Aug 052012
 

Offense

The Dolphins are frequently considered one of the worst teams in the league, but they had a solid season last year. They finished 6-10, which isn’t great, but they had a Pythagorean Expectation of 8.5 wins, which ranked 14th in the NFL and a DVOA that ranked 18th. They went 6-6 once they switched quarterbacks to Matt Moore, outscoring opponents 260 to 209, which translates to 347 points for and 279 points against for 16 games, which translates to a Pythagorean Expectation of 10.0 wins. They also finished 6-3 in their last 9 games.

Of course, they did this with an easy schedule that had them play a playoff team just 4 times, all of which they lost (though two were before Matt Moore), but this year’s schedule has them play just 6 teams I think will make the playoffs as their non-divisional games are against the AFC South and NFC West, two of the league’s easier divisions, as well as Cincinnati and Oakland.

They had the league’s 20th ranked scoring offense last year, scoring 20.6 points per game, and the league’s 6th ranked scoring defense, allowing 19.6 points per game. Couldn’t they follow the decent quarterback/strong running game/strong defense/easy schedule model and make the playoffs in 2012? Sure, they could.

But several things can get in their way. For one, they have a completely new coaching staff and will be making fundamental changes on both sides of the ball. Defensively, they’ll be switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3, which might work out, but it might also be a case of fixing what’s not broken. Offensively, they’ll be going from a power blocking, run heavier offense to a zone blocking, pass heavier offense. Their offensive line won’t fit that scheme as well and passing more than they run does not take advantage of their offenses strengths and personnel.

Last season, they ran and passed exactly 469 times each, ranking 6th in the league in rushing attempts and tied for 28th in the league in passing attempts. That worked in junction with a strong defense to mask their quarterback’s deficiencies last year. League wide, teams passed on 55.5% of their plays last season (excluding sacks and penalties). If the Dolphins do even that this season, it could make their offense less efficient and their new game plan might have them to that. Even if it doesn’t, if the defense regresses, they’ll be forced to pass more, regardless of what their playbook says.

You also have to factor in that the Dolphins traded away their only good receiver and the only thing they did to replace him was bring in a washed up 34-year-old receiver with a certain recently re-changed name who caught just 14 passes last season and that their strong running game was as a result of 5.0 YPC and 216 carries from a back who has a career 4.3 YPC and who, before last year, had managed just 212 carries in the last 3 seasons.

Quarterback

The one other thing that could hold them back is their quarterback situation. The Dolphins currently have 3 quarterbacks competing for the starting job, Matt Moore, the incumbent, David Garrard, a veteran free agent signing who missed all of last season with back problems, and, to a lesser extent, Ryan Tannehill, an incredibly raw rookie who went 8th overall in April’s 2012 NFL Draft and who started just 19 games in college. Tannehill doesn’t have much of a chance at the week 1 job, but we could see him this season.

Let’s start with Matt Moore. This team was 6-6 once he took over last season, as he completed 210 of 347 (60.5%) for 2497 yards (7.2 YPA), 16 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions. He led the team to 21.7 points per game in his 12 starts, which would have ranked 18th in the league and a Pythagorean Expectation of 10.0 wins, which would have ranked 8th in the league. The Dolphins’ weighted DVOA, which weights later games more, ranked 14th in the league, a sign of Moore’s solid play.

Advanced statistics like him too. His adjusted QB rating (doesn’t count drops, throw aways, hit as throwns, spikes, batted passes, or yards after catch) was 91.75, over 4 points higher than his normal QB rating. That number ranked him 8th in the NFL, whereas his traditional QB rating of 87.1 ranked just 12th. His accuracy percentage (doesn’t count drops, throw aways, hit as throwns, spikes, or batted passes) of 72.0% was a middle of the pack 17th, out of 36 quarterbacks, and ranks one spot better than his traditional completion percentage of 60.5%.

His accuracy on balls that traveled 20+ yards through the air was a surprising 9th at 47.5% and he went deep at a rate of 17.0%, 4th best in the NFL. His under pressure accuracy was 66.2%, which was 3rd in the league behind only Eli Manning and Drew Brees, though he did take too many sacks. He took a sack on 27.3% of pressured snaps, which was worst in the NFL and made his offensive line look worse than it was. However, all in all, he played above average last season.

