32 teams in 32 days: Miami
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Mar 26, 2008
We continue our team-by-team early off-season look at the NFL with the ...
This space is normally reserved for team highlights. Since there were no highlights in Miami's 2007 season, we're offering this Tony Sparano classic from ESPN.
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2007 record: 1-15 (267-437)
Record vs. Quality Opponents: 0-7
Expected W-L (based on PF/PA): 3.8-12.2
All-time franchise record: 369-267-4 (.580)
Playoff record: 20-19 (.513)
Last five seasons: 30-50 (.375)
Best game of 2007: 22-16 home win over Baltimore (Week 15). In some cases we have to look long and hard to determine each team's best game, digging through playbooks and stat sheets to empirically quantify which game was truly the most impressive for each team. In Miami's case, of course, we simply looked for the lone game with the W next to it. Dolphins fans certainly had to sweat out every last second of the only victory of the season, too. Baltimore's Matt Stover shanked a 44-yard OT field goal attempt before Cleo Lemon connected with Greg Camarillo for a thrilling 64-yard, game-winning TD.
It was a thin, watery gruel of joy during a season in which Miami and its fans were otherwise force fed one carbo-loaded indignity after the other. The Dolphins, for example, finished 15 games out of first place in the division, a record likely to stand forever, while watching their former back-up receiver Wes Welker set a new franchise record for AFC East rival New England with 112 catches, after catching just 96 passes in three seasons with the Dolphins.
To know just how far Miami has fallen, consider this: The Dolphins have won just 30 games in the last five seasons, 20 in the last four and one single, lonely little game last year. Yet Miami's all-time franchise winning percentage of .580 remains the best of any team in the NFL.
Silly-season activity: With the franchise in such disarray, the big news, of course, has been off the field. Topping the list is the arrival of the Tuna to lead the Fish. Bill Parcells has wasted no time making his presence felt for a team that desperately needs a change of direction. Former coach Cam Cameron had his head lopped off so fast it set a new land speed record, breaking the one previously held by Chuck Yeager on the Utah salt flats. A relative unknown, Tony Sparano, has taken his place. The Dolphins also released one of its all-time great players, 34-year-old, seven-time Pro Bowler and tackling machine Zach Thomas. The Miami franchise even has a new owner, with real estate developer Stephen Ross purchasing a 50-percent stake in the franchise from Wayne Huizenga (pending NFL approval).
Clearly, these high profile moves have sent a message that the franchise is heading in a new direction. There have been several other moves, and will be many more between now and September as the Dolphins are likely to be one of the league's most active teams in the off-season.
Strength: Offensive line. For all the troubles Miami had, the Offensive Hogs were one of the few units that performed at a level approaching mediocrity. It would be a overstating the case to call the offensive line a bright spot for the Dolphins, but at least it wasn't the deep, dark black hole of futility that marked so many other aspects of the team, from top to bottom. The Dolphins actually ran the ball fairly pedestrian like, averaging a middle of the pack 4.03 YPA. And with rookie center Samson Satele stepping right into the starting job last year, Miami has a player around which it can build a high-caliber offensive line.
Weakness: Quarterback. If there were any doubt that quarterback is the most important position in sports, or if some folks still held on to the world-is-flat belief that "establishing the run" actually means something in the NFL, the Dolphins stand as exhibit A in the argument against this Neanderthalic school of thought. The Dolphins were consistent contenders as long as they had Hall of Famers Bob Griese and Dan Marino leading the offense. Hell, even David Woodley held the ship together for the short interregnum between the two quarterbacking regimes. But the franchise has simply spun around the toilet bowl since the end of the Marino Era, a decade during which it's been unable to find a franchise quarterback.
Last year was the bottom of the barrel. Led primarily by Cleo Lemon – who sounds more like an alternative 80s band than an NFL quarterback, and often played like one, too – the Dolphins were about as bad passing the ball as you can expect in this day and age of high-powered offensive fireworks. Miami's rotating cast of quarterbacks tossed just 12 TDs to 16 INTs and posted a cumulative 69.6 passer rating – a mark so bad by contemporary standards that even Paula Abdul couldn't find anything nice to say about it.
When we look at the passing game through our adjusted Passing Yards Per Attempt Quality Stat (which takes into consideration sacks), the Dolphins averaged an insipid 5.05 yards everytime they stepped back to pass.
