The Dolphins believed they had constructed a roster that could legitimately challenge the New England Patriots.
Turns out what they built was a flawed team that has the worst division record in the league (0-4) and has been outscored 137-52 against AFC East opponents.
And there’s this: According to Stats Inc., Sunday’s Dolphins game marked the first time in NFL history that a team allowed two players (LeSean McCoy, Karlos Williams) to run for more than 100 yards and a receiver (Sammy Watkins) to catch passes for more than 150 yards in the same game.
The Dolphins (3-5) privately worried about their situation at linebacker, guard and cornerback during the offseason, but there were still several areas they figured would be strengths and have not been. A look at what the Dolphins thought would work in their favor but actually hasn’t:
▪ Run defense: After being gashed on the ground over the final six weeks last season, the Dolphins figured Ndamukong Suh would be the panacea.
Instead, the team’s run defense is worse, though the supporting cast around Suh shoulders far more of the blame than Suh.
Last season, the Dolphins allowed 121 rushing yards per game, ranking 24th of the 32 NFL teams. This season, they’re relinquishing 142 per game after being plastered for 266 on Sunday. Only the Cleveland Browns have allowed more rushing yards per game than Miami (147.6).
Guard Richie Incognito said the Bills kept using the same running plays, with guards pulling to block linebackers, and it kept working. So why couldn’t the Dolphins stop it?
“Just guys getting blocked,” linebacker Koa Misi said Monday. “They gashed us. It’s unacceptable.”
Suh said the Bills “took the interior guys out, even sometimes our ends. We have to find ways to combat that.”
And interim coach Dan Campbell said Monday that “on a number of plays, we had a number of players in position to make plays that they need to make.”
▪ Scoring: The Dolphins presumed that their point production would rise because of anticipated improvement from Ryan Tannehill, the overall comfort level increasing in the second year under the direction of coordinator Bill Lazor, left tackle Branden Albert’s return to health and the addition of three well-regarded weapons (DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills and Jordan Cameron).
Instead, the Dolphins’ point production has dropped from 24.3 per game last season (11th in the league) to 21.4 (which ranks 21st). “Anywhere 25, 28 at a minimum is what you would like to get to offensively,” Campbell said.
Tannehill’s passer rating is down, from 92.8 last season to 88.7, and he’s on pace for 18 interceptions, compared with 12 last season. He also has been sacked 23 times, tied for seventh-most in the league.
And the Dolphins’ new weapons haven’t made the impact many expected. Stills has had some good moments, including a 46-yard reception Sunday, but his 16 catches for 279 yards are well below his pace from last season, when he caught 63 for 931 for New Orleans and had substantially more opportunities.
Cameron, who ranked among the NFL’s tight end leaders with 80 catches for 917 yards with Cleveland in 2013, is on pace for 40 catches and 526 yards and was targeted only once Sunday (a 5-yard reception).
And Parker, the team’s first-round draft pick, has played only 110 snaps all season, with four catches for 49 yards.
▪ Performance against quarterbacks well below the top tier: The Dolphins believed they would fare well against a string of inexperienced or journeymen quarterbacks to start the season.
In their first eight games, Miami faced seven of those in Kirk Cousins, Blake Bortles, Tyrod Taylor twice, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brian Hoyer and Marcus Mariota. They faced only one elite quarterback (Tom Brady).
And yet Miami is allowing a 97.1 passer rating — 22nd in the league, compared with 89.7 last season (18th).
Opposing quarterbacks have 16 touchdowns and just six interceptions against the Dolphins, and Taylor (who has a career 97.1 rating) has a 145.7 rating with four touchdowns and 458 yards (on 32-for-41 passing) in two games against Miami. Bortles, who has a career 74.9 passer rating, had a 102.2 in Jacksonville’s win against the Dolphins.
Several reasons: None of Miami’s cornerbacks have been close to elite; Brent Grimes, toasted by Watkins on Sunday, has slipped to 36th in Pro Football Focus’ cornerback rankings. Linebackers have been shaky in coverage and the Dolphins have missed safety Louis Delmas, who is out for the year with an ACL injury.
And this is worrisome: Over the final eight games, the Dolphins face top 10 quarterbacks in Brady, Tony Romo (projected to return that Nov. 22 game from a clavicle injury) and Phillip Rivers; Super Bowl winners in Brady, Eli Manning and Joe Flacco; and No. 1 overall draft picks (Sam Bradford, Manning, Andrew Luck).
▪ Lack of consistent pass rush: This, along with shoddy run defense, is most confounding about the Dolphins’ season. Their 16 sacks are tied for 20th; they’re on pace for 32, behind last year’s total of 39, despite adding Suh, who has more sacks than any defensive tackle since 2010 but three this season.
Campbell said running back Jay Ajayi has earned more playing time after rushing five times for 41 yards Sunday in his season debut… Campbell, on his 3-5 team: “I’m optimistic. This isn’t going to break me. … We can play with anybody in the league when we do it right.”
A Running Joke
The Dolphins have already allowed five 100-yard games by running backs this season:
Alfred Morris, Redskins
Karlos Williams, Bills
Chris Ivory, Jets
LeSean McCoy, Bills
Karlos Williams, Bills