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Spirited, Hard-Fought Effort Falls Short — Dolphins Steelers Recap

Travis Wingfield

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Dominant first half undone by Dolphins season-long bugaboo, the dreaded second half

Through six games, no team in the Super Bowl era had a worse second-half point-differential than the 2019 Miami Dolphins. Racing out to a 14-point lead Monday night, a curious coaching decision to close up the first stanza shrank the lead to four, followed by another treacherous second act. The result keeps Miami on-track for next year’s first pick in the NFL Draft.

 

Stat Dolphins Steelers
Total Yards 230 394
Rushing 60 158
Passing 170 236
Penalties 5 (45 yards) 9 (70 yards)
3rd / 4thDown 3/10 (30%) 6/14 (42.9%)
Sacks For 2 4
TOP 24:42 35:18

 

It’ll be a challenge to play the moral-victory-card for another nine weeks, but this Dolphins team is showing more fight than previous squads. Teams that, under different coaching direction, were competing for postseason positioning.

The ESPN team referenced a Ryan Fitzpatrick quote late in the broadcast on Miami’s growth the last few weeks. “The growth has been so significant. Where we came from day-one up until now, guys are really buying in,” the 15-year-veteran said.

I was with the team for the duration of training camp, and I saw a team that worked. A team that drilled fundamentals. A team that preached the same, diligent working mindset regardless of the circumstances. A coach that preached toughness, competition, dealing with adversity, and all the clichés you’ll hear, but rarely see put into action.

Coach Brian Flores has, somehow, gotten that message to stick with this team. Down to Bobby McCain, and a handful of UDFA’s and street free agents in the secondary, Miami were competing with a team whose playoff lives were still on the line heading into this game.

I made the declaration — assuredly prematurely — in August, and today, I feel even more confident in that soapbox shout…Miami got it right with Brian Flores.

Miami put up a quick 14 on a Steelers defense that had allowed an average of 17.5 points per game over the last month. They put the clamps on Juju Smith-Schuster, so long as Xavien Howard was in the game, and the rest of the Pittsburgh offense through the first 29-and-a-half minutes of the game.

A curious decision to dial up a zero-blitz at the end of the first half might cause some consternation over that comment, but it does make one wonder what the true intentions are of this season’s entire operation.

The moral victory comes from an impressive showing that still keeps the team out of the win column. Hurl your deplorable fan remarks at me if you must, but I know what the result of Tua Tagovailoa playing quarterback in this scheme will be. I’ve seen the other side, and it’s glorious, Dolphins fans.

Have faith. This team is playing hard. It has bought into the message of the coaching staff, and will be an attractive destination for free agents and all those rookies next season.

Incremental progress, and obtaining the first pick in next year’s draft — those are the goals for this season.

And Miami are earning a 4.0 in both categories at the mid-term.

Let’s get to the individuals.

Quarterbacks

Ryan Fitzpatrick has earned the second year of the contract he signed with Miami this offseason. It’ll cost the Phins $5.5 million — an absolute bargain for a quarterback that can come off the bench and win a game in a pinch — but more importantly, it’ll keep one of the brightest minds in football inside the Dolphins Quarterback Room next year.

Fitzpatrick has taken well to Chad O’Shea’s quick-strike attack. Utilizing pre-snap shifting and motion, along with playing into tendencies, creates passing lanes on timing routes with which Fitzpatrick continues to excel.

He’s making plays off-script, he’s managing the huddle, and he’s producing points for a Dolphins offense that was lifeless with Josh Rosen under-center. Fitzpatrick did commit three turnovers in the game, but two of them weren’t his fault, while the third was an arm-punt on third down.

Running Back

Mark Walton’s encore showing was a letdown. He only caught half of his six targets for 19 yards and rushed for just 35 yards on 11 carries — he also put the game-clinching fumble on the turf.

