The Miami Dolphins face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers tomorrow in NFL Preseason Week 2. Even as they continue to prepare for the regular season, we look forward to when the games actually mean something by sitting down with Scott Kacsmar from Football Outsiders to get him to answer some questions about the Dolphins.
Football Outsiders annually produces an in depth look around the NFL and college with the Football Outsiders Almanac. If you are a football nut, you do not want to miss the Football Outsiders 2014 Almanac. You can get a PDF version of the book here, or you can order a hardcopy of it on Amazon.
Here are some thoughts from Kacsmar on the 2014 edition of the Dolphins:
The Phinsider (TP): Obviously, the massive swap of the offensive line will headline the preseason for the Dolphins. Now add in the injury to Mike Pouncey, and the four new offensive linemen become a completely new line for opening day. Can Miami expect to have any success with an offensive line of LT Branden Albert, LG Daryn Colledge, C Nate Garner, RG Dallas Thomas, and RT Ja'Wuan James? [Editor's Note: My conversation with Kacsmar was before Miami signed Samson Satele, who appears to be the starting center in Pouncey's absence. I don't believe Satele changes the question or answer, however.]
Football Outsiders (Scott Kacsmar - FO): The injury to Pouncey certainly changes the outlook for this group. Before that, they had their centerpiece ready to call out the protections and get everyone situated. Whether it's Nate Garner or Sam Brenner moving forward, at least the Dolphins will have a center with some experience in Miami. The fact that there's a new offensive coordinator (Bill Lazor) might actually be a good thing since everything can be taught to all of these guys at the same time. There will be growing pains, especially if two rookies (Turner and James) are in there for Week 1. Branden Albert will have to do what he's paid to do: be the best lineman on the team. If they can keep Ryan Tannehill's blindside protected, then I don't see how this line doesn't perform better than last year's mess. But a return to an above-average group may not be possible until 2015.
TP: Will moving Koa Misi to middle linebacker, Dannell Ellerbe on the strong-side, and Philip Wheeler on the weak side, succeed any better than last year, when Ellerbe was in the middle, Wheeler the Sam, and Misi the Will?
FO: Even though Misi has never played the middle, I think that's the right move. He's a solid tackler, but not a star on the outside. Ellerbe and Wheeler are the big-money guys, so keep them outside to make the splash plays expected of them. Ellerbe struggled with the run last year, so moving him to SLB should allow him to rush the passer, which he was solid at with Baltimore in 2012. Wheeler's registered 14 and 13.5 hurries the last two years, so he's probably tapped out his potential there. Ellerbe has defended the pass better the last two years, so my preference would be Wheeler as the linebacker who leaves the field in nickel packages.
TP: You mention in the Almanac that Brent Grimes "was very good last year, but the reality of his season does not match perception," further writing that your "charting figures suggest a pretty subpar year," for the Pro Bowler. Can you further break down exactly what you are seeing that the majority of the NFL and Dolphins fans aren't?
FO: There are a couple of ways to star at cornerback in the NFL. You can have the reputation as a shutdown corner that rarely gets tested. Darrelle Revis was only targeted 50 times according to our charting last year, which was the lowest percentage in the league. Richard Sherman was right up there at third with 65 targets. Grimes ranked 38th with 92 targets, so quarterbacks weren't afraid to throw at him.
Another way is to have a great performance when you are thrown at. Joe Haden ranked 15th in Adjusted Success Rate and seventh in Adjusted Yards per Pass. Alterraun Verner (2013 Pro Bowl selection) was a big prize in free agency and he ranked eighth in Adjusted Success Rate (61 percent). Grimes ranked 73rd in Adjusted Success Rate (47 percent) and 58th in Adjusted Yards per Pass. Grimes did a good job of keeping the receiver in front of him, but he does play zone. When he gave up a completion, it was usually a successful play for the opponent. Excluding screen passes, Grimes allowed 48 receptions and 45 of them were successful plays for the opponent (adjusted for down and distance). He also had two defensive pass interference penalties, which we account for. Grimes had his lowest success rate on third-down plays, which obviously have more value.
So we didn't see many signs of a Pro Bowl performance from Grimes in 2013. He didn't allow a touchdown pass and he had some high-profile interceptions (Indianapolis and Cincinnati games), but on a per-play basis, we've seen better from him before.
A big thank you to Kacsmar for taking the time to give us a look a closer look at the Dolphins. We will continue with part two of our conversation soon.