Miami Dolphins or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Fins

MIAMI - DECEMBER 26: (L-R) Quarterback Chad Henne #7 coach Tony Sparano and running back Ricky Williams #34. This is probably the last time you will see these three guys on the same team, but who stays and who will go?

Welp, that was... interesting.

I mean the season - the whole thing.  7 - 9, C'mon, say it with me S-E-V-E-N  A-N-D  N-I-N-E

Sounds like the name of a blond haired Borg hottie!  

But I digress....

So 7 wins and 9 losses.  Anyone remember that time when 1 and 15 felt pretty good?  Sure you do!  I was right after the Fins lost 13 in a row.  One Win, just ONE WIN... that's what all of us were praying for... just one win!

And yeah, it only felt good for about a day, until the endorphins wore off and we had to live with two more losses and a 1-15 record, but when Greg Camarillo caught that TD pass in overtime and took it 64 yards for the score, well, at that moment I was so happy I just about cried (okay, so maybe I did get a little misty... like you didn't?).

No, I am not going to try to make it out like 7 - 9 is a good thing.  It would have been a good thing in 2008.  It was barely tolerable, with some creative excuses, last season.  It sucks this year!  But the fact is that the Fins were in most games this season, and had a shot down the stretch, so while we DO have a right - as fans - to be disappointed with the ending, we don't have a team that is starting all over again from scratch next year.  Regardless of what happens with the coaching staff changes! 

Believe it or not, there were some good things that happened this season for the Miami Dolphins.

Let's recap the progress and then talk about some of the potential fixes for the issues that the Fins struggled with this season.

First off, hats off to Cameron Wake!

A lot of people were definitely holding their collective breath wondering how the guy would be able to handle the conversion from a pass rushing specialist to a full time contributor.  Many concerns centered around his coverage skills, his ability to play the run, and whether or not he would be able to stand up to a full season as a starter without wearing down.  I am not going to address each of these question marks individually... let me just answer them all with two words - Pro Bowl!

But it isn't just his performance that makes him valuable.  It is also his attitude.  When asked about his statistics, in being close to the sack title a couple of games before the end of the season, this is all Wake had to say:

"I don’t really concentrate on my stats," Wake said when asked how important it would be to him to lead the league. "I didn’t even know my numbers until (Crowder) told me. I didn’t know how many tackles I had, who was behind me, in front of me. I just try to go out there and win."

Great player; Good attitude; Nice find for the Fins to pick up as a Free Agent out of Canada.

Second, we gotta talk about Paul Soliai I mean, what in the WORLD got into this kid?  He came out and played this season like his hair was on fire!  He went from being "ho-hum" career backup guy, to man-handling double teams and STILL getting pressure on the opposing quarterbacks!  I mean, the guy had 39 TOTAL tackles - 33 Solo!  To go along with 2 sacks and 2 passes defensed!

Of some of the top true Nose Tackles in the league; Casey Hampton on the Pittsburgh Steelers only had 20 Total tackles, 10 Solo, with 1 sack; Gregg Kelly of the Baltimore Ravens had 38 Total, 21 Solo, and 0 sacks; and the Dallas Cowboys' Jay Ratliff with 31 Total, 23 Solo, 3.5 Sacks, and 2 PD.

I am not trying to say that our own little, cuddly, Samoan in the middle is a Pro Bowler.  He obviously is not, this season.  But when the Fins started out this offseason, they really had no answer at NT... as a matter of fact, many folks were wondering if they would even be able to play a 3-4 alignment.  We all heard the story of moving Randy Starks to Nose, and that probably would have been serviceable, but it would have left a hole at Defensive End that Ireland and company were hoping they would be able to fill using Philip Merling and rookie first round pick, Jared Odrick - at least until the return of NT Jason Ferguson, scheduled to come back after an 8 game suspension.  Well, Merling and Odrick got injured, and Ferguson retired.  What a disaster THAT could have been for our D-Line if Soliai had not stepped up in a BIG - 355 Lb. - WAY!  Kudos to Paul Soliai!  Keep it up man!

Some other unexpected bonuses on Defense: Reshad Jones coming on in the last 3rd of the season; Nolan Carroll looking like he might develop into a very good Kick Return man, and a fine CB; Koa Misi playing better through the season and looking more like a solid veteran than a rookie by the end of the season.

The truth is that the entire D was a pleasant surprise, and this was in no small part due to Mr. Mike Nolan.  How lucky were we to get THAT guy?  As long as Nolan remains on the team, as either Defensive Coordinator or Head Coach as some have speculated, and even without a single draft pick allocated to the Defensive side of the ball this offseason, I see the Defense being even better next year.

Now, on the Offensive side of the ball, there are not as many positives, but that doesn't mean there are none!

