The Miami Dolphins host the Dallas Cowboys tomorrow in the all-important third game of the NFL Preseason schedule. As the Dolphins prepare for their first home game of the year, and continue their preparation to face the New England Patriots in Week 1of the regular season, we turn back to our preview of the season with Scott Kacsmar from Football Outsiders.
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 the rest of Kacsmar's thoughts on the 2014 Dolphins:
The Phinsider (TP): The Dolphins seem to have the problem of too many players needing playing time at the defensive end position. Obviously, the suspension to Dion Jordan cleans that problem up for the first four weeks of the year, but it does not provide the long term answer to exactly how to work Pro Bowler Cameron Wake, Olivier Vernon, who had 11.5 sacks last year, and Jordan into the game. Based on your analysis, what do you think the Dolphins solve the problem, and are there enough defensive snaps for all three players to succeed? What's the best role for Jordan in the long run?
Football Outsiders (Scott Kacsmar - FO): Wake is the obvious star of the bunch, so he has to be on the field as much as possible. The real battle is between Vernon and Jordan. These things tend to sort themselves out. One scenario would be that Vernon continues his pass-rushing success and makes Jordan expendable (and a bust). Another is Jordan gets his act together, Vernon fails to repeat his success and Jordan becomes the player Miami envisioned when it took him third overall. In an ideal world, both players play well and the Dolphins have either a trade commodity or their long-term pass-rushing duo given Wake is 32 years old.
Last year the Dolphins used this trio at the same time on 114 plays. With Jordan's versatility, I see no reason why he can't play snaps at outside linebacker upon return from suspension. Miami can stay in a 4-3 front with Wake and Vernon on the edges while putting the athletic Jordan outside for blitzing and coverage. Maybe that takes away playing time from Wheeler and Ellerbe, but no one's going to complain if it's working. Jordan first has to discover his niche, because so far he's been very disappointing. A strong start from his teammates while he's suspended could make for another difficult season.
TP: The biggest question for the Dolphins is Ryan Tannehill's development. Through your analysis, does Tannehill have what it takes to develop into a top 10 quarterback, able to lead his team to the playoffs? Can you break down his strengths and weaknesses?
FO: Well he was one win away from the playoffs last year, but I don't think anyone expected that miserable finish in the last two weeks. It's hard in the AFC when you can pretty much guarantee two playoff spots to the Broncos and Patriots, which already means Miami is looking at a Wild Card. When I watch Tannehill in some of his very best games (2013 Patriots and Colts, 2012 Seahawks), I don't really see a top 10 quarterback, but he can definitely grow to be above average and keep Miami competitive on an annual basis.
Strengths: arm strength to make every throw. He has underrated mobility, which I would like to see more of this year with rollouts and zone-read looks. He took command of the offense in year one, operating a lot of no-huddle for a rookie.
Weaknesses: very inconsistent accuracy. I have done catch radius studies on his receivers and he tends to be too high with the ball. He also loses out on yards after catch with some of his inadequate ball placement. Mike Wallace's strength is the deep ball and while Tannehill has the arm strength, he lacked the touch to hit those throws to Wallace last year. Most of the sacks were on the offensive line, but he can stand to get rid of the ball faster.
Miami's doing right by adding receivers and protection around him, but we're going to need to see more progression in year three before we start moving Tannehill up the rankings.
Once again, a big thank you to Kacsmar for taking the time to give us a look a closer look at the Dolphins.