As the Miami Dolphins limp towards the end of yet another disappointing season, destined to miss the playoffs for the 14th time in the past 16 years, it seems that fans should be used to this by now. After all, we’ve been through much worse, including being one Greg Camarillo overtime catch from going winless in 2007. And with only one winning season since that inglorious day, it’s not like this century’s version of the Dolphins has been anywhere close to the perennial winning franchise of the 1970’s, ‘80’s, and ‘90s.
So what is different about this season? What is making fans chew their nails to stubs and pull their hair out in clumps?
Perhaps the question in itself provides some answers.
After more than a decade of futility and numerous failed experiments at head coach, the Dolphins hired the most sought after guy in the league, bringing Adam Gase on board after the 2015 season. After a rough start to the season, Gase propelled the team to a strong finish, a 10-6 record, and the team’s first playoff game in eight years.
Hope sprang eternal in the offseason, as it was believed that a draft focused on defense would match the expected offensive juggernaut guided by quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who had finally turned the corner as a franchise QB before getting hurt at the end of the 2016 campaign, and was expected to be fully healthy in the Year of His Jersey, 2017.
And then, hopes were dashed.
Tannehill re-injured his knee and underwent surgery. Bright rookie prospect Raekwon McMillan, expected to quarterback the defense from the middle linebacker spot, went down for the season soon afterwards. Burgeoning cornerback Tony Lippett followed them to injured reserve. And then a bizarre myriad of circumstances wreaked havoc on the team in the opening weeks of the season.
In spite of all the adversity, the Dolphins opened the season by winning four of their first six games.
Hope was restored.
And then, yet again, hopes were brutally dashed.
A five game losing streak of epic proportions ensued, with the stunning ineptness of a floundering offense only partly to blame. A defense that had held promise in the first six weeks inexplicitly began giving up points like a pinball machine, at a clip of more than 35 points per game (35.4 to be exact).
That’s bad. Historically bad.
And while some will point to the odds being stacked against them, injuries and scheduling flukes notwithstanding, by and large, the Dolphins fan base is historically frustrated.
So what gives? Who is at fault in this fiasco of a season? Is it the terrible line play? The failed experiments at quarterback? Attitudes and internal strife in the locker room? The inexplicable lack of discipline? Coaches? Schemes? Lack of preparation?
If you answered yes to any or all of those points, you win the right to keep on reading (if you didn’t, you can keep on reading too, but I’ve got my eye on you now).
While some are calling for the head coach’s head, and some of the blame can certainly be laid at his feet, let’s get one thing clear: Adam Gase isn’t going anywhere. At least not soon. With a playoff appearance in his first season, and only a season and a half removed from being one of the most sought-after coaching prospects at the time, Gase will be given at least one more full season to right the list of this sinking ship, and get the Dolphins sailing smoothly again.
And as is always the case with anything Dolphins-related, opinions abound on how Gase should accomplish that. Let’s start with the obvious one: Is it the players or the coaches?
The Dolphins do have some holes in the roster, some weak spots, some that were created when starters were injured; some that have never been adequately addressed.
But anyone who watches the Dolphins play sees pre-snap penalties, missed assignments, and wrong routes and throws. And in press conferences, the coaching staff continually espouses, “those are things that can be fixed.”
The problem is, these are the kinds of things that should have been fixed in the offseason. This is the second year of Gase instilling his offensive system, and as such, we shouldn’t be seeing false start and offsides penalties, missed blocking assignments, and players running the wrong routes time and time again. Sure it happens on the best of teams now and again, but for the Dolphins, it’s become almost expected that someone somewhere is screwing up their assignment on any given play.
This is the NFL. Players and coaches are professionals, highly-compensated for their talents and work. And as such, expectations are (and should be) high. Yet against a team like Tampa Bay, a team that the Dolphins should have been able to handily beat, there were more penalty yards than overall rushing yards in the game.
That’s coaching. Or more to the blatant point, that’s bad coaching.
Another indicator that is frustrating to no end is that each week it seems that the opponent has found a weakness from watching Dolphins film, and they exploit it right out of the gate on gameday. Two examples, Raiders tight end Jared Cook running wide open, and the New York Jets running backs taking screen passes for 10-15 yards repeatedly early in the game. Yet the Dolphins, more often than not, fail to make any adjustments until halftime.
Oh, and did I mention their wonderful habit of going three-and-out on their first possession, and struggle to score first half points?
That’s coaching. Or more to the blatant poi.. ..oh, you get it.
Good schemes emphasize strengths and hide weaknesses.
In any given year, there are very few offensive lines in the NFL that are playing really well. Yet most find ways to cover a weak spot and play to their strong suit. Not the Dolphins, who are now in their fifth year of struggling with inadequate blocking up front. Many will point to this being a personnel problem, that the Dolphins simply don’t have talent among the guys up front. But there are teams all around the league with worse-graded lines than Miami, who find a way to make it work.
