Well, it's that point of the season. Over a third of the schedule has been played. We've seen a lot of tape on this team, and the phrase "it's still early in the season" will no longer hold true. After a 3-0 start and excitement beginning to build around the Dolphins, three straight losses have stopped excitement in its tracks and deflated the fanbase. Not only have the Dolphins lost three straight, but they've done so by putting up sloppy and unimpressive performances that managed to lose to sloppy and unimpressive opponents. I don't question the talent of the coaching staff or roster of the Ravens or Bills, but they both played poorly against the Dolphins, but still managed to outplay Miami. None of the Dolphins' three losses have come at the end of a duel in which Miami played well but was stunned at the buzzer or came up short with valiant effort. The team is, quite simply, not playing well.
For the first time, I believe that serious questions should be raised about the capability of this coaching staff. It's not the win-loss record that calls for it, and it's not even the fact that we dropped three straight games. It's how the team has looked all season long.
The Dolphins clearly have talent all over the field. A pass-catching corps of Wallace-Hartline-Gibson-Clay would be devastating used if used in some other offenses around the league. A defensive front-seven consisting of Cameron Wake, Paul Soliai, Randy Starks, and Jared Odrick should be a relentless, unstoppable beast. Yet, these units here in Miami show all the talent and ability in the world, yet have been consistently prone to things like dropped passes, missed tackles, and turnovers. Why don't these units look sharp, crisp, well-oiled, and hungry?
Much of the blame for the team's recent failures has fallen on the offensive line, and rightfully so. The play has ranged from respectable to downright atrocious. The play of Tyson Clabo, in particular, has caused the name "Marc Colombo" to start appearing in comments around here, and that is truly a sad state of affairs. But again, what's going on here? Why is the line playing so poorly? Martin, Incognito, and Pouncey have all shown themselves to be more-than-capable linemen at times, but why are they suddenly anything but? Why is Clabo, who, consistently, for 5+ years in Atlanta, played as a good-to-excellent right tackle, suddenly in danger of being benched?
Obviously, the players have to all take responsibility for their play and own up to their mistakes.
However, it is the coaching staff's job to create a cohesive unit from these talented individuals and place them in systems where they feel comfortable and can operate to the best of their abilities. I believe that this coaching staff, Mike Sherman in particular, is showing signs of inflexibility, and could possibly be handcuffing this team. This zone-blocking system that Sherman has installed is just not working. It has been a disaster against the run and pass, and the most ardent apologists of the offense can't deny that the players have not been playing up to their abilities. Are the players at fault? Absolutely. But I believe that Sherman has earned the flak he is taking. I think our line would be playing better in a different blocking scheme, and the reason that I think so is because every single member of the offensive line has played worse in this system than they did in the previous one they played in. These guys all looked better before zone blocking came along, and while you can blame them for playing badly, how can you not question the decision to install the scheme? This whole offense is reminding me of the days of Dan Henning.
What Sherman seems to do, as others on the site have pointed out, is run "his" offense and call "his" plays, sometimes in complete defiance of convention, down and distance, clock management, or the complexion of the defense he is facing. We put our players on the same sides of the field and let the defense (or offense, since we do the exact same thing on defense) dictate matchups as they please, for crying out loud! This reeks of a coach who is forcing players into "his" system, all the while disregarding the natural strengths and weaknesses of individual players. When we finally call a screen pass, we do it into press coverage. When we need a half yard on third down, we run a stretch play. We leave Miller in pass protection in key situations and we throw to Thomas in space to try to hit a big play. We leave our worst offensive linemen one-on-one with the defense's best player with the game hanging in the balance, and we drop back to pass.
Meanwhile, on defense, Coyle runs the same A-gap blitzes all game long. He leaves his corners on the same side of the field, allowing the offense to create mismatches. He leaves Jimmy Wilson in man coverage against players like Jimmy Graham. He gets teams into 3rd and a mile and manages to let them convert with standard 3rd-and-long plays like bubble screens. I like Coyle much better than Sherman, and believe he can implement a good defense in Miami. I particularly like that he does not seem to play "prevent" defense, and instead attacks opponents in situations where most D-coordinators would play soft. The defense has been ravaged by injury at times, so hopefully we'll see what he can put together with some better corner play to go with his front-7.
In summary, I believe Mike Sherman must do a better job of tailoring our approach to better suit our own players' talents as well as exploit the weaknesses of each individual unit we face. This coaching staff is in a critical stretch of the season, and adjusting their approach in response to criticism and failure is a must if we are going to remain competitive this season. The division hasn't looked this winnable in years from an outside perspective, with New England looking vulnerable for the first time in what feels like an eternity under Brady, Buffalo in a rebuild (though a promising one), and the Jets, though talented, still capable of laying an egg at any moment.
We can win this thing, but we're going to need to do better than this.