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Student Becomes the Teacher, Flores Beats Belichick – Fins Pats Review

Travis Wingfield

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Dolphins give fans the ultimate parting gift heading into an exciting offseason

In his end-of-year address in 2018, Stephen Ross defined insanity. He took accountability for the method of operations that the team took during the first decade of his time as owner of our beloved franchise. He spoke about the standard operating procedures of the league’s most successful, and most consistent organizations.

Sunday, Ross saw the emphatic culmination of phase-one of the most intricate rebuild plan in the history of the league. Sunday, the entirety of Dolphins Nation learned what Mr. Ross has known for some time — that he hit the coaching search 550 feet over the left field bleachers and into oncoming traffic.

Stat Dolphins Patriots
Total Yards 389 350
Rushing 63 135
Passing 326 215
3rd / 4th Down 5/13 (38.5%) 3/9 (33%)
Penalties 4 (35 yards) 6 (54 yards)
Sacks For 1 2
TOP 33:51 26:09

DolphinsPatriots 

The buy-in Brian Flores received from his troops is nothing short of miraculous. Without a win eight weeks into the season, a winless run to the first pick of the draft seemed likely. That was before an onslaught of injuries and transactions forced Miami into record-breaking numbers for players used and league-high roster-churning marks.

And yet, the Dolphins finished the season with five wins in nine games, including three victories as double-digit underdogs. Without the benefit of research on this, that’s either a record, or very close to it. Beating the Eagles as 10-point dogs at home was impressive. Holding on as 11-point afterthoughts in Indianapolis was nice. Beating the 16.5-point favorite Patriots was unprecedented; at least over the last 30 years of professional football.

Miami trounced the Pats in the box score. The Fins moved the sticks 26 times (New England averaged allowing just 15 per game coming in) and did not turn the ball over (NE with an average of 2.4 takeaways entering action).

This offensive surge isn’t exclusive to week 17. Miami have been a top-half of the league outfit since Fitzpatrick’s reinsertion into the lineup, all without the presence of a running game. Only Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens have more first downs in that period.

Now, locked into the fifth position in the draft, fans can roll back off the white knuckle intensity of scoreboard watching, and practice some trust in this staff and regime — they’ve earned it.

Miami played better than .500 ball in the second half of the season and are equipped with more free agent spending cash than any team, and 15 draft picks in April — six of which will come in the top 60 selections.

Let’s get to the individuals.

Quarterbacks

The Dolphins 326 net passing yards was the most against New England since Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs shredded the Pats in October 2018 (research courtesy of Brett Brecheisen). Ryan Fitzpatrick’s season ends with 3,529 passing yards, and the team-lead in rushing. Dolphins fans could not have asked for an ounce more from Fitzpatrick this season, he was sterling.

Fitzpatrick’s red hot season culminated with a game-winning, 75-yard march to give the Fins their first win at Gillette since Barrack Obama’s first year in office. Fitzpatrick extended plays against the Patriots vaunted pass rush. He threaded tight windows, threw with anticipation, put the ball in the absence of the New England blitzes and moved the chains with his legs.

Fitzpatrick should be the team’s opening day starting quarterback in 2020, and we should expect another jump in production with better line play (PFF’s #32 ranked OL) and a full year in the offseason program within the same system.

Running Backs

Patrick Laird’s patience in space is such a boon in the screen game, but his pass protection skill set makes it difficult for him to get many opportunities. His running production was in-line with Miami’s ineptitude all season, but he gained 48 yards on four pass receptions.

Samaje Perine ran hard on five carries, and showed the short-area bust and wiggle to set up his blocks after the mesh point.

Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

Coming into the season, getting 16 games from Devante Parker would’ve been considered a success. Parker checked that box, and plenty others beyond such a frivolous accomplishment.

Parker ends the season with better than 1,200 yards and nine touchdowns — both top 10 in football. Most impressively, he did nearly all of his damage against the game’s top corner, going over 100 yards on Stephone Gilmore. It was Parker’s fourth 100-yard game in the last seven starts.

Albert Wilson had a case of the dropsies today, including a well-conceived drag route that might’ve gone the distance had he secured the catch. Wilson was a focal point of the attack going after the New England slot, and Wilson picked up another 59 yards.

Isaiah Ford was better from inside. Ford caught seven passes for 54 yards, including some crucial third down conversions on contested throws. He’s earned some consideration as part of the rotation next season.

Mike Gesicki caught the game-winning touchdown on what might’ve been the best route he’s run as a professional. He’s come into his own using his big frame to shield defenders, and strong box-outs for catch opportunities.

Gesicki’s versatility was on display, running seams and slants, but also leaking into the flat for run-after-the-catch opportunities. Gesicki ends the season with 51 receptions for 570 yards and five scores. Best of all, he was almost never asked to stay in and pass protect.

