|By Shawn Childs, Monday, August 24, 2015|
In three seasons with Joe Philbin as head coach, the Miami Dolphins have gone 23-25 with his best season being 8-8. After three straight seasons of top-10 rankings in points allowed, the Dolphins' defense fell to 20th in 2014 despite having their best season as far as yards allowed (12th) since 2010. Miami was much improved on offense (11th in points scored, 14th in yards) due to the development of Ryan Tannehill. Bill Lazor returns for his second season as offensive coordinator. Kevin Coyle has been the defensive coordinator since 2012. The Dolphins have made the playoffs only once in the past 13 years (2008). This year could be do or die for Philbin after the team signed top defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh to a six-year contract worth $114 million. Overall, the AFC East is improving as the Dolphins, Buffalo Bills and New York Jets are sensing that the end is near for the Tom Brady-led New England Patriots, who have dominated the division for this entire century.
I already mentioned the signing of Suh. He will give Miami an inside pass rusher and a solid run stopper. He played a big part in the Detroit Lions leading the league in run defense in 2014. The Dolphins added a pair of veteran cornerbacks in Brice McCain and Zackary Bowman. The 28-year-old McCain started a career-high nine games in 2014 while with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He allowed 38 completions on 55 pass attempts for 498 yards and one touchdown. Bowman struggled while starting for the Chicago Bears in 2009, allowing 58 completions on 90 attempts for 732 yards and four TDs. He has been a backup for the past five seasons. Both CBs will compete for playing time in Miami's nickel and dime packages. CB Jimmy Wilson signed with the Chargers after struggling in pass coverage last year (32-of-41 for 347 yards, two TDs and one interception). DT Randy Starks is now with the Cleveland Browns. He was a liability in run support in 2014 as a rotational player for the Dolphins.
Miami Dolphins DT Ndamukong Suh
On offense, Miami moved on from WR Mike Wallace, who was traded to the Minnesota Vikings. Free agents Brandin Gibson and Brian Hartline signed with the Patriots and the Browns, respectively. Greg Jennings and Kenny Stills were added to help offset those WR losses. Stills showed improvement during the second half of 2014 when he caught 39 passes for 560 yards and two TDs in eight games. He gives Tannehill a deep threat to replace Wallace. Jennings will bring a veteran presence with possible upside as a fourth or fifth option in the passing game depending on matchups. The Dolphins lost starting tight end Charles Clay to Buffalo. Miami replaced him with Jordan Cameron, which appears to be a parallel move. Cameron flashed high upside in 2013 when he caught 80 passes for 917 yards and seven scores.
Center Samson Satele is no longer on the roster. He was forced into a starting role as Mike Pouncey was forced to miss the first four games of last season following hip surgery. Satele struggled in pass protection while being slightly effective in run blocking. The Dolphins added center J.D. Walton. He started all 16 games for the New York Giants in 2014 but had no success in run or pass blocking. Walton is expected to be a backup this year.
In the first round, the Dolphins added a possible stud at WR in DeVante Parker. Parker has plus hands, excellent size at 6 feet 3 and ran a 4.45 40-yard dash at the combine. His draft stock was affected a bit by the fact that he missed the first half of his senior season at Louisville due a broken bone in his foot.
Miami Dolphins WR DeVante Parker
Nose tackle Jordan Phillips was drafted in the second round. He is another wide body who can clog up the middle. Phillips will benefit from the talent that surrounds him on this defensive line. He has plenty of talent but a questionable motor.
In the fourth round, the Dolphins tried to add more depth to their offensive line with selection of guard Jamil Douglas. Jamil has strength with some quickness, but he tends to react rather than attack.