Most underrated player: WR Ted Ginn Jr. The receiver and kick-return specialist was roundly, loudly and famously jeered by the Miami faithful when the Dolphins selected him with their first pick in the 2007 draft (No. 9 overall). It was most likely a poor decision. As the Cold, Hard Football Facts have proven time and again, highly touted wide receivers fail far more often than they succeed. And, as the Cold, Hard Football Facts have proven time and again, wide receiver is an ancillary position, not a building-block position. It's a position teams should go after only after virtually all other positions on the field have been solidified.
With that said, Ginn had a fairly successful rookie year playing for a terrible team. He was the team's No. 2 wide receiver, with 34 catches for 420 yards. He even caught two TD passes – a mark, believe it or not, which tied him for the team lead. He was also a fairly effective weapon in the return game, with an average of 22.7 yards per kick return and 9.6 yards per punt return. He also tied a franchise record with an 87-yard punt return for a TD in a Week 11 contest against the Eagles, accounting or Miami's only points in a 17-7 loss.
Unit on the rise: Management. There are few hitters heavier than Bill Parcells. The fact that Miami management has taken such a radical new turn, putting football operations in the hands of a guy with a proven track record for resurrecting down-and-out franchises (at least as a coach) can be only good news for the Dolphins.
2007 Draft grade: B. The Dolphins selected fairly well with the great Polynesian draft class of 2007 (three of their 10 picks were Hawaiian or Samoan). The jury is still out on No. 1 pick Ginn and No. 2 pick John Beck, who was shakier than an epileptic with alcohol withdrawal symptoms during his four starts at quarterback. But the Dolphins did seem to find a handful of building-block players: Samson Satele, a late second-round pick out of Hawaii, started all 16 games at center, while the hulking (270 pounds) Reagan Mauia, a sixth-round pick also out of Hawaii, grew into the team's primary blocking back. Running back Lorenzo Boooker, meanwhile, started several games and contributed primarily in the passing game, with 28 catches.
Of course, you cold also look at it like this: when a team plucks two players out of the Hawaii football program and they become key starters on an NFL franchise, said team was probably suffering from a serious lack of talent.
Miami's other key draftee was punter Brandon Fields, who averaged a solid 43.2 yards per boot in his rookie season.
2008 Draft power: 1st (1), 2 (32), 2 (57), 3 (64), 4 (96), 6 (188), 7 (192)
General Draft strategy: Miami's recent drafts have been so poor that you can find them panhandling at intersections in Little Havana. They carry signs saying "Will work for franchise quarterback."
With so many changes at the top, Miami's recent draft strategies are more or less irrelevant. But it helps to look at the player-management techniques of past Parcells teams. He's proven that he can build teams around journeymen-caliber quarterbacks and other mid-level skill-position players. Hell, the guy went to Super Bowls with Phil Simms, Jeff Hostetler and Drew Bledsoe, and almost reached another with Vinny Testaverde. So don't expect Miami to sell out the franchise in a maniacal, Ditka-esque quest for a single skill-position player. The Dolphins will load up on building-block players and structure the team around them.
Youth/experience: The Dolphins are likely to be one of the youngest teams in football this year, with few players boasting more than eight years experience in the NFL. And almost all of the old-timers – Vonnie Holliday, Jason Ferguson and Jason Taylor – play on the defensive line. Look for the Dolphins to get younger in that area, too, this season.
Coaching: Bada-bing! Tony Sparano will be the subject of more than his fair share of gangster jokes ... at least until he makes a name for himself. As of right now, he's one of the more unproven men to land a head coaching job in recent NFL history. He's primarily served as an offensive line coach during his nine NFL seasons, and has never even held a coordinator's position. However, he did work under Parcells in the Cowboys organization and obviously made a great impression on his Tunaship.
Almost the entire Miami coaching staff will be new, as well, with positions still being filled. The primary name to come on board is defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni, the former Syracuse head coach and, most recently, positional assistant with the Cowboys.
Overview: Well, what do you say? The mighty Dolphins truly hit rock bottom in 2007 – unless there's an 0-16 campaign somewhere in their future. Not likely. The truth is that, after suffering through the misery of last season, there's nowhere to go but up and the organization has obviously committed itself to a stem-to-stern overhaul in an effort to return to its rightful status as one of the league's elite franchises.
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