Instead of serving chips and dip or chicken wings at your next Dolphins viewing party, may I suggest copious amounts of Tums and Pepto Bismol because Dolphins fans’ stomachs might not be able to handle the nausea-inducing disaster soon to follow. On Sunday, Dolphins fans saw quite possibly the most miserable and gutless display of football in recent memory.
Sunday’s 20-6 loss to a completely talentless New York Jets team conjured up memories of another therapy-inducing game, the 2012 37-3 home loss to Jake Locker and the same Tennessee Titans team fresh off a 51-20 home loss to the Chicago Bears. This game had it all, a complete lack of energy and focus, a dreadfully slow start, and a secondary getting dismantled by the Josh McCown.
I want to start off by highlighting Miami’s troubling affinity for slow starts. In 2016, Miami only scored 5 first quarter touchdowns, 10.8% of their total touchdowns in 2016. In those 5 games where they scored touchdowns early, they amassed a 4-1 record. Meanwhile, in the remaining 11 games, where no first quarter touchdowns were scored, Miami had a pedestrian 6-5 record.
While the latter record isn’t particularly poor, the data clearly shows the impact an early 6 points can have on a game. Even in 2015, Miami was 2-1 in the 3 games where they scored first quarter touchdowns, and just 4-9 in games where they didn’t. Once again in 2017 we see an upsetting tendency of starting off slowly.
In a game where the talent level between the two sidelines varies drastically in favor of Miami, a quick start to the game is imperative to suppress any momentum from gathering for the inferior team. (Just ask the British about the battles of Lexington and Concord)
What happened Sunday? The Jets got early momentum, which coupled with the Dolphins’ sluggish start gave the Jets a reason to believe they could win the game. This falls directly on Adam Gase’s shoulders. How can you not prepare your team for an early season inter-divisional game that has serious season-long implications? Winning this game would put the team at 2-0 and in position to have wiggle room later in the year when the tough opponents start rolling through.
Instead, Gase allows the team to get dominated in every single aspect of the game Sunday and now face a daunting task in traveling to London and stopping the future Hall-of-Famer Drew Brees. It started with the offense being unable to run the ball. Games where Ajayi can’t get going early are going to happen, that is a matter of fact, but when those games come along, Gase must be able to turn the offensive focus elsewhere.
According to Pro Football Focus, Jay Cutler has a 47.7 passer rating when he takes 2.6 seconds or more to throw the ball, and an 87.4 passer rating when he takes less than 2.6 seconds to throw the ball, yet where were the quick-hitting, easy completions early in the game to get Cutler in rhythm once the ground game clearly was not the answer? How can Ajayi get stuffed all first half yet Cutler only has 12 pass attempts in the first half? I thought it was clear the offensive line was getting zero push, yet Ajayi was continually called upon in an exercise of futility. Gase must improve in his play-calling and in-game awareness for the offense to rebound from these rather average performances in the first two games.
To make matters even worse, the secondary looks absolutely horrid. Asking Byron Maxwell to cover an NFL wide receiver is like asking a napkin to act as a table cloth, spoiler alert: the coverage will be minimal. In two games, Miami has allowed 13 incompletions, which is a mind-boggling statistic. Maxwell and his partner-in-crime Xavien Howard have been about as good of a tag-team as 14th century Europe and the Plague. The two are ranked 97th and 91st, respectively, out of 108 qualifying NFL cornerbacks according to Pro Football Focus, a less than ideal combo.
Unfortunately for the Dolphins, the remaining schedule boasts an impressive slew of quarterbacks, including Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Derek Carr, Joe Flacco, and Tom Brady twice. This ought to be the biggest concern for rookie defensive coordinator Matt Burke and fans across the country. If Josh McCown can impose his will on Miami’s secondary, then who can’t?
A glimmer of hope lies in the week 9 return of TJ McDonald, but this unit needs more than a single change. Last week I called for Alterraun Verner to get some snaps and this cruel world rewarded my wish by having Verner play a mere 9 snaps and single-handedly allow a 69-yard touchdown, stay hot kid! In the preseason I proclaimed how much I anxiously awaited the sight of Cordrea Tankersley on the field, yet if he can’t muster the ability to make the active roster amid this clown squad of a secondary, I’m not sure if I really want to see him in uniform anytime soon.
The London game against New Orleans ought to not only terrify Dolphins fans from a defensive standpoint, but also serve as a litmus test for the offense in 2017. The Saints possess a putrid defense including an awful secondary, so if Adam Gase can’t find a way to put up big numbers while across the pond, it may be time to start locating the all-to-familiar “panic button” for the remainder of the 2017 campaign.