After the embarrassing conclusion to the Dolphins’ season, I figured it was as good of time as any to take a week off from the blog. I did, however, feel obligated to post on the coaching fiasco last week, and over the weekend it was confirmed that Tony Sparano’s contract has been extended through the 2013 season. Hopefully, with that, we can move on from what has been, in my opinion anyway, a blown out of proportion ordeal.
Before we get geared up for offseason mode, though, I thought I would start a little tradition here at Phins Phocus and conduct our first annual awards show. The ideal of looking back at such a disappointing season isn’t very appealing, but there were some fine individual performances from Dolphins this season that deserve recognition.
Most Improved: Brian Hartline, WR
It was really a shame when Brian Hartline got hurt when he did, because he was in the midst of a stellar stretch that saw the second year player out of Ohio State go for over 70 yards receiving in four straight games and over 50 yards receiving in six straight. Brian finished the season with 615 receiving yards in eleven full games, which was good enough for 109 more yards than the full sixteen games he played in as a rookie. Before the injury, though, it was clear that Brian was emerging as a solid number two opposite Brandon Marshall and was beginning to develop into the offense’s only legitimate deep threat. Although Hartline is faster than Marshall and Bess, it will be interesting to see if the Dolphins pursue a number two receiver with elite speed in the offseason to address the offense’s lack of chunk yardage capability. Otherwise, I think they should be content with Brian’s maturation as a solid starter in this league.
Rookie of the Year: Marlon Moore, WR
That speedy receiver that the Dolphins’ offense needs may already be on the roster. Undrafted rookie receiver Marlon Moore showed big-play potential down the stretch of the season, and if he can continue to develop as a route runner and sure up his hands a bit, he could see a significant boost in playing time in 2011. Moore had one of the plays of the year for the Dolphins’ offense when he showcased his speed by tight roping the sideline for a 57-yard touchdown against the Raiders in Week 12. Moore only totaled a mere 128 receiving yards this season, which speaks volumes about how little production the Dolphins’ offense got out of their rookies. John Jerry had a more significant role for much of the year, but struggled too heavily to beat out even the mild productivity of Moore.
After a week of speculation that culminated with Stephen Ross flying cross country to court Jim Harbaugh while Tony Sparano awaited his fate, we have learned late tonight that no change will be made. In short, a whole lot of drama for nothing. And at the end of the day, the Dolphins come out looking like bad guys in the eyes of many fans.
Personally, I don’t feel like Stephen Ross handled things inappropriately. He chose to keep Sparano around for this very scenario. If Ross would have dumped him before he began talks with Harbaugh and those negotiations would have fallen through like they obviously did tonight, the Dolphins would be stuck in a very difficult situation right now, with not much to choose from in their search for Sparano’s replacement.
The Dolphins weren’t in a situation where they desperately needed to change directions. Stephen Ross simply was willing to dish out big cash to a big name like Jim Harbaugh because he wanted the Dolphins to become more marketable to the fan base. Maybe keeping Sparano around isn’t going to lead to an increase in season ticket holders, but the Dolphins are more than capable of winning under his leadership. Obviously, changes will need to be made this offseason for that to become realistic, but changing head coaches wasn’t a necessity.
Looking back to when the schedules first came out before the season started, many looked to this game as one that would likely have huge playoff implacations if not decide the divison crown all together. Instead we get the 13-2 New England Patriots who have already locked up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and a Dolphins team that only has a .500 season to play for.
This is definitely not what the fans had in mind, but just becuase this game is considered meaningless in the grand scheme of things, the thought of the Dolphins dropping to 7-9 in back-to-back seasons despite the strides they have made on defense is just plain sickening. So let's preview for Sunday by welcoming in Ricky Keeler from Foxboro Blog, who offers his insights into how long Belichick will play his starters, gives his prediction for the game, and more. As always, check out his site to see the questions I answered regarding the Dolphins.
Phins Phocus: How long do you anticipate Bill Belichick will play his starters?
Foxboro Blog: This is a tough question for me to answer because I am not Bill Belichick. While watching this game on Sunday, I just hope no one gets hurt that is a key cog in this Patriots' machine. Last year, New England was rolling into the playoffs until Wes Welker hurt his ACL in the Texans' game and New England was devastated when facing the Ravens the following game. The defensive line players who are injured as well as Jermaine Cunningham and the big offensive lineman Dan Connolly I expect not to play at all. There is a huge flu epidemic in the Patriot locker room so I expect those guys not to play as well.
However, I expect Brady to play at least a half because you never want to be rusty after not playing for two weeks especially with the AFC as stacked as it is. Brady has played longer in games this year when he really should not be in the game, but that's Brady's competitive nature. I want to see Brian Hoyer in the second half regardless because the Dolphins' pass rush has been so good that one hit from Cameron Wake could ruin a team's Super Bowl dreams.
