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Dolphins' Dubious Schemes Threaten Postseason Dreams

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Miami Dolphins v New York Jets Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Here we go again; after two games this season, the Miami Dolphins look arguably worse, in going 1-1 than they did in going 0-2 out of the gate last year. Indeed, only a missed field goal at the end of the Chargers game prevented the Dolphins from being winless going into their London contest against New Orleans.

The trials, tribulations and frequent flier miles this team has endured have been well documented. While most us who don't reside in the Southern U.S. have only had to put up with a one-week delay to start the season, along with a bevy of bad Geico commercials, Miami has had to spend more than their share of nights in hotels away from home and a routine that, at least thus far has apparently not allowed them to collectively find their stride. And that's the good news. The bad news is that at least two components of this team -- the offensive line and cornerback units -- are not even remotely close to performing at an NFL caliber level.

To wit, after two weeks of play corners Xavien Howard and Byron Maxwell are ranked 91st and 97th, respectively, out of 108 cornerbacks corners Xavien Howard and Byron Maxwell are ranked 91st and 97th, respectively, out of 108 cornerbacks league-wide by Pro Football Focus. Ouch. I'd hate to see the teams that had to field the ten guys who are ranked below them. Having to play Phillip Rivers, you can understand, but . . . Josh McCown? Really? You mean to tell me that a guy who was 2-12 in his previous fourteen games, quarterbacking a team whose starting wide receivers are named Robbie Anderson, Jermaine Kearse, and Jeremy Kerley, was able to post a 126.3 quarterback rating against the Dolphins last Sunday? Age and the breakdown of craft tend to manifest itself in different ways for different players. For Maxwell, it has come in the form of increased penalties, nearly a hundred yards in thirteen games, last season alone.

The offensive line hasn't been much better; vaunted LT Laremy Tunsil is currently ranked as the 47th best offensive tackle in the league. That ain't good, folks. We had better hold off on having him fitted for that gold jacket. The line's play, as a whole, was downright putrid last week. The Dolphins couldn't get any closer to the end zone than the Jets' 48-yard line until the fourth quarter, and after two games, Miami is 30th in the league in points per game and 32nd -- dead last -- in yards per play. The one bright spot on the offensive line has been right tackle Ju'Wuan James. According to Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, James has been the highest rated player on the Fins' entire offense thus far this season by PFF.

Alright, so maybe these guys aren't as good as we thought, or as talented as their press clippings would have had us believe. But the coaches aren't doing a whole lot to help them out, either. I've said it before and I'll say it some more: that so-called zone blocking scheme has to be one of the single most overrated and underproductive offensive schemes in all of professional sports. When college teams seldom even run it, you know it's a flawed system. It's a mostly smoke-and-mirrors philosophy that is predicated on the linemen blocking an area, rather than just simply neutralizing the guys lined up across from them. Vince Lombardi would roll over in his grave today if he could see the travesty that some teams are committing in the name of blocking. By my count, over the past twenty years or so, only two teams, the 1997-98 Denver Broncos and the Houston Texans of the early to mid-2000's, have had above average success running this scheme with any degree of consistency. Yet, teams still try to implement it, with mostly underwhelming results. At the end of the day, it's a lot like the 3-4 defense: a fundamentally unsound system that every once in a while someone gets right, to great fanfare. The rest of the time, it's a ticket to mediocrity, or worse. When you're going up against some of the toughest, most talented defensive fronts in all of football right in your own division, you literally couldn't pick a worse offensive scheme to run than the B.S. ZBS, other than maybe the 'Winged T' from the 1950's and 60's. What was the point of drafting a guy like 6'3", 335 lb Isaac Asiata if the team is going to place a premium on linemen who can dart and sting? When the team went away from finesse type blocking, back to a more power based approach last season, the team nearly ran the table down the stretch and made the playoffs. I don't know exactly how much of this stuff the team is running, but whatever the percentage is, it needs to come down.

Unfortunately, 'Zone-itis' isn't just limited to the offensive side of the ball. Remember two offseasons ago, and this past year, when, over and over again, the Dolphins kept telling us about how they wanted to get bigger at corner, so they could play more bump and run coverage? They brought in the aforementioned 6'1", 203 lb Maxwell and drafted the 6'0", 200 lb Howard. So what happened? Do they not trust these guys to execute the defense they were brought here to play, or has new defensive coordinator Matt Burke decided that he's going to play it safer than former DC Vance Joseph? The NFL may be in what's practically a flag football era nowadays, but defensive backs are still allowed to bump receivers within five yards of the line of scrimmage. This team needs to quit playing not to lose and start hitting. As it is with the offense, Miami seems to have a knack for employing the very worst type of scheme, relative to the other teams in their division. Do you want to beat New England? Big, physical defensive backs give the Patriots' smallish receivers fits when they play tight, man to man coverage. Playing a soft zone all but assures that Tom Brady will nickel and dime you right down the field every time he has the ball in his hands. For the kind of money these coaches get paid, I expect better. Let's get it turned around, Dolphins.