The numbers speak for themselves. No, wait. The numbers aren’t just talking. They’re taunting, they’re depressing, they’re coloring the Miami Dolphins as a team with no discipline and no idea how to do something so fundamental as to wait until the ball is snapped to move.
Yeah, not good.
Well, the 2017 Dolphins were penalized 75 times for 567 yards. A full 29 of those of those penalties happened before the ball was even snapped.
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And, most galling of all, those are just the numbers for the offense.
The defense added another 83 penalties, costing the team 577 more yards. And 27 of those penalties were of the pre-snap variety.
Said another way, the Miami offense ranked 32nd (last) in most penalties, 32nd in most pre-snap penalties, and 32st in most penalties yards in the NFL.
The defense was 31st in most penalties, 27th in pre-snap penalties and 27th in penalty yards.
The picture these numbers paint are of team struggling even before a play begins because Miami ranked 32nd in the NFL in pre-snap penalties. The picture is of a team giving away yards because the 1,144 total penalty yards was 31st in the NFL.
So can you understand why this is a thing now? Can you understand why coach Adam Gase and his staff are closely monitoring how the Dolphins show discipline -- which is at the root of penalties -- in training camp and the preseason?
Can you understand why penalties is a point of emphasis for the 2018 Dolphins?
“Look at the teams that played in the Championship games,” Gase says one afternoon as he sits in his office at the team’s Davie training facility. “Those teams had plus-five or better turnover margin. They were the least penalized teams. And most of them were the most disciplined teams, especially on pre-snap penalties.
“They’re not having the free fives. Your percentages just get crushed when you have a pre-snap penalty. It’s tough to dig out. In this league it is so hard. You have a third-and-seven or -nine, it’s hard. Because everyone is doing so much stuff on defense now. Whether it’s sound defense or not, it’s a sound defense until you expose it.”
It’s hard to expose anything when your team is battling the opponent, but also battling itself and the officiating crew.
And so one of the outgrowths of some offseason changes was to jettison some players that were penalty prone. (No, that wasn’t the primary reason for the moves, but it factored).
Ndamukong Suh is gone. So are the 13 penalties he accounted for last year, second most among all defensive tackles. Miami’s defensive line, by the way, had more penalties than any other last season.
Mike Pouncey is gone. So are his nine penalties. And Jermon Bushrod and his seven penalties are gone, too. The Miami offensive line had the most pre-snap penalties and penalty yards in the NFL last season.
Receiver Jarvis Landry and his seven penalties are gone, too. The Dolphins receivers were 31st in penalties and penalty yards last season.
So what is the coaching staff’s confidence the trouble has been addressed and we’re about to see offensive and defensive lines that get off the ball when they’re supposed to?
“It’s nice that we’re playing the same five guys,” Gase says of his offensive line. “I think that helps. Their communication has been off the charts. [center Daniel] Kilgore and [quarterback] Ryan [Tannehill] have done of good job of when we have had issues.
“Those two guys are hashing things out. Kilgore will come up [to the coaches’ offices] and find out, ‘What happened here? Why is this going on? He’s very inquisitive. He wants to make sure his role in the whole thing is getting fixed. So I do see our players taking it more to heart offensively.
“Defensively, we’ve just been better doing what we’re supposed to do. And, yes, we’ll have the occasional dumb play out there because guys want to guess and they want to get that jump. I get it. When you’re attacking, you’re trying to do that. You don’t want to take that away from them. But at the same time you have to have discipline.”
And why is all this so important? Because the Dolphins now have a reputation for being that team that jumps offside or encroaches. And opponents try to take advantage of that. And officials, who are human too, expect the worst out of Miami.
Like it or not, everyone expects these Dolphins to struggle with penalties as surely as they expected the Super Bowl Dolphins of yesteryear to be handle their business.
“You have that reputation as a penalty team, so if we do this, we’ll get them,” Gase says.
But hard work is being done to change Miami’s reputation back to what it once was. Practice penalties earn players a session of running gassers in the boiling sun and sweltering humidity.
The coaching staff has been monitoring the issue closely in practice because, obviously, what happens in practice often transfers to games.
“We went a good stretch with not having any penalties,” Gase says. “And then we had one day where each of the two tackles had one apiece. But we’ve been pretty good up to this point with the [starters].”
One starter in particular, left tackle Laremy Tunsil, needs to show significant improvement because he was second on the team with 12 penalties last season. But Gase is encouraged by what he sees.
“Something is really going good with Laremy [Tunsil] and [Josh] Sitton,” Gase says. “I don’t know what it is but they’re really doing a good job coming off the ball at the same time. Laremy’s more confident, especially going against Robert [Quinn] every day.
“He’s like, ‘I can block this guy. I’m quick enough.’ I don’t think he’s like last year where it was, ‘I got to get out there.’ I’m not seeing that from him. I’m seeing a very confident guy right now.”
So as the season looms the trend in practice has pointed in the right direction.
“It bothers me because I take it personally,” Gase says. “Right now, I’m in a better place than I’ve been in the past because I’m watching guys do it better -- especially the ones.”
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