Kalen Ballage lacks any creativity in his game. He’ll get exactly as many yards as the offense blocks, and even then he’ll leave yardage on the field. There was a huge hole opened up off the right side early in the third quarter, and Ballage managed a three-yard run getting dragged down from the backside pursuit. He had three carries for eight yards.

Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

Preston Williams dropped another pass. He’s making mistakes every week, a function of our earlier report that Williams does suffer from lapses in concentration. Aside from that, he consistently wins inside and stacks defensive backs on in-breaking routes — a specialty of a certain college quarterback whose eligible for the draft next April.

The same is true of Devante Parker tonight, minus the drop issue. Parker caught six-of-eight targets for 59 yards, and consistently creates separation on those digs, slants, and square-in routes.

Allen Hurns’ only catch was an impressive touchdown. He bulldozed his way through a trio of Steelers defenders to extend Miami’s lead to 14 points in the first quarter.

Mike Gesicki and Durham Smythe had quiet games — two catches and 10 yards for Gesicki. Although the not-know-for-blocking tight end did have a couple of nice seals in the run-game.

Nick O’Leary is trending in the wrong direction. With the score 14-3, and the ball in plus-territory, O’Leary dropped a pass that wound up getting intercepted. The Steelers would cash that possession in for at least a 10-point swing, maybe 14. He was out-snapped by both Gesicki and Smythe last week.

Offensive Line

Jesse Davis isn’t cut out to play tackle. I thought he was, I was wrong. He’s consistently a step slow off the edge against speed rushes, and Miami regularly has to help him.

This wouldn’t have been that much of an issue with Laremy Tunsil — one of the game’s best left tackles — but J’Marcus Webb is the weak link of the Miami O-line. He’s had a challenging season as a street free agent.

Michael Deiter and Shaq Calhoun worked on pulling drills after practice every day in August, and it shows. They both excel in that area, but there are a lot of fine points of their respective games, mechanically, that need to be worked out. I’d like to see the all-22 before giving definitive grades on either.

The same is true of Evan Boehm. To be perfectly frank, I don’t have an evaluation for him in this game — I will with the all-22 podcast later in the week.

Defensive Line

John Jenkins has been a find for this Dolphins team. He was giving Maurkice Pouncey all he could handle, including one holding call, a solo tackle and a batted pass at the line-of-scrimmage. He’s impossible to move more than one gap, and he gets consistent penetration both against the run and pass.

Davon Godchaux had a difficult night. He was relatively easy to displace throughout the game, but he did have two tackles.

Robert Nkemdiche was activated, but he’s not in football shape yet. The Steelers often had the newest Dolphin with his back turned to the play, trying helplessly to locate the football.

Christian Wilkins continues to show up with a couple of pure power reps each game, and I thought he played pretty well for the most part. Still, the pass rush remains nonexistent.

Linebackers

Vince Biegel is feasting in this defense. He’s splitting double teams, he’s working over the edge and back underneath to flatten, he’s blitzing with a purpose, and he’s winning one-on-one pass rush situations. We’ll show you a couple of clips here, including a zone coverage into the flat, where he passes off and closes down on the intended receiver. Impressive work for the guy that only cost Miami fellow Linebacker, Kiko Alonso.

Raekwon McMillan stays elite as a run-defender. It’s a lot of fun, for someone just old enough to recall true smash mouth football of an era long ago, to watch this guy play. McMillan loves to take on blocks, and effectively blows up fullbacks en route to the ball carrier.

Jerome Baker is gaining confidence after a slow start. He’s improving his pursuit of the quarterback, and he got home on a pick stunt that resulted in a Mason Rudolph fumble.

The man who cleared Baker with the pick was Taco Charlton, and the official credit for the forced fumble belongs to Taco. He now has four sacks since arriving in Miami, and he did so by violently denting the edge of that Steelers protection, then working back to the ball.