That’s coaching. Or more.. ..never mind.
So are the Dolphins doomed forevermore?
Probably. But that’s a different story that may or may not be related to the Curse of the Tequesta Indian Tribe (google it, it’s an actual thing).
But still, it is this writer’s not-so-humble opinion that the fixes are tough, but simple.
First, Adam Gase needs to back away from the play-calling that he so dearly loves, the talent that got him noticed and propelled him to the head coaching club in the first place. He doesn’t need to give up calling plays, but he needs to step back just enough that he can focus more on the big picture during games. Letting a de facto offensive coordinator design the plays during the week and create the game plan would let Gase still be involved with play-calling, but be more aware of the many other aspects of the game.
Things a simple as when an opponent gets hurt, target that part of the field. It almost seems like the coaches are oblivious to an opposing player getting injured and leaving the field. Taking advantage of the lesser player stepping into that spot is an age old ploy that teams at all levels utilize. For some reason this rarely happens with Miami. And I blame the coaches for being too ingrained in their own player groups. A head coach should see these things and direct coordinators to take advantage.
Also, a staple of Gase’s offense in previous stops was pre-snap movement to tip the defense’s hand. For some reason that rarely happens in Miami. Whether this is the fault of Clyde Christensen or Gase, there needs to be more emphasis on game preparation and play design. Because as much as we all know and truly love the bubble screen, this team ain’t doing them right.
Second, Miami needs to hire an experienced, proven defensive coordinator. Matt Burke stepped into the roll when Vance Joseph left to screw up.. ..I mean coach Denver, but frankly, Burke appears to be in over his head, something that becomes more and more obvious as the season progresses, and is indicative in post-game comments that the opponent did some things that the team wasn’t expecting. Say what?
And on the more obvious front, after a strong opening in the first five games of the season, the defense has steadily regressed since. It’s actually kind of bad.
Third, while Gase has instilled a new culture in the locker room, one thing that seems to be missing is accountability. So many times we hear the players mimic the coaches with their comments, saying they’ve got to get better at this or that, that the things that cost us in the last game are “things that can be fixed.”
At some point, a point that has long since fallen to the wayside, that comment got old. Fans no longer want to hear that things can be fixed. They want them fixed. They watch the games hoping to see improvement, they want to see the team striving to be better. They don’t want to see Ed Hochuli rolling his arms and saying, “false start, offense, five yards, replay third down (and 18).”
That’s a lack of discipline. And while players need to be accountable to themselves to know the play and cadence, it ultimately falls on coaches to do something about it when it happens 347 times per game (editor’s note: this statistic was not researched and may or may not be slightly exaggerated).
And here is where I wrap up this long, boring diatribe that will be read by an estimated seven people (hi Mom), and tell you that all is not yet lost. Yes, the 2017 season is swirling its way down the drain, and nothing is going to save it at this point. But looking forward to next year, the Dolphins are going to be in a prime spot to make some noise. They’ll likely play a fourth-place schedule, already have a pretty nice home slate, don’t have to travel to London, and as far as we know, no hurricanes are scheduled to take away the bye week.
And on top of all that, Tannehill, McMillan, and Lippett will all be back, which will feel like a hefty Christmas bonus already in the bag when the draft rolls around. If the Dolphins can find just a few key cogs in the draft and free agency (in that order), and address even some of the issues mentioned above, 2018 could be, might be, just plain damn well better be a return to that thing that Dolphins fans young and old yearn for so dearly.
This article was written by Eldon Jenson. Follow him on Twitter @EJFootball.
As the Miami Dolphins limped home from a 45-21 shellacking at the hand of the Carolina Panthers Monday night, a game deemed a ‘must-win’ by many, it became readily apparent that the seams are beginning to fray on a season that began with high hopes.
So what has gone wrong?
“Everybody starts trying to make a play,” said head coach Adam Gase, “and guys start getting out of their lanes … and then that’s where you see some of those big plays (against the defense) start occurring.”
“At the end of the day we just didn’t tackle,” added defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. “We didn’t get off the field when we needed to get off the field …, obviously on third downs, especially jumping off sides, we had some undisciplined plays, but at the end of the day we just have to find ways to get off the field.”
Defensive end Andre Branch piped up as well, “There is no way we should give up 350 yards with the players we have, let alone 550. We just have to go back to work, and it will be fixed for sure.”
“I am lost, honestly,” says defensive end Cameron Wake.
Gase, who as always has glass-half-full analogies in explanation during his press conference, is obviously exasperated with how things are going this season; it appears that on any given play, some player, somewhere, misses an assignment.
