Hard Knocked: Are the Miami Dolphins Even Trying at This Point?
It seems everyone running the Miami Dolphins is already preparing to give up this season.
I can only assume a meeting between head coach Joe Philbin, general manager Jeff Ireland and owner Stephen Ross deciding there is no use putting any effort into this season is going to be a deleted scene of the Hard Knocks DVD set.
This wouldn't be a terrible idea if the team was truly bad, but they're not. The Dolphins actually played much better than their 6-10 record last season.
Miami was only one of two teams to finish under .500 while still outscoring their opponents. The Dolphins ended the season with more net points (points for minus points against) than the Jets, Titans, Raiders, Bears, Cardinals and Giants—all teams with 8-8 or better records, one of which happened to win the Super Bowl.
A big reason for the positive point differential was the play of Miami's defense. The Dolphins had a top-10 defense over the course of last season, according to Football Outsiders' Weighted Defense statistic, which adjusts defensive numbers to better represent how teams play towards the end of the season is more indicative of value than play at the start of the season.
Without any improvement in play from last year, the Dolphins could still easily expect more than the six wins in 2012. With an improvement, they should have been able to at least get the eight wins projected by their point differential (for mathematically inclined people, this is known as Pythagorean expectation).
Somehow, the Dolphins front office was not aware of any of this and decided an overhaul was necessary, leading to many unnecessary moves.
It started with trading away Brandon Marshall in the offseason. Marshall was the only real threat Miami had in the passing game last season, recording 81 receptions for 1,214 yards. Marshall was rewarded for his Pro Bowl season by getting traded to the Chicago Bears for two third-round picks.
The trade of Marshall also let the only offensive weapon that could have lured Peyton Manning to Miami walk out the door. A Dolphins offense without Marshall isn't enticing for anyone to throw to, never mind Peyton Manning.
The ill-advised moves continued with prematurely handing the starting quarterback job over to Ryan Tannehill before training camp was over. After losing out on the Manning sweepstakes, the Dolphins felt they had no choice but to draft Tannehill early in the first round. Great move because they needed a quarterback, right?
Contrary to popular belief, no. Matt Moore wasn't as bad as you think last season. Moore completed 60 percent of his passes and threw more touchdowns than interceptions—a considerable feat in that offense.
The Dolphins could have been served better either trading down to collect more draft picks or taking someone like cornerback Stephen Gilmore or defensive tackle Fletcher Cox to follow the 49ers' 2011 game plan of winning the turnover and field position battles with an extremely conservative offense and a dominating defense.
Of course, the Dolphins didn't do any of that and became enamored with Tannehill's performance in practice. Practice doesn't always translate to games, and performance in preseason games against a second team defense doesn't always to translate to preseason performance against the first-team defense.
In his first preseason game against Tampa Bay's second-team defense, Tannehill completed 14 of 21 passes for 167 yards and a touchdown. In his two preseason games since getting the first team reps, Tannehill is 22 of 50 with an interception. That's a 22% completion percentage swing just by facing first team defenses.
Tannehill will improve more from learning on the bench for at least the first part of the season. We've seen it work too many times with too many other quarterbacks for the Dolphins to think Tannehill is different.
Even with Tannehill starting, the Dolphins could have made up for it by having their dominant defense, but cornerback Vontae Davis was just traded to the Indianapolis Colts for a second-round pick and a conditional sixth rounder.
Davis has struggled to reach his potential, but the former first-rounder is only 24 years old. There is still plenty of time for Davis to become the elite corner he was expected to be when drafted.
Within two weeks, the Dolphins have shown too much confidence in a young player and given up too early on another.
This strategy could make sense if the Dolphins were going to use the draft picks acquired by trade and the presumably high picks from another losing season to truly build upon the current team, but they've had plenty of chances to do that in the past couple years and failed.
Nothing about Jeff Ireland's personnel decisions should give Miami fans any hope those future picks will turn into future Pro Bowlers. The best Dolphins fans can hope for at this point is a bad enough season to assure Ireland won't be the one making those picks.
The Dolphins were in a position to show improvement, but it seems as if the front office is actively searching for ways to not let that happen.
Get ready for another long season in Miami.
UPDATE 8/28: According to Pro Football Talk, sources have said some Miami veterans share this sentiment.
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