There are issues, however. The first is whether or not he can do it in a more pass heavy offense, with a likely regression from Reggie Bush, a possible regression from the defense, and the absence of Brandon Marshall, by far his most targeted receiver. Marshall was targeted 138 times on a team that passed just 469 times, meaning he was targeted on 29.4% of his team’s throws. When you take out 30 throw away and other non-targets, Dolphins quarterbacks “aimed” 439 passes last season, meaning Marshall was targeted on 31.4% of his team’s “aimed” targets.

The second issue is how pedestrian Moore was in his career prior to last season. Moore was an undrafted free agent in 2007 and last offseason was an afterthought when the Dolphins signed him and for good reason. He had completed just 227 of 392 (57.9%) for 2640 yards (6.7 YPA), 16 touchdowns, and 17 interceptions. Not only could his defense and offensive supporting cast regress. Moore himself could regress.

The other veteran quarterback competing for the job is David Garrard. Garrard is reportedly outplaying Moore in camp and is currently the favorite for the job, with some like SI’s Peter King even saying that Garrard in Miami’s Training Camp looks more impressive than Peyton Manning in Denver’s Training Camp.

Garrard was one of the league’s most underrated starting quarterbacks during essentially 5 years as a starter in Jacksonville. Despite having a poor supporting cast, Garrard completed 1240 of 1981 (62.6%) for 14195 yards (7.2 YPA), 81 touchdowns, and 51 interceptions, while going 36-32 in 68 starts. You saw how Jacksonville’s offense collapsed last season without him.

However, he’s heading into his age 34 season and coming off season ending back surgery which caused him to miss the entirety of the 2011 season after being cut for salary cap purposes in the preseason last year. Despite the glowing reports from Peter King and others, he probably isn’t much different from Moore at this stage in his career. With the right supporting cast, he can get you to the playoffs.

Matt Moore seems perfectly capable of game managing a team to victory when he doesn’t have to do too much. David Garrard, if he wins the quarterback competition, seems to be able to do the same thing. However, if the defense regresses and the offensive supporting cast regresses or the new scheme hurts either quarterback or if Moore himself regresses back to pre-2011 form, the coaching staff could throw Ryan Tannehill and his 19 collegiate starts into the fire before he’s ready. Garrard and Moore, for financial reasons, probably won’t both make the final roster. The Dolphins could trade or cut one of them, making Tannehill the primary backup.

If that happens, we could see a repeat of the Blaine Gabbert situation in Jacksonville from last season. At the same time, either of their veteran starters could channel 2011 Matt Hasselbeck, game manage their offense, supported by a strong defense, and compete for a playoff spot. Hasselbeck came into a similar situation last year, with his the Titans having a strong defense and having used the 8th overall pick on a raw quarterback, and he led the Titans to 9-7 and the brink of the playoffs, keeping Locker on the bench all season. That could happen in Miami this year, but they could also suck like Jacksonville did.

Grade: B-

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

I’ve already mentioned what a big part of their offense that Brandon Marshall was, essentially getting 1 out of every 3 of their “aimed” targets. The Dolphins really didn’t do much to replace him, signing a 34-year-old Chad Johnson-Ochocinco-Johnson, a mediocre Legedu Naanee, and using 6th round pick on BJ Cunningham and a 7th round pick on Rishard Matthews, both of whom might be ticketed for the practice squad as a rookie.

Johnson believes that he can have a bounce back year in Miami because he fits in with the locker room chemistry better. He was never a good fit in New England, both chemistry wise and with their complicated timing based offensive scheme, which he could never figure out. Miami’s scheme is easier and their locker room chemistry is different, but receivers rarely stay elite much longer than 33 or 34.

If you look at the receivers who have played in the last 10 years and who rank top-20 all-time in receiving yards, you’ll see that even the average top 20 receiver has his last 1000 yard season at age 34-35, averages 48 catches for 594 yards and 3 touchdowns for 2 more seasons after age 34-35, and is done playing by age 36-37. Ochocinco is 35 in January and currently “only” ranks 26th in receiving yards all time, 845 back of the top-20.

