As I look back at the 2013 Miami Dolphins season, there’s no question that this team fell short of where this organization would like to be at this time of the year. Despite multiple games where the team played competitive football down to the last play of the game, they didn’t make enough plays to separate themselves in the end. The inability to win a game in week 16 or week 17 to get into the playoffs somehow overshadows the strides that took place earlier in December. Here are some of my thoughts as I look at the entire body of work from this season.
1) Score More Points – The way offenses score points in the NFL, you’re not going to win 10 or 11 games or challenge for championships if you average under 20 points a game. This has been a problem for this team for a few years now but I believe that some of the skill players are in place to change this trend. It’s not a secret that this offensive line will get a full makeover minus center Mike Pouncey during the off-season and 2014 draft. That should help quarterback Ryan Tannehill‘s accuracy and health moving forward. Also having a season understanding what the skill set he has with deep threat Mike Wallace will hopefully lead to consistent connections behind coverage in 2014. This area must improve because those multiple miscues added to the frustration of averaging 19.8 points a game and left easy points on the field. The emergence of tight end Charles Clay (69 receptions for 759 yards and a team-leading 6 touchdown receptions) and the consistency of wide receiver Brian Hartline (team leader in both receptions with 76 and yards at 1,016) stabilized the passing game for Tannehill. The Miami running game never got on track and lagged behind for most of the season. The lack of a spark in the running game can be linked to the inconsistency up front and the pressure that resulted behind the line of scrimmage.
2) Defensive Deficiencies – As I look at the defense side of the football, I like that the Dolphins only allowed 20.9 points per contest (8th in the league) seeing that there were only a couple of dominating defensive teams in the entire league in Seattle (1st at 14.4 points per game), Carolina (2nd at 15.1 points per game) and San Francisco (3rd at 17 points per game). The struggle for this side of the ball was against the run and getting people on the ground. Tackling is where this group struggled all season long and it started in the middle of the defense. The top three tacklers were linebacker Philip Wheeler (118 total tackles), Reshad Jones (107 total tackles) and Dannell Ellerbe with 101 total stops. These two linebackers were around the football, but really didn’t create many game-changing plays or consistently bring down opponents in the open field. Jones flew around much like Ellerbe and Wheeler, but only produced one interception the entire season. Coming into 2013, I felt like teams wouldn’t be able to grind it out against this unit, but they achieved at a much higher rate than anticipated. Getting movement against our front four proved easier than expected. There where players that achieved beyond expectations like cornerback Brent Grimes, who led the team in interceptions with four, and gave this unit stability at a position of need. Defensive end Olivier Vernon also has a solid season with 11.5 sacks but as a unit, much more was expected.
3) Quarterback Getting Closer – It was apparent that Ryan Tannehill made strides in 2013 and that despite the record number of sacks, he still started every game for the second consecutive season. This might not seem like a big milestone, but could prove valuable for the future development of a young quarterback. There’s no question Ryan has the ability to throw and locate the football and I believe he will continue to make significant strides in the future. His touchdown to interception ratio was much better this season (24 TDs to 17 INTs in 2013 compared to 12 TDs and 13 INTs in 2012), and his quarterback rating went up from 76.1 to 81.7 as well. There were times that Tannehill missed the deep ball and that is a concern, but not something that can’t be fixed or worked on in the off-season. The fact that this offense didn’t have any consistency rushing the football made opposing defenses focus more on pressuring the pocket, forcing Tannehill’s attempts to rise from 484 last year to 588 this season. Tannehill played well but his level of execution must continue to elevate if he’s going to lead this organization to playing games in January or early February.
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