on Jordan Cameron and Julius Thomas, respectively, the last two years is poor roster-management.
Marqueis Gray and Anthony Fasano are formidable reserves, but Miami’s primary focus on offense this off-season will be identifying a dual-threat tight end – likely via the draft.
Issue: Tight end
Resolution: High draft pick (top three rounds)
Defensively, it’s hard to evaluate a group that is consistently put in precarious situations. The offense’s ineptitude leads to more reps, more fatigue, and declining results for the D. Miami has only led one game at the half-time break (doing so on a defensive touchdown) and, as a result, the defensive wears down late in games.
The same issues that plagued the Miami-front in recent years arose on Monday night. Dual-threat quarterbacks stress the weaknesses of this defense. Attacking Andre Branch and Cam Wake in the running game neutralizes their pass-rushing threat.
Miami could stand to add another edge rusher (as could the other 31 teams in the NFL), but the problem in the running game had more to do with the linebackers.
Kiko Alonso is consistently beat in coverage, and was embarrassed by Christian McCaffery on more than one occasion. He doesn’t shed blocks, often gets caught in the wash, and doesn’t excel in either zone or man coverage. Alonso’s running mate, Lawrence Timmons, had his worst game as a Dolphin.
Miami will have to seek his long-term replacement this off-season.
Resolution: More dime packages, adding another player via the draft or FA, Stephone Anthony.
It’s difficult to point to issues in the secondary because the names carry a lot of weight. Reshad Jones is one of the best in the league, T.J. McDonald just received a big extension, and Cordrea Tankersly has shown bite as a rookie. Slot corner Bobby McCain has made plays this season, particularly as a sure-tackler.
Xavien Howard is the odd man out. His physical play and lack of body control has led to far too many penalties and big plays in the passing game. A second-round pick, Howard has been given plenty of rope, but that leash has worn thin.
Issue: Perimeter corner
Resolution: Tony Lippett or a high draft pick
Dolphins fans can take solace in the fact that some bad football teams made quick turnarounds in 2017. That’s not to say Miami needs some dramatic overhaul. The quarterback coming back will be significant upgrade. Fixing the interior offensive line and adding players to the second level of the defense will be top priorities.
The mystery, at this moment, is the organizational structure. Adam Gase has as much job security as any coach in football. The oversight of roster development, that’s an area that could see change.
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