Ochocinco has really never been the same since 2007. In 2008, he struggled mightily with injuries, catching just 53 passes for 540 yards and 4 touchdowns. In 2009, he bounced back, catching 72 passes for 1047 yards and 9 touchdowns, but he did that on 124 targets and managed just 3.3 YAC per catch. In 2010, he really struggled, catching just 67 passes on 118 targets (56.8%) for 831 yards (7.0 YPA), 4 touchdowns, and managing just 2.9 YAC per catch, a sign that his explosiveness was almost completely gone. That was 2 years ago. Last year, for the record, his YAC per catch was 3.1 in very limited action (15 catches on 31 targets, including playoffs).

Johnson (I know, I’ve called him Ochocinco, Johnson, and Johnson-Ochocinco-Johnson in this section, but if he can’t decide what he wants his name to be, I don’t have to decide what I’m calling him) will compete for a starting job with Brian Hartline and Legedu Naanee. Hartline is their leading returning receiver, which isn’t saying much.

He only had 35 catches on 66 targets for 549 yards and a touchdown. The 2009 4th round pick averaged just 2.9 YAC, which shows his lack of explosiveness, as does the fact that he didn’t break a single tackle all year. Of the team’s 13 interceptions last season, 6 went on passes to him and he also dropped 7 passes. Dolphin quarterbacks had a QB rating of 48.1 when throwing to him, 90th out of 92 eligible receivers.

Naanee, meanwhile, was ProFootballFocus’ worst rated wide receiver, in part large because of quarterback’s 59.9 QB rating when throwing to him, 81st in the league. This isn’t terrible until you consider that he had Cam Newton throwing him the football and the guys below him on the list played for Oakland, Indianapolis, Washington, Denver, Arizona, Jacksonville, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Miami, Kansas City and Minnesota.

Naanee caught 44 passes on 74 targets (59.5%) for 467 yards (6.3 YPA), 1 touchdown, while allowing 4 interceptions. He only broke 1 tackle all year as well and committed 7 penalties, very high for a wide receiver. It’s no surprise that the Dolphins brought in Braylon Edwards for a workout last week. They may say they’re satisfied with their receivers, but they really aren’t and they shouldn’t be.

The one receiver the Dolphins can count on is Davone Bess. Bess is their 2nd leading returning receiver, catching 51 passes for 537 yards and 3 touchdowns, doing so on just 79 targets (64.6%), while breaking 7 tackles and managing 4.4 YAC per catch. Last year was actually a down year for him as he had lines of 76/758/2 and 79/820/5 in the previous 2 seasons despite inconsistent quarterback play.

He’s an above average slot receiver, but he can also really play the slot so he won’t help them outside, which is the most important wide receiver position. The Dolphins really have nothing there unless Marlon Moore or Roberto Wallace can have major breakout years. The Dolphins are high on both of them, but probably only by default and partially out of delusion. Both are undrafted free agents from 2010 who have caught 6 career passes each, both doing so entirely in 2010. They played a combined 2 snaps in 2011, both by Moore, and didn’t record a target. Neither is even guaranteed a roster spot.

The Dolphins did add one other piece to their receiving corps this offseason, using a 3rd round pick on a tight end, Michael Egnew. Egnew is a better fit for their new offensive scheme than incumbent Anthony Fasano, but he was widely considered a reach around the league because he doesn’t block well and he had a low career YAC at Missouri. He’ll see time at tight end, as will Fasano, a good blocker and red zone threat who caught 32 passes for 451 yards and 5 touchdowns last year. He’s mostly an afterthought in the passing game though, managing just 54 targets last season. His blocking and all-around game got him ranked 8th on ProFootballFocus among tight ends last season, but he’ll have a smaller role this season.

Grade: D

Running Backs

While their receiving corps will almost definitely be worse this season than last season, their running game might not necessarily regress. Yes, it’s unreasonable to expect Reggie Bush to have 1086 yards and 6 touchdowns on 216 carries again. He’s only averaged over 4.2 YPC one other time in his 6 year career and combined for 212 carries in his previous 3 years before last year. In fact, before last year, his career stats in 5 seasons were 524 carries, 2090 yards (4.0 YPC), and 17 touchdowns. He will contribute in the passing game when healthy, as he has 337 career catches, including 43 last season, and he’s actually a better fit for this blocking scheme and offensive system than the old one, but he’s unlikely to stay healthy for the entire year.

