A three-year makeover did not bring the Miami Dolphins to their desired destination.
The Dolphins are in much the same place as when the overhaul began, and this stagnation ultimately cost Brian Flores the job.
Although some improvements were made during the recovery process, the attack continued to fight. The biggest challenge going forward is how much of the list can be saved, and what is the next step for this franchise?
Here’s a look at how the Dolphins have performed across all areas, and some end-of-season confessions that will allow us to take a closer look at the 2021 season.
In the NFL, there are only nine teams with worse cumulative passing ratings (85.4) than the Dolphins, and four of those teams had a rookie quarterback at the helm, and four more lost their starting quarterback to injury. Arguably, Tua Tagovailoa had a decent second season (90.1 passing rating) as an NFL player. Tagovailoa has a 7-5 record despite two injuries, but has thrown less than 200 yards in four games. It is clear that the fight for Miami’s offensive line was holding back the attack and limiting the possibilities of the game.
Running game: F
The Dolphins had one of the worst quick attacks in the NFL, no matter how they were measured. Miami was ranked 30th for yards per game (92.2) and 31st for yards per try (3.55 per carry). Passing defenders to Duke Johnson and Phillip Dorsey in the last month of the season helped the team get better, but it was too little and too late. Dolphins decision makers need to rethink how they handle tail position given the setbacks they have had in improving this unit over the past three off-seasons.
Transmission protection: B
This season, the Dolphins are among the leaders of the league in terms of the number of sacks (48) and pressure. The Miami defense finished seventh in overall passing rating (85.4), and the four teams that finished ahead of them advanced to the playoffs. Miami forced 1.5 clearance per game, tying it to Green Bay and finishing in eighth place in the NFL. For the second straight season, Miami relied heavily on the backing skills of Xavien Howard and Byron Jones, who regularly unleashed defense and security before blitz. Both wingers deserve more credit for making Miami’s formation work.
Mileage protection: C
The Dolphins have struggled to defend the title for all three seasons of Flores, and this year was no exception. Miami allowed opponents to score 109.8 yards per game and 4.4 yards per try. The Dolphins kept their opponent less than 100 yards away a total of six times. As Miami’s young line-backs – Emmanuel Ogba, Raekwon Davis, Christian Wilkins and Zach Zeler – began to flourish, the midfielders took a step back, grappling with consistency, reach and running fits.
Special commands: D
Special teams have been one of Miami’s strengths in the first two seasons of Flores’ reign, but the team has been a huge disappointment this year. Jason Sanders conceded eight field goals and one extra point. Michael Palardi’s shots were average (40.1 clean and 39 percent off the 20-yard line). There was also no return game for Miami for various reasons. Swapping Jakim Grant, the franchise’s lead producer on his return, to Chicago didn’t help. Jaylen Waddle never felt comfortable in the responder role (17.6 yards in the kick-back kick and 7.0 yards in the punt kick-back), and Jevon Holland hit the mark automatically.
The Miami attack has fought in all areas. The unit, led by joint offensive coordinators George Godsey and Eric Studdesville, had to cope with offensive line problems, which eased slightly. But that wasn’t enough for Godsey to name a game that required the quarterback to spend more time in his pocket without maximum protection. And even then it was not safe. The Dolphins defense had early identification problems and had to wait for the rookie pair (Jevon Holland and Jaelan Phillips) to get back on their feet. But they eventually found it, and defense began to flourish in the second half of the season.
Highest Scoring Striker: Receiver Jaylen Waddle
The Dolphins gave up a future pick in the first round to gain the opportunity to acquire Waddle after trading from 3rd pick for the San Francisco 49ers. The performance of the former standout Alabama player proved he was worth it. Waddle set a new NFL rookie record with 104 hits, which he turned into 1,015 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. It will be interesting to see what Waddle is capable of as the Dolphins build a better offensive line and put more playmakers around him.
Highest Scoring Defender: Cornerback Xavien Howard
Howard didn’t have a season worthy of being the league’s best defender in 2020, but he was undoubtedly the Dolphins’ best player in 2021 – he was a game changer by capturing victories, creating grip losses and scoring points. More importantly, this was his second healthy season in a row, with 50 tackles, five interceptions, one sack, two forced fumbles and two fumble rebounds. The Dolphins will need to adjust Howard’s paycheck in 2022 to keep him happy – and so he doesn’t demand an exchange like he did last July.
Biggest Surprise: Flores gets beaten
Miami recovered from a 1-7 start and won seven games in a row, spending the last month of the season in the playoff mix. Flores made sure the dressing room was glued together and the team didn’t give up. Miami has found a way to win eight of the last nine games of the season by following suit. Although Flores had the franchise’s first consecutive winning seasons since 2002-2003, the Dolphins fired him at the end of the third season due to his difficult personality that made it difficult to work with him.
Biggest disappointment: line of attack
Miami’s offensive line has been the anchor that weighed this team down throughout the season. Everyone in the squad faced difficulties from time to time, and while offensive line coach Lemuel Jeanpierre, who played for the first time on the team, could be used as a scapegoat for the group’s problems, each member must take personal responsibility for how bad the squad looked. … The failure of this unit is not only at Jeanpierre. This also applies to general manager Chris Greer, who has picked five linemen from the first rounds of the last three drafts.