Richie Incognito!  I love this guy!  I like the fact that he was a nasty player before, but I (along with many other people) was very sceptical of his promises to keep it together this year and not become a liability.  Thank goodness we signed him!  Other than perennial Iron Man, Jake Long, Richie was about the only bright spots on an otherwise mediocre Offensive line.  And the fact that they finally moved him to Center and we saw an IMMEDIATE improvement in the run game, well that is icing on the cake.  The two most important, and difficult, positions to fill on the O-line are Center and Left Tackle.  If the Dolphins get busy and sign Incognito to an extension and keep him at Center, the O-line would be in very good shape to start building on, going into the offseason. 

 

So what about the problems?  The things that held the Fins back this season?  Well, there are certainly a number of positions that lack talent, but the biggest, most obvious need is at Quarterback.  While Chad Henne might still have some upside, the Quarterback play - or lack thereof - was probably the single position in which modest improvement would have resulted in additional wins.  But the problems with Quarterback were only a part of the story - the entire Offense had problems finding any sort of rhythmand moving the ball.  Part of the problem was the O-line, but a bigger part of the problem was the Offensive strategy and philosophy.

When the Fins occasionally were able to move the ball, and get a lead, the philosophy of the coaches was to quit taking chances, try to run the ball and protect the lead.  That worked when the team had a dominant O-line over the past couple of seasons, but clearly was a mistake to try to do this season when the line was already struggling to open running lanes for Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams As many Dolphins opponents stated after being the Fins, "We knew what they were going to do".  The Fins Offense was predictable.  If an O-line can't open running lanes with the opposing D isn't sure about the play calls, what chance are they going to have when the D KNOWS they are going to try to run it?

So the solution is to change the Offense, and that usually means change the Offensive Coordinator - specifically Dan Henning.  Well, it appears that this will happen regardless of any management decisions, because the word is that Mr. Henning is going to gracefully step down and retire.  But, is that enough?  Many people question the ability of the Head Coach, Tony Sparano, to lead this team to the playoffs.  And with good reason!  If the team was struggling all season with a poor offensive strategy and philosophy, you have to ask the question "Why didn't the Head Coach step in and do something about it when there was time to save the season?".  And the recent remarks by top Dolphins players like Brandon Marshall and Ricky Williams certainly call into question the level of confidence the players still have in Sparano.

Here's my take:  Tony Sparano failed.  But to some degree, he was asked to "cook the dinner" but did not get to "shop for his ingredients", in the words of his mentor Bill Parcells.  I don't excuse Tony for wimping out and not trying to fix the problem (cough cough dan henning cough) during the season, but the fact is that Parcells installed Henning alongside Sparano and I truthfully think that Tony was very hesitant to come right out and step on Henning's toes.  My point is only that, while the Miami Dolphins are still considering a replacement for Tony Sparano, I don't think next year is already doomed if they keep him.  We will likely find out by Thursday or Friday this week, but a strong Offensive Coordinator could do for the Offense what Mike Nolan did for the Defense.  Remember, we had the same issue on that side of the ball with Paul Pasqualoni, but after he so obviously failed there was no option but to replace him and Sparano didn't look like the bad guy in doing it.

While I would like to see a more aggressive Head Coach, I am almost convinced that an aggressive O-Coord would solve the problem as well, as long as Sparano let's him do his job and does not dictate a conservative game plan. 

But even with a better Offensive strategy, I don't think the Dolphins have an answer at Quarterback.  They have a few "maybes".  "Maybe" Henne will play better in a different system.  "Maybe" Tyler Thigpen can develop further.  And "Maybe" they can find a replacement in the offseason or this next draft.  One thing is for sure, until the right guy is found and settled into the position, the team's playoff (and eventually Super Bowl) hopes will continue to be in a holding pattern.

But cheer up Fin Fans!  None of us really expected to get Brandon Marshall last season!  (don't lie... you HOPED, but you didn't really think it would happen).  Maybe we will get Kyle Orton to throw him the ball THIS offseason!  Maybe the Carolina Panthers will trade for Kevin Kolb and decide not to draft a Quarterback, and we can trade up to a reasonable spot and grab Andrew Luck in the draft!  Maybe NOTHING will change but the Offensive Coordinator and we will put together a scary O-line and draft a crazy good Running Back that will make ANY Quarterback look good next year!

For now, I am just going to relax and enjoy the fact that our Defense finally seems solid, and looks to be even better next year, and wait and see what happens to get the Offense straightened out in the offseason.

But I'm not going to worry about it right now.  I am happy knowing that, as painful as it was to watch, we actually DID get better this year.  And I am content at the moment knowing that changes are coming that should make the Dolphins even better next year....

GO FINS!!!

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