|Miami was perhaps better than expected this year. (US Presswire)|
As each NFL team is officially eliminated from postseason contention, the Eye on Football crew will whip up a review of that team's 2012 season. Today, we look at the Dolphins. For more of our End of the Road series, click here.
What went wrong
For the fourth-straight season (and for the seventh time in eight years) the Dolphins will finish with a non-winning record. Aside from the first four years of the franchise (1966-69), the team has never been this consistently bad, and even with the hiring of new coach Joe Philbin, the problems of the franchise weren't immediately solved.
While the Dolphins seem to have found a quarterback in Ryan Tannehill who could be the franchise QB every winning team needs (and the team still has one of the NFL's best backups), the problem with finding receivers who can catch him plagued the team all season. The problems started with what turned out to be the disastrous signing of Chad Johnson -- who possibly has played his last NFL game. Brian Hartline has had a career season (not bad for a guy who battled gangrene in the offseason), but he tailed off toward the end of the year.
On the season, the team caught only 13 touchdown passes, the third-worst mark in the league, and of those, only two were caught by wide receivers!
Really, nothing else about this year's Miami squad was terrible (unless you count guard Richie Incognito's attempts not to play dirty). Mostly, the Dolphins were just a mediocre squad -- as their 7-8 record after Week 16 will attest -- with plenty of room for improvement.
What went right
Well, it appears as if Miami has found a franchise quarterback. Ryan Tannehill wasn't as great as Robert Griffin III or Andrew Luck or Russell Wilson, but he was solid and dependable and was easily better than Brandon Weeden or Ryan Lindley. Is he the Dan Marino the Dolphins have been searching for since 1999? That's hard to say, but the decision to start Tannehill, after David Garrard was injured in the preseason, instead of Matt Moore was a good one. Through Week 16, he had completed 58.4 percent of his passes for 3,059 yards, 12 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. There's work to be done, but by most rookie quarterback standards, that's a solid season.
Defensively, the Dolphins have been stingy, ranking sixth in the league in points allowed. Defensive end Cameron Wake was one of the best defenders in the NFL, Randy Starks and Paul Soliail provided solid work on the interior defensive line and the linebacker unit had success.
It seems that Jeff Ireland is on the verge of being fired in just about every Dolphins post … we … write, but so far, owner Stephen Ross has been loyal to Ireland -- probably to the organization's detriment. But with the team's seemingly successful selection of Tannehill and the squad's improvement from last season's disaster, you have to wonder if Ireland has done enough to save his job for another season.
Philbin should hope so. Though the team has had some good moments (and generally, Philbin came off pretty well on this season's version of “Hard Knocks”), a new general manager might want to bring in his own coach if the current one isn't coming off a playoff season. Yes, Philbin has only had one year in the organization, but you don't have to tell Hue Jackson that sometimes a new GM makes sure you don't get a second.
In the end, it probably won't matter. Ireland probably will save his job, and Philbin likely will get another few seasons to try to turn the Dolphins into a team that can compete with the Patriots in the AFC East.
The Dolphins already have said that finding a receiver will be the top priority of the offseason, and there's no reason to think that will change after this season is complete.
The team also could use some help at cornerback, especially after it traded away Vontae Davis in the preseason. On the year, the Dolphins were tied for 25th in the league with 10 interceptions. The tackle position also has to be a concern, because former first-round pick Jake Long, who suffered a triceps injury earlier this month that sent him to IR and who wasn't effective as normal, might not be back. Rookie Jonathan Martin replaced him, but he struggled this season.
NFLDraftScout.com's Rob Rang and Dane Brugler both make the same prediction, though -- the Dolphins will take California receiver Keenan Allen in the first round.
2013 will be ...
… better offensively for the Dolphins. We assume Miami will draft a top-notch receiver early, and then, along with Hartline and Davone Bess, they'll have given Tannehill some receiving targets. The defense should be better in coordinator Kevin Coyle's second season, and if the secondary can add a solid cover corner, all the better. Will the Dolphins end New England's long reign as the division's best team? Probably not by 2013. But Miami can inch ever so much closer.
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