The Dolphin Report

By Ron Poltorack

THE COUNTDOWN CLOCK

I have relatives who live across the street from Fins’ Head Coach Joe Philbin and whenever I visit I jokingly ask if I can put up a countdown clock on their lawn facing out.  The clock would count down to December 29, the day after the Fins finish the 2014 regular season (at home against the Jets).  It is the day I believe that Philbin’s tenure with the Fins will come to an abrupt end.  Here’s why.

The season before Philbin arrived the Fins were 6-10.  He was hired because the Fins were desperate to right the ship, a ship that has been heading nowhere since Dan Marino hung up his cleats in 1999.  Philbin led them to 7-9 in 2012 and 8-8 in 2013.  Both seasons represented modest improvements in the Fins’ record.  But in impatient South Florida, a modest improvement isn’t enough.  And since I believe that in 2014 the Fins are not likely to improve upon their 8-8 finish in 2013, I think Joe Philbin will be finished in Miami come this December 29.  In actuality, I can see the Fins dropping to 5 wins this year.  If that be the case, then Philbin will be lucky to still be on the sidelines on December 28.  He will not be beyond that date.

Not everything is Philbin’s fault.  The head coach can only work with the players the GM has given him.  Perhaps Philbin would have had a better fate had he been able to work with Russell Wilson instead of Ryan Tannehill at QB.  Russell Wilson, who was drafted behind Tannehill, led his Seahawks to a Super Bowl victory against the Broncos last February.  Of course, who knows how effective Wilson would have been behind the Fins’ offensive line which gathered headlines last season both for how often it surrendered sacks and for Bullygate.  Blame Jeff Ireland for drafting Ryan Tannehill over Russell Wilson and blame him for the disastrous offensive line.  But Philbin certainly does not get a free pass for Bullygate.  And he also must take responsibility for the questionable offense run by his chosen coordinator, the now departed Mike Sherman.

Considering that the Fins had many holes to fill going into the 2013 season, Ireland’s decision to trade up to pick an injured and undersized Dion Jordan last year was questionable from the outset.  Certainly there were positions of greater need.  It didn’t help that Jordan could not fully participate in training camp due to his injury.  And he certainly had unimpressive numbers when he did get on the field last season.  This season, of course, he will not even get on the field at all for the first 4 games due to a suspension for testing positive for a banned substance.  None of this is Philbin’s fault.  But keeping one’s NFL coaching job is not always a matter of fault, which is why fired coaches typically land elsewhere in the NFL.

The early results in training camp suggest that the offensive line will not be improved this year.  It is a line that will have all new starters since last season.  The only solid player back from last year is center Mike Pouncey, but he will be lost for the first 2 months due to off-season surgery.  That spells disaster for both Ryan Tannehill and the running backs.  In the first weekend of training camp the sacks have kept coming.  While some label running back Lamar Miller a disappointment, it is more likely that his inconsistent performance resulted from having to play behind an inadequate line rather than having forgotten how to hit a hole in the 2 years since he was drafted out of The U.  With the line still appearing inadequate, there is not much hope that Miller, Daniel Thomas (if he even makes the team) or Knowshon Moreno will have any real success.  And if Knowshon Moreno cannot produce this season it will not be because he somehow forgot how to run the ball since last season (when he enjoyed success with the Broncos), it’s just that it is tougher to run when the defense is contending with Ryan Tannehill and the Fins’ offensive line rather than Peyton Manning and the Broncos’ line. 

While the Fins hope that Ryan Tannehill will learn to throw the deep ball to Mike Wallace, there is good reason to question whether this is even possible.  One does not learn how to throw any pass at the age of 26.  Either you have the skill or you don’t.  It’s not a matter of arm strength as no one has ever doubted Tannehill’s ability to throw a football a long way.  The problem is one of accuracy under pressure.  Dan Marino never had to learn how to get the deep ball into Mark Duper’s hands.  He had both the hand-eye coordination and the temperament to get the ball there.  Tannehill has shown that he lacks these qualities.  So don’t count on him to be the one to save Philbin’s job.  

Defensively, the Fins need to do a better job against the run in 2014 if they hope to improve.  In 2013 they gave up an average of 125 yards rushing per game.  They need to improve that figure, but the loss of Paul Soliai does not bode well.  Will others be able to step up will be a key question.  Another question will be whether Koa Misi, who is being moved from an outside linebacking position to the inside, will be an upgrade as he learns his new position.

Then there are the 2014 draft picks.  And in the days where every team has to contend with the salary cap, draft picks represent an opportunity to add quality players who can help without eating up an inordinate amount of the salary cap.  This year’s crop—the first selected by new GM Dennis Hickey—was disproportionately comprised of players from lesser college programs.  Such players faced lesser competition in college than their counterparts drafted from Division I schools.  When you consider that all rookies have to adjust to the speed of the NFL game, one must assume that those who are used to playing against lesser competition will have even more of an adjustment to make before they can become productive at the NFL level.  It will be interesting to see how many of these draft picks make it out of training camp and whether they are able to contribute in a meaningful way this coming season.  Just don’t count on the 2014 draft class saving Philbin’s job.

So why are the Fins’ not likely to improve upon their 8-8 2013 finish?  Well, in the first place, for all the reasons set forth above.  In the second place, because in addition to having to play the Patriots twice (12-4), the Fins must also play the Chiefs (11-5) and the Broncos (13-3).  They also have to play the Bills who even at 6-10 last season gave the Fins fits, beating them twice.  Then they must also face the Chargers (9-7), Packers (8-7-1), Bears (8-8), Ravens (8-8) and Jets (8-8).  The only “easy” games figure to be against the Raiders (4-12) and the Vikings (5-10-1).  This does not seem to add up to a 9-win or better season.  And if things don’t go well, the Fins could regress to 5 wins in 2014.

What this all means is that the countdown clock will read ”0″ on December 29 and shortly thereafter my relatives should get ready to see the moving truck across the street.

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