The Miami Dolphins have spent the 2018 offseason looking to fix the issues the plague them throughout the 2017 season. After a 6-10 campaign, the Dolphins have targeted the gaps on their roster, particularly looking to add coverage on tight ends, a receiving tight end, improving the run defense, and adding protection on the offensive line. They subtracted some players - some highly talented players - to try to make the team better by subtraction. And, they head into the 2018 season with their starting quarterback returning.
And yet, none of those are the biggest item the team needs to fix in 2018. What is it that the coaches and players need to focus on this summer? What is it that discipline, repetition, and concentration will solve, immediately putting the Dolphins in a better situation week-to-week, and even player-to-play next season?
Miami had way too many penalties last year. They have to change that this year. Whether it is a false start, a pass interference, or an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, it all has to change.
The league average was 110 penalties per team last year, or 6.8 penalties per game, according to stats from NFLPenalties.com. There were 15 teams below that number, three hitting exactly on the 110 penalties mark, and 14 higher than the average. That works out to a standard deviation of 14 penalties, with 22 of the league’s 32 teams within one standard deviation of the average, 96 to 124.
The lowest team in the league in terms of penalties were the Carolina Panthers with just 85 penalties in 2017. The Dolphins, meanwhile, were nearly two full standard deviations above the average with 137 penalties. They had the second most flags in the league, trailing just the Seattle Seahawks at 148. Miami averaged 8.5 penalties a game.
In 2016, they were also second in the league with 131, trailing just the Oakland Raiders with 155, and just ahead of the Seahawks who had 130. In 2015, the Dolphins were fourth with 134 penalties (Buffalo and Tampa Bay tied for the most at 143, Oakland third at 138).
This is a relatively new situation for Miami, however. In 2014, the Dolphins were actually pretty low in the rankings, finishing the season with the third fewest penalties with just 81. In 2013, they had the fewest penalties in the league with 69. In 2012 and 2011, they had the fourth fewest penalties each season, with just 83 and 85, respectively. In 2010, they had the second fewest flags against them with 72, and in 2009 they had the third fewest with 78.
The Dolphins need to get back to that stretch of being among the teams with the fewest penalties. Giving away free yardage cannot be the norm, and in Miami, it has become exactly that. How many times last year did we watch the team pick up a first down only to have it come back from a hold or false start?
Miami should be improved this season with all of the player changes that they did throughout the offseason. As the offseason training program continues, leading into training camp and the preseason, fixing the penalty problem needs to be a priority for the team.