You’ll recall last week I wrote about how the Miami Dolphins were an undisciplined team in 2017. And after that column I got some resistance from one Dolphins person and agreement, believe it or not, from a handful of other Dolphins people who thought discipline was indeed an issue for the team.
And after the column appeared, the Dolphins brain trust of executive vice president Mike Tannenbaum, coach Adam Gase and general manager Chris Grier held an end-of-season press conference. And the first question (not from me) was from someone who obviously picked up on what I wrote and asked whether the team has a discipline problem.
“The season just ended,” Tannenbaum said, taking a swing at the question aimed at everyone. “We were 6-10 and the three of us are going to take our time and look back at the season -- what went well, what we could have done better -- and do a comprehensive evaluation and look at everything.
“We look forward to putting a better product on the field next year and we’re going to look at all aspects of it.”
Well, this week the coaching staff has been off. The assistants were given a week away by Gase to decompress and come back strong next week, ready to do that comprehensive evaluation and start looking at everything.
But I’m working this week, so I’m going to detail one of the problems I outlined in the column. I’m going to look at the penalties.
I am old enough to remember when the Miami Dolphins were for many years among the least penalized teams in the NFL and often the least penalized. Don Shula’s trademark jaw would jut out a bit more with pride when he talked about how his team was little penalized.
But the ‘17 Dolphins committed 137 penalties costing 1,154 yards. Said another way, today’s Dolphins gave up almost as many yards in penalties (1,154) as they gained running the football (1,388). Said another way, the Dolphins practically erased their entire rushing attack with their penalties last season.
Think about that.
I’m comparing the penalties to rushing yards because, well, the Dolphins’ offense was the primary culprit on penalties. The offense was responsible for 65 penalties for 553 yards last season.
That was the most penalties by any NFL offense. That was the most penalty yards by any NFL offense. And neither is a good statistical category in which to be the leader.
The defense committed 56 penalties for 456 yards. That ranked third most for the number of penalties and eighth most in yards.
The Dolphins special teams was responsible for 16 penalties for 145 yards. That’s good. That unit tied for 21st most number of penalties. So the unit tied for 11th fewest penalties of any special teams unit. The 145 penalties yards the special teams cost Miami was 17th most among NFL special teams -- so middle of the pack.
This breakdown paints a portrait of the NFL’s second-most penalized team, behind only Seattle.
Now, Seattle is a fine organization and usually a good team. So one could argue penalties are not that big a deal because, well, Seattle. But Seattle didn’t make the playoffs in 2017. And now they’ve fired their offensive coordinator. And their offensive line coach. And they’ve told their defensive coordinator he can go find a job elsewhere if he likes and they won’t stop him.
There’s a house cleaning going on in Seattle.
I’m not saying it’s because of the penalties. It’s because the team didn’t meet certain goals, and chief among those is getting into the postseason. Well, one reason that team didn’t get in the postseason is it could not overcome 1,342 yards worth of penalties.
Fine, so we know the Dolphins committed a lot of penalties. But this is not some shadowy metric that cannot be understood by lay people.
We are not beasts! We understand stuff!
We can also put faces to Miami’s unacceptable 1,154 penalty yards.
What follows are figures from the folks at both The Football database and NFLpenalties.com -- both of which do great work keeping meticulous records on penalties and other things. Both sites are in agreement on what I’m about to share with you.
And what I’m about to share is a breakdown of the Dolphins players who committed the most penalties in 2017:
1. Left tackle Laremy Tunsil had 12 penalties for 78 yards. Tunsil’s dozen penalties is tied for third most by any NFL offensive lineman and tied for fifth most by any player regardless of position. Eight of Tunsil’s penalties were for false starts.
2. Defensive tackle Davon Godchaux was second with nine penalties that cost the team 55 yards. Four of Godchaux’s penalties were for defensive holding so that suggests a technique issue with his hands.
3. Cornerback Xavien Howard had eight penalties for a team-leading 98 yards. Five of Howard’s penalties were for pass interference.
4. Center Mike Pouncey tied Howard with eight penalties. His penalties, which cost the team 70 yards, included five holding calls.
5. Wide receiver Kenny Stills, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and right guard Jermon Bushrod were next with seven penalties apiece. Stills was called for offensive pass interference twice. Bushrod was flagged five times for holding. and Suh’s biggest problem was with the dreaded neutral zone infraction or offsides penalties, of which he had three that counted.
8. Wide receiver Jarvis Landry and defensive end Cameron Wake tied with five penalties each. Landry cost the team 60 yards. Wake cost the team 36 yards.
10. Guard Ted Larsen, right tackle Ja’Wuan James, right tackle Sam Young, and defensive backs Alterraun Verner and Reshad Jones round out the top 10 with four penalties each.
About that Dolphins offensive line ...
Miami’s offensive linemen accounted for 42 penalties in 2017.
And all told, the Dolphins had 46 players collecting at least one penalty during the season.
Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero