Naughty Nurse: sunny days ahead for Miami Dolphins

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Apr 21, 2012



(Our Russian mail-order Naughty Nurse checks the statistical vital signs of each NFL team after each season. She breaks out her pigskin probe and uses her soothing, healing hands to take the temperature, and maybe a few liberties, with the Miami Dolphins. See her statistical analysis of other NFL teams here.)

By Kerry J. Byrne
Cold, Hard Football Facts bottlenosed analyst


The sun doesn’t shine forever, even in Miami. Think of the once-glorious, now-torturous history of the Dolphins.
 
Back in January 1974, the eight-year-old franchise demolished a very good Minnesota Vikings team in Super Bowl VIII with one of the greatest displays of old-fashioned power football the game had ever seen. They had Hall of Famers at coach, quarterback, fullback, wide receiver, middle linebacker, center and guard. They were two-time defending champs and had just gone 32-2 (.941) over the course of two seasons, a two-year performance likely never to be equaled again.
 
Miami was sexy. The team was awesome. The endless victories and the palm trees in the end zone of the iconic Orange Bowl gave Miami the appearance of a pigskin paradise to thosee watching from dark, snowy northern towns as their teams got crushed week after week. The only thing missing at the high-water mark of the Miami franchise was 1960s mascot Flipper still splashing around in the end zone.
 
Then, poof!

Just when it seemed the sunshine would never end, darkness befell the franchise. Miami has returned to the Super Bowl only twice, in 1982 and 1984, but lost both times. Even the tandem of winningest coach in history and most prolific passer (at the time) in history failed to recapture Super Bowl glory. The organization has only seemed to spiral out of control in recent years.
 
Despite the glorious locale, it seems big-name coaches and quarterbacks would rather play anywhere else. And in 2011 the team suffered its third-straight losing season for the first time since Don Shula became  coach in 1970.
 
But dawn always comes after the darkest of night – and, well, there are actually some signs of light in Miami.
 
The 2011 storyline: Former coach Tony Sparano sealed his fate with an 0-7 start and was fired with three games remaining. But whether Sparano or Todd Bowles was at the helm, the team came on strong at the end of the year, winning six of its final nine games.
 
The Vital Signs
Coach (record): Joe Philbin (0-0 with Miami; 0-0 overall)
2011 record: 6-10 (20.6 PPG – 19.6 PPG)
Record against the spread: 9-6-1
Record vs. Quality Opponents: 0-4 (19.5 – 27.0)
Record last five seasons: 32-48 (.400)
Best Quality Stat in 2010: Defensive Hog Index (5th)
Worst Quality Stat in 2010: Offensive Hog Index (26th); Quality Standings (30th)  
 
ALL QUALITY STATS
Overall QS SCOR BEND RPYPA DRPYPA QBR DQBR OPR DPR PRD OHI DHI REL
18 30 14 6 18 16 18 21 12 15 14 26 5 13
Overall = Overall position in Quality Stats Power Rankings; QS = Quality Standings; SCOR = Scoreability; BEND = Bendability; RPYPA = Real Passing Yards per Attempt; DRPYPA = Defensive Real Passing Yards Per Attempt; QBR = Real Quarterback Rating; DQBR = Defensive Real Quarterback Rating; OPR = Offensive Passer Rating; DPR = Defensive Passer Rating; PRD = Passer Rating Differential; OHI = Offensive Hog Index; DHI = Defensive Hog Index; REL = Relativity Index.
 
Statistical curiosity of 2011: Miami went .500 or better in 24 of 26 years under head coach Don Shula. Miami has gone .500 or better in just 10 of 16 seasons since he was kissed, dissed and listed as a dumb one. The 2011 marked the first time since Shula was hired in 1970 that Miami failed to win at least half their games for three straight seasons.
 
Best game of 2011: 34-14 win vs. Oakland (Week 13). The Dolphins managed to negotiate the entire 2011 season without a single Quality Win (0-4) – much like their more celebrated AFC East brethren New England (0-2) and N.Y. Jets (0-4). The lowly Bills, for the record, went 1-4 vs. Quality Teams, beating the mighty Patriots in Week 3. The closest Miami came was its dominating win over the Raiders in December.
 
Oakland was 7-4 at the time and looked like a legit threat to win the AFC West. But the humiliation in Miami marked the start of a disastrous 1-4 finish for the Raiders as well as the high point of an encouraging 6-3 run down the stretch for the ‘Fins. Miami ran 44 times for 209 yards and 2 scores and led 34-0 after three quarters.
 
