Possibly this ‘Phins fanatic knows something
The Miami Dolphins find themselves going into Week 6 of the NFL season 2-2, and about to face one of the best teams in the league in the Green Bay Packers.
But the difference between being 2-2 and looking up, and 2-2 and being disappointed and pessimistic about your team is a big one, and something I found out this week, after the Dolphins embarrassing 41-14 beatdown courtesy of the New England Patriots.
The Dolphins had the whole world in front of them. They were on top of the league for a week. Then it all came tumbling down on them quicker than you could rip off your Dolphins jersey.
After going 2-0, capped off by an away win against the Minnesota Vikings, Miami then proceeded to go 0-2 in their home openers, both against division rivals, the Jets and Pats, and both on primetime.
The two consecutive losses got me to thinking about what exactly is wrong with this team, and if it can be fixed in time to salvage this season, and finish something better than .500.
As the Patriots and Jets games showed last week, special teams is obviously a problem for us, and something needed to be done, but I am not so sure now that I have had time to reflect, if the moves we have made leading up to this point regarding special teams were the right ones. Think about it, so far dating back to the off-season we have released Reggie Torbor, Charlie Anderson, and now Erik Walden and fired special teams coach John Bonamego.
All three of those guys were core special teams guys, not to mention the decision to retain key nickel corner and special teams guy Nate Jones. The fact that these four key guys are now gone may be the reason why our special teams play is performing so poorly right now. Let’s face it, our special teams play was never the greatest, but before the game against the Jets, punter Brandon Fields has never had a punt blocked in his whole career, dating back to the 2007 season.
Now all of a sudden out special teams is playing so bad that they have had two punts blocked, one field goal blocked and returned for a touchdown, as well as a kickoff returned for a touchdown, all in the past two weeks! How does that happen to a team? Was it really the coaches fault for all of that? The Dolphins cut linebacker Erik Walden after a missed block on the first punt block, but after fellow linebacker Bobby Carpenter gaffed on a missed block that resulted in the blocked punt against the Pats, the coach got fired instead.
Walden was arguably our best special teams player, and to see him get cut was uncalled for. One of the reasons that the Dolphins cannot find some regularity on their special teams is because they have had the most roster changes throughout the season so far than any other team, by far! The team has added a league high 16 players to their roster, while the rest of the league averages 4.6. How do the Fins expect their players on special teams, who are mostly backups, to get the chance to perform at a high level with each other when they continue to turn the bottom part of the roster upside down?
The points that the Dolphins have given up so far this season because of special teams is unacceptable, and becaus eof these special teams mishaps, the Dolphins had really no chance to get back into the Pats game, and the blocked punt against the Jets turned the tide of the game. Special teams can be fixed with the help of newly promoted assistant, Darren Rizzo, but it will take a lot of work, and a lot of continuity.
But despite the special teams play, this may not be the only problem with the Dolphins.
The Miami Dolphins offensive line has not performed at as high of a level as the team would like it to. On the rushing front, the team is only averaging 107 yards this year, and are ranked tied for 15th, along with the Packers, in the league. The team has also only scored one rushing touchdown this whole year. Last year our team featured a fourth ranked running attack, and the faces of that ferocious run game have not changed, with Ronnie Brown, Ricky Williams, Lousaka Polite, Jake Long, Vernon Carey, the staples of the run game, still intact.
But what has changed is the interior of the offensive line, where all three starters from last year, Jake Grove, Donald Thomas, and Justin Smiley, are gone, and are replaced by Joe Berger, John Jerry, and Richie Incognito.
So far this year the story for the Dolphins run game has been that they have not been able to get to the second level. Miami backs are only getting to the 2nd level an average of 0.89 times according to Football Outsiders.
We know as well as anyone that once our backs get into the open field, and past the front seven, they are as good as anyone at breaking tackles and finding the endzone.
But what our interior line is not doing as well as last year is not getting the push up front, and allowing our RB’s to get some decent yardage past the first 3-5 yards. Instead the R&R Express is getting swarmed at the line, and there is no way we can ask them to break every tackle, especially when you are being surrounded by 2-3 guys at a time. The cohesiveness of our line throughout the season will be key to our success, in more ways than one.
Chad Henne is the Miami Dolphins quarterback. We all know that, and anyone who doubts that is plain wrong. It’s just that simple. For the Dolphins brass to hinder Henne’s progress at this point after giving him all of the off-season reps as the starting quarterback would set him back as a starter, and stop all of the maturity and experience he is gaining from learning on the fly right now, in only his 1st year as the full-time starter.
But the key to the Dolphins winning also relies on how fast Henne can learn on the run, and how fast he can mature as a quarterback, which we have still not fully witnessed. Yes, at times Henne has shown that he has the balls, and talent to be our full-time quarterback of the future, but also at times he has shown that he is still young, and needs more experience. The stats prove this as well. In game where Henne has started, and has thrown at least a touchdown, and did NOT throw an interception, the team is 6-0. But when Henne throws at least an interception, the team is 3-7 in games Henne has started.
So whether you can believe, or want to believe it, our success rate is tied to Henne somewhat. In game where he has passed for over 300 yards, the team is also 1-4. In games where Henne has been sacked at least twice, he has a record of 5-6. But in games where Henne was sacked only once or less, the team is 4-2.
The Dolphins have given up 9 sacks so far this year, and because of those sacks, and all of the quarterback hits and pressures, Henne has thrown four interceptions, all in losses this year. The line is key to Henne’s success this year, and whether or not this team gets to the playoffs or not. Last week was a prime example of how Henne performs under oncoming blitzes. Henne dropped back to pass under pressure 11 times, and threw two picks, was sacked twice, and only completed 55.6% of his passes for 48 yards according to ProFootball Focus.
The run game is how the Dolphins win games. Plain and simple, and in the last two weeks we have strayed away from that run first offense that has helped us over the years. Henne is just not ready yet, and until he shows us that he can win games by himself and with his arm, the team has to rely on the run more than they have, especially in the red-zone.
So far this year the Dolphins have showed a pass-first style in their big games, except against Minnesota, and it has not paid off. The Dolphins strengths are working the clock, and keeping the opposing offense off of the field for extended periods of time, and tiring out the opposing defense. This gameplan has worked so well, and has put the Dolphins in many close games the past two years, which are decided in the 4th quarter. The Dolphins are 8-5 in games that were decided in the last quarter of the game last year. This is telling in that the Dolphins are winning games in the final minutes perhaps because of their offense controlling the ball for most of the previous three quarters.
The special teams can be improved by seasons end. The offensive line will most likely gel, and excel as a unit by the end of the season, and of course Henne will mature and learn not to force things when he is under pressure by the end of the season. But what cannot be fixed is the offensive playcalling that coordinator Dan Henning employs. The Dolphins simply are not running the ball enough in the red-zone, and this could be a reason why they are not scoring enough points to win ball games.
Hopefully with the BYE week things will be a little more organized for the team, and with most of the team being back to full health, and our guys getting some rest, as in Jake Long, Channing Crowder, Jared Odrick, and John Jerry, our team should be better than ever going into their second part of the season, and can finally start gaining that trust in each other, and gelling as a unit. I expect the roster churning to stop, I expect all of our units to perform better, and you should expect a better Miami Dolphins squad next weekend when they play the Packers in Green Bay. With a tough schedule awaiting the Fins, it will certainly not be easy, but making the playoffs can be done. We know the potential of this team, but it is only a matter of us coming together, and tying up these loose ends, then we