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Why The Dolphins Offensive Woes Aren’t Jay Cutler’s Fault

Dolphins Offensive Woes JC Ruiz via Flickr


Dolphins Offensive Woes Aren’t Jay Cutler’s Fault

Midway through the 2017 season, the Miami Dolphins are lucky to sit at 4-4. Save two improbable fourth-quarter comebacks, and this team is easily 2-6. Now, you have to give credit where credit is due. Adam Gase found a way for his team to win football games. That being said, it is incredibly rare and difficult to have an offense as horrid as Miami does and be .500. Quarterback play stands out when you get blown out 40-0. It is clear Jay Cutler is not the problem in Miami. Without him, this offense goes from bad to giving you nightmares. The Dolphins offensive woes are not Jay Cutler’s fault. Many fans and media members point to his mediocre stat lines, but Cutler is holding this offense together.

Cutler Proves Doubters Wrong

Following the Raiders game, Cutler definitely has critics rethinking their arguments against him. Cuter started out on fire, completing his first 16 passes in a row. He was 3-3 on the opening drive, and things looked promising. Then, like clockwork, a penalty wipes out a huge 14-yard third down pass. Miami punts after failing to convert a 3rd and 11.

No problem for Cutler. He comes out and hits five passes in a row for a touchdown. Miami recovers an onside kick and is driving with all the momentum on their side. Then, like clockwork, someone else kills the entire drive. Kenyan Drake fumbles, which changed the entire flow of the game. A few plays later, Oakland punches it in for a touchdown, causing a massive 10-14 point swing.

Despite passing for 311 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions, and clutch pass after clutch pass; Miami cannot finish.

Despite producing a 121.3 QB rating, Cutler’s highest since 2014, Miami cannot finish.

The defense didn’t play fantastic, but they got enough stops to win the football game. I wrote following the game that ten offensive penalties and a big-time fumble lost this game. Cutler played out of his mind and is not the reason for the Dolphins offensive woes.

Blame The Staff

Every single game this season, Ryan Tannehill proves his value without stepping on the football field. While I just praised Jay Cutler, he is still a considerable downgrade from Ryan Tannehill.

This is 100% the fault of the Miami Dolphins trainers, doctors, and training staff as a whole. Late in the 2016 season, Ryan Tannehill went down with an ACL injury. With surgery, the recovery would be longer, but his chances of injuring the same knee again remain much lower. For some reason, Tannehill was told not to have the surgery. He made a return to training camp in 2017, but that didn’t matter. Tannehill re-injured his ACL in early August on a non-contact play, sidelining him for the season (again). There is no logical reason not to persuade your presumable franchise quarterback into a surgery that will lengthen his career.

“Patients treated with surgical reconstruction of the ACL have long-term success rates of 82 percent to 95 percent. Recurrent instability and graft failure are seen in approximately 8 percent of patients.The goal of the ACL reconstruction surgery is to prevent instability and restore the function of the torn ligament, creating a stable knee.” – American Academy Of Orthopedic Surgeons

Without the surgery, players are at much higher risk of a secondary injury, since the knee is inactive and still unstable.

In 2016, Tannehill was having the best season of his career and Miami was seriously in the playoff hunt. Even if his surgery keeps him out the first couple months of 2017, the rewards outweigh the risks. Apparently, that was not enough, because it set Adam Gase’s rebuild back another season.

Tannehill Is Just Better

It’s the little things that made this offense look better than it was in 2016. Tannehill is mobile, and teams are forced to respect the read option. Outside of the option, Tannehill is a threat to score if he gets in the open field. Despite Cutler playing under Gase in Chicago, this is not the same offense. When defenders don’t have to worry about Cutler running, they can play man coverage and force him to beat them. Little plays like the one below are the ones that can change drives.

Miami has the same offensive personnel as they did in 2016, more or less. Halfway through the season, Miami is 29th or worse in total yards, passing yards, and rushing yards per game. Even though they finished 24th or worse in every category, they still scored points.

Miami has been shut out basically three times this year; save a last-second blowout touchdown at the Jets. On film, the offensive differences are staggering. Cutler may have a better deep ball but takes too long in the pocket too often. At least Tannehill got the ball out and can get out of the pocket rather easily.

