This is what they are. You
have to accept it, but you don’t have to like it.
Winless at home and a .500
record is not what we expected from the 2010 Miami Dolphins. This was supposed
to be the year that they became a quality playoff team and the excitement was returned
to the hometown fans.
Instead these Dolphins have
become a dull flop. In fact, they are just one game better than last year’s
disappointing 3-5 midseason mark.
Sadly, losses to the Jets,
Patriots, Steelers, and the Ravens prove conclusively that the Dolphins are
still several drafts away from becoming a playoff regular.
In short, three years of hard
work rebuilding this team have yielded only mediocrity.
How can this be? The
Dolphins are only two years removed from the AFC East title and an 11-5 record.
Have they lost their way?
Yes and no.
Defensively, this year’s
group appears to be the best unit fielded in three seasons. They have the best
overall talent and are the best coached. It is not a finished product by any
means, but it is getting closer….perhaps two to three missing pieces away.
Offensively, big holes
remain with the line, quarterback, tight ends, and receivers. This is mainly
due to mistakes made in the draft and free agency.
Here are my midseason grades
for the 2010 Miami Dolphins:
front office decided to gut the interior of the offensive line this past
offseason, and the impact of that move has been devastating. Simply put, Joe
Berger, Richie Incognito, and John Jerry/Pat McQuistan are not upgrades over
Jake Grove, Justin Smiley, and Donald Thomas/Nate Garner. A run game that was
once ranked in the top 5 has fallen to 16th, which is one of the two
biggest reasons why the Dolphins aren’t finding the endzone. On the other hand,
the line has done a tremendous job with pass protection (only 12 sacks yielded,
tied for 5th best in the NFL). Jake Long is the best tackle in the
game, and he and Vernon Carey are probably the best tandem in the league. The grade
here would be much higher if the offense was built around an elite QB. But this
team was built to win with ball control offense, and the line isn’t doing what
it needs to achieve that objective.
Fullbacks = B
Brown and Ricky Williams hope to each gain 1,000 yards rushing this season, a team
feat that was last accomplished in 1972 (Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris). While
both men have solid 4.3-per-carry averages, the low number of attempts and the
number of runs longer than 20 yards (two combined) make it unlikely at this
point that they will achieve their goal. Patrick Cobbs has been completely
invisible on offense this year, which leads me to believe that he is still not
fully recovered from his knee injury. FB Lou Polite, the master of the dive
play, is still a force in short yardage situations. His blocking is much
improved since joining the team in 2008. The Dolphins would do well to utilize
this talented bunch more in the passing game.
Marshall is everything the Dolphins hoped he would be; an elite weapon that
defenses must account for on every play. What gets overlooked is his blocking;
he might be the most devastating blocking receiver in team history. Davone Bess
continues to remind us of Nat Moore, with his ability to get open in tight
spaces; his recent contract extension was well-deserved. Brian Hartline is
having a bad season relative to expectations, and seems to suffer at least one
glaring breakdown per game. He is not a quality NFL starter at this point, and
we can expect the Dolphins to look for an upgrade in the offseason. Yet overall
this is a very capable group which would show a lot better with improved QB
play and a quality starter opposite Marshall.
Tight Ends = C+
Fasano is a solid #2 tight end on a proficient passing offense. That being
said, he is really among the least of coach Tony Sparano’s problems right now.
His blocking is better than ever and he can get open in critical situations. The
real issue here is the lack of quality depth behind Fasano. Quick! Can you name
the other two tight ends on the Dolphin roster? You get my point. So why was it
again that the Dolphins waived David Martin?