Defensive Backs

Xavien Howard was back with a vengeance — he snagged his first interception of the season by completely manhandling Juju Smith-Schuster on the Steelers opening drive. He got his hands on a couple of more passes, but eventually exited the game with the same nagging knee injury.

The rest of this bunch fought their backsides off, but the talent disparity became more evident as the game progressed. Jomal Wiltz plays at one speed — all gas, no brakes. It did result in a bad missed tackle that extended a Pittsburgh drive, however.

Ryan Lewis had moments, so did Chris Lammons; but those two, and Nik Needham, were picked on in the second half.

Bobby McCain didn’t play the first quarter as the disciplinary result of an incident with a fan in Buffalo. By the time McCain entered the game, Miami reverted back to more off-coverage and the Steelers ate up the underneath soft spots. That coverage makes McCain largely irrelevant from his deep position.

Recap

Moral victories for Miami used to mean a narrow loss to the Patriots, or some other AFC powerhouse. They meant gutting out December wins to climb one game over .500, only to run into buzz saws down the stretch and into playoff elimination.

Now, there’s a purpose. I tweeted a thread earlier Monday about the fine details that have improved during Flores’ first year. About how Miami are consistent, how they’re structured, and how they understand the why behind their jobs and responsibilities.

The results aren’t going to come this year, and that’s okay. That was always the plan. This team is going to be better off in 2020 and beyond for having undergone this transformation. The style with which the team plays is improved, the added names in the front office bring about years of championship success and winning pedigrees.

Be patient, Miami. You’ve waited 19 years for a playoff victory. You’re going to have to wait another, but your JV-level-talent football team has held second-half leads on the road two-straight weeks. And they did it in two of the most difficult environments to play.

Just ask Adam Gase. He was 1-3 in Buffalo and Pittsburgh with a -68 point-differential in those games. In true Gase fashion, we can point to fluky mistakes that prevented Flores from capturing victory in both tries.

Since this is a new era, one that’s unrecognizable from previous regimes, we won’t do that. But we will take our moral victory.

@WingfieldNFL

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Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins Week 9 Monday Morning Thoughts

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Tua Tagovailoa has IT.

Brian Flores is THE guy.

And I have to admit, Chris Grier has done a phenomenal job.

After an exciting 34-31 victory over the Arizona Cardinals (5-3), the Miami Dolphins (5-3) solidified themselves as a legitimate playoff team in the AFC. Sure, you can say we’re getting a bit cocky – we’ve watched our team falter plenty of times before. But do you get the sense that these are the same Dolphins we’ve been watching this century?

Right now, are you skeptical or optimistic?

Do you have butterflies because you’re nervous or because you’re excited?

Do you think the Dolphins are trying to survive each game or do you have confidence that they’ll win?

Coming off of 4-straight victories, it’s easy to feel like we’re on top of the world, but this team looks different. It feels different. They act different.

Below are a few thoughts following Miami’s promising 34-31 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

Monday Morning Thoughts

Tua Tagovailoa is the franchise quarterback we’ve been waiting for

Admit it, when they originally ruled that throwaway an interception, you saw shades of every failed quarterback to come since Dan Marino.

That play was so comically bad that it easily could have defined Tua’s career if it didn’t pan out. Thankfully, it was ruled that the receiver’s foot was out-of-bounds and it was an incomplete pass – but imagine the memes that would have been unleashed if Miami lost this game and that play counted.

But, it didn’t count….and the Dolphins didn’t lose….and Tua Tagovailoa out-dueled Kyler Murray when it mattered most.

When the Dolphins needed a game-winning drive, Tua delivered. When Kyler Murray had an opportunity to tie it, he didn’t (along with an obscure Zane Gonzalez kick).

Tua’s elite pocket presence, accuracy, decision-making, and ball placement were all on display. And none of that accounts for the plays he made with his legs.

If you’re a Dolphins fan, you’re thrilled with what you saw. And though it’s only a small sample size, I think we can all exhale – he looks like he’s the guy.

