Armando Salguero

Dolphins lacking impact plays from impact players

Miami Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi (23) scores in overtime as the Miami Dolphins host the Cleveland Browns in the home opener at refurbished Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday, September 25, 2016.
Miami Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi (23) scores in overtime as the Miami Dolphins host the Cleveland Browns in the home opener at refurbished Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday, September 25, 2016.

Who are the Miami Dolphins’ impact players? And where are the impact plays?

The Dolphins locker room, like most others in the NFL, is filled with household names. Fans know Jarvis Landry and Arian Foster, Mario Williams and Ryan Tannehill. Everyone knows the Dolphins count Reshad Jones and Ndamukong Suh among their big-name, mostly big-salary.

And the team relies on these impact guys to make big plays. But in this season’s first quarter, the Dolphins are sadly lacking impact plays.

Their impact players are mostly not making themselves felt. And, to no one’s surprise, the result is a team failing to get good results in its 1-3 start.

(This is the moment in this column where we dismiss Jones from the list of players not making an impact. He’s been excellent so far this season. “He’s really shown me what a really great defensive player looks like,” coach Adam Gase said of Jones a couple of weeks ago. “I don’t know if I’ve ever been around one that good in his prime.”)

Jones leads the team in tackles, leads the team in tackles for loss, leads the team in passes defended, and has half-a-sack from his safety position. So this isn’t about him.)

This is about almost everyone else.

Some of the players mentioned above are doing well. They must do better.

Landry is tied for second in the NFL with 31 receptions and his 93.8 receiving yards per game average is fourth in the NFL. But he’s on pace to score four touchdowns this season.

That was his total last year when the Dolphins were 6-10. He must make a greater impact to help keep Miami from repeating 6-10.

Suh leads the team in sacks and is tied for the team lead in quarterback hits. He is a problem for the offense because it must almost always double-team him at the line of scrimmage. He’s been outstanding.

But he’s not been an impact player. He hasn’t changed the course of games. And he hasn’t changed the course of the defense.

The Dolphins were not good enough when Suh arrived last year and they remain that way. The run defense was 24th the year before Suh arrived, was 28th with Suh last year and is 29th so far this season.

Suh is doing a lot to help the Dolphins. But not enough to help the Dolphins win.

The interesting thing is Landry, Suh and Jones are part of the solution. They’re not the problem if Miami’s other playmakers were living up to expectations.

But practically no one else is doing that.

Defensive end Mario Williams is making $7 million this season. He had a good game at Cincinnati last week, but he’s on pace to have four sacks this season.

Tight end Jordan Cameron is costing the Dolphins $8 million in cap room this year. He’s been a disappointment with eight catches for 60 yards. He’s failed to provide a consistent seam threat or problematic red zone matchup for opposing defenses.

Running back Arian Foster came to the Dolphins with a reputation for shredding defenses when healthy but suffering recurring injuries that mitigate his production. He’s so far lived up to only half that reputation. The wrong half.

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill has so far failed to make the expected jump he was supposed to make under new coach Adam Gase.

He’s the quarterback, people!

If Tannehill doesn’t become an impact player the Dolphins have no chance to be relevant. And so far, he’s not an impact player.

But Tannehill isn’t alone. Because the playmakers on offense aren’t collectively making enough plays, the Dolphins are last in the NFL in third down conversion at 26.7 percent.

It’s unsurprising the Dolphins are tied for last in the NFL in number of third down conversions with 12. It’s unsurprising the Dolphins haven’t converted any of their three fourth-down attempts. The reason none of this surprises is because third and fourth downs are money downs. They are the NFL hero downs.

The Dolphins haven’t seen much heroic play so far.

They have seen MarQueis Gray drop a pass on third-and-one.

They’ve seen Tannehill sacked on third-and-four. And getting stripped of the ball. And the Dolphins losing possession. Tannehill has two lost fumbles to go with his five interceptions.

We have seen the Dolphins call a draw to Isaiah Pead on third-and-six with three blockers being out in front against three defenders and two of those blockers double one of the defenders instead of each taking a guy. So a play that should easily gain a first down results in two measly yards because an unblocked defender made a tackle.

“We make eight to 10 more plays on third down and we’re in the top of the league,” Tannehill fantasized. “We watched 15 easily made third downs this morning. It’s not major fixes. It’s just a throw here, a catch here, a block here, and they add up. We just have to, as a group, play cleaner football and the conversions will come.”

This would also help: If the Dolphins got their impact players to make impact plays.

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