“We had an 8-minute span there where the game got away from us. And it just snowballed for us after that. We couldn’t prevent the big runs once they got it going after the turnover – 14-point swing between the end of the half and the 3rd quarter there at the beginning. It’s one of those things you can’t do against a team like this.”
And yet, they do.
“We’re kind of shooting ourselves in the foot at the wrong time,” says Gase. “We get something going and we either have a penalty or we miss a throw or a hole, or we don’t get it blocked correctly. I’m sure there have been calls I’ve made I wish I could take back. We’re making mistakes at the wrong time.
“That’s one of the things we’re going to have to do. Take a look at this tape and find out where we were not aligned. Something’s not going as planned and we just have to go back and look at this. Is it personnel? Is it calls? Sometimes just because a guy’s open you’re not really sure of the answer and you’ve got to go take a look at it and figure out where you need to make adjustments.”
As anyone who watched the game Monday night can attest, a LOT of things went wrong. From terrible throws on offense to terrible angles and whiffed tackles on defense, the game was a debacle form beginning to end. How bad? Well, consider that the 548 yards given up on defense ranked as eighth most in the history of this franchise.
And yet, strangely, many fans (this writer included) are only mildly angered this week, as if this game merely cemented the notion so many shared yet were afraid to openly admit: that the 2017 Dolphins are not a playoff-caliber team, there are too many holes and weaknesses, too many dashed expectations for fans to do anything more than to hope for the best, but be prepared for the worst each week. It’s almost as if this game caused fans to suddenly shift to varying forms of calming acceptance of this truth: this year is done, let’s see what we have next year.
And so while players and coaches say all the right things, the canned responses and coachspeak, the “we’re going to fix this” promises, fans are turning deaf ear, and while they’ll certainly cheer for and crave wins when and if they happen, they will no longer be surprised when the results fall short.
After all, we’ve been here before far too many times this century.
Until this team turns it around, actively attacking on offense and defense, giving fans reason for hope and instilling confidence that they can and will get it done at the onset of each game, each drive, each play, this Miami Dolphins team will continue to have jaded and somewhat salty fans in their midst.
But for now, reluctant acceptance that this team ‘is what it is’ prevails.
This story was written by Eldon Jenson. Follow him on Twitter @EJFootball
If there is one thing that the Miami Dolphins and the members of their organization - both past and present - do exceedingly well, it is go out into the South Florida community and work to make the lives of those less fortunate, better.
That is precisely what happened on Monday evening, as the Jason Taylor Foundation held its 14th Annual Ping Pong Smash Tournament in an effort to raise money in order to facilitate the personal growth and empowerment of South Florida’s children in need by focusing on improved health care, education and quality of life, as per the mission of the foundation.
But this time, instead of Jason Taylor going up against Mike Pouncey, which has been the focus for the past several years, Pouncey had a new opponent, his teammate Jarvis Landry.
"This year I get to take a step back a little bit, Pouncey was with me last year, it was J.T. versus Pouncey, we won't talk about who won or lost because it wasn't me." said former Dolphins DE and recent Hall of Famer Jason Taylor. "This year we got Jarvis Landry joining us so it's Pouncey versus Landry. I get to take a step back and be the promoter, there's no money in this for me but there's a lot of money in it for the foundation."
Landry, who is stepping up to take a starring role in this event, expressed his pleasure over being able to take a starring role in the tournament.
"I honestly went through Pouncey, J.T. [Jason Taylor], I had an opportunity to talk to him about it, have the opportunity to - like J.T. said earlier - use our platform to touch lives, to do things that are passionate to our heart, to raise money for both of our causes as well."
And raise money they did, as nearly $50,000 dollars were raised for the Jason Taylor Foundation - in conjunction with Team Pouncey, center Mike Pouncey's own foundation - with nearly 100 kids from the Dade and Broward Counties in participation to watch the competition and enjoy the clinic put on by UPS and the Fun Zone set up by Best Buy.
Several other athletes and celebrities were in attendance as competitors, including wide receiver Jakeem Grant, tight end MarQueis Gray, defensive back Torry McTyer, former Dolphins Jim Jensen, Nat Moore, Troy Drayton and Channing Crowder, ESPN Personality Israel Gutierrez, former Heat center Alonzo Mourning, and last year's champion - linebacker Kiko Alonso.
Alonso, for his part, has shown that as well as being a very aggressive linebacker on the football field, he is also an excellent Ping Pong player as well, having made it to the finals two years in a row. This second year, however, Alonso was unable to come away with a second consecutive championship, as Gary Nicklaus - son of former legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus - beat Alonso and his Ping Pong partner out for the championship.
Though it may be a competition, there is no questioning that all of this is done in good fun, and as long as the mission was accomplished - which the near $50,000 dollar turnout clearly says it did - then everyone in that arena was a champion for a much grander reason.
This story was written by Luis Sung. Follow him on Twitter: @LuisDSung