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Five Things I Think I Think About the Miami Dolphins - Week 18

fuddle (verb) -  to make confused MUDDLE

NFL: New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins Rhona Wise-USA TODAY Sports

It’s strange referencing Week 18 since, like fairies, ghosts, or life after love, I don’t believe in it.

I was so ready to write a nice, easy piece. It was going to be all unicorns and rainbows and hope for the future. Yet, we are the Dolphins and our burdens are great. Dolphins country indeed.

After closing out the season with a sweep of the *Patriots to finish the season 9-8, owner Stephen Ross fired head coach Brian Flores. Now I have to actually think and write something with intention. Thanks a lot, Steve.

Miami won with a new kind of game plan

This was the kind of game plan that would have worked wonders in, let’s just say for argument’s sake, a game in low temperatures with intermittent downpours from start to finish. Just spitballing here. This certainly isn’t based on anything recent. NOT. That joke still kills, right?

Against the *Patriots, Miami came out firing on all cylinders, racked up 195 yards rushing on 43 (43!) carries, and controlled the clock throughout the entire contest, finishing with 33:35 time of possession versus 26:24 for New England. That stands in stark contrast to the previous week’s outing in Tennessee where they chose to pass nonstop like a child flying a kite in a hurricane. Why, you may ask, would they do that? Why couldn’t they have used the logical bad weather game plan during the bad weather game in order to beat the Titans and have a shot at the playoffs? You could try asking the head coach, except the Dolphins don’t currently have one.

What’s that? Is that you shrieking unconsolably into the unrelenting blackness of despair, hoping against hope that a writhing, twisting mass will reach through the empty space, snake around your body, and rip you asunder into the unfeeling void, never to be seen again?

I also hope that for you. Totally unrelated to this coaching situation.

I must say I was surprised to see the headline that Miami let Brian Flores go. The team finished 2021 by going 8-1, notched two wins in two tries against the *Patriots on the year, and ended above .500 for the second season in a row, a feat which hadn’t been accomplished in South Florida since 2002-2003 A.D. That all sounds really good and could be the foundation of a promising future.

On the other hand, the team started 2021 by going 1-7, lost to the Jaguars (coached at the time by a sentient tub of grease), and missed the playoffs for the fifth season in a row. That all sounds really bad and could be the undoing of a coaching regime.

It’s almost a certainty that we fans will never know all of the details. We never really do (though we love to act like it). I chalk it up to business, by which I mean: in most workplaces, an offputting personality can be tolerated in exchange for high performance. This is especially true in a workplace as competitive and driven as the NFL (see: the long history of toolbag coaches who retain their jobs despite themselves). No one can say how offputting Brian Flores’ personality was to the other Dolphins’ personnel. There are already stories out trying to paint that conflict as the main driver in his termination, but that seems like standard C.Y.A. work to me. We can offer our own opinions on whether his performance was effective enough to justify any dissidence. Ultimately, no one cares what we think. If the information out so far (and I’m sure there will be plenty more where that came from) is to be believed, Stephen Ross decided that Flores’ performance didn’t justify his workplace personality.

As a fan with only access to outsider information looking at it as objectively as reasonable, there are points to be made on both sides:

  • It always seemed like his players played hard for him, except when they didn’t, like in make-or-break games against Buffalo in 2020 and Tennessee in 2021.
  • He took a porous defense and turned them into a top tier unit, unless they were playing a high powered offense.
  • He established a game plan to suit the players he had to work with, though it never ranked higher than 21st in his 3 seasons.
  • He led the team to back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since frosted tips were cool, but still finished his tenure 1 game below .500 (24-25).

For a lot of the positives, you can find a corresponding negative if you look hard enough. And it seems like Stephen Ross really went looking. Maybe he told Flores at the beginning of the year that it was playoffs or bust. Who knows. For whatever reason(s), he’s looking elsewhere for a job (which I expect him to get as a head coach sooner than later) and the Dolphins are back on the coaching carousel.

Do I think he could have had a long and successful career if Miami had managed to net an experienced OC and established OL coach? I do. But he’s gone either way. So I guess we might as well pick on some shortcomings of his from the last game since he’s not here to defend himself.

Some coaching decisions were still weird

I don’t have the PFF grades (I’m sure someone will be able to track them down), but to my little eyes, Robert Jones looked like a solid RT against New England. He’s a rookie. He’s been on the roster all year. You’ll note, so has Jesse Davis, a gentleman who often plays right tackle as if physical human contact will give him a fatal case of cooties. Why in Iluvatar’s name did it take until the last week of the season to give him a shot? It could have been beginner’s luck, but even beginner’s doom had a 50/50 shot of being an improvement.

Personnel wasn’t the only silly place in the coaching repertoire. Play calling (again) had its issues. On 2nd down and 15 with 4:22 left in the 2nd quarter, the Dolphins dialed up a nice, juicy 3 yard run up the middle. The run game had been working, but show some situational awareness, guys. More problematic than that was a 3rd down and 7 call with 11:35 left in the 4th. Miami took a timeout to really plan out something nice to establish a long, momentum killing, dagger thrusting drive. Then, they called a swing pass to the running back with no lead blockers that gained 0 yards. I know they can’t all be perfect, but to spend a timeout, put their heads together, and come out with that is...not great.