Phins Phocus: If Tom Brady ends up getting extensive playing time, how exactly would you go about game planning to stop this Patriots' offense if you were the Dolphins' defensive coordinator?
Foxboro Blog: There is only one key to beating Tom Brady and that is consistent pressure on the quarterback. If I am Mike Nolan, I would rush the quarterback and Miami did a good job at that in Week 4 this season. The Dolphins kept Brady in check for a whole half until the special teams made a historic performance in the second half. Cameron Wake is the defensive POY at least in the conference. He will need to perform big time as I mentioned before. The defense as a whole averages 2.5 sacks a game, so if you can pressure Brady and get rid of the check down option to a Danny Woodhead and their running game, Miami can definitely hang around in the game.
It’s easy to let frustration get the best of us. In the moments following the Dolphins’ disastrous fourth quarter collapse against the Lions on Sunday, the majority of a frustrated fan base was ready to call for Tony Sparano’s head. A knee-jerk reaction to the emotions that come with such a humiliating loss.
Shortly after the game, I tweeted that I thought it was time for Stephen Ross to clean house. But after having time to step back and think about the situation rationally, I have since changed my mind.
Has this 2010 season been a complete failure? Absolutely, considering most fans had playoff expectations, and owner Stephen Ross had Super Bowl aspirations. This team was 7-9 a year ago with a below average defense and a first-year starting quarterback who didn’t have a legitimate go-to receiver to work with. Well, a loss this Sunday in Foxboro and the Dolphins would have themselves back-to-back below 500. seasons despite getting their alpha receiver in the offseason and improving to currently the league’s third ranked defense in total yards surrendered.
That obviously isn’t acceptable, but is it fair to blame Tony Sparano for the Dolphins’ inability to emerge as a playoff caliber team? I will admit, Sparano has done some things that I haven’t necessarily agreed with. Benching Sean Smith in favor of Jason Allen for the first seven games of the season was one. Shuffling the offensive line all preseason and essentially preventing any cohesiveness to take place was another.
But can you really blame Sparano for Chad Henne’s implosion? Is it Sparano’s fault that Dan Henning left countless points on the board throughout the season by being content to just settle for field-goals?
The lack of consistent play from the quarterback position is what is holding the Dolphins back from being contenders. No, a new quarterback wouldn’t solve all of the Dolphins’ issues. They still could use more playmakers on offense and their interior offensive line needs a complete makeover, but there isn’t a team in this league that is perfect. Give a football team that should have a very good, if not elite defense for years to come some consistent play at quarterback, and you have yourself a winner.
For the second consecutive week, the Dolphins will play a football team who doesn’t look like much record wise, but in reality is capable of playing with and beating just about any team in this league. The Lions are fresh off their first road win since October of 2007, and based on how pathetic the Dolphins have been at home this season, Detroit suddenly looks very capable of coming down to South Florida and turning the Dolphins’ disappointing season into a nightmare.
Another home loss on Sunday would drop the Dolphins to a tie with the 2007 1-15 squad for the worst home record in franchise history. And losses to the Browns, Bills, and Lions in three out of four weeks could lead to a frustrated fan base calling for Tony Sparano’s head. Let’s see what the Dolphins have to do to avoid that fate in a “meaningless” football game.
Great coverage is only half the battle
Last week we saw Dolphin DB’s and linebackers in pretty solid coverage all afternoon, but that didn’t stop Ryan Fitzpatrick from riffling in completion after completion into double and triple coverage. Let’s be honest, Fitzpatrick had no business making some of those throws, but the Dolphins let him get away with it by not being able to make plays on footballs that were mere inches away. The Lions also possess a gunslinger mentality on offense, regardless of who lines up at quarterback. Whether it has been Matthew Stafford, Shaun Hill, or Drew Stanton the Lions have found success through the air this season by stretching the field vertically from start to finish.
They haven’t missed much of beat no matter who has lined up under center in large part thanks to Calvin Johnson. You could argue that Johnson is emerging as one of the top two or three receivers in all of football. The guy is big, strong, athletic and fast; the complete package. It should be interesting to see who the Dolphins stick on him. Vontae Davis is usually first in line to cover the opposition’s go-to threat, but Johnson would have a significant height advantage on Davis, which would put the Dolphins in a difficult position on jump balls. Sean Smith, on the other hand, has the height and length to go up and compete for the football in those situations, but I have my concerns if he is physical enough to handle a beast like Johnson.
The Dolphins will also have their hands full with tight end Brandon Pettigrew and running back Jahvid Best, who rank second and third in receptions for the Lions. The Dolphins have had difficulty covering tight ends and backs this season, and could be exploited even further with the possibility of Karlos Dansby, who has excelled in coverage all season long, being out of the lineup. The good news for the Dolphins is, Shaun Hill is questionable with an injured finger, so the least accomplished of the Lions’ three quarterbacks, Drew Stanton, could get the start.