Miami had had four picks in the fifth round: CB Bobby McCain, RB Jay Ajayi, S Cedric Thompson and WR Tony Lippett. McCain is an undersized cornerback whose biggest asset is his electric quickness. However, he has limited top-end speed and will struggle against big, physical receivers. Ajayi was somewhat of a gift for Miami. He was expected to be a second-round pick, but an underlying knee issue led to his free fall on draft day. There was no risk with taking him that late in the draft, and his skill set may be better than Lamar Miller's. Ajayi has size (6 feet tall and 221 pounds) with very good short-area quickness.
Thompson is an athlete with solid speed and strength, but his lack of instincts hurts his chances of developing into a full-time player. Lippett was a rare two-way player at Michigan State, filling roles at wideout and cornerback. He is a hard worker who needs to improve his route-running skills.
Miami ran the ball very well in 2014. They averaged 4.7 yards per rush, second-best in the NFL. The running backs alone averaged 4.55 yards per rush. The Dolphins' offensive line allowed 46 sacks, 10th-most in the NFL. That limited Tannehill's window to make plays down the field.
Miami really needs Pouncey to return to full strength after he struggled with a hip injury that required surgery last July. Mike showed his high upside in 2012 when he was a top run blocker while allowing a combined total of just five quarterback hits and hurries. The Dolphins signed him to a five-year, $50 million extension in April. When you consider how poorly Satele played last year and that Miami still ran the ball well, a healthy Pouncey could pay big dividends in 2015.
First-round offensive tackle Ja'Wuan James started all 16 games as a rookie in 2014, but he struggled badly in pass protection. He allowed six sacks, 12 QB hits and 40 QB hurries. He also had negative value in run blocking. His scouting report coming out of college painted him as a quality pass protector who needed work in the run game. An injury to Branden Albert forced James to move to left tackle where he allowed four sacks and 20 QB hurries over the final month of the year. I expect him to improve this year. Albert is a former first-round pick who was very good as a run blocker and a pass blocker in his nine starts last year. But he tore the ACL and the MCL in his right knee in November. The Dolphins aren't expecting him to be ready for the start of the season, and it will take him some time to return to his high level of play.
Guard Dallas Thomas was a complete bust in run and pass blocking in nine starts. He allowed seven sacks, seven QB hits and 26 QB hurries. Yet he is the favorite to win the left guard job. Guard Billy Turner saw only 17 snaps in 2014 after being selected in the third round. He played left tackle at a small school in college where he showed quickness and a solid feel for the game.
This O-line has some upside if James can show growth and if Albert returns from his major knee injury. However, the line's success will hinge on the improvement of its guards. Run blocking should be its biggest strength, and this group should be better in pass protection as well.
The above chart shows the Dolphins' 2015 offensive strength of schedule in terms of rushing attempts (RATT), rushing yards (YDS), yards per attempt rushing (YA), rushing touchdowns (TDs), completions (COMP), passing attempts (PATT), passing yards (YDS), yards per attempt passing (YA) and passing touchdowns (TDS).
This information is based on 2014 stats, which we will work with as our starting point for 2015. We'll look at all the changes on offense for each team in the NFL plus the upgrades and downgrades each team has made on the defensive side. We'll update this table when we finish researching all 32 teams.
2014 Average: The league average of each stat from all 32 teams in 2014.
2014 Results: The results for each specific team in the NFL.
2015 Adjustment: The difference between a team's result and the league average in a certain statistic. This number will show if a team is above or below the league average in each stat and will serve as the basis for the strength of schedule.
The Dolphins' run offense has a tough schedule, but it also has advantageous matchups versus the Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars and the New York Giants.
Their passing-game matchups are slightly better than league average. There are three possibly tough contests on the schedule: the Bills twice and the San Diego Chargers.
Miami ran the ball only 40.1 percent of the time with 24.2 carries per game. They finished 12th in rushing yards (1,872) while attempting 20 percent less carries than the top six teams in the league. Game score played a huge factor in their lack of rushing attempts. Tannehill showed solid growth in 2014, but a stronger defense should lead to a more balanced offense. In addition, Ajayi should help take the pressure off of Miller.