Quarterback = D
is no way to put this kindly: Chad Henne is not getting the job done. His
passer rating (78.2) is near the bottom of the NFL, he has thrown more interceptions
than touchdowns, he has only two completions longer than 40 yards, and his
approach to throwing the football is easy for defensive backs to diagnose. While
his accuracy is in the Top 10, his yards per completion languish in the bottom
half of the league. But what is most troubling is his lack of impact on the
offense. Henne isn’t a difference-maker at the most important of positions. He doesn’t
lead his unit to touchdowns…only one team has fewer than Miami’s
11 TDs (Carolina)…and
he doesn’t make the people around him better. He isn’t even comfortable playing
out of the shotgun, which is pretty much a fundamental skill in today’s NFL. Is
this what Henne is, or is this a sign of growing pains? Whatever the answer, Henne
is the other big reason why the Dolphins aren’t scoring touchdowns. It will be
interesting to see if Sparano can afford to stay patient with Henne much
longer, especially with former league MVP runner-up Chad Pennington ready to
go. As for #3 QB Tyler
Thigpen, it is a small surprise that the Dolphins haven’t used him to
rejuvenate the Wildcat.
Seven = B+
losing NT Jason Ferguson to injury/retirement, this unit continues to post a
top 10 performance versus the run. Randy Starks and the much improved Paul
Soliai have made us forget about Ferg while also covering for the loss of top rookie
starter Jared Odrick (injured reserved), a very impressive accomplishment. Tony
McDaniel is also turning in some quality snaps at end and tackle, easing the
preseason loss of DE Phillip Merling. At inside linebacker, Karlos Dansby has
solidified the middle of the defense together with Channing Crowder; this is a
big reason why teams are finding it difficult to run the ball on the Dolphins. Dansby
is tied for the team lead in tackles (60). OLB Cameron Wake is turning in a Pro
Bowl (and perhaps an All-Pro) season with 8.5 sacks thus far. On the opposite
side, rookie Koa Misi and Ike Francis alternate depending on the situation;
Misi is better in pass protection while Francis is better at setting the edge
versus the run. Misi is second in sacks on the team with 3.5, which is better
than expected. The front seven has accounted for all but one of the team’s 21
sacks (T-10th best in the NFL). Good stuff.
Backs = B-
unit is the most improved from 2009, going 28th to 13th
in the NFL despite losing CB Will Allen for the year. CB Vontae Davis is much
improved over last season and is showing signs of becoming a true shutdown
corner, though the job opposite him has been unsettled between Jason Allen and
Sean Smith. New free safety Chris Clemons is a big upgrade over the departed
Gibril Wilson; he is third on the team in tackles. Pro Bowl SS Yeremiah Bell is
the enforcer once again, co-leading the team in tackles with 60. Benny Sapp,
acquired from the Vikings, has been mostly steady in extra DB roles. This group
has had chances to make several game changing plays this season, but unfortunately
has been unable to hold onto interceptions.
only reason this grade is not an “F” is kicker Dan Carpenter, who is enjoying
another Pro Bowl caliber season hitting clutch field goals. He has only missed
three all year, and one of those was blocked. Punter Brandon Fields continues
to be average, while the coverage teams have been downright horrendous. Against
the Patriots, these units turned in one of the worst performances in NFL
history, earning coach John Bonamego his walking papers. But the state of
affairs is not just Bonamego’s fault; GM Jeff Ireland did a very poor job
providing quality talent for these units, which have cost the Dolphins wins in
each of the past three seasons, and Sparano tolerated underachievement on those
units by retaining Bonamego.
Coaching = B
Dolphins have the head coach they need to win a championship. He’s tough, smart,
straightforward, focused, surrounds himself with good people, and runs a tight
ship. Honestly, the biggest challenge for Sparano this year has been patience
with QB Chad Henne. These Dolphins could be 6-2 right now with Pennington
running the show, and Sparano knows it.
So does offensive coordinator Dan Henning, who is one of the brightest
offensive minds in the business. But it is clear that Henning is hog tied right
now by Henne and his limitations; the shotgun has been almost purged from the
gameday playbook and the Wildcat is seldom practiced in an effort to devote
more practice snaps to sharpening the passing game. The issues with the
interior of the offensive line have also been problematic. That doesn’t absolve
Henning from some strange playcalling at times, though it isn’t the reason the
offense isn’t scoring. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has proven to be an
upgrade over Paul Pasqualoni; his schemes are fun to watch and are very
effective. Alas, if only his defensive backs could finish game changing plays!
Bonamego’s departure was long overdue; will Darren Rizzi do better?