Byron Jones is still a damn good Cornerback

After three-straight dominant performances, Byron Jones was a bit humbled this game. We’re so used to watching him shut down opposing receivers that a game like this really sticks out.

He was absolutely burned by Christian Kirk on a beautiful deep ball from Kyler Murray late in the first quarter, but that wasn’t his worse play.

Dolphins fans and Byron Jones both thought he hauled in his first interception since October, 2017. Instead, Darrell Daniels’ first career touchdown reception is one of the highlights of the year as he snatches the ball right out of Jones’ hands.

I mean, Byron Jones had that ball in his hands for an interception, and before they hit the ground Darrell Daniels steals it into his possession. AND somehow had his knee down so it would count as a catch. Crazy.

Miami’s (really, it’s Brian Flores’) now infamous “zero” boom-or-bust scheme is susceptible to the long-ball, as our corners are expected to cover their receivers 1-on-1; with no safety help behind them. So far this season, it has worked tremendously to their advantage (as seen below)

But, if your coverage isn’t on par, this will happen:

With all of that said, Byron Jones is still a great cornerback in this league. Was this a bad game? Definitely. But I don’t expect this to become a trend. Lets not take for granted the elite secondary we currently have.

Christian Wilkins should NOT stop celebrating

Just please celebrate responsibly.

One of the reasons Dolphins fans adore Christian Wilkins is because of his infectious personality. He’s notoriously running in and celebrating every offensive touchdown with his team. His trash talking is innocently intimidating. The way he pumps his team up is perfect for any locker room culture. On top of the fact that he’s a pretty good defensive tackle.

Which is why I want him to keep celebrating – and I want him to continue celebrating excessively.

Preston Williams‘ unfortunate injury during a touchdown celebration is a huge reason why professional coaches like to contain their million-dollar players. Not just on the field, but off the field as well. It makes sense, they’re valuable commodities, but Wilkins’ spirit is too valuable to douse.

If something like this happens again, then we can talk about stifling his excitement, until then….celebrate smarter.

Xavien Howard’s “penalties” tell half the story

Xavien Howard was tasked with shadowing DeAndre Hopkins, and he ended up accounting for more penalty yards (43) than receiving yards against him (30).

The real testament to Howard’s coverage throughout the game? DeAndre Hopkins, one of the best wide receivers in the league, didn’t see a single target in the first half of the game.

A couple (terrible) penalties shouldn’t overshadow the fact that Xavien Howard and Byron Jones may be the best cornerback tandem in the league.

The Miami Dolphins need a Running Back in the worst way

Jordan Howard‘s 8-yard run on the last drive of the game – which helped seal the victory – was his biggest play as a Miami Dolphin. Up to that point, I was kind of rooting for Howard to continue his 1 YPC average. If you take away that 8-yard run (EASILY his longest of the year), Howard has gained 25 rushing yards on 27 rushing attempts (0.93 YPC).

Rookie Salvon Ahmed had a solid game, with 7 carries for 38 yards (5.4 YPC). I’m not sure how reliable he is, but he can’t be worse than Howard. If Matt Breida is available for next week’s game against the Los Angeles Chargers, I’m sure Howard will once again be inactive, giving Ahmed another shot to prove himself.

We probably should have given Austin Jackson the week off

Austin Jackson returned to the lineup for the first time in 4 weeks (due to a foot injury) and was “ok”. He was beat on a few plays, but it’s evident he wasn’t 100%. I wouldn’t make any presumptions based off of this game; if anything, the reps help from an experience/mental perspective.

Jason Sanders is a stud

Jason Sanders connecting on 56 and 50-yard field goals are that much more impressive when you take into account that weird Zane Gonzalez miss (where he was short from 49 yards).

The conspiracy floating around is that the ball died (on Gonzalez’s kick) because the roof was open. Yet, Sanders made his 50+ yard field goals with room to spare.