However, the Dolphins have two young backs behind him on the depth chart who could pick up the slack. Daniel Thomas was a 2nd round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. He had a disappointing rookie season, managing just 581 yards on 165 carries (3.5 YPC), catching 12 passes and 72 yards and only scoring once (through the air). However, he was just a rookie, so you can’t hold that against him too much. There’s no reason why he can’t become a solid compliment to Reggie Bush this season, when Bush is healthy.

And when Bush isn’t healthy, Thomas can be a solid compliment to Lamar Miller, a 4th round rookie. Miller was frequently mocked in the 1st or 2nd round of mock drafts, but fell to the 4th round, where the Dolphins decided he was too good to pass on and traded up for him, even though they didn’t really need another back. He’s having a strong offseason and he’s a perfect fit for this offense with his speed and pass catching abilities. He’ll be a perfect complement to Thomas and replacement for Bush when/if Bush gets hurt. They should be able to run the ball pretty well this season.

Grade: B+

Offensive Line

One of the reasons the Dolphins should run the ball pretty well this season is a solid run blocking offensive line. They were the league’s 13th best run blocking offensive line last season, according to ProFootballFocus, and, while they allowed 52 sacks, 3rd most in the NFL, some of that can be blamed on quarterbacks with a tendency to take unnecessary sacks. They ranked 27th in pass blocking efficiency, which is a more accurate measure. It’s still not good, but it’s not completely the offensive line’s fault.

The worst offender on the offensive line was right tackle Marc Colombo. Colombo was completely washed up in Dallas in 2010, but the Dolphins obviously wanted to see for themselves sp they signed him to be their starting right tackle. And it turns out, he was completely washed up. He was ProFootballFocus’ 64th ranked offensive tackle out of 73, allowing 9 sacks, 9 quarterback hits, and 35 quarterback pressures, while committing 3 penalties and struggling mightily as a run blocker. He retired this offseason. The Dolphins used a 2nd round pick on Jonathan Martin and he should be an immediate upgrade, even as a rookie. He’s a good fit for their scheme.

Opposite him, Jake Long is not quite as good a fit for their scheme. He’s played his entire career in former Head Coach Tony Sparano’s power blocking scheme and might not have the foot speed to be as dominant in a zone blocking scheme. A top-9 tackle on ProFootballFocus in each of his first 3 seasons in the league, including 2nd place finishes in 2009 and 2010, the 1st overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft struggled by his standards last season. He still played above average, though, ranking 19th, allowing 5 sacks, 6 quarterback hits, and 15 quarterback pressures, while committing 5 penalties and being an average run blocker. Unless he really struggles with the new scheme, he should be able to have a bounce back year.

On the inside, right guard is still an unsettled position after the retirement of incumbent starter Vernon Carey (the Dolphins had two starters on their offensive line last year who retired this offseason, that’s pretty bad). 2010 3rd round pick John Jerry was drafted to be a starter by now, but he’s struggled whenever he’s been counted on to start thus far in his career. He struggled this offseason as well, after being the early starter, losing his starter job to Artis Hicks, a backup in Cleveland last year, who struggled and is heading into his age 34 season. The Dolphins also signed Eric Steinbach, who was cut by the Browns after missing all of last season with back surgery. He’s heading into his age 32 season. Whoever starts there, it’ll be a position of weakness.

However, that’s really their only true weak link, unless Martin struggles mightily as a rookie. Center Mike Pouncey had a solid, but unspectacular rookie season last year, after being the highest interior lineman drafted since Chris Naeole went 10th overall in 1997. Still, he could definitely have a breakout year in 2012. Meanwhile, left guard Richie Incognito is also a solid starter, who pass protected better than he run blocked last season. Unless they have major problems transitioning to a new scheme, this should be a solid offensive line. Their biggest concerns offensively should be their wide receivers, regression from the quarterback position, and their quarterbacks having to do too much thanks to a new scheme and possibly an inferior defense.