Defensively, the Fins scored 2 TDs, so how can I complain? I saw very little amoeba defense again (though an early 3rd down stop came courtesy of it, so I’m not sure why they shied away with a rookie QB on the other side). The psuedo-prevent defense combined with the uber conservative offense allowed the *Patriots to stay in it and make the final score much closer than it should have been, for me. The end result says it shouldn’t matter, but just once I’d like to see the Dolphins put up a 42-10 win in convincing fashion. It’s nitpicking, but what else are nits for?

This week also saw another questionable clock management decision, which seems to be the trend with at least one iffy timeout each game. Maybe that’s why Flores was fired.

It’s really hard to focus on anything other than Flores’ firing. It throws the team into yet another offseason of ambiguity. The main solace I take is that, this time around, Miami has a reasonably attractive setup for an incoming coach.

  • There’s a young QB on a rookie contract. Whether he’s seen as the franchise or the new coach wants to replace him, he’s either got potential or he’s cheap.
  • The defense has shown the ability to be elite and has a lot of young players anchoring it.
  • The offense has some good weapons to work with.
  • The team has the most cap space in the league and three 1st round draft picks in the next 2 years.

Some may argue that the front office/power structure/office politics outweigh all of that. And they may be right. Hopefully some of the better coaching candidates see the light through the trees.

On the coaching situation, here’s where I think I stand:

Highest Hope - The new HC brings in an experienced OC who can lead the offense and be creative with the weapons available. My pipedream roster of coaches would be: Doug Pederson HC, Joe Brady OC, Vic Fangio DC, Mike Munchak OL. I’ll be thrilled to get one of them.

Worst Fear - Miami keeps Godsey and Studesville and hires another OC to complete the cerberus.

Tua hardly dominated

The only thing less clear than the coaching situation is probably the quarterback situation. For me, Tua and Flores share a key similarity: Flores badly needed better assistants around him to truly thrive and Tua badly needs better building blocks around him to thrive. It’s somewhat a chicken-or-the-egg deal whether the offensive style holds Tua back or the offense has been crafted the way it is to minimize Tua’s weaknesses. In the New England game, Tua had 2 (2ua?) yards passing in the entire second half until the final drive. Sure, they weren’t asking him to throw a lot, but he wasn’t exactly lighting it up when he got the chance either. I loved to see him use his legs to scramble and seal the game. Loved it something awful. Still, it’s clear that this performance in the finale, 15/22 (68%) 109 yds 1 TD 0 INT, wasn’t the momentous I-told-you-so he needed to quiet his critics. Which means that we fans are destined for another chapter of As Deshaun Turns.

Once a new head coach is brought in, Deshaun Watson won’t just be in the conversation; he’ll be the only conversation. And I, for one, would rather cut off my arms and legs with a chainsaw.

On the quarterback situation, here’s where I think I stand:

Highest Hope - The front office spends its extensive cap space on proven free agent linemen and linebackers, then backfills the remaining open holes in the draft, thus building a strong team around Tua.

Worst Fear - Miami spends huge draft capital to the tune of multiple first round picks and then some to get Deshaun Watson, who is promptly transported from his Houston mansion into Miami-Dade County jail.

I hate the Patriots and Patriot Syndrome*

It began as Brett Favre Syndrome and I experience it everywhere now. A player or team, often through no fault of his or its own, has every announcer this side of the mountain drooling over every little thing, regardless of how completely pedestrian it is and how totally overlooked it would be when done by any other entity. Lamar Jackson, Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady, the Patriots (and soon to be Mac Jones): all made insufferable by the in-game announcers, the media, and the fans.

Jay Feely was an absolute nightmare on the broadcast. An utter tragedy of an announcer. I can’t make my desired ‘If he was any more in love with the *Patriots’ joke here, but know in your bones that it is graphic and it is accurate.

I have very little else to say here. I just wanted to reiterate that I hate the *Patriots and I’m glad Miami beat them twice.

On the *Patriots, here’s where I know I stand:

Highest Hope - The franchise is dissolved for tax purposes and leeched into the earth, where its carcass is used to foster a healthy underground ecosystem that will burst forth as beautiful, wondrous trees, whose shade we shall never know ourselves.

Worst Fear - The *Patriots win another Superbowl despite being average.

This offseason is momentous

This seems obvious. It also seems like it’s the case every year. Miami always needs a new coach, a new quarterback, a whole new offensive line, a new stadium, a new uniform, or some other new nonsense. You know me by now. You know I’m going to write a whole bunch of gobbledigook about the offseason so I can spend days and days typing to justify having built this bunker. So I’ll spare you for now. Suffice it to say, this offseason could be the start of Miami finally putting all of the pieces together. Or it could be the start of yet another rebuild. Or-er, if I know my Dolphins like I do, it’ll be a bunch of half measures that end up with mostly digruntled fans and a team hovering around .500. Yeah. That feels right.

On the offseason, this is where I think I stand:

Highest Hope - Miami retains its homegrown talent, builds a strong team with free agent acquisitions and another strong draft, and competes for the division in 2022, crushing the *Patriots twice along the way.

Worst Fear - Miami lets good players walk (Gesicki, looking at you and my soon-to-be-obsolete-yet-again jersey), spends through the nose to acquire Watson (who goes to prison), and mires themselves in garbage football for a decade plus.

Here’s to finding out together.

I don’t even have any fun rhetorical questions for you. Just hop down into the comments and start screaming.