Stats Can Be Deceptive, But Never Lie

Cutler had his best game since 2014 per QB rating last week. In 2016, Tannehill eclipsed that mark of 121.3 three separate times, all in the segment of the season when the Dolphins offensive woes were at their highest. Also, the Raiders outing is Cutler’s first performance where he was consistent theĀ entire game which is a big deal. He has caught fire in a few second halves but starts out inaccurate and sluggish. During Miami’s six-game winning streak in 2016, Tannehill threw one interception that wasn’t really his fault. In contrast, Cutler had a five-game interception streak before Sunday night. The Matt Moore experiment played itself out in Baltimore. This is Tannehill’s offense, and Cutler is a band-aid.

Big plays are what Miami rodeĀ to the playoffs last season. In 10 out of 13 games Tannehill played, Miami had a pass of at least 30 yards. Jay Cutler has two such games, and one of those throws was a screen pass. The longest run of Cutler’s season is nine yards. Tannehill scrambled for at least 15 yards in seven separate games, and most of them were for a first down. Stats only paint so much of the story. Whether it’s a 1st and 5 or a 3rd and 11, Cutler cannot make the magic happen like Tannehill.

Tale Of The Tape

Here Cutler has enough time to find Kenny Stills wide open over the middle. He steps up, but takes his eyes off the receivers and takes a sack on a critical third down. The blocking is not great, but RT either escapes this or finds his dump off.

As the caption mentions, Jermon Bushrod allows an early pressure. Rather than find his wide open receiver in the flat, Cutler ducks into the pressure and takes a sack on first down. Tannehill certainly lessens the Dolphins offensive woes more than Cutler does. As shown below, the decision-making is head and shoulders better with Tannehill in control.

Offensive Line Continues To Plague Offense

The Dolphins offensive woes are self-inflicted, both by penalties and years of neglect. If you take a look at this centuries Super Bowl winners, most teams have a solid offensive line and/or running game. In addition, most of those lines are not the most penalized unit in the league. Hell, every team minus the Packers runs the ball to set up the passing game. Teams without world beaters at quarterback like the Cowboys, Bills, Bears, and Ravens all understand this. Teams with studs at running back, and multiple investments on the offensive line. Even though some of those teams aren’t amazing offensively, their run game takes pressure off their defense.

Despite having three first-round picks on the offensive line, the Dolphins offensive woes are a direct result of bad line play. Pouncey is on his way out, Tunsil looks lost, and Ja’Wuan James just never developed. Physically, Miami just doesn’t attack or fly off the ball in the running game. Players whiff on blocks entirely and are pushed into their assignments in the passing game.

In Cutler’s all-star performance against the Raiders, he faced pressure basically the entire game. No stats or film really do this unit justice. The Dolphins offensive line is hold-your-nose bad. To make things worse, starting right tackle Ja’Wuan JamesĀ may be out for the season according to a Friday report. Left guard Ted Larsen, a veteran signed in the offseason, is expected to make his season debut against Carolina on Monday Night Football. More bad news for a line that is already struggling.

Going Forward

Botching the Ryan Tannehill surgery dilemma, and not seriously addressing the offensive line is killing this offense right now. The signs have been there.

The Branden Albert trade looks worse and worse since Julius Thomas is not his 2014 self. Miami didn’t want to pay him and rightfully so because of his injury history, but it’s clear Laremy Tunsil cannot fill Albert’s shoes.

Ted Larsen is also a band-aid, and Miami needs to think long-term. Drafting a project at guard in Isaac Asiata looks worse and worse as the season progresses. If even one guard goes down, Miami is playing third-stringers.

Mike Pouncey is obviously on his last leg. The Raiders game was just flat-out terrible, and it’s apparent he is not at 100% Miami needs to move on from bad deals like this to sustain success.

Somehow, Jermon Bushrod is the only good move Miami made. Bushrod is just another veteran patching a leak but is holding the offensive line together.

Penalties, blocking, and overall effort on the offensive line are the reasons behind almost all of the Miami Dolphins offensive woes. Refusing to seriously address the talent and productivity along the line has Miami limping at 4-4.

If Jay Cutler has even a half-second more on some passing plays this season, it’s a touchdown. Cutler shows time and time again that he can make most the throws. These linemen are small patches on a sinking ship, and it’s time the management in South Beach realize that. It’s no surprise that Cutler’s best performance in years came with only one sack. It’s no longer a matter of why the Dolphins offense is terrible, but how Adam Gase can scheme around his team’s most significant weakness.