Grade: B

Defense

Speaking of that defense, they ranked 6th last year, allowing 19.6 points per game, and 11th in defensive DVOA. In their final 12 games, they allowed just 17.4 points per game. Those were the 12 starts Matt Moore made. This is significant because the previous quarterback, Chad Henne, was prone to interceptions and stalled offensive drives, which is why the team ranked 14th in scoring defense in 2010, despite having the 5th fewest yards per play allowed and ranking 10th in defensive DVOA. In 2010, their offensive interception rate sunk from 3.8% to 2.8% (2.6% by Moore).

Under normal conditions, they could easily do even better than that this season with a full season of either Moore or Garrard and because of how few takeaways they had last season. They had just 19 turnovers, mostly because they recovered just 3 fumbles, worst in the league and a very fluky figure. The 38 teams who have managed 20 or fewer takeaways since 2002 have had 7.53 more takeaways and won 1.41 more games in the following season. However, as I established in the offensive write up, there’s no guarantee their quarterback play won’t regress in 2012. On top of that, the Dolphins are switching defensive schemes, so this might be a case of fixing what’s not broken.

Defensive Line

One thing that could hurt the Dolphins is that they don’t have a 2nd pass rusher. They had 41 sacks last season, but 7 of those were by Jason Taylor, a situational rusher who has since retired. Only one other player, Cameron Wake, had more than 5 sacks. Wake had yet another fantastic season in 2011, grading out as ProFootballFocus’ best overall rush linebacker and 2nd best rush linebacker as a pass rusher.

He may have managed “only” 9 sacks, but he also had 20 quarterback hits and 52 quarterback pressures on 519 pass rush snaps, an incredible 15.6% pass rush rate. Over the past 3 seasons, he’s had 32 sacks, 47 quarterback hits, and 101 quarterback pressures on 1093 pass rushes, an incredible 16.5% rate, the best rate in the NFL over that time period.

Assuming he has better luck and some of those hits and pressures turn into sacks, he could easily rank among the league leaders in sacks next season, even though he doesn’t have anyone opposite him to draw the pressure off of him. The only issue with him is that he could struggle, by his standards, in a 4-3 rather than the 3-4 he has spent his whole NFL career in, but I don’t see that as being a huge possibility. He played very well against the run as a 3-4 rush linebacker last year (2nd) so he should be able to hold up against the run now as a down lineman.

In base packages, Jared Odrick will start opposite him. Odrick, a collegiate defensive tackle, spent last year as a situational pass rushing 3-4 defensive end, after the 2010 1st round pick missed his entire rookie season with injury. He’s a better pass rusher than a run stuffer as a defensive tackle, but as a defensive end, he’s not going to get much pass rush. Last season, he had 5 sacks, 3 quarterback hits, and 16 quarterback pressures on 393 pass rush snaps, a 6.1% rate, good for a 3-4 end, not so good for a 4-3 end. At 6-5 304, he’ll obviously be good against the run as a defensive end, but they could struggle to get pass rush in base package, even with Cameron Wake.

Odrick will move inside on passing downs and play defensive tackle, where he’ll be an above average pass rusher and 3rd round rookie, Olivier Vernon, will come in and play defensive end. Vernon is incredibly athletic, but also incredibly raw and they don’t have a lot of depth behind him, which is a problem. At defensive tackle, Odrick will play next to Randy Starks. Starks led their 3 man line in snaps played last season and ranked 6th among 3-4 defensive ends on ProFootballFocus. He’s played in a 4-3 before, so he shouldn’t have much problem this season. He played equally well as a run stuffer and pass rusher and had 5 sacks, 7 quarterback hits, and 16 quarterback hits on 376 pass rush snaps, a 7.5% rate.

In base packages, Starks will play next to Paul Solial, who probably won’t fit a 4-3 as well as he fit a 3-4 because of his size at 6-4 344. I’m surprised they resigned him, rather than resigning Kendall Langford, a much better fit in a 4-3. He was a solid nose tackle in 3-4, but in a 4-3, he’s a solid run stuffer at best. He managed just 3 quarterback hits, and 5 quarterback pressures on 188 pass rush snaps, 4.3%. The Dolphins really only have two players can get to the quarterback in base packages (Starks and Wake). Solial also didn’t play nearly as well last season as he did in 2010, after which they franchise tagged him. He’s still really only a one year wonder.