Offensive Line

This is the portion of the team that requires the most maintenance this offseason. Jesse Davis remains the best option to return to his position at right tackle. He had some tough asks in this game and did his best to thwart New England’s edge rush on a number of reps.

The interior remains a major problem as penetration against the run, and pressure against the pass were regularities again. The left tackle position is just as culpable as the inside three — all require better play next year.

Defensive Line

Davon Godchaux punctuated a strong season with perhaps his best game of the year. Big #56 was in the backfield with regularity, picking up four tackles in the process.

Versatility is as applicable to the front line as it is anywhere else on this team, and Godchaux and Christian Wilkins embody that flexibility. Whether it’s as the big defensive end position (4-tech), backside 1-tech, front-side 3-tech, or up over the guard as a 2-tech in a bear front, these guys win from multiple positions. Wilkins showed his power on this rep against Marcus Cannon.

Zach Sieler was a quieter in this game, but that didn’t stop him from showing off the traits that make him look like an absolute gem on the front line going forward.

John Jenkins doesn’t get a lot of publicity, a byproduct of being a non-pass rushing interior lineman, but like Wilkins and Godchaux, he’s powerful and versatile.

Linebackers

Andrew Van Ginkel is showing the same bite that made him an intriguing prospect out of college. His recognition for passing concepts is tremendous, as he finds his way into the passing lane based on preparation, and he’s been a sure tackler in coverage, to boot.

Van Ginkel’s biggest impact was as a weak side run defender. Defeating blocks was not his strong suit in college, and that’s probably why New England went after him in that fashion. Twice, Van Ginkel beat a pulling guard and made the play in the backfield.

Trent Harris was a problem for the Patriots Sunday. He lined up in the position typically filled by either Taco Charlton or Charles Harris this season, and he put forth the best tape of all. He was close to the quarterback a number of times, and finally got home with a huge sack in the fourth quarter.

Jerome Baker got caught in the wash a couple of times, but his speed really pops off the screen. He’s adept at chasing sideline-to-sideline, but it’s safe to wonder where the pass rush skill set comes from with him, as that is a massively important trait at the position in this defense.

Defensive Backs

What a fabulous homecoming for Safety Eric Rowe. Rowe’s pick-six was the difference in the game, as he showcased his ability to cover any potential pass catcher in the offense (backs, tight ends and receivers). The Dolphins got a bargain on Rowe’s in-season extension.

Tae Hayes appeared in his second game with the team, and he was chirping — rightfully so. The youngster was beat a couple of times, but he challenged a lot of targets at the catch point and showed a penchant as a quick study in this complex defense.

Nate Brooks had a similar day, and he matched Hayes in the trash talk department. Montre Hartage was around the football, and nearly walked it off with an interception of Tom Brady on the final drive. Nik Needham had a quiet day in the passing game — the Pats didn’t fancy targeting him, but he did get in on five tackles.

Foundation Set, Now for the Fun Stuff

Any season in the NFL is about wins, first and foremost. Miami, with credit to its own self-evaluation, knew that the Super Bowl likely wasn’t in the cards for the 2019 season. With creative measures taken to maximize its own assets, in exchanged for above-market value, the Dolphins have now accomplished multiple feats that none of the other sub-.500 teams have.

Miami, in emphatic fashion, may have just discovered the next great coach in the league. There is much more to be accomplished from Brian Flores, but the energy in that locker room is proof that every person on the roster believes in Flores’ message. That message doesn’t stop at the roster; it’s a unilateral belief inside the walls at the facility in Davie, and Flores’ weekly acknowledgement of everybody involved in the operation provides proof, if not the glowing praise, to a man, inside that building.

Leadership might be Flores’ greatest strength, but his scheme and staff assembly are a close runner-up, if not better. The Dolphins offense consistently moved the football with its fair share of shortcomings, and a no-name defense put the clamps on the Patriots offense Sunday.

Establishing the expectation was a perhaps a secondary goal alongside giving the organization all the necessary resources to rebuild this team the right way, but the pairing of those two should have Dolphins fans downright giddy.

With the foundation in place, Miami now gets to go shop for the snazzy new edge rusher or game-breaking tailback. They can import cogs on the offensive line and ball hawks on the back end. Miami can draft the very best player on the board, and then do it again 14 more times and infuse this roster with young talent that fits the theme of the program, and the schematics on the field.

The Dolphins uncovered plenty of hidden gems this season. Whether it’s Devante Parker and his top-ten statistical receiving season, Eric Rowe earning the Swiss Army Knife distinction, or Andrew Van Ginkel showing his best stuff in the finale of his rookie season, Miami have discovered better than 20 core pieces going into the 2020 season.

Those players will communicate and carry on the expectation for the crop of newcomers in the offseason.

Take a bow, Mr. Ross, Chris Grier and Brian Flores. You, as a triumvirate, have given this particular writer — and the majority of the fan base — more confidence in this operation than any time in recent memory.

@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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