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3 Reasons The Miami Dolphins Underperformed In 2017

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Why The Dolphins Underperformed In 2017

There is no gray area when evaluating this 2017 Miami Dolphins football team. Aside from a couple of monumental comebacks, this is a below average football team. The roster seems to have talent, the offensive quarterback guru, but cannot win games. Earlier in the season, I wrote about why the Dolphins’ struggles are not Jay Cutler’s fault. Despite his terrible performance in the last few games, Cutler is still not to blame. With an awful offensive line (probably the worst in the AFC) and some questionable play calling, you cannot blame him. The Dolphins underperformed because they lost too many players too early in the season.

The Dolphins did not get a bye week this season, which is evident if you check the injury report. Sure, they did not have to play Week 1 but 16 straight games with no break withers even the best football roster. Trading Jay Ajayi mid-season, flip-flopping game plans from week to week and micromanaging Jay Cutler is why this team was so bad. The Dolphins underperformed mostly because of execution on offense. However, this also falls on the coaches to teach the right way so the players can execute.

Smokin’ Jay Cutler Was Mismanaged

The idea was simple. Bring in Cutler, let him make the easy throws, and take the occasional shot down the field (which is his strength). Lean on Jay Ajayi or Kenyan Drake apparently, and let him manage the game. That did not happen.

Cutler attempted more than 33 passes in 8 out of 14 games played. Even with a serviceable offensive line, that is a recipe for disaster. Any questions as to what happens when you put the game in Jay Cutler’s hands can be answered looking at history. He cannot take over games, and he cannot run an offense without a run game to lean on. Adam Gase already knows these things considering he was Cutler’s offensive coordinator in Chicago.

On the other hand, the Dolphins defense was playing terrible early in the season, so Miami was always playing catch up. In either case, Adam Gase and the offensive staff in Miami just didn’t manage Cutler the right way. Did he make terrible mistakes in the passing game sometimes? Sure, but he is not the root of the problem. For the most part, Cutler did his job and made enough throws to win at least eight games this season.

This is not to say that Cutler did not have good outings. With a revolving door along the offensive line and questionable game planning, you have to give Cutler credit for doing his best. He was trying to make an offense flow that just wasn’t that good. This play from Cutler is one of his best of the season against the best team in the NFL, the New England Patriots. If Adam Gase called every game like this, maybe Miami would be a playoff contender.

Game Plan Too Inconsistent

I do not want to just list offensive stats because stats never lie, but they do tell different stories. However, in every offensive ranking except passing, the Dolphins are ranked in the bottom seven. To be frank, a lot of bad teams have great passing numbers because they always play from behind. 300 yards passing and three touchdowns is a great stat line — unless you lost the game (Raiders).

In too many games, the Dolphins abandoned the run when only being down by a couple of scores. Teams put five players in the box and put six men in coverage. Cutler cannot pick apart defenses, so why shy away from the running game? The Dolphins underperformed because opposing defenses outcoached them. Gase has said his offense is predicated on the run first, and pass second. The film tells a very different story.

While the reasons for trading Jay Ajayi vary, most among the Dolphins organization saw it as the best long-term move. Kenyan Drake burst onto the scene as a star and looks to be the back of the future in Miami. However, early in the season, Jay Ajayi’s touches were way too inconsistent. The first game of the season he received 28 attempts in a win, which then dipped to 11 and 12 in two losses (go figure). The next three games were wins, in which he received more than 20 carries. No trend here, right? Even when they were down 17-0 to the Falcons, Ajayi was ripping off runs of 15-plus yards.

Jay Ajayi Trade Doomed Running Game

The second that Ajayi was traded, the running game was doomed. Adam Gase knew Kenyan Drake was a stud but didn’t even give him ten carries until five games later! When he touched the ball, he was exploding and creating extra yards. Even still, Damien Williams split carries until a shoulder injury forced Gase to give Drake the lion’s share of carries. Wouldn’t you know, as soon as he received 20-plus carries just like Ajayi, this happened:

Back to back games of 20-plus yards, back to back wins with 110-plus yards rushing. Earlier, I touched on how he mismanaged Cutler, but the running game was a different animal. Adam Gase trading Jay Ajayi meant that he knew without a doubt that he was replaceable. Kenyan Drake was always going to be a better back than Damien Williams. Nobody knows why Gase gave them each less than ten touches a game to even prove themselves. The Dolphins underperformed in the run game because a feature back was never set in stone. Against the Panthers, Drake averaged 11 yards-per-carry. Given that was a blowout, players do not stop tackling because they are winning. While the Dolphins underperforming had a lot to do with player effort, Adam Gase just didn’t manage his roster the right way.

Bye Weeks Matter

If anyone questions what kind of toll an NFL season can take on your body, take a look at the Dolphins and Bucs. Both teams were scheduled to play Week 1 and had the same bye week. Naturally, Hurricane Irma made them reschedule their game to their bye week (Week 11) and Week 1 would be their ‘bye’. Most teams want their bye in the middle or near the end of the season for a reason. The Dolphins underperformed because their bodies just gave out. Players simply cannot travel, game plan, and play 16 or even 12 weeks in a row with no break.

A week off gives the entire organization — not just the players — the luxury of having a few days off to relax mentally. The Dolphins and Bucs were both predicted to be solid football teams, and hopefully, make the playoffs. Both teams now have an injury report longer than a rugby team would have.

Now, both of these teams were not going to make the playoffs if they had their initially scheduled bye. Both were below average and didn’t live up to expectations. However, week in and week out, in terms of player performance and wins and losses, it does matter. The probability that a small injury turns into a season-ending one is not enormous, but it does make a difference. Closing out the season, the Dolphins looked exhausted in the second half of the last few games. The passion and the fire to get back up off the ground just weren’t there. No matter what sport you play, adequate rest is key to making sure long-term injuries do not occur.

Bottom Line

Whether Jay Cutler threw too many interceptions or offensive lineman did not make their block, this team did not execute on the field. That is how you win football games. Execution and effort separate good teams from great teams, and Miami cannot even be considered good this season. Adam Gase did not manage Jay Cutler wrong in every game, but there is obviously room for improvement. Trading Jay Ajayi really hurt Miami’s present, but hopefully, that move pays off in the future.

Injuries, game planning, and sub-par coaching are the reasons the Dolphins underperformed this season. None of these, besides injuries, are a real excuse. Adam Gase just picked his new offensive coordinator, Dowell Loggains, and moved Clyde Christensen to a new role within the organization. Maybe that is the first step and changes will come in 2018. Gase needs to get in Mike Tannenbaum’s ear and tell him to draft some offensive lineman. With Ryan Tannehill, this might be an entirely different season. On the other hand, it might have been the exact same.

Photo by Brook-Ward