Our 2018 Regular Season Preview heads southward, as the Miami Dolphins look to rebound from a disappointing campaign that was marred by injuries, poor play on the field, and even poorer chemistry in the Lockerroom. Indeed, the bloom from Miami’s surprising 10-6 performance in 2016 eroded once Starting Quarterback Ryan Tannehill was lost for the season with a Torn ACL in Training Camp, prompting Head Coach Adam Gase and Management to panic and coax Jay Cutler out of retirement, which didn’t net the desired results as the team slumped to a disappointing 6-10 Season. Cutler seemingly operated with an abridged Playbook throughout the term, with the rest of the Offense rarely looking in synch with the veteran Quarterback. Furthermore, virtually every strength from 2016 turned into a weakness in 2017 for the Dolphins, with the Rushing Attack disappearing and the Defense routinely being pushed around at the Line of Scrimmage. This all clearly left quite a bad taste in Gase’s mouth, for wholesale changes were made this Offseason, with a number of prominent faces (and even bigger egos) jettisoned in favor of a Roster-Wide Reset, which is odd for a Coach going into his Third Season. However, Gase is desperate to turn things around, for another debacle like the previous one will likely conclude with the young Offensive Guru looking for a new job. So with that said, let’s take a look at three key storylines that will ultimately decide whether or not the Dolphins will turn things around, or continue to be mired in mediocrity.
If one were to trace Miami’s plethora of woes to one moment, it would undoubtedly be when Ryan Tannehill tore multiple ligaments in his knee during last Season’s Training Camp. Tannehill had just come off the most impressive Campaign of his Five-Year Career, posting a Passer Rating of 93.5 in leading the Dolphins to their first Postseason Appearance since they drafted him Eighth Overall back in 2012. Simply put, he flourished in Gase’s Run-Heavy Offense, thriving off of Bootlegs and Play-Action allowing him to stretch the field with far more success than in previous years. Furthermore, the Franchise had invested heavily in him, which made his season-long absence all the more disastrous for Gase and Co. Now, at the age of Thirty and coming off a serious knee injury, it appears that he will have to prove himself all over again, though this time it will be without a number of the familiar faces that comprised his Supporting Cast just two years ago. And honestly, if you’re still convinced of this guy’s worth to this unit, then just look at how they performed with Cutler at the controls; Miami’s Offense was absolutely abysmal in 2017, ranking 28th in Points (17.6 P/G) and 25th in Total Offense (323.8 Y/G), with Cutler leading a Passing Attack that produced very little (5.6 NY/A, 24th Overall) given their high volume of Passing Attempts (602, 4th Overall). Cutler also didn’t bring much to the table in the way of mobility, which has consistently been one of Tannehill’s strengths since he entered the league. The Dolphins could have really benefitted from the plays that No. 17 could have made with his feet, forcing opposing Defenses to think twice when rushing the Passer. And the most understated part of it all was the fact that this group clearly missed their leader. There was simply no accountability with Tannehill sidelined, for Miami ranked Third-Worst in Penalty Yardage with 1,154 Yards charged against them. While it remains to be seen just how healthy he’ll be after missing all of the previous term, the return of Ryan Tannehill is nothing short of a boon for the Miami Dolphins, who are desperate to cleanse the stench of last year’s debacle.
Addition by Subtraction
We’ve heard of Spring Cleaning, but the wholesale changes that Gase made to his Roster were really quite dramatic, as the Head Coach took a blowtorch to the 53-Man Card. So let’s take a moment to list some of the more prominent names that headlined this Spring’s Exodus from South Beach, shall we? First and foremost All-Pro Defensive Tackle Ndamukong Suh (48 TKL, 4.5 SK, 2 PD, 2 FF in 2017) and Pro Bowl Center Mike Pouncey (93 Starts in 7 Seasons) were outright released as “Cap Casualties”, while prolific Wide Receiver Jarvis Landry (112 REC, 987 YDS, 9 TD in 2017) was sent packing to Cleveland (of all places) in a Trade shortly before the Draft. These are some really big names folks, with the trio accounting for Eleven Pro Bowls between them, with Suh alone claiming five of them along with three All-Pro Selections. Coupled with the departure of Cutler, Miami’s Lockerroom will clearly be much quieter than it was in 2017. And ultimately, that has to be Gase’s aim, as he attempts to get back to what worked so well for his charges just two short years ago. Just look at the guys that he and Management brought into the fold: a 34-Year Old Frank Gore (261 CAR, 961 YDS, 3 TD in 2017), former New England Patriot Danny Amendola (61 REC, 651 YDS, 2 TD in 2017), former Pro Bowl Edge Rusher Robert Quinn (32 TKL, 8.5 SK, 2 FF in 2017), and veteran Offensive Lineman Josh Sitton (137 Starts in 10 Seasons). What do all of these guys have in common, you ask? They’re all relatively quiet professionals, who won’t put themselves before the team, which is definitely something that Miami needs at this point in time. The lingering concern is that none of these players are considered to be at the level of the ones that they are replacing, though someone in the Dolphins’ Camp clearly believes that they can be an asset moving forward.
Apart from the issues caused by Tannehill’s injury, Miami’s biggest problem was it’s play in the trenches, on the both sides of the ball where they were, for lack of a better word, toothless. The loss of former Defensive Coordinator Vance Joseph, who was hired as the Denver Broncos’ Head Coach, was a blow that Gase’s Defense could not rally back from. Needless to say, the Dolphins’ Defense did not perform under new Defensive Coordinator Chris Burke in the manner that they did for his predecessor, for they allowed 24.6 Points (29th Overall) on 335.7 Total Yards (16th Overall), while getting pummeled on the Ground where they relinquished an average of 110.5 Yards (14th Overall) on 4.1 Yards per Carry (17th Overall). Furthermore, they couldn’t generate many Big Plays, amassing just Nine Interceptions (28th Overall) and Thirty Sacks (27th Overall). Coming into the 2018 Campaign and the Defensive Line looks thin (particularly the interior), while the Linebacking Corps lacks established playmakers. On the Offensive Side of the football, the Line will be seeing wholesale changes with the arrivals of the Daniel Kilgore (29 Starts the last 2 Seasons) and the aforementioned Sitton, while the healthy return of both Ted Larsen (Missed 8 Games in 2017) and Ja’Wuan James (Missed 8 Games in 2017) should go a long way towards stabilizing a unit that simply couldn’t gain any traction on the Ground in 2017, ranking 29th in Rushing Offense (86.8 Y/G), 31st in Rushing Touchdowns (4), and 24th in Yards per Carry (3.9). It cannot be stressed enough just how imperative it that this unit gets their !@#$ together given Tannehill’s return from that ugly knee injury. If their hopes of returning to the Playoffs rest on the healthy knee of their Quarterback, then this particular Position Group must keep him clean, and provide some semblance of a Rushing Attack to keep opposing Defenses honest.
2018 Outlook: 7-9
The healthy return of Tannehill alone should improve matters for the Dolphins, though we doubt it will be by a great deal. Simply put, this team was absolutely wrecked by injuries a year ago, and given the departure of so many front-line talents, it will be difficult for Miami to replace their production. Gase clearly looks desperate, as he appears to be counting on blending a number of aging veterans with some intriguing, yet unproven young players. The bottom line is that we’re far from sold on this whole “addition by subtraction” mantra that is being thrown around South Beach, but we’ll give them one more win for their troubles, if not for the fact that their schedule is far from daunting, and apart from the New England Patriots, the rest of the AFC East isn’t very formidable.