Worst game of 2011: 18-15 loss vs. Denver (Week 7). There’s a rich, dispiriting stew of losses to choose from anytime a team begins the year 0-7. But this home loss to the Broncos, the sixth straight to open the season, hurt the worst. The spirited but winless Dolphins played well. But then they pissed it all away in a manner that seems literally improbable even with the 20-20 vision of hindsight while at the same time serving as the stepping stone that launched the great cultural firestorm of 2011: Tim Tebow Mania.
 
Miami led 15-0 with just over 5 minutes to play and had largely embarrassed Tebow, making his first start of 2011, and the Denver offense (Tebow was 4 of 14 for 40 yards late into the fourth). Then the Broncos ripped off an 80-yard TD drive, a successful onside kick, a 56-yard TD drive and a game-tying 2-point conversion in the final seconds.
 
Quarterback Matt Moore fumbled in OT inside Miami territory and Denver’s Matt Prater booted the 52-yard game winner.
 
Strength: Defensive line/run defense. Miami fielded one of the league’s elite defensive fronts in 2011, No. 5 on our Defensive Hog Index. However, the ranking is a little misleading. The Dolphins were No. 3 against the run, surrendering just 3.73 YPA. That’s all well and good.
 
But history tells us that it’s far more important to pressure the passer than it is to stop the run, and Miami was a mere 17th at forcing Negative Pass Plays (9.18%).
 
Cameron Wake led that crew with 8.5 sacks, but he’s unhappy with his contract situation and was an early no-show during voluntary workouts. That situation will still play out. Longtime star Jason Taylor was second on the team with 7.0 sacks but he, of course, retired at the end of the season.  So that team-leading unit of 2011 could be a work in progress in 2012.
 
Weakness: Offensive line. Miami struggled all year to protect the passer, surrendering 52 sacks. Only the Cardinals (54) and lowly Rams (55) watched their quarterbacks get pillaged more often than Miami’s. Basically, 1 of every 10 dropbacks ended in a sack.
 
Miami suffered a Negative Pass Play (sack, INT) on 12.48 percent of dropbacks (30th) and also struggle don third down, converting just 1 of 3 attempts (26th). It all adds up to a bad OL: No. 26 on the Offensive Hog Index.   
 
General off-season strategy/overview: The consensus is that Miami is a decent team desperate for a good quarterback. In general, that’s true. As we noted throughout recent seasons, the Dolphins have not drafted a quarterback in the first round since Dan Marino in 1983. That’s 29 years ago for those of you keeping score at home.
 
The team’s best performance in recent years came in 2008 – an 11-5 record and AFC East title behind a totally underappreciated, highly efficient performance from the brittle Chad Pennington.
 
But the Cold, Hard Football Facts show that Miami can compete with Matt Moore, the quarterback the team has publicly disrespected time and again here in the offseason.
 
After a couple rough performances against the Chargers and Jets, Moore played pretty damn well down the stretch and was the biggest reason the team went 6-3 over its final nine games. Here are his numbers in those nine games:
  • 142 of 231, 61.2%, 1,791 yards, 7.7 YPA, 15 TD, 5 INT, 97.8 rating
 Those are winning numbers and the proof was on the scoreboard. It was not the first time Moore has played well enough to help a bad team turn around its fortunes.
 
Back in 2009, Carolina was a struggling 4-7 team behind Jake Delhomme. Moore started the final five games, played brilliantly (8 TD, 1 INT, 104.9 rating) and led the Panthers to a 4-1 record down the stretch.
 
We’re not saying Matt Moore is the second coming of Marino. But the point is that the team shouldn’t be as desperate as it’s carrying itself, and it certainly should chase the series of quarterbacks behind Andrew Luck and RGIII that appear to be overvalued in several circles.  
 
Right now the offensive line, No. 26 on the Offensive Hog Index in 2011, is a bigger need than quarterback. New coach Joe Philbin appears to be aware of the problems and the team has already been very active on the OL.
 
The ‘Fins also need to shore up a pass defense that was no better than mediocre in 2011: No. 15 in Defensive Passer Rating, No. 16 in Defensive Real Passing YPA and No. 21 in Defensive Real QB Rating.
 
Totally premature 2012 diagnosis: Give Matt Moore a better offensive line and pair him with a better pass defense and you’re talking a team that can legitimately expect to win 10 or 11 games.
 
But the organization is clearly not committed to him. Meanwhile, a rookie coach will attempt to turn around a team for which it seems few outsiders want to play. So it’s a tall task to expect