After they went to the playoffs in Adam Gase’s first year and successfully authored a “keep your own” free agency, and supposedly fixed the defense in the draft as well as free agency, the Miami Dolphins caused a lot of people to expect big things from the 2017 NFL season.
Notable among this group with heightened hopes and expectations were the Dolphins themselves.
Remember how often coach Adam Gase said he liked his team?
Remember receiver Jarvis Landry predicting a sweep of the New England Patriots this season?
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So, yeah, big things.
The problem with that is the season is half over and the 4-4 Dolphins are not exactly delivering big things. They might deliver big things the second half of the season (not likely). They might indeed sweep the Patriots (again, not likely). But if that happens it would be a surprise.
If big things happen to this team the second half of this season it would be because something dramatic and unexpected and different happened. Because the team we’ve all seen the first eight games has given little hint it was coming.
This team -- the one we’ve seen every day since training camp -- is just middling.
They’re the mediocre Dolphins now.
These Dolphins, who need to do something great to challenge for a playoff spot, are now just trying to find some consistency. Doing that has lately been a problem for the defense after a good start. And it’s been problematic for the offense since the season’s start.
“It’s been strange, those first eight games, just being where one game we feel like we play well and we do a lot of good things and then all of a sudden, you get shut out really two weeks in a row, which is a little surprising,” coach Adam Gase said. “We bounced back and then we had another poor performance. Really, we’re looking for consistency and it really has to start with the execution from the beginning of the game.
“We just need to make sure we’re doing it right at the beginning of the game just so we can have a faster start and gain that confidence. I think in some of those games, we didn’t do a very good job of rebounding from negative plays that happened early in the game.”
Yes, with respect, I’ve heard this kind of talk for decades. I close my eyes and hear Jay Fiedler tell me the offense is thisclose. I close my eyes and hear Nick Saban saying “little things” are keeping the team from getting it right. And, of course, the gap that Feidler wanted closed never was and the little things Saban wanted fixed went without repair.
So all I believe in now is what I see. If the process is good, great. But process without a successful result is empty work. Empty talk.
That’s kind of how 4-4 feels this year because the Dolphins were 4-2 a couple of weeks ago and things looked bright. Now? There’s tarnish.
So how did we get here at the midpoint of the 2017 season?
Well, let’s look at each position group and grade them to see ...
Quarterbacks: This is going to sound harsh but Ryan Tannehill, and the team doctors, and his second-opinion doctors, and the coaching staff, and the personnel department, and ownership, and everyone who signed off on the quarterback not having reconstructive surgery last January after he partially tore his ACL, really hurt the 2017 Dolphins.
If Tannehill had had surgery to repair that ligament, he might not have been ready for training camp. But the smart thinking now is he would have been ready to play in mid September the latest. And that would have changed the theme of this season in that Matt Moore would have handled things early for a start or possibly two and then Tannehill would have come on.
And the wear and emotional fatigue of adding Jay Cutler and propping him up and making the new guy get integrated in the team’s fabric would have been avoided.
Cutler, it must be said, has been a champion in making himself this team’s quarterback. He is somebody else’s organ transplanted into a new body. And he’s trying to fit in even as his new host is not in bed convalescing, but rather running a marathon. That’s a hard assignment for the host and the new organ. Cutler has handled it much better than the host. GRADE: C-plus.
Wide receivers: There’s something obviously amiss when the team’s leading receiver, Jarvis Landry, is averaging 7.7 yards per catch. Not saying anything is wrong with Landry. I’m saying Landry averaged 12.1 yards per catch last year so the way he’s being used is obviously not maximizing him. Landry could have helped matters by getting his assignments right more often earlier in the season, but he’s been better at that lately.
Kenny Stills is about on course to deliver as many scores as he did last year, but he also is suffering in the YPC department. And DeVante Parker, who is supposed to have a breakout season, was delayed if not derailed by an ankle injury that cost him three games. That adds up to a group that is supposed to be dynamic but so far has not been. GRADE: C-plus.
Tight ends: Anthony Fasano was early on a much better addition than Julius Thomas but Thomas has slowly (very slowly) produced at a higher level lately. Fasano’s blocking has been excellent, as expected. Blocking from Thomas has been good, which is better than expected. Neither have factored nearly enough in the red zone and Thomas doesn’t seem to often beat the defender for a 50-50 ball or break any open field tackles. GRADE -- C.
Offensive line: Mike Pouncey has been good. He’s been consistent. Everyone else? Not so much. The Dolphins are not moving on from left tackle Laremy Tunsil after this season because he still has promise, although he isn’t delivering on it nearly often enough now. Anyway, Tunsil stays. Pouncey stays. Everyone else who has started games for the team in the first half might not be starting games for the team next season. The unit doesn’t particularly run-block or pass-block exceedingly well. On the pass blocking the Dolphins don’t give up a ton of sacks, but the quarterback seems to often be under pressure. GRADE: D.
Running backs: The team’s best running back is now playing for the Philadelphia Eagles. Before he left he had issues with a -position coach. But he was talented nonetheless. As for Kenyan Drake and Damien Williams...You’ll hear much talk about how great they would be in foxholes when the bullets are flying. Except the NFL does not play in foxholes and there’s never live gunfire during a game. GRADE: C-minus.
Defensive line: The Dolphins feel very protective of first round pick Charles Harris because the kid tries hard and works hard and plays hard. But he’s on pace to finish with two sacks this year. Cameron Wake and Andre Branch and Ndamukong Suh are all delivering at or around the pace they set last season -- except, of course, all are making more money this year than last year. Jordan Phillips is better than he was last year and the two rookie DTs, while not yet special, are very good additions. William Hayes has been a fine addition. It feels like this group, solid individually, should be better collectively. GRADE: B.
Linebackers: Lawrence Timmons misses too many tackles. He’s a tough player but the missed tackle thing is indeed a thing. Kiko Alonso was the president of the big play club a season ago but this year he hasn’t delivered nearly as often. Rey Maualuga is another organ transplanted into the Dolphins host. He’s fit in really well although he obviously is not the long-term future. This group’s run defense has been much better than last year’s group. The pass coverage has been spotty. GRADE: C.
Secondary: Cornerbacks must get hands on the football. Cornerbacks must intercept passes. Not happening enough so far. Reshad Jones has had a couple of tough moments in coverage but he remains a very good player. Bobby McCain has improved over last year. Nate Allen avoided making mistakes. Obviously the issue with Byron Maxwell hurt and Alterraun Verner hurt his team in the first game against the Jets. GRADE: C-minus.
Special teams: The punt return team has been unimpressive, the kick return team has been good. The punt coverage team has been mediocre, kick coverage has been very good. Kicker Cody Parkey needs to improve his PATs but his field goals work has been outstanding, missing only one of 10 attempts and that from 50-plus yards. Punter Matt Haack lost his mind at Baltimore but has otherwise been solid. The left foot punter thing has not resulted in an opponent fumble, however. GRADE: B-minus.
Coaching: The Dolphins have the same record as they did at this point a season ago and yet this feels different. And by different, I don’t mean better. Last year, without really knowing the roster, the coaching staff struggled early on but eventually found players they liked and adjusted -- putting those players in positions to succeed. This was done before the midway mark in the season. This year, coaches have players they know and still they cannot get this team to play with an identity. Issues such as catching the football consistently or giving up big third-down completions on defense extend over weeks rather than get fixed quickly. One loss has extended to two twice so far this season. GRADE: C-minus.
Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero
So let the hope