Tony McDaniel, a mediocre player, will provide depth at defensive tackle. Depth is actually an issue all across the defensive line. Cameron Wake should have another amazing season and Randy Starks will play well again, but they could struggle to get to the quarterback in base packages some, and their depth is suspect. They might not achieve the 41 sacks last had last season, even if Wake has the type of 12-16 sack season he’s capable of. They will miss players like Jason Taylor and Kendall Langford. They will, however, continue to be strong against the run, after ranking 3rd in that aspect last season.

Grade: B+

Linebackers

In switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3, the Dolphins’ linebacking corps will actually took pretty similar. Karlos Dansby, the league’s 13th ranked middle linebacker last season on ProFootballFocus, will move outside and play one of the two outside linebacker spots. This is a new position for him as, even when he played in Arizona’s old 4-3, he played inside, but he should be fine. He’s above average both in coverage and against the run.

Kevin Barnett will remain in the middle. He too is an above average player against the run, but he was ProFootballFocus’ 2nd worst player in coverage. Backup Gary Guyton may come in for him on passing downs, but he’s not much of an upgrade. Next to him, Koa Misi will change positions from 3-4 rush linebacker to 4-3 outside linebacker. This will probably be a good move for him, especially as he’ll be just a pure two-down run stuffing outside linebacker.

Misi, a collegiate defensive end and linebacker who went in the 2nd round in 2010, has never been that great at getting to the quarterback, managing just 1 sack, 1 quarterback hit, and 4 quarterback pressures on 113 pass rush snaps, a pathetic 5.3% rate. He’s not good in coverage either so he’s pretty useless on passing downs, but he should be a solid two-down run stuffer and come out in sub packages when the Dolphins go to two-linebacker sets. Even with the scheme switch, the Dolphins linebackers be part of what should be one of the best run stopping teams in the league again, but they will probably struggle in coverage.

Grade: B

 

 

Secondary

One player who does not struggle in coverage is #1 cornerback Vontae Davis. The 2009 1st round pick finally came into his own last season, allowing just 36 completions on 66 attempts (54.5%) for 496 yards (7.5 YPA), 3 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions, while deflecting 6 passes and committing 4 penalties. Opposite him, Sean Smith, a 2009 2nd round pick, will compete for the starting job with Richard Marshall, a free agent acquisition.

Smith has not played as well as Davis in his career and last year he was tied for the 4th worst rated cornerback on ProFootballFocus. He allowed 61 completions on 104 attempts (58.7%) for 793 yards (7.6 YPA), 5 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions, while deflecting 5 passes and committing 2 penalties. He was much better in 2011, when he ranked as ProFootballFocus 9th ranked cornerback, allowing 24 completions on 45 attempts for 325 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception, while deflecting 8 passes and committing 1 penalty in 11 starts at cornerback (he started 4 games at safety and wasn’t as good). He’s shed 24 pounds this offseason and now is 6-3 190, an in effort to turn his career around heading into a make or break contract year. He’s a bounce back candidate.

If he can’t keep his starting job, he’ll be replaced by Richard Marshall, who played well both inside on the slot and outside for the Cardinals last year. If Smith remains the starter, Marshall will play on the slot and either way he’ll upgrade their secondary. Marshall allowed 28 completions on 54 attempts (51.9%) for 394 yards (7.3 YPA), 2 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions, while deflecting 5 passes and committing 6 penalties last season. He ranked 3rd in the league in receptions per coverage snap, 7th in yards per coverage snap, and 2nd in targets per coverage snap. With his addition and a potential bounce back year from Sean Smith, the Dolphins could have three legitimate starting cornerbacks.

