Who here remembers the Miami Dolphins of 1972? I don’t. I was born in 1971. But I grew up on the legends of Larry Czonka, Jim Kiick, Mercury Morris, Paul Warfield, The No-Name Defense, Earl Morrall, Bob Griese, and even Garo Yepremian. This was my father’s team. The undefeated Miami Dolphins, still the last undefeated Super Bowl Winning team, is the stuff of legends. All Miami fans, even if you didn’t see that team, knows that team.
Who here remembers the Miami Dolphins of 1982? I do remember this team. I remember David Woodley, Don Strock, Andra Franklin, Tony Nathan, Jimmy Cefalo, Nat Moore, Fulton Walker, Uwe von Schamann, A.J. Duhe (my favorite player) and the Killer B’s Defense (Glenn Blackwood, Lyle Blackwood, Kim Bokamper, Doug Betters, Bob Brudzinski, Bob Baumhower). I remember the AFC Championship Game dominated by A.J. Duhe against the Jets and the Super Bowl loss to the Redskins (damn you John Riggins!!).
OK, I get it, the ’72 Dolphins was 45 years ago. The ’82 Dolphins was 35 years ago. The majority of you on this site were probably not born for either of those teams. So how about the 2000 Dolphins? Do you all remember them? If not, go back to studying and worrying who you are taking to prom. Your youth and the fact that your whole life is ahead of you disgust me!!
Just kidding. The 2000 Dolphins are the last Dolphins team to win a playoff game. These are the Jay Fiedler, Lamar Smith, O.J. McDuffie, Oronde Gadsden, Jason Taylor, Zach Thomas, Patrick Surtain, Sam Madison, Trace Armstrong, Darryl Gardner, Tim Bowens Miami Dolphins. If you would have told me in 2000 that I should enjoy this team because Miami wouldn’t win another playoff game for 15+ years, I wouldn’t have believed you.
So why are we taking this trip down memory lane? Because the draft is coming up in little over 1 week and sometimes the shape of the past can inform the future. So why those 3 teams in history? I choose them because they all 3 had a lot in common, namely, all 3 teams ran the ball more than they passed and they played great defense. This is the formula that the 2017 team should follow and with this upcoming draft, they have an opportunity build that foundation.
If we review the 2016 season, we see a tale of 2 seasons inside one. There are the 1st 5 games of the season in which Miami was 1-4 (lucky not to be 0-5 except for poor FG kicking by Cleveland). In all 5 of those games, Miami threw the ball more than they ran. For those 1st 5 games, Miami was a +55 passes to run. Needless to say, the offense was horrible in those 5 games. That’s the 1st part of the 2016 season.
The 2nd part of the season are the last 11 games. Miami was 9-2 in those games. What changed, you may ask? What changed was Adam Gase completely changed the offense from pass first to run first. He also slowed down the game, running fewer plays and using all the play clock to allow his offense to stay on the field more and keeping his porous defense off the field. In 7 of those 11 games, Miami ran the ball more than passed. Their record in those 7 games was 7-0. Miami was a -38 pass to run ratio meaning they ran the ball 38 more times. In the 4 games they threw the ball more than they ran, their record was 2-2 beating the LA Rams and SF 49ers (their combined record for the year was 6-28). In those 4 games, Miami was a +54 pass to run ratio. For the year, they were 3-6 (the 3 wins against the Browns, Rams, and 49ers with a combined record of 7-41, 3 of the 5 worst teams in the league) when they passed more than run and in those 9 games they were +109 in pass attempts. That is a losing formula.
How effective was Gase in changing the offense for those last 11 games? For the year, Miami ran the fewest amount of plays on offense in the league. They averaged 57 plays / game. The next closest team, the LA Rams, averaged 60 plays / game. They were 31st in passing plays / game, with only the Bills having fewer pass attempts. Yet, despite running the least number of plays in the league AND throwing the ball fewer times than all but 1 team in the league, during those last 11 games Miami won the TOP 6 times and in most of those games, the other team ran more plays.
How should Miami improve upon those 11 games in ’16 for the ’17 season? In my opinion, Gase will try to build on what he found last year. To do that, Miami needs to run more plays, specifically more running plays. Even though Miami had an effective running game last year with Jay Ajayi, they were still only 18th in rushing attempts with 406. The Bills, the only team with fewer passing plays than Miami by 3 fewer passing plays, ran the ball 86 more times for 2nd in the league (Dallas was #1 in rushing attempts with 499, the Bills were 2nd with 492).
