Posted Under: 2010, General / Analysis, Stephen Verman
Written by Stephen Verman, this is the second in a series of three articles breaking down the other teams in the AFC East.
2009 record: 7-9
2009 record vs. Patriots: 1-1
Miami drafted two cornerbacks, Vonte Davis and Sean Smith early in the 2009 draft, and both showed the potential to succeed at the pro level. Smith is a large corner at 6’ 3”, and has good speed and agility for his size. He started the entire season, tallying 39 tackles and 12 passes defended. Davis, who is known for his speed and ball skills earned a starting berth week 8 against the Jets, and finished the season with 51 tackles, 11 passes defended and 4 interceptions, one of which he returned for a TD. Davis picked Tom Brady in each of the games against New England, and looks like a future centerpiece of the Dolphin’s secondary.
Despite promising results from their young corners, Miami’s pass defense was frequently torched for long gains. They allowed 57 completions of 20 yards or more, third most in the NFL, and tied for the most completions allowed of 40 yards or more with 17. Pressure on the quarterback was not the issue, as only the Steelers and Vikings had more sacks in 2009, so the problem looks to be mainly with the safeties. Miami cut former starter Gibril Wilson, and will likely look to improve their safety options in the draft.
The Dolphins were mediocre against the run, finishing in the middle of the NFL pack in most categories. They have major question marks along the defensive line as NT Jason Ferguson was recently suspended by the NFL for the first 8 games of 2010 for using performance enhancing drugs. DE/OLB Jason Taylor is a free agent, and rushing linebacker Joey Porter was cut due to underperformance and clashes with management. Taylor and Porter combined for 16 sacks last season. While Miami has a number of young players who may emerge, it will be difficult to replace that production, and Taylor’s leadership would be sorely missed.
Former Cardinal Karlos Dansby was signed to a monster deal at the start of free agency. Dansby will help solidify the middle of the defense. He is a good tackler and has the speed to cover tight ends and get to the sideline. His signing is a step in the right direction, but numerous holes remain on defense, and there are few quality veteran free-agents available to fill them. Unless head coach Tony Sparano can get better results out of the players he has or players he drafts, it is likely the Dolphins’ defense will take a step backward in 2010.
Miami has one of the best running games in the league, and finished 4th in total rushing yards despite the loss of Ronnie Brown in week 10. Brown and Ricky Williams are an excellent tandem, and dangerous out of Miami’s wildcat formation. The downside is they are both prone to injuries, and at 32, Williams is past the age where rushers typically start to lose their effectiveness. That was certainly not the case last year as he finished with 1,121 yards and 11 TDs, but it remains a concern for the future.
Quarterback Chad Henne emerged this season as a competent quarterback who can compliment the running game. He is not flashy, but has the confidence and skills necessary to succeed in the NFL. Miami is one of the more creative teams offensively, and Henne often comes off the field for the versatile Pat White when they run the wildcat. While having numerous options is a good thing, for Henne to achieve his full potential he needs to know he is the trusted leader of the offense.
A large part of the problem is the Dolphin’s lack of quality receiving targets. Ted Ginn Jr., who was drafted 9th overall in 2007 has been a major disappointment, tallying only 5 receiving TDs in three seasons. Devone Bess showed some potential last year, leading the team in receptions and receiving yards. Bess is good at picking up yards after the catch, but like Ginn Jr. he is under 6’ tall, and far from a number one receiver. Miami needs to significantly upgrade the WR position in the offseason, and will probably do so through the draft.
Home games: Buffalo, New England, N.Y. Jets, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Detroit, Tennessee
Away games: Buffalo, New England, N.Y. Jets, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Green Bay, Minnesota, Oakland
2010 record prediction: 8-8 (third in AFC East)