At safety, things aren’t as good. Yeremiah Bell was awful last season and he’s gone. However, in his place, the Dolphins will start Chris Clemons, who really struggled in 2010, before being benched in 2011. Reshad Jones, who struggled in 2011, will start opposite Clemons. He’s the guy they originally benched Clemons for. Meanwhile, depth safeties Tyrone Culver and Tyrell Johnson both struggled in that role last season, Culver in Miami and Johnson in Minnesota. However, safety isn’t that important of a position and it doesn’t really seem like very many teams have good safeties this season.

The Dolphins have plenty of talent defensively. Cameron Wake, Karlos Dansby, Randy Starks, and Vontae Davis are all among the best in the league at their position, while Richard Marshall is underrated coming off a strong season, Sean Smith could have a bounce back year, and Jared Odrick has break out potential as an inside/outside player on the defensive line. They’ll be better against the run than against the pass again, but they should be strong overall, unless the scheme change messes everything up.

Grade: B

Head Coach

Joe Philbin was a hot Head Coaching candidate this offseason because he was the Packers’ offensive coordinator, but he didn’t even call plays in Green Bay. In fact, he’s never been a play caller anywhere in the NFL. He has Mike Sherman to do that here in Miami so he might not even do that next season. He’s also made some questionable major scheme changes that don’t fit the personnel well. If everything works out in his first year with the Dolphins (which it could), he’ll look like a genius, but if not, this could end up being a short stay that lasts just 2-3 years. There’s a lot of unknowns with him.

Grade: C

Overall

The Dolphins are one of three teams I’m completely torn on and all have unsolved quarterback situations. The Dolphins could be the 2011 Titans or they could be the 2011 Jaguars. The 2010 Titans were a team with a Pythagorean Expectation of 8.5 wins and in the offseason, they added a veteran quarterback (Matt Hasselbeck) and a raw rookie quarterback (Jake Locker).

Hasselbeck game managed the offense and a strong defense (8th with 19.8 points per game allowed) led them to 9 wins and the brink of a playoff spot. The Dolphins have the veteran quarterback, the raw rookie, the strong defense, and the Pythagorean Expectation from 2011. They could ride the decent quarterback, strong defense, easy schedule model to the playoffs in the inferior AFC.

The 2010 Jaguars, meanwhile, had a two veteran quarterbacks (Luke McCown and David Garrard) and a raw rookie (Blaine Gabbert), cut Garrard in the preseason for salary reasons, started McCown, only to watch him struggle mightily and get benched for Blaine Gabbert, the 10th pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, who was not ready and had a poor offensive supporting cast so he struggled so mightily that their solid defense didn’t even matter.

Either Garrard (age) or Moore (unproven) could struggle like McCown did early and the Dolphins probably won’t keep both, so Tannehill will have to take over before he’s ready and with a poor offensive supporting cast and struggle so mightily that their solid defense won’t even matter. The Dolphins’ 2011 Pythagorean Expectation is closer to the 2010 Titans’ than the 2010’ Jaguars, but their offensive supporting cast is closer to the 2011 Jaguars’ after the Brandon Marshall trade. As I did in the other 2 cases, I’m basically going to split the difference with this team and rather than the 5 wins the Jaguars had in 2011 or the 9 wins the Titans had in 2011, I’m going to give them 7 wins.

In the division, I think the Patriots and Bills are both better than them and the Jets may or be not be, so they should go 2-4 or so in the division. Outside the division, they host Oakland, St. Louis, Seattle, Tennessee, and Jacksonville. Oakland and Jacksonville will be easy games and St. Louis and Seattle are bad road teams, while Tennessee is an unknown this season because we don’t know who their quarterback will be or how he’ll play. They could go 4-1 in those 5 games. In their other 5, they go to Houston, Arizona, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and San Francisco. Houston will be pretty unwinnable and San Francisco will be tough too and the other 3 are winnable, but not easy. 7 wins is a strong possibility, as is anything from 4 to 10 wins really, but I’m going with 7.

Update: Ryan Tannehill won the starting quarterback job because Moore struggled in the preseason and Garrard got hurt. I’m going with a prediction much closer to by worst scenario for them. Besides, Vontae Davis, who I highlighted as a big time player for them on defense showed up out of shape and got traded to Indianapolis. They could be one of the worst teams in the league.

Projection: 5-11 4th in AFC East

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