The Dolphin Report

By Ron Poltorack

Jason Ended Their Season

Even a horrendous 6-win season can have a sweet ending when the Dolphins knock the Jets out of the playoffs, as they did at home on Sunday with a 19-17 victory.   And this one was extra special as fan favorite Jason Taylor, playing in the last game of his stellar 15-year career, had a huge role in the outcome.  It was a pass rush by JT that forced Mark Sanchez into throwing an interception that would give the Fins a key field goal in the game.  JT also had a fumble recovery for a touchdown overturned by a replay, but all that touchdown “lost” to the replay did was keep his NFL career record at 6 fumble recoveries for touchdowns. 

Not only did the Fins do what they could to shut up loud-mouth Jets’ Coach Cryin’ Ryan, but given his hollow promises of a Super Bowl season, who knows if his tiresome act may have run its course in the Big Apple. Perhaps he may soon join Tony Sparano among the ranks of the unemployed. 

And so starts what will hopefully be a busy off-season for the Miami Dolphins, an offseason which should (but unfortunately probably won’t) start with the firing of GM Jeff Ireland.  Unfortunately, Fins’ Owner Stephen Ross seems to listen more to Carl Peterson (who may end up the team’s next football czar) than to Dez Bryant in deciding Ireland’s future.  Without a new GM, there is no question the Fins are stuck in Direland. 

Retaining Direland isn’t a mistake just because of his poor track record during his 4-year tenure.  Keeping him ensures that the all-important head coach search will be limited to those candidates who would be willing to work with him.  It eliminates any of the top-flight proven coaches who would demand final say on roster moves.  For example, Bill Cower would never agree to work under Ireland.  Neither would a host of others.  Even hot college coaches looking to enter the coaching ranks of the NFL have been known to demand final say on roster moves.  Therein lays the problem with retaining the Fins current GM.  A third-rate GM will never be able to land a first-rate head coach.  What’s worse, this third-rate GM will not want to land anyone who would present a serious threat to his own job security.  So unless Stephen Ross wakes up to this reality, don’t expect that the Fins’ next head coach will be a top echelon coach.  Rather, the next head coach will likely be a weak puppet of the team’s next ex-GM, because Direland will not be able to survive the losing seasons that are sure to follow the hiring of an inferior head coach. 

Of course, there is a lot of work to do even after a new coach is hired.  The QB position requires major attention if this team is to get into the playoffs before this decade is out.  Chad Pennington would be better in a coaching role than in the QB mix.  Chad Henne would make a great third-string QB (but look for him to try to land a job elsewhere).  Matt Moore, who had a mere 135 yards passing and a 61.3 QB Rating against the Jets, still looks like nothing more than a worthy back-up. 

The last time the Fins’ drafted high enough to draft a franchise QB, they selected left tackle Jake Long, the theory being that you must do what you can to protect the QB’s blind side.  But when Long was drafted the Fins’ brain-trust overlooked one slight detail . . . there was no QB on the roster worth protecting!  And now left tackle is beginning to look like another position of need as Jake Long has had a difficult time staying on the field the last couple of seasons due to his shoulder, his back and now his arm. 

The remainder of the offensive line presents a number of questions.  There is no doubt that the Fins will pave over the Colombo Freeway to make room for a more competent right tackle.  Vernon Carey’s career is certainly dwindling and he may well find himself priced out of a job in his home town.  Rookie Mike Pouncey showed some promise at center this season, but someone needs to teach him how to snap the ball, particularly when the QB de jour is in the shotgun formation.  The only truly reliable lineman heading toward next season is left guard, Mr. Nasty, Rich Incognito. 

Wide receiver remains a position of need.  Brandon Marshall sure catches a bunch of passes, although he drops more than his share, too, particularly in the end zone.  Brian Hartline and Davone Bess both make some good plays, but neither strikes fear in the minds of opposing defensive backs.  The balance of the crew is comprised of young and untested players.  One assumes that if they were really good, they would already be playing and contributing regularly. 

The running back position is interesting with Reggie Bush coming off his best season.  Although he managed his first career thousand-yard season, he still didn’t remove the question marks about his durability as a knee injury ended his season in the next-to-last game. So even with his success there are still questions if the Fins can depend upon him.  Rookie Daniel Thomas (who showed flashes of brilliance early and a lot of mediocrity thereafter) also remains a question mark.  So as far as running backs are concerned, questions persist about who will carry the workload in 2012 (and beyond)? 

The defense is somewhat of an enigma.  Going into the 2011 season it figured to be the strength that carried the team.  Then came opening day when the offense put up some points, but the defense surrendered a whopping 622 total yards and 505 yards passing to the Brady Bunch.  The outlook remained poor for the first 2 months of the season until the defense finally decided to show up.  But after some strong performances including the first-half of the second Patriots game, the defense imploded (with a little help from Matt Moore turnovers) and surrendered 27 second-half points to the Patriots in week 16.  With the help of JT, the defense did bounce back in the season finale against the Jets. 

The biggest defensive question marks remain in the backfield.  Vontae Davis seemed to get jump-started by his mid-season suspension.  Sean Smith has still not lived up to his billing as a potential NFL star.  And the Fins’ have never really found the right person to complement Yeremiah Bell at safety. 

Nose tackle will be an interesting position to watch this off-season.  Last year Paul Soliai was deemed important enough to justify a franchise tag, which put $12 million in his pocket.  The Fins do not seem likely to want to go that route again.  Last year’s move may have been to buy another year to gauge whether or not Soliai could be trusted with a long-term contract.  Either they will have to sign him to a contract (which will require a significant amount of money) or they will have to find another nose tackle to take his place.  And at last look, nose tackles are not easy to come by (which is why they spent the $12 million on him last year). 

The kicking game was a real strength in 2011.  Many people thought that punter Brandon Fields was the team’s MVP.  Dan Carpenter continually proves he is a top-notch placekicker as further evidenced by his 58-yarder to end the first half and his clutch 45-yarder which proved to be the winner against the Jets.  However, it is crucial for the kicking game to come up big in the off-season, too, as the Fins must give their GM the boot! 

Meanwhile, the Fins don’t have much to show for 2011.  Ten losses and another year of being home for the playoffs have made a lot of ticketholders stay home on game days this season.   Having another inferior head coach next season won’t put their bottoms back in the seats either.  But at least for this week, Dolfans can be happy that Ryan is Cryin’ because Jason Ended Their Season.   And it was a lovely sight as the crowd chanted “J.T.” and his teammates carried him off the field.

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