Something's fishy in Miami
By The War Room - SportingNews
This has been a curious offseason for the Dolphins. In the wake of a season in which Miami missed the playoffs, the organization has raised eyebrows around the league with some puzzling changes. It's hard to see how those moves will make the Dolphins a better team.
Though the Dolphins' 10-6 record was the same as five of 12 postseason teams last season, they were only 2-5 against playoff teams. The most glaring difference between Miami and the playoff teams was that all 12 had winning records at home, and Miami was 4-4. One extra win at home, and the Dolphins would have made the playoffs. Miami scored 11 fewer points at home than it did on the road.
The team also couldn't defend a halftime lead, especially early in the season. Coach Dave Wannstedt got too conservative with the lead and let teams hang around.
With offensive coordinator Norv Turner now in Oakland, it doesn't look as if things will be better. Turner's replacement, Chris Foerster, wasn't the team's first choice. He was promoted from tight ends coach after an illness forced Joel Collier to return to his job as running backs coach. Many observers believe Foerster, who was a tight ends coach with the Colts last year, got the coordinator job because Wannstedt can keep a tight leash on him. If so, that means even more conservative play calling.
That would not be good because the Dolphins need to throw the ball more. The NFL has become a pass-to-set-up-the-run league. But among the 12 playoff teams last season, only the Ravens had fewer pass attempts than Miami. The playoff teams averaged 31.7 passes per game, and the Dolphins averaged 28.1. The Dolphins need to stop pounding Ricky Williams into defenses that pack eight and nine men in the box and instead add four to six passes per game.
Foerster is a fine assistant coach with 11 years of experience in the NFL, but the Dolphins need to change their offensive philosophy -- and that doesn't seem likely. The quarterback situation is a sign of business as usual in Miami. The Dolphins signed free agent A.J. Feeley, a former third-stringer with the Eagles, to be the starter. But it quickly became evident in minicamps that he might not be an upgrade over incumbent Jay Fiedler. With Feeley having five career starts and Fiedler knowing the scheme as well as or better than the new offensive assistants (Foerster, quarterbacks coach Marc Trestman and wide receivers coach Jerry Sullivan), look for Fiedler to be back under center. The situation doesn't look much different from last year, when Brian Griese was brought in to contend for the job, but Fiedler held on to it.
Fiedler is better than Dolphins fans give him credit for, and the addition of wide receiver David Boston could make Fiedler look better. But the Boston signing was another curious personnel decision, and it will be boom or bust. He brings a lot of baggage to Miami, but the potential for a sizable boom is there.
The offensive line gave up 31 sacks last year, which doesn't sound bad, but it amounted to one sack for every 14.5 passes. Boston can help solve the problem. He will be featured on quick slants that will be thrown off three-step drops. That type of quick-hitting play will reduce sacks because the ball will be gone before pass rushers can get to Fiedler. The line returns only one starter, but free-agent left guard Jeno James and rookie right tackle Vernon Carey, a first-round pick, give hope for improvement.
Boston's presence also will open running lanes for Williams and could have a positive effect on wide receiver Chris Chambers and tight end Randy McMichael. Boston -- who has been reunited with Sullivan, under whom Boston had his best season when the two were with the Cardinals -- will draw double coverage because he is so big and can break tackles. That means Chambers and McMichael will get more single coverage than ever before. Boston, however, must prove his health and attitude problems are behind him, or this ripple effect will stall.
Ultimately, though, it all comes down to whether Foerster and Wannstedt will let the ripple effect happen. That is the burning question.
Not many coaches with one year left to save their jobs would have signed a troubled wide receiver, a third-string quarterback and a rookie coordinator, but that's what Wannstedt did. A curious offseason, indeed.
The War Room is a team of football scouts that analyzes NFL and college players, coaches and teams for the Sporting News.