The Miami Dolphins finished 2010 with 19 takeways. That ranked the Dolphins 29th in the league, with just the Houston Texans, Denver Broncos, and Jacksonville Jaguars finishing with fewer (all tied at 18). It wasn't a problem of getting their hands on the ball - Miami finished the year with the 9th highest passes defensed - but an issue with hanging on to the ball (Dolphins had 11 interceptions, 28th in the NFL).
Saturday against the Dolphins demonstrated they have not improved on that problem. Miami Dolphins safety Yeremiah Bell dropped an interception early in the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Vontae Davis had another opportunity later in the game, and whiffed as well. While either of these opportunities would never have been declared "routine" plays, the top tier teams make these plays.
The defending AFC East Champion New England Patriots had 38 takeaways last season, leading the NFL. The New York Jets, who have made it to the AFC Championship game each of the last two season, weren't far behind, racking up 30 takeaways of their own.
So far, this preseason, Miami has three takeaways - all three coming in their first game against the Atlanta Falcons. The Patriots are tied with the Dolphins at three, while the Jets have 4, in one less game.
Earlier this month, Head Coach Tony Sparano was asked what cornerback Sean Smith needs to do to move to the next level of corners. He replied:
"He's got to, and I'm not being critical here, but he's got to catch the ball. I think that's gonna get him to the next level. At that position, at the end of the year, when I get the ballots for the Pro Bowl, I don't look at guys and say, 'Man, he really covered that guy well.' I look at the statistics, and I think all the players look at the statistics, and they say, well, that guy has nine interceptions, or that guy has eight interceptions."
Well, the Dolphins had 11 interceptions last year; New York had 12; New England had 25. If those statistics don't change, I guess we all know which team will be the top of the class...again.