Today’s the day we will never take Jason Sanders for granted as he surpassed Olindo Mare‘s franchise record of 19-straight field goals made.

The Miami Dolphins are going to “have to” extend Emmanuel Ogbah

I think we all would love to see a contract extension, but it’s bordering on a “necessity” at this point. Not just because we want to lock up a top-notch defensive end, but because he’s going to (rightfully) demand more financial security.

Though it always felt like he was on a one-year deal, this is technically the first year of a 2-year, $15m contract for Emmanuel Ogbah, but there’s no guaranteed money tied to 2021 – and there’s no way he’s playing like a $7.5m defensive end.

Jordan Phillips averages $10m a year with his recent contract, and I think it’s fair to say that Ogbah is worth more than that. Expect a holdout if the Dolphins don’t give him a raise and an extension this offseason. That’s not to say we should be concerned – I think Miami will look to make this extension a priority – but if they don’t see eye-to-eye expect a holdout to occur.

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Miami Dolphins

The Miami Dolphins – A Tale of Two Franchises

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Football is a team sport.

Wins don’t individually define a quarterback’s success.

Yet everyone agrees that the only way to win in the NFL is to have a quarterback that is better than (just about) every other franchise in the sport.

Once you have an upper-echelon quarterback, then you can talk about the nuances of creating a team. Whether it’s surrounding that quarterback with the proper talent, ensuring you’ve built the right scheme around them, or complimenting them with a staunch defense to complete a championship run, developing an entire roster means nothing if you don’t have a quarterback that can lead you to the playoffs.

38 years ago, the Miami Dolphins selected a quarterback that would revolutionize the NFL.

A man decades before his time, the immediate success Dan Marino brought us – after 13 championship-caliber years with Bob Griese – shielded us from the horrors of football purgatory. Maybe it’s this curse of #13 that has us clamoring for football relevance after almost 50 years without a Super Bowl Championship.

We watched our franchise devolve from the model of perfection to a team without an identity; floundering desperately to find a viable quarterback for two decades.

And with one swift decision, the Dolphins simultaneously expunged their football idiocy of years past and exhibited the type of football prowess that should lead them to salvation.

Image Credit: South Florida Sun Sentinel

As we’re destroying the team for wasting 2nd & 5th-round picks on Josh Rosen, we’re praising them for building the foundation for future success. Gone are these false prophets of yesteryear, as the real prodigy we’ve all been yearning for is one step closer to leading the helm.

Once Tua Tagovailoa was selected 5th-overall in the 2020 NFL draft, Rosen’s exile was cemented. He was never going to have an opportunity to make it here, it was always going to be Tua Tagovailoa backing up Ryan Fitzpatrick. The grizzly, 13-year veteran handles the nuances of a young football team while the young, energetic and extremely talented rookie spends valuable time learning and developing.

That move…that single transaction…will forever symbolize the moment the Miami Dolphins transitioned from football purgatory to football relevance.

The Purgatory We Built

No one remembers the cost of a successful trade.

Off the top of your head, what did the New York Giants trade to swap Philip Rivers for Eli Manning? How much did Carson Wentz cost the Philadelphia Eagles when they traded up for him? I bet you all remember the litany of picks the Washington Football Team paid for Robert Griffin III, or how badly the Chicago Bears missed on Mitch Trubisky when they gave up a bunch of picks to move up from #3 to #2.

It’s because mistakes are always magnified for franchises that fail. As a fan base, we’ve been groomed to remember all the negative aspects of our favorite football team, because that’s all we’ve known for the better half of our adult lives.

After trudging through this wasteland for so long, we are finally ready to move past all of the detrimental mistakes that have cost us 20+ years of our lives – including the Josh Rosen trade.

Sure, you have your classics like failing to draft (and then sign) Drew Brees, drafting Ronnie Brown over Aaron Rodgers with the 2nd-overall pick, drafting Jake Long over Matt Ryan with the 1st-overall pick, and trading a 2nd-round pick for A.J. Feeley.