How do you run more plays on offense? Best way, in my opinion, is getting off the field on defense. And that’s where this 2017 draft comes in. It is loaded with defensive talent. Miami can transform their defense with a good 2017 draft. I’m especially high on the DB class in this draft. Coverage, stopping teams on 3rd down when the majority of 3rd down plays are passing plays, is one of the keys to getting off the field.
Another key to shutting down an offense on 3rd down is getting pressure on the QB. Luckily, this draft is also deep on the DL, especially DE. And what is the key to getting a team in 3rd and long to begin with so your DL can pressure the QB and your DB’s can provide coverage in an obvious passing situation? That’s stopping the run and again, this draft has some pretty good LBer prospects.
In the 1st 3 rounds of this draft, Miami could find 3 starters on defense. Those starters could be at any level of the defense. The goal is always to limit scoring, but it is also to get off the field to give the ball back to the offense. That’s what Miami could accomplish in this draft.
So what should Miami do with these extra possessions and more plays on offense? They should run the ball more. In 1972, The Miami Dolphins averaged almost 44 rushing attempts / game. That’s probably not realistic. In 1982, the Miami Dolphins averaged 37 rushing attempts / game. Again, that’s probably not realistic in today’s NFL. How about the 2000 Miami Dolphins? Well, they averaged 31 rushing attempts / game. That’s realistic. That’s what Dallas and Buffalo averaged in 2016.
What Miami needs is to be Top 5 in the league in rushing attempts. That’s approximately 30 rushes / game for 480 attempts on the year. Based on last year’s number, that means Miami needs about 5 more rushing attempts per game. That’s a realistic goal, especially considering that Ajayi only really played 11 games last year (he had 31 attempts the 1st 5 games of the year and 260 overall) and Gase has stated that he wants to get Drake more touches. So averaging 30 rushing attempts / game is something Miami could do. Especially if Miami can get Ryan Tannehill to run more. I’d like to see him with 60 rushes this year or 3-4 / game. These aren’t called rushing attempts but scrambles.
But even more than that, Miami’s RB’s need over 500 touches on the year between rushing attempts and receptions. How realistic is that number? Surprisingly, it’s very realistic. Quick, how many touches did NE’s Top 3 RB’s (LeGarrette Blount, James White, Dion Lewis) get last year? Combined they had 402 rushes and 84 catches. You might say that is a completely different offense than what Adam Gase runs. You are right. But in 2013 in Denver, Gase’s Top 3 RB’s had 416 rushing attempts and 92 catches. In 2015 in Chicago, Gase’s Top 3 RB’s had 409 rushing attempts and 69 catches. In Miami in 2016, the Top 4 RB’s (Jay Ajayi, Damien Williams, Kenyan Drake, Arian Foster) had 389 rushing attempts and 65 catches. There is another 50 touches at least needed from Miami’s RB’s.
Now, back to the draft and a HOLY CRAP moment on this site. If Miami’s formula for winning games is running the ball and playing good defense, it might make sense for Miami to invest in an OG early in the draft. OK, pick yourself off the floor. Close your mouth because your jaw dropped to your chest. Yes, you read this right, ct1361 just advocated possibly selecting an OG early in the draft. The same ct1361 that has said for years on this site that drafting OL early, especially in the 1st round is a wasted pick, is now suggesting that a 2nd round or 3rd round OG might be worth it.
That isn’t because I think they are all of a sudden more valuable, they are not. It’s because Miami’s formula for winning relies so heavily on the running game, that I could be convinced that an OG is needed. If Miami is going to win this way and this way only, needing to run the ball 500 times on the year, you better have a good OL. If you are going to run more than pass, you better have good OG’s.
Would I rather Miami draft defense? Absolutely. That is by far the biggest bang for the buck, so to speak. But I’ve softened my stance on drafting an OG. For this particular Miami offense with this personnel, it makes sense.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for April 27 and the first day of the draft. I’m hoping that Miami learns from the history of the franchise and how to win without a QB named Dan Marino. History shows that Miami wins by running the ball more than passing and by playing good defense. In today’s NFL, those 2 things can get you to the playoffs.
How to get to the playoffs and how to win in the playoffs, those are two different questions. Answering how to win in the playoffs will have to wait for a later date. That’s much harder to answer than how to get there.