Armando Salguero

Miami Dolphins offense headed toward an overhaul

Miami Dolphins quarterback Jay Cutler seems headed to a one-year stay with the Dolphins unless he and the rest of the offense improve drastically.
Miami Dolphins quarterback Jay Cutler seems headed to a one-year stay with the Dolphins unless he and the rest of the offense improve drastically.

The Miami Dolphins -- players, coaches, anyone with a voice -- will spill out quotes throughout this season about fixing whatever is wrong with the offense. The words will be about correcting mistakes and working harder and improving.

There’s no choice in that. The team cannot deny it has troubling issues on the field but publicly it will insist those can be fixed before the 2017 season is lost.

Privately, however, the people who run this team recognize there’s serious trouble afoot. And that trouble might not be resolvable this season.

The problems are so acute that even as we’ve just reached the quarter-pole of the 2017 season, there have been internal mutterings about refitting the offense in 2018.

The same way the team continued to play through defensive problems in 2016, all the while knowing a significant offseason refit of the defense was coming, so too that thinking is starting to form about the current offense.

So this Dolphins offense that is 31st in the NFL in points, has scored only three touchdowns in four games, is worst in the NFL in passing yards per game and second-worst in rushing yards per game, is currently headed for an offseason retooling.

Think of it as the same exercise as the defense successfully undertook (so far, it seems) last offseason.

That truth is not going to be publicly uttered in press conferences today or anytime soon. But it has already been spoken about among the team’s braintrust.


Well, first consider the problems everyone sees: The lack of points, including the lack of rushing touchdowns (the Dolphins are the only team in the NFL without one), the poor offensive line play, the poor quarterback play, and the lack of production by receivers.

We all see that. It’s undeniable.

Now consider the problem the public doesn’t see as in ... missed assignments, players suddenly showing age, players regressing.

“We don’t know how to fix it immediately,” one source told me recently.

There is no apparent answer because the problems are not necessarily manageable in-season.

Multiple important starting players are not playing to standard but with a limited roster, benching those players is a gamble because the player behind him is either not ready at all or clearly inferior. Moreover, benching some players now would potentially collapse chemistry and locker room confidence. Benching people, in other words, could bring as much a negative result as a positive one at this stage in the season.

Scrapping the offense would not work because, well, there is no certainty a new system would take any better for players going game after game making mental errors. Players are blowing assignments they started practicing way back in the spring of 2016. Giving them new assignments isn’t going to fix things.

How about asking less of players, as in less requiring them to think less? Well, coach Adam Gase admitted Sunday he’s already pulled back on certain aspects of the offense. He’s done it each of the past two weeks.

It has not worked.

Benching the quarterback would be mostly a public relations move. Jay Cutler has not played well. His 177 passing yards per game is 29th in the NFL. His 74.8 rating is 30th among 32 quarterbacks. He’s only thrown three touchdown passes and is on pace for 12 TDs this season.

Oh, and, Cutler is not a rally the troops kind of guy.

But Gase has been adamant in his defense because on any given play, Cutler’s teammates fail before the quarterback has a chance to succeed.

On any given play a wide receiver will run a pattern he apparently just dreamed up a second before the snap instead of the one in the playbook.

On any given play an offensive lineman will block someone he wasn’t supposed to and leave the defensive lineman he was supposed to block to run unblocked at Cutler.

Those things are happening at an alarming rate. They are being done by different people each time. And so an offensive “unit” has had no cohesion.

And it is everybody.

Core players such as Jarvis Landry, Julius Thomas, Laremy Tunsil, Jermon Bushrod, and Ja’Wuan James have blown assignments.

To be clear, none of that speaks to doing anything wrong physically. We’re talking mental mistakes that blow up plays. When one includes physical losses on other plays -- which happen to everyone because the defensive players are also allowed to succeed and often do -- then you have an offense unable to sustain consistency.

So how do you fix all that?

Well, the frustration level had led to the talk of revamping in the offseason.

What is significant about that is that would mean much of what the Dolphins have preached and done and built around would be proven wrong.

If the Dolphins decide in the offense needs to change personnel in the wide receiver room, blow up the tight end room, and make significant changes to the offensive line, that would draw back from the “keep our own” credo of the past offseason.

If the Dolphins suddenly have to spend significant resources in either draft picks or free agency to address the guard position -- which has been a trouble spot for years -- then it would prove last offseason’s thinking that guard could be addressed on the cheap was a mistake.

Gase has discussed how the receivers have been together for years and he likes that. But those receivers have not produced so far this season.

Jarvis Landry, trying to play toward a big contract in the offseason, has one touchdown.

Kenny Stills, rewarded with a big contract last offseason, has one touchdown.

DeVante Parker, supposedly in a breakout year after a great offseason and training camp and, yes, also wanting a big contract in the offseason, has one touchdown.

Reshad Jones has scored as many touchdowns as each of the team’s wide receivers through one-quarter of the season. Reshad Jones plays on defense.

Thomas, who scored 24 touchdowns in two years playing for Gase in Denver, has not developed into a credible scoring threat. He has no touchdowns and is producing more like the player who failed in Jacksonville than the one who succeeded in Denver.

Although there is time for this wreck to change course and the Dolphins are hoping that happens, the proverbial writing is on the wall for these players if it doesn’t.

There’s no way the Dolphins are going to pay $12-$15 million per year to Landry if he’s scoring four touchdowns this season. There’s no way Thomas stays next year if he doesn’t get in the end zone. There’s no way the team will feel good about Stills regressing to mean if his production drops from nine touchdowns in 2016 back to four the year got a $32 million contract.

So what about Cutler?

There’s no way he’s playing in the NFL again, much less returning to the Dolphins, if his production continues its current course. And that takes into account whether the team thinks he’s responsible for the offensive problems or a victim. It won’t matter at that point because Ryan Tannehill will seem like a much better option for 2018.

None of this predicts the Dolphins won’t fix the trouble. None of this says players currently on course for a disappointing season cannot navigate to a better destination. Everything can change if, as the Dolphins will say publicly, hard work and more attention to detail pay off.

But if the issues don’t correct, the Dolphins are already headed for an overhaul of the offense after this season.

Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

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