It’s not that the Dolphins haven’t tried, it’s just that they have failed almost mightily when doing so.

I respect that Miami was aggressive in their pursuit of Josh Rosen – or for any of the other quarterbacks they’ve attempted to put under center – but their aggression was either misguided, ill-informed, or even desperate at best.

A year prior to Rosen’s draft-day trade, another draft-day trade was occurring – one that would transcend the Baltimore Ravens organization for the prolonged future. With the 32nd pick in the draft, the Ravens selected Lamar Jackson – a quarterback some Dolphins fans wanted with the team’s 11th-overall pick.

To move back into the first round and secure a quarterback with the 5th-year option, all Baltimore had to give up was an additional 2nd-round pick (see the full trade at the end of the article).

With their draft-day trade, the Baltimore Ravens landed an MVP.
With their draft-day trade, the Miami Dolphins landed a quarterback that was released for nothing.

Again, I don’t fault the Dolphins for being aggressive, but their pursuit was often awry.

The frustrating part of all of this may be that this team actually “spent” both in assets and money, they just didn’t seem to take that extra step at the right time.

Spending 2nd-round picks was fine 3 years in a row (with Chad Henne, John Beck and Pat White), but spending 2nd-round picks then became “too much” when they could have moved up in the 2017 draft to select Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson – instead, they stayed put at #22 and drafted Charles Harris.

Think about it, Miami’s best quarterbacks since Dan Marino were:

  • Castaway by the New York Jets (and subsequently got his shoulder destroyed like everyone predicted)
  • (Allegedly) Forced upon us by Stephen Ross because he knew what a new quarterback would inject into a flat-lining brand (ie: making $$)

Between Chad Pennington and Ryan Tannehill there is 1 playoff appearance and 0 playoff wins.

There are definitive reasons why the Dolphins are executing a rebuild in 2019-2020 – after attempting to rebuild numerous times already this century – and you can say that lots of it has to do with the Head Coaches that have been in place.

Watching Ryan Tannehill lead the Tennessee Titans to the AFC Championship came was the most-conflicted I’ve felt in a long time as a Dolphins fan. I was thrilled he was able to prove himself, but frustrated that my team was once again watching from the couch.

Heck, for all the praise we give Brian Flores, he couldn’t get Minkah Fitzpatrick to buy into his system – ultimately losing a near-Defensive MVP player to an organization that has been breathing success since the Dolphins’ perfect 1972 season.

Miami hasn’t lacked talent – it’s why they’re constantly hovering around 8-8. The problem is, they lack the most important piece on the football field combined with the right leader to mold them. Which explains why they constantly sit around 8-8.

The Future We Created

But thoughts of perpetual 8-8 seasons are a thing of the past. The Dolphins may have drafted their future franchise quarterback back in April, but they officially rolled out their #1 prize just a few days ago. Coincidentally, just 3 days after Rosen was released.

The timing is likely coincidental, but who says omens have to be a bad thing?

This Dolphins team is young (thanks to Chris Grier), determined (courtesy of Brian Flores’ mindset), talented (after accumulating so many draft picks) and they’re wise beyond their years.

With a bounty of draft picks at their disposal once again in 2021, and with a franchise quarterback seemingly set to take over by season’s end, the future for the Miami Dolphins looks EXTREMELY bright.

After most “experts” predicted the Dolphins would go nearly winless – some even calling for criminal investigations to be conducted – Flores showed off his leadership and led Miami to a 5-11 record.

If the worst roster in the NFL can win 5 games, what can an improved roster accomplish?

Last year, there were too many holes on the roster to count. Now, you’re desperate to find a missing piece. In 12 months, we’ve gone from cringe-worthy to dynasty-bound in some expert’s eyes.

So have the Dolphins finally returned to football relevance?

