In light of allllllll the negativity surrounding this team lately (some understandable, I get it), I think it important to restore some semblance of optimism and sanity about the upcoming season. Whilst we’ve all passed judgement on the 'questionable' roster moves, we really aren’t in as bad a predicament as many people seem to be making out this year. Here’s why;
1) West Coast Offense? – Our WR corps has been the subject of much debate, and rightly so to some extent. However, Sherman has said we will run the ball much more than typical WCO's dictate. This will likely save Tannehill throwing 25-30+ times and keeping the focus on a pretty solid running game. For me, the O-line is crucial. With a healthy Long at LT, Pouncey & Incognito looking good, if Martin picks up RT quickly (surely an upgrade over Colombo anyhow) and SOMEONE can do a solid job at RG (I have some faith Jerry will get there eventually) we might just actually maybe potentially be quite strong here! At least the starters might...
In the only MEANINGFUL pre-season action vs ATL in the first half (where 1s played 1s for a decent length of time) we looked pretty impressive running the ball against a very good Atlanta team! Get the rock in the hands of Bush & Thomas often, keep drives alive with Bess, Fasano & Lane (short yardage) with the deep threats of Hartline & Armstrong for some 'chunk' yards, don’t ask too much of RT17 and we should be able to put up somewhere around the 20.6 ppg we averaged from 2011, even without a true no.1 WR. Losing Marshall hurts of course, but allows others the chance to step up! Im looking for a career year from Bess, big strides forward by Clay- particularly as a redzone target, and our RB’s/OL to stay relatively healthy and this is VERY achievable.
2) Insurance at QB – In David Garrard (should he be kept, I think yes over Moore right now) we have an excellent backup option. Let’s not forget, when healthy earlier in camp (reports indicate he’s not far off again now) he was QB1, looked sharp and picked up the playbook quickly. He should be ready to step in IF needed (maybe Tannehill struggles badly or god forbid gets hurt like Henne/Pennington have early in recent seasons...damn Chargers!) Regardless, he’s an excellent mentor for Tannehill with years of starting experience in the league, and could provide invaluable locker room influence off the field as well.
3) Defense – Top 6 last year in scoring D, although losing Mike Nolan as DC will probably cost us a repeat performance. It will take some time to transition back to 4-3 BUT the majority of the solid 2011 unit return. Talent is more important than scheme on Defense, and YES we do actually have some. D-line strength is well known (Starks, Wake, Solai etc.) and our two starting LB’s (Dansby/Burnett) will be back having been out much of training camp. In the secondary, CB Sean Smith and FS Reshad Jones are said to be much improved and although (obviously) the Davis trade hurts our DB depth, the defensive unit as a whole should keep us in most games as we don’t face too many elite QBs on the….
4) SCHEDULE!! – Seriously, have people studied this properly?! Outside of Brady and the Patsies we don’t face an elite QB! Te-chez/Sanch-bow, Fitzpatrick, Palmer, Skelton, Wilson, Luck, Locker, Smith, Gabbert to name a few! Doesn’t exactly strike fear into the heart of a Defense (even with our DBs)! If we can get enough out of the running game, Tannehill doesn’t LOSE us games and the Defense holds up then we shouldn’t have to put up too many points in a lot of these matchups.
Let’s take a closer look…The Jets - look plain awful, surely the worst offense in the league! The Bills - better on D sure (improved pass rush, no question), but with Fitzy still throwing the ball I like our chances! We beat them by running the ball last year, and should do the same again. A pretty reasonable chance to go 3-1 against these two division foes I‘d say. We've got good chances on the road too against Arizona & Indy PLUS we get Oakland, St Louis, Seattle, Tennessee & Jacksonville all at home. ALL very winnable. Sure we’ll be hard pressed to beat Houston, San Fran and New England (as much as it pains me to admit) but we should be ‘well in’ the other 12 games at the very least. This isn't exactly the cream of the crop in the NFL, and hey EVEN New England skated through the regular season and into the playoffs without beating a winning team last year! It can be done. Finally…
5) Expectation - Or lack of it. No one is really giving us much of a chance, if any chance at all this year (shock-horror).The media once again have written this off as a lost season in Miami. Dolphins jokes are plentiful and almost a little cliché now. But this can be a good thing! It takes a lot of the pressure off us which I think aids Tannehill and his development. This also could give the Phins a little (or massive) chip on their shoulders, an 'us against the world' mentality which we've seen other teams use to their advantage in recent times (the Giants spring to mind!). Unlike last year, there will be no pressure to play for the coach's job too (doesn't that whole Sparano thing seem like such a long time ago now?!) as Philbin should be given a long leash, although it should be noted the same might not be true for Mr Ireland.
To sum up; No we’re not Superbowl bound (duh). We’re not a perfect team, nor are we an elite team. BUT that doesn’t mean we are a BAD team!! With all the ‘Dolphin bashing’ going on we should remember that these Miami Dolphins have much more up-side than most give them credit for. They are still very competitive (we played both Superbowl teams very close last year), have GOOD talent at important positions (OL, RB, DE to name a few) and have a solid, maturing young core of players to build with.
The schedule is key here too in 2012. Avoiding the elite QB’s is a stroke of luck (pun very much intended, he could get there very soon...but not this year) and should give our young 'unproven' secondary a chance to develop without getting picked apart every single week! Hopefully the light goes on early, allowing a smoother transition to the new offensive and defensive schemes (again this COULD take some time) but I honestly believe we really could see anywhere between 6-10 wins this year depending on how quickly this adjustment happens! Is it totally unfeasible/COMPLETELY out of the question that we MIGHT be able to beat the Jets, Bills, Cardinals, Raiders, Rams, Colts, Titans, Seahawks and Jags this year?! Absolutely not!
Worst case scenario....it could might maybe possibly not quite go to plan, and yes we MIGHT end up losing a few more games than I've anticipated this year. But even if that does happen (which I dont think it will), Tannehill will have had a year of starting, we'll have a BUNCH of cap space to work with in the off season and we're set up nicely for the draft where FOR ONCE we'll have some ammunition to make some real moves should we so chose!
However, I think we WILL surprise a few people this season. Moaners will moan, doubters will doubt and naysayers will say nay a lot, but look at the teams we play and tell me it’s not out of the realm of possibility we can have a good year?!
Learning to win close games will again be crucial as we won’t be blowing too many teams out, but contrarily I can't see us getting blown out much either (at least in those 12 ‘winnable’ games). Key to this will be Tannehill and his development, maturity and ability to manage tight games by putting us in positions to win. If he can do that and the rest falls into place, well....we might just be in for a little pleasant surprise in 2012.
To steal an old English ‘soccer’ phrase; "It’s a funny old game!"