Jay Cutler is undermining everything the Dolphins want to do offensively
Cutler's knowledge of Adam Gase's system has not led to any success
Four games into their season, the Miami Dolphins have what is almost certainly the worst offense in football. The Dolphins rank last in the NFL in both yards and points per game (and they're not particularly close to 31st on either front; they're more than 40 yards per game behind the Bills and more than five points per game behind the Browns), and 31st in offensive efficiency, per Football Outsiders' DVOA.
The Dolphins are gaining only 3.9 yards per play, the 10th-worst per-play average for any NFL team's first four games of the year since the league expanded to 32 teams back in 2002. They have scored a disgusting 0.80 points per drive and have converted only 17.2 percent of their drives into scores, figures that would both be the worst the league has seen in years.
They have been horrible running the ball (30th in DVOA) and horrible throwing it (29th). They have not been able to sustain drives (league-low 20.6 yards gained per drive) and they have not been able to create explosive plays (league-low seven plays that gained 20-plus yards.) They have done exactly nothing well.
For a team with a strong offensive line, a young stud running back, and several quality pass-catchers, it's a massive disappointment. Projecting a step back from where the offense was last season after the preseason ACL injury to Ryan Tannehill was reasonable, but nobody could have expected the Dolphins' offense to be quite this bad.
The Dolphins have gained fewer yards and scored fewer points than their opponent in a given week has allowed to non-Dolphins opponents in all four of their games. On average, they have gained 160.5 fewer yards against a given opponent than that opponent has given up otherwise, and they have scored 16.4 fewer points against their opponents than the average team has scored so far.
And it's not like they've played a bunch of tough defenses. In fact, they have faced the third-easiest slate of opposing defenses in the NFL, according to Football Outsiders. That's not at all surprising – the Chargers (15), Jets (21), Saints (23), and Titans (26) all rank between 15th and 26th in FO's defensive DVOA.
It's not at all a stretch to call them the most disappointing offense in the league right now, and it's not hard to identify the root cause of their problems. It's Jay Cutler, who pretty much looks like he came back to play football solely so he could add $10 million to his bank account and also not have to prepare to call games on TV every week.
There are 32 quarterbacks that have attempted at least 100 passes this season. Cutler ranks 17th in interception rate, 29th in touchdown rate, 30th in passer rating, and 31st in yards per attempt, QBR, DYAR, and DVOA. He's not been successful pushing the ball down the field, taking care of the ball, creating scores, or providing play-to-play value with his arm. He's been bad under pressure and he's been bad throwing from a clean pocket. He's been bad throwing to his right, bad throwing to his left, bad throwing over the middle, bad against four-man rushes, and an utter abomination against the blitz.
Defenses at this point know he will not hang onto the ball long enough to attempt throws down the field and will instead only take shots when he quickly chucks it up and hopes his receiver bails him out. That's why he's a pathetic 4 of 18 on throws at least 20 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, a truly gross number for a quarterback whose "strength" is ostensibly his strong arm that allows him to push the ball deep down the field. (And who in his last healthy season threw deep more often than all but six other QBs, and actually had a good deal of success doing so.)
Their lack of fear of Cutler beating them downfield has clogged underneath throwing lanes previously exploitable by Jarvis Landry, averaging a career-low 7.0 yards per reception, and has resulted in Jay Ajayi being forced to deal with overcrowded boxes, dropping his yards per carry average from 4.9 a year ago to just 3.4 this year. Miami's offense line has been OK in pass-protection, but it's been overwhelmed in the run game because defenses are entirely unafraid of committing extra defenders to shut Ajayi down before he ever develops a head of steam. That's why 29 percent of Miami runs have been stuffed behind the line of scrimmage, the third-highest rate in football.
In short, Cutler's performance is undermining everything the Dolphins try to do with their offense.
The Dolphins go up against another ineffective defense this weekend, when they're set to take on the Atlanta Falcons. It was reasonable to expect the Falcons' defense to take a step forward this year, given their progress during last year's playoffs and the combination of youth and athleticism on hand, but for a variety of reasons ranging from injuries to simple missed assignments, it's hasn't happened. Atlanta ranks 10th in yards allowed per game and 18th in points allowed per game, but has faced a generally easy slate of opposing offenses (they played the Packers, sure, but also the Bears, Lions, and Bills) and so ranks just 24th in defensive efficiency.
Atlanta has been worse against the run than the pass this season and the way their defensive front has gotten pushed around a bit provides an opportunity for the Dolphins to re-establish Ajayi as the foundation of the offense, but they won't be able to find all that much success either in this game or for the rest of the year, unless Cutler snaps out of this funk. There's more than enough talent on hand for him to take advantage of, and frankly it's incredible that he's been as bad as he has. Miami's remaining schedule doesn't exactly feature a murderer's row of opposing defenses at any point, but unless Cutler does a complete 180, it's hard to see that mattering.
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