If this team really identified the right Head Coach, and if Tua’s hip can stay healthy, then there’s no reason why the Miami Dolphins aren’t about to embark on a successful crusade that takes the rest of the NFL by storm.

Earlier this year, we lost one of the greatest leaders to ever bless our organization. In honor of the all-time wins leader, the Miami Dolphins will wear a patch signifying Don Shula’s record-setting 347 career wins.

And who knows, maybe this renaissance is Shula’s last gift to an organization – and a community – that he spent his life already giving so much to. The symbolism would be all-too coincidental otherwise.

The Baltimore Ravens/Lamar Jackson Trade:

Yes, I understand every other team passed on Jackson. I also understand the Ravens passed on him once when they selected Hayden Hurst with the 25th-overall pick that year, but Baltimore has built a championship-caliber organization over the past two decades, while the Dolphins have accomplished one playoff win – I think they’ve earned the benefit of the doubt here.

The Lamar Jackson trade can be broken down like this:

  • Baltimore traded pick 52 (2nd-round) to move up to 32nd-overall (1st)
  • Baltimore also sent Philadelphia pick 125 in the deal, but they received pick 132 in return – a downgrade of 7 spots in the 4th-round.
  • Otherwise, all Baltimore spent was a 2nd-round pick in 2019 (which ended up being pick #53).

Full trade:

Eagles Receive Picks: 52 (2nd), 125 (4th) and pick 53 (2nd) in the 2019 draft
Ravens Receive Picks: 32 (1st) and 132 (4th)

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Miami Dolphins

There’s A Fine Line Between Being A Genius & Being Dumb in the NFL

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Think Brian Flores & Chris Grier aren’t smart?

After successfully navigating through all of the pre-draft smokescreens better than teenagers can survive the high school rumor mill, the Miami Dolphins are in a position to flourish for the next decade.

Yes, it’s something we’ve said before almost annually, but this time, there’s a clear foundation that will allow the roots of this franchise to prosper.

We’ve Heard This Before

Tony Sparano blossomed under the Bill Parcells‘ coaching tree in Dallas, bringing with him an aura of prominence and a pedigree for smash mouth football.

After a miraculous 10-game turnaround that took Miami from #1 overall in the draft to division winners, fans felt they had the proper leadership in place.

That was soon debunked when the Dolphins followed an 11-5 (2008) season with 7-9 (2009), 7-9 (2010) and 6-10 (2011). It’s not that any of us feel that Sparano was a bad coach, but it was more-than-evident that he was handicapped at the quarterback position.

The Dolphins go 11-5 in 2008 because their quarterback was the runner-up in the MVP race, and they falter to 7-9 after that because they decided to build around Chad Henne.

Good coach, but poor coaching decisions.

From there, the Dolphins hired one of the best human beings on the planet – Joe Philbin. The notorious problem with Philbin was: he couldn’t lead a football team.

Failing to rein in Vontae Davis‘ hangovers, everything regarding Richie Incognito, the Chad Ochocinco saga (check out this damning ESPN article from 2012, which gives you a glimpse into how the player’s felt about Philbin early on), and all of the Mike Wallace drama. Those football teams had some decent talent, yet were never better than a mediocre 8-8 in Philbin’s 4 years.

Great person, but terrible with people.

Adam Gase then took a 1-4 season and made the playoffs at 10-6. All the optimism surrounding Ryan Tannehill seemed justified, and we were ecstatic for the future. But we came to learn that Gase’s coaching talents resembled more of a glorified offensive coordinator, which left players feelings ostracized and without a sense of direction – especially those on defense.

Like Philbin, Gase wanted a group of players that followed him, rather than developing a strategy that tailored to his players’ strengths. He traded away (or failed to re-sign) productive players drafted by Grier in years past, just because he couldn’t handle them.

After a 10-6 start to his coaching career (2016), we watched our hopes dwindle to 6-10 (2017) – accompanied with $10m worth of embarrassing Jay Cutler highlights – and then 7-9 (2018) after the “quarterback guru” couldn’t get any production out of a 2019 Pro Bowl & AFC Championship quarterback in Ryan Tannehill.

