Miami Dolphins: Big Fish or (Under)Performing Seal?

Having finished the 2014 season behind the Patriots (yet again), missing out on the Play Offs (yet again), and finishing the season .500 or worse (you guessed it – yet again), owner Stephen M Ross decided enough was enough and set about making Miami a contender in the AFC East and the League at large.

2015 wasn’t going to be another one of those seasons. Oh no, 2015 was going to be different!

In came Mike Tannenbaum, former GM of the New York Jets – a man who had helped built a roster that took the Jets to consecutive Championship Games – and was installed as the Executive Vice President of Football Operations. He wasn’t officially given control of the roster (Dennis Hickey officially retained that honour), but it was widely regarded that he would have final say on personnel in reality.

Miami didn’t waste much time in working on said roster, either.

With what was at the time the richest defensive contract in NFL history, the Dolphins signed controversial Defensive Tackle Ndamukong Suh to a 6 year, $114 million contract to bolster the defensive line, and rewarded Ryan Tannehill for his apparent recent progression with a $96 million contract extension that would take him through the 2020 season.

Tight End Charles Clay was allowed to leave a Free Agent and former ProBowler Jordan Cameron brought in to replace him, and their first round pick in the Draft was used on the exciting Louisville receiver DeVante Parker. Tannenbaum et all wanted to win and were making no secret of it.

In fairness to Mr Ross, 2015 was indeed different to previous years in certain respects, but not the way he would have imagined or indeed wanted. They went 6-10 and finished bottom of the AFC East.

One step forward…

Put simply, it just didn’t work.

Ryan Tannehill didn’t show the progression many were expecting and, if anything, actually regressed over the course of the season behind an offensive line that was about as watertight as a fishing net. Tannehill was sacked 45 times and, despite recording record numbers in terms of passing yards and yards per attempt, looked the shadow of the Quarterback we’d seen emerging the previous year.

Jarvis Landry was his best option in terms of targets, but even he failed to set the world alight for most of the season. Rookie DeVante Parker struggled with injuries throughout the year and Jordan Cameron also failed to inspire.

The only bright spot for me on the Dolphins offense was Lamar Miller, who was again the workhorse in the backfield and showed he was more than capable. The Dolphins went 6-1 in games where he was given 13 or more carries but, somewhat inexplicably, was underused for the majority of games with 12 or fewer carries in the other 9 games. The Dolphins lost them all.

It was decisions such as these that meant, by the time Miami were heading home from their International Series match at Wembley with a 1-3 record, Joe Philbin’s tenure as head coach was over. Tight Ends coach Dan Campbell was named interim replacement and he set about lighting a fire under the players.

Unfortunately for Dan, and Dolphins fans, it seems he needed a little more petrol on that fire.

After failing to score more than 20 points in their first four games, Campbell reinvigorated the team and they put up 82 points in the next two, winning both. But then the fire seemed to go out again. They would only better 20 points once more before season end.

I don’t think the blame is all on the offense though. Defensively things just didn’t seem to work as they had hoped.

With Suh’s arrival, Miami had a defensive front 7 that was touted by some as being potentially one of the most dangerous in the League coming in to the year, but ultimately stumbled their way through the season. Cameron Wake failed to record a sack Weeks 1 through 4 and then had 7 in the next three before finding himself on injured reserve.

Suh looked to struggle to adjust to the change in schemes and took time to find his way, but would ultimately end the season with his highest tackle count since his Rookie year.

The Defensive line finished ranked 2nd overall by PFF, but were just 15th against the run and the defense as a whole recorded only 31 sacks (25th) and 3 fumble recoveries (32nd). Overall, not what the Dolphins had hoped for.

THIS time it will be different

Actually, probably not. Miami are going to have a tough start to this season; three of their first four games are on the road against Play off teams from last year and the fourth sees them entertain a potential banana skin in the form of the Cleveland Browns. I think Miami could well find themselves in a rather big hole before we even reach October.

Most eyes will be on Ryan Tannehill to see whether he has managed to shake off the regression of last year and can finally live up to the franchise QB tag. I think he’s reached something of a crossroads in his career right now and another poor season may well start the drums beating for a change under center. He’ll understandably be keen to get off to a solid start against tough opponents, but it’s hard for me to see exactly where the potency is coming from on this Dolphins offense.

The receiving corps is something of a question mark. Jarvis Landry is probably the only one I would consider a “threat” and even that’s being generous. The addition of Kenny Stills is solid enough, but not a like for like replacement for Rishard Matthews. DeVonte Parker can’t seem to stay healthy, and then the depth chart reads with two rookies and former Titan Justin Hunter. Some of those will struggle to be a legitimate WR3, let alone WR2. Jordan Cameron hasn’t looked at the races in pre-season again either, so there’s no outlet there for Tannehill.

The backfield has had a shakeup – Lamar Miller leaving in the off-season to ultimately be replaced with Arian Foster. His history with injuries is well documented so Jay Ajayi is almost certainly going to have to step up this year at some point if the Dolphins are going to have a credible run game in Miller’s absence. With an offensive line that comprises (potentially at least) 3 1st Rounders and an undrafted Free Agent managing that would be a feat in itself.

If they do manage it, I just hope Adam Gase has the sense to lean on it this time.

Gase arrives from Chicago having spent his second year as Offensive Co-ordinator for John Fox led teams, and certainly had an impact during his time in the Windy City. I think he will need to be able to do with Tannehill what he seemingly achieved with Jay Cutler in a short space of time if Ryan’s career is to avoid nosediving.

It is Gase’s first shot at being a Head Coach, and he will be the youngest in the League this year, but I think he more than has the ability to make at least some improvements. His major hamstring will be the lack of talent on that Dolphins offense.

Defensively the questions from last year remain, and you can add a few more to the list as well I think.

Cameron Wake is now 34 and coming off the back of an ACL injury, and Miami brought in Jason Jones from the Lions to replace him as starter. He’ll need to adjust and settle quickly if Suh isn’t to be the only real pass threat from that front line. The run defense hasn’t exactly received an upgrade either, with Earl Mitchell and Jordan Phillips reprising their roles in the middle of the line, both of which struggled mightily last year.

The secondary has improved on paper for this year, but none of the starters can really be classed as impact players, and there is little depth behind them should injury strike. It could be a very long year for this Miami defense in my opinion.

If Ryan Tannehill can turn things around and get back to the progress he showed in 2014, and Adam Gase can work some magic with an offense lacking any real firepower, I think the Dolphins should be able to record a better season than last year.

They are going to need the odd slice of luck, not least in the injury department given the lack of depth on the roster, but even with that I still can’t see them breaking the .500 this year, or for a while yet.