Miami Dolphins: Running out of Gas(e) in 2017

The Miami Dolphins dropped their third straight nationally televised game in ugly fashion, falling to the Carolina Panthers 45-21. Now sitting at 4-5 on the year, it appears the team may be running on fumes down the stretch.

Once again in a prime-time game the Dolphins disappointed their fans and with all eyes on them had another poor showing on both sides of the ball. This team seems to be fading at the wrong time, and the once vaunted defense was gashed by Carolina for 548 yards of offense (a team record) which included 294 yards rushing.

In their last three games Miami has been outscored 112-45 and the upcoming schedule is not going to do them any favors. Other than Tampa Bay and Denver, the rest of the teams on the schedule all have winning records. Miami ranks near the bottom of the league in major categories on both sides of the ball, and while last year they showed promise it appears a rebuild may be the way to go.

As evidenced by their poor statistical measures and losing record, their are major changes needed throughout the roster. No position group can be considered elite and few even above average, these are the facts of the matter. For the rest of the season it is going to be an audition to keep a roster spot, and even Adam Gase needs to be evaluated by Chris Grier and Mike Tannenbaum to determine if he is in fact the answer to lead the Miami Dolphins.

The season got off to an inauspicious start with Ryan Tannehill going down in preseason with a torn ACL. Hurricane Irma stormed through and postponed Week 1, eliminating Miami’s bye week in the process. Promising rookie middle linebacker RaeKwon McMillan was also lost for the year. The Dolphins have faced more adversity than most yet those instances were early in the year and can only be an excuse for so long. It starts at the top with Adam Gase who must look in the mirror and come to the conclusion that some of his decisions have been ill-advised to say the least.

One decision that looms large was the one to bring in Jay Cutler on a one-year, 10 million dollar deal. Clearly this has not worked out as Miami is dead last in the NFL in points scored (15.2), 31st in total yards per game (275), and 29th in passing yards (194.9). Cutler is prone to the big mistake at least once per game. Case in point against Carolina, the Dolphins only trailed 10-7 with about a minute to go in the first half. Rather than sit on the ball and go to the locker room in striking distance, Cutler instead forced a pass into double coverage to Julius Thomas of all people which was intercepted.

The Panthers easily turned that into seven points and a 17-7 lead, erasing any good feeling Miami could take from the first half.  Gase has limited the play calling down the field and the offense has been predictable and lacking creativity. Matt Moore showed in his one appearance against Baltimore that he is not the answer. Miami has to hope Tannehill is fully recovered as he is the best quarterback on the roster by a mile. Look for the Dolphins to shake things up in the 2018 NFL Draft and go after a quarterback in the early rounds.

The offensive line has been a major issue for years, and in this roller coaster season has mainly been a disaster. Laremy Tunsil has regressed, the guard play is uneven at best, and Ja’Wuan James is lost for the year with a hamstring injury and may have played his last game in Miami. Compound that with Mike Pouncey who is clearly not the same player he once was and this unit is one of the worst in the NFL.

Wide receiver was supposed to be the strength of the team and at times has shown great promise. Perhaps due to Cutler’s poor play and decision making the group is not living up to expectations. With Kenny Stills getting a new contract and DeVante Parker’s strong training camp, the weapons outside were supposed to take the offense to the next level. Instead the offense is boring and predictable, and opposing defenses have no problem game planning for Miami. The bubble screen should be removed from the playbook completely. Jarvis Landry continues to put up reception numbers but is one of the few on offense showing any fire or passion. We won’t even talk about Julius Thomas, but to be fair he has put up better numbers in recent weeks.

Overall the tight end position is basically an afterthought with Thomas and Anthony Fasano both on the down side of their careers. In Gase’s system the tight end is supposed to be a weapon, especially in the red zone but Miami simply lacks athleticism and consistency from the position.

At running back the depature of Ajayi was supposed to open the door for Kenyan Drake and Damien Williams, and both have shown flashes when given the opportunity. Unfortunately teams simply do not respect the Dolphins’ passing attack and have focused on stacking the box and shutting down the run game to the tune of 80 yards per game. As mentioned Miami’s play calling has been predictable and does not keep defenses off balance. Behind a suspect offensive line it is hard to gauge the long-term potential of Drake and Williams at this point.

On the other side of the ball the Dolphins’ defense has crashed down to earth in spectacular fashion. The run defense was showing signs of improvement but was absolutely manhandled against Carolina. Age and health are starting to catch up with the unit, Cameron Wake is 35 and has not shown the same burst off the edge this year. Ndamukong Suh’s contract has limited the flexibility of management to build depth, especially at the linebacker position. McMillan’s injury meant Miami had to go to the scrap heap for the likes of Rey Maualuga, and Lawrence Timmons has been missing in action. Kiko Alonso has not made the game changing plays he did in 2016 and has been a liability in pass coverage. Charles Harris has shown promise along with William Hayes, but there is simply not enough pressure on opposing quarterbacks which leaves the secondary in coverage too long.

The secondary has good youth at the corners with Xavien Howard and Cordrea Tankersley. Reshad Jones and T.J. McDonald make up a strong safety combination, beyond these four depth is a real concern. Special teams is another area where the players that were brought in have not been an upgrade over those that departed. Kickoff and punt return units have not made any big plays or created better field position to help a struggling offense.

At this point the playoffs seem like a dream and with a grueling schedule ahead, the Dolphins may be destined for a losing record. The off-season will be crucial to set a course for the franchise, Gase and the Dolphins management will have to look at all 53 roster spots. It is not all doom and gloom in Miami, there are good players on this team. Issues with scheme on both offense and defense along with mental mistakes need to be addressed. The improbable run last year masked a lot of deficiencies which eventually surfaced against Pittsburgh in the AFC Wild Card game. This year the team has returned to the mean and once again Dolphins fans are left in purgatory with a team that is stuck in neutral.

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