Offensive visionary, but he couldn’t see past his own shortcomings.

So Why is This Different?

This would be the definition of insanity….if it meant that we were following the same trend.

Yes, we understand the eternal caveat that we won’t know for sure until we see the results, but after a successful 2019 – and a stellar 2020 draft that features plenty of starting potential – we’re not going too far out on a limb to say that they have our trust.

Going into a vital 2020 NFL draft where the team held 3 first-round picks, the Miami Dolphins’ future rested solely on the leis of Tua Tagovailoa. For months we were on edge, because, as Dolphins fans, we just figured they would screw it up. But once they secured their quarterback of the future, the plan was simple: protect him.

Not only was the plan to build a wall in front of him, but Grier and Flores identified that some of these positions take more time to develop than others. Rarely do offensive and defensive linemen jump right in and become dominant players. The difference between pancaking teenagers in college to moving a mountain-of-a-man in the NFL is colossal.

Rookies go through such a strenuous process to improve their draft stock – immediately after completing a full college season – that they are burned out by the time their rookie year is over. That’s exactly what happened to Michael Deiter towards the end of last season; it’s no surprise we see their performance start to slide after putting in so much work throughout the year.

Drafting Austin Jackson (18th-overall pick), Robert Hunt (39th), and Solomon Kindley (111th) means Miami is giving their rookies time to grow before being asked to protect their most-important asset since Dan Marino.

Instead of a trying to learn the nuances of the NFL with a rookie quarterback, they can learn how an offensive play is properly setup, executed and audibled under a veteran, Ryan Fitzpatrick.

When it comes time to protect Tua Tagovailoa in 2021, they won’t have to worry if they understood the protection, if they’ll make a rookie mistake, or if they’ll naively and unintentionally do something embarrassing or costly. They’ll be able to focus on executing the play properly, giving Tua an ample amount of time to handle his own “rookie” adjustments.

With Raekwon Davis, the Dolphins acquire another player at a position that tends to need some time to grow. This move makes me wonder what the future holds for Davon Godchaux, who is expected to receive a very nice payday in free agency after this season, but for now, Miami can rely heavily on Godchaux and their 2019 1st-round pick, Christian Wilkins. Davis has the opportunity to learn under these two as he prepares to take on a much bigger role in 2021.

With their final 1st-round pick, Miami selected another young player at a cornerstone position. The adjustments rookie cornerbacks need to make when guarding an NFL receiver are somewhat substantial, and Noah Igbinoghene will be able to learn and make these adjustments while covering the opponent’s third or forth receiver – with the added security that he has an array of established and Pro Bowl veterans behind him.

This might hint at an ugly and somewhat inconsistent 2020 season, as roughly half of this roster is new to the team, but all of these young players will start to excel as Tua begins to transition into our full-time starting quarterback.

Which means the Miami Dolphins are ready to make a legitimate playoff run in 2021.

Is it possible all of these risks falter? Of course! Austin Jackson just turned 21 years old, and he wasn’t viewed as the best left tackle in college last season – he is a projection. Noah Igbinoghene wasn’t viewed as a 1st-round caliber cornerback, as most “experts” think he’s restricted to covering the slot rather than becoming a boundary corner. And then you have the general, inevitable fact that some of these picks just won’t pan out.

But we watched players like Mike Gesicki, DeVante Parker, Raekwon McMillan, Vince Biegel and Nik Needham take the “next step” under Brian Flores stewardship. It only makes us wonder who he’ll coach up next.

Now that Flores is more-comfortable as a sophomore coach, and the team understands his “win no matter what” philosophy, Miami should naturally thrive in year two….right?

Like all of these other coaches before him, Flores is an absolute genius after year one. And like all those coaches before him, he’s one season away from looking like a dunce.

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