Determining the 10 Miami Dolphins Most to Blame for Disappointing Season
The Miami Dolphins still have three games remaining on their slate, but all eyes are already looking ahead towards the offseason and reflecting back at the array of issues that caused this disastrous season.
Ultimately, all 53 players on Miami's roster and every member of the coaching staff are at blame for the franchise's third consecutive losing season, but there are a few people who are more responsible than the rest.
Because Tony Sparano was fired following Miami's majestic turnaround, the public perception of his tenure with the Dolphins will likely be skewed. Sure, the Dolphins looked phenomenal over the past two months, but don't forget how miserable this team was at the beginning of the 2011 season.
The 'Fins started off 0-7 due in large part to Sparano's ineptitude. Miami couldn't score in the red zone, couldn't convert third downs, couldn't stop the pass, couldn't protect the quarterback and couldn't hold onto a lead.
When so many things go wrong, the head coach is the one to blame. Sparano may have the affection of the locker room and the fans, but he simply wasn't cut out to coach this team.
Even though he only played in four games before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury, Chad Henne still managed to play a big role in Miami's disappointing season.
The Dolphins lost all four games that Henne started, including an inexcusable Week 3 loss to the Cleveland Browns.
Had Matt Moore started since Week 1, there's no telling how far the 'Fins could have gone. However, Henne's lackluster performances dug the Dolphins into a hole too deep to escape from.
Reshad Jones and Chris Clemons
The Dolphins had so many needs to address last season that some positions in need of an upgrade could not receive one. Free safety is a prime example.
Chris Clemons played well enough in 2010 to convince management not to pursue a long-term replacement. However, Clemons was sidelined by a nagging hamstring injury for much of the season, and Reshad Jones failed to perform well in relief.
The absence of a reliable free safety puts extra pressure on Miami's cornerbacks, and they struggled with the added burden.
Will Allen, Benny Sapp and Nolan Carroll
All eyes were on Vontae Davis and Sean Smith as the start of the 2011 NFL season rolled around. The tandem promised to reach elite status this season, and the Dolphins secondary looked primed for a great year.
However, nobody seemed to realize just how bad the rest of Miami's cornerbacks were. Benny Sapp was torched so horribly in Week 1 that the 'Fins cut him the following week. Meanwhile, neither Will Allen nor Nolan Carroll were able to emerge as reliable nickelback corners.
The NFL is a pass-happy league today, and every defense needs at least three—and arguably four—high-quality cornerbacks to shut down opposing offenses. Miami's lack of such players is a primary reason for their disappointing season, and a primary reason why their pass defense currently ranks 25th in the NFL.
Reggie Bush has enjoyed a renaissance season, but Daniel Thomas has been a huge disappointment thus far. The second-round draft pick was supposed to be Miami's between-the-tackles back, but his inability to produce has led to a reduced role.
Granted, Thomas has been injured for most of the season. He is averaging a measly 3.6 yards per carry and coughed up two fumbles on 140 carries.
Had Thomas been the impact rookie many predicted he would be, then the Dolphins rushing attack would have been one of the league's best.
At the start of the preseason, the Dolphins abruptly moved Vernon Carey—who played his first seven NFL seasons at tackle—to right guard and signed Marc Colombo to take over the right tackle job.
It was a puzzling decision, and it's one that doesn't look much better in hindsight.
Colombo was a huge liability for much of the season. Although he has clearly elevated his play since the beginning of the year, the Dolphins should have kept Carey at right tackle and pursued Brian Waters or Leonard Davis to fill in at right guard.
The Dolphins roster is still devoid of the following: a franchise quarterback, a true No. 1 tight end, a well-rounded offensive line, a legitimate free safety and an adequate cornerback corps.
After four years as Miami's general manager, Jeff Ireland has been allotted more than ample time to build a contender, but he has failed to do so.
The Dolphins roster is young and loaded with talent, but it's difficult to support Stephen Ross' to retain Ireland.