The Miami Dolphins have been submerged in mediocrity for the past two decades, no matter who was running the franchise (seven different executives and general managers), coaching the team (eight non-interim head coaches), or quarterbacking it (10 who have started 10 or more games) during that stretch.
At some point we have to wonder what’s at the root of Miami’s struggles, the reason why this once proud franchise hasn’t qualified for the playoffs more than twice in 20 years, or won a playoff game since 2001.
Is this the year the Dolphins get their act together?
This is the second of a two-part series examining the potential issues. The first explains why the Dolphins should make the playoffs in 2022.
This breaks down the 10 things that could prevent the Dolphins from qualifying for the postseason in 2022:
Tua Tagovailoa regresses as a starting quarterback.
The Dolphins need Tagovailoa to become one of the league’s top-10 quarterbacks this season to justify the investment that has been made in the fifth overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft. To get there Tagovailoa must stay healthy, improve his yards-per-attempt average (6.8), which ranked him 24th last season, and needs to become more efficient on third downs and in the red zone because those are the moments where elite quarterbacks thrive . If Tagovailoa struggles in them, it might be a sign this franchise is being built on a faulty foundation.
Dolphins learn Tyreek Hill was a beneficiary of Andy Reid’s play-calling, and the talent around him in Kansas City.
Hill has been one of the NFL’s most dynamic playmakers for the past six seasons, but he’s been playing for a future Hall of Fame coach in Andy Reid, and has benefited from the presence of two possible future Hall of Famers in Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and tight end Travis Kelce during his emergence as an NFL elite. Dolphins fans better hope there isn’t a huge drop off from Reid’s play-calling to rookie coach Mike McDaniel, Mahomes to Tagovailoa and Kelce to Mike Gesicki.
Miami’s second-year players regress, just like the 2020 draftees did last season.
Younger players are typically supposed to make the most progress in their second season, but sometimes they hit stumbling blocks that stall their development. Let’s hope receiver Jaylen Waddle, pass rusher Jaelan Phillips, safety Jevon Holland, offensive lineman Liam Eichenberg and the rest of the 2021 draft class don’t experience what happened to Tagovailoa, Austin Jackson, Robert Hunt, Solomon Kindley and Noah Igbinoghene in their Year 2.
Injuries decimate the Dolphins in 2022.
Imagine playing large portions of this upcoming season without a couple of Miami’s key players, talents like cornerback Xavien Howard, pass rusher Emmanuel Ogbah, Hill, Gesicki, linebacker Jerome Baker and offensive tackle Terron Armstead. Losing any of those players could lead to instant struggles because the backups wouldn’t be able to provide the level of productivity, playmaking they bring. That’s part of the reason Miami should be careful with the training camp, and practice workload of their top-shelf players.
Miami’s offensive line remains mediocre.
Last year the Dolphins led the NFL in pressures allowed. Miami’s quarterbacks were consistently harassed and rushed in games, and it impacted the passing game significantly, limiting the play-calling. If Miami’s addition of Armstead and Connor Williams, and the team’s new coaches aren’t able to fix this issue we could be looking at another year of disastrous offensive line play, which could weigh down the entire team for yet another season. The development of Jackson, Eichenberg, Hunt and Michael Deiter will either prop up, or sink Miami’s offense.
McDaniel struggles to lead an NFL locker room.
There’s a reason only one of the nine teams shopping for a head coach this past offseason interviewed McDaniel. Most organizations didn’t feel the 39-year-old, who served as the 49ers offensive coordinator for one season, was ready to become a head coach. McDaniel is respected for his intellect his, but he’s got a quirky personality. That could be beneficial, or be a hindrance, to his success his when it comes to relating to his players his. The only way to tell is to see how he reacts to a losing streak, which in the NFL is virtually inevitable. When that happens, will McDaniel have the ability to problem-solve, and calm the troubled waters? Will his players buy into his approach his when adversity hits?
Dolphins’ new offense experiences growing pains.
Adjusting to change is often difficult, so expecting the Dolphins offense to click on all cylinders early in the season while installing an entirely new offense is unrealistic because of all the variables. Coaching staffs typically need time to learn the strengths and weaknesses of their players. But what happens if it takes Miami’s offense half a season to find their identity in this play-action-based offense? Or even longer to find a groove? That could lead to some early struggles that might apply unwelcomed pressure to other areas of the team.
Josh Boyer can’t get Miami’s blitzing defense to work properly.
Only the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (40.8 percent) had a higher blitz percentage than the Dolphins (39.6) last year, and it led to a league-leading 77 quarterback knockdowns, and 48 sacks, which tied Miami for fifth place in 2022. The year before that, the Dolphins ranked second in blitz percentage (40.8), 17th in knockdowns (54) and 10th in sacks (41). It will be interesting to see which level of efficiency Boyer’s unit brings in Year 3 of his leadership his, which will be his first without former head coach Brian Floreswho is respected league-wide as an innovator of the amoeba-blitz approach.
Miami’s run game remains inconsistent.
The Dolphins run game was so unreliable last season the team had to lean on two players — Duke Johnson and Phillip Lindsay — claimed off the waiver wire late last season to make it through the second half of the year. And still, Miami ranked 30th in rushing yards per game (92.2) and 31st in yards per carry (3.55). If McDaniel doesn’t get this unit into the top half of the league’s rushing statistics in 2022 it’s a bad sign of what’s to come because building an effective running game is supposed to be this head coach’s specialty.
Miami’s linebackers get exposed for their shortcomings.
Baker, Phillips, Elandon Roberts, Duke Riley, and Andrew Van Ginkel collectively make up a solid linebacker unit because their unique strengths complement Miami’s hybrid defense, which is fueled by its versatility. But there isn’t one player in this linebacker unit who can do everything at an above-average level, and because of this a good offensive coordinator might be able to attack their individual weaknesses, like running at Baker, throwing at Roberts or forcing Phillips to drop back into coverage.