NFL.com’s Michael Lombardi is reporting that the Miami Dolphins will name former Cleveland Browns’ offensive coordinator Brian Daboll to the same position. For those fans that were eager for a big name hire that rivaled the Mike Nolan acquisition at defensive coordinator a year ago, Daboll will surely disappoint.
Looking at the last two seasons of his resume alone, one could even make the case that Daboll may not even be an upgrade over Dan Henning. Over the past two years, Daboll’s offense in Cleveland was less productive than Henning’s in Miami. In 2010 the Browns ranked 31st in points per game with a measly 16.9 average, trailing the Dolphins’ 17.1 points per game total that finished the year 30th overall. Despite all of Chad Henne’s struggles, the Dolphins were also significantly more productive through the air with 220.4 passing yards per game (16th) which trumped the Browns’ 186.8 yard average (29th). Quite the contrast to the type of hire we all expected after Stephen Ross’ comments suggested that he wanted a creative, innovator type play-caller that would air the ball out early and often.
But before we judge Daboll on paper alone, in all fairness he didn’t exactly have much to work with in Cleveland. For all the complaining we do about Chad Henne, the Browns’ quarterback situation was one of the worst in the entire league as Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace struggled heavily early on and rookie Colt McCoy was injured just when he began to show some promise. The Browns also didn’t see a wide receiver surpass the 500 yards receiving mark, which is unheard of in today’s NFL.
If there is any upside to this hire at all, it’s Daboll’s credentials before the last two seasons he spent in Cleveland. Daboll served as a defensive assistant (2000-2001) and wide receivers coach (2002-2006) in New England, meaning he was a part of Bill Belichick’s coaching staff during the Patriots’ three Super Bowl run. After the 2006 season he was hired as the Jets’ quarterback coach where he stayed until Mangini brought him along to Cleveland. So at the very least Daboll brings experience coaching in the division and has been a part of a winning culture. Still though, this hire doesn’t look very promising on paper, and Daboll will have plenty to prove in order to win over the fan base.
With Tony Sparano now under contract through the 2013 season and the player personnel phase of the offseason still being several weeks away, the most pressing need in Dolphin land nowadays is the hunt for an offensive coordinator. Because the Dolphins are young and promising on the defensive side of the ball, expect this to be the first of many posts focused squarely on improving the Dolphins’ anemic offense.
A new coordinator calling the shots certainly doesn’t guarantee that the offense will even come close to turning the corner, but any change will be embraced as refreshing after the Dan Henning debacle we were all forced to witness this season. Sure, it’s hard to point the finger exclusively at Henning, especially considering some of the dumbfounding decisions Chad Henne made in his second season as the starter and the fact that the front office blew up the interior offensive line from a year ago, which in turn forced Henning to abandon a non-existent running game more often than not.
So a new face up in the booth certainly isn’t going to upgrade the Dolphins’ offense to respectability overnight. After all, great players are usually the ones who tend to make offensive coordinators look like geniuses. Something the Dolphins have very few of on the offensive side of the football.
Fans were quick to praise Dan Henning when the Chad Pennington led Dolphins took the AFC East in 2008. Did Henning have a fine season calling the shots? Sure he did. But it wouldn’t have happened without the stability Pennington brought to the position week in and week out. Having said all of that, I’m as ecstatic as the next guy that Dan Henning walked away following the disastrous year that is still fresh in all of our minds.
The fact of the matter is, while Pennington made Henning look smart in 08’, he was also the perfect fit for the style of offense Henning likes to run. A ball-control, low-risk style of play was just what those 08’ Dolphins needed and it fit Pennington’s mistake-free way’s like a glove. When you play that style of football, though, your margin for error isn’t much.
The Dolphins weren’t a very talented team back when Henning first took over and that style of play was the ideal fit because it kept them in most games. They would compete with playoff caliber tams but also come right down to the wire with some of the league’s bottom feeders. That’s great when all the bounces go your way. But in 2010, when it seemed like the Dolphins just couldn’t get a break, that small margin for error ultimately doomed their season.
Now, Stephen Ross is calling for an offensive coordinator who is going to come in with an aggressive mindset. Not a guy who is going to play not to lose, but a guy who wants to score early and often. A lot easier said than done for a Dolphins’ offense without a franchise quarterback, a decent interior offensive line, or a promising young running back. But the first step in righting the ship is finding a play-caller, so that’s where we begin.
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.