As I'm typing I'm trying to figure out the best word to describe the Miami Dolphins season. Hope? Promise? Failure? Clearly 7-9 isn't good enough. The coaches know that, the players know it, Jeff Ireland knows it and Stephen Ross especially knows it after spending $1 billion in acquiring the team. But how can the team get better? We have some solid pieces in place. Guys like Cameron Wake, Reggie Bush and Reshad Jones are clearly very good players. We have the backbone of a very good team. However, we clearly aren't doing something right. How can we win in the NFL?
Ability to create turnovers
Cornerback Nolan Carroll has said that the defense's failure to force turnovers was just the, "bounce of the ball". Yeah right, Nolan. We are not just plain unlucky. I believe you make your own luck, and this is clearly an area we need to improve on dramatically in the offseason so that we can compete next year.
Philbin has been quoted recently stating that the number one criteria for winning games in the NFL is by holding onto the ball and taking the ball away. He believes our cornerbacks need to improve their ball-hawking tackling technique and have better instincts. If you choose the ball, you better get a hand on it. If you choose the tackle, you better bring him down or the opposition will score a touchdown. We haven't been doing enough of that.
In fact, Miami has just 16 turnovers, including 10 interceptions. That's 4th fewest in the NFL. Our measly return of just 6 fumble recoveries is 6th fewest in the NFL. On the other hand, the Dolphins committed 26 turnovers, including 13 interceptions by rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill. So lets look at this. Reshad Jones has 4 interceptions, Sean Smith has 2 interceptions, Chris Clemons has 2 interceptions and Richard Marshall and Randy Starks each have 1 interception. Those are terrible stats. Jeff Ireland better show those stats to Sean Smith before we offer him a contract.
The Dolphins had 22 pass plays of 25 yards or more, while allowing the opposition to score 24 pass plays against them. Out of interest, Brandon Marshall had 118 catches for 11 touchdowns, 2 less than Miami's total number of touchdown receptions. Just wow. This offense also averaged 18 points a game. That's 6th fewest in the league with every team below them also not making the playoffs.
So what's the remedy to this situation? We need explosive players. And, crucially, we need guys who can make yards after the catch. I believe this is key for our team. As we all know, Philbin and Sherman run the West Coast Offense. Sure, we throw the ball deep from time to time, but our bread and butter are the short passes which the receiver can then turn into large gains.
Lets look at this a bit more closely. Who are the league leaders in YAC? Welker has 719, Sproles 674, Harvin 551, Calvin Johnson 534. Not bad. Now what about the Dolphins? Surely we have a receiver that can make yards after the catch. The answer is no. Not one Dolphins player is in the top 20. Our best YAC receiver is Bess with 270; that's 70th in the NFL. Next up is Hartline with 255, coming in at 82nd in the NFL. Fasano has 97. That's 195th in the NFL. Again, those stats are terrible. I also find it interesting that many are advocating bringing in Mike Wallace and Dwayne Bowe to Miami. I believe this would be a mistake. Part of this is down to the YAC. Mike Wallace had 278 yards and Dwayne Bowe had 256 yards. Please don't bring these guys into town, Jeff Ireland.
Finally, we have the pass rush. Lets look at the top pass rushers. J.J. Watt had 20.5 sacks, Von Miller came in at 18.5 sacks, Aldon Smith had 19.5 sacks and Clay Matthews notched in for 15 sacks. Those guys all play for top teams. You need a good pass rush to win in the NFL. That's not to say the Dolphins don't have a good pass rush. We do. Let me list our sack count:
Cameron Wake - 15
Jared Odrick - 5
Starks - 4.5
Vernon - 3.5
Misi - 3.5
Burnett - 2.5
Wilson - 2
Solai - 1.5
Dansby - 1
Carroll - 1
McCann - 1
McDaniel - 0.5
Those statistics aren't actually that bad. But what if Wake, heaven forbid, goes down with an injury next season? Who will step up? We know Odrick is more of an inside kind of guy. Vernon I've been impressed with. 3.5 sacks for a 3rd round pick is a decent return. And Misi, he's primarily a run stopper, so 3.5 sacks is decent from him too. Probably most disappointing is Shelby. He's meant to be a Defensive End, but he didn't manage any sacks. Maybe he'll develop, maybe not. Regardless of this, I think it's clear we need another pass rusher. All the top teams have 3-4 guys that can rush the passer. I believe we need one more.
So there you have it. Although it may seem rather simplistic, this is how you win in the NFL. This should be the blueprint that Jeff Ireland has in his hand when he goes out looking for players this offseason. But what do you guys think? Think there's something I'm missing? Do you disagree? Who do you feel best fits with what I've described on our roster, FA and the draft? Out of the three key ways to win, which do you think is the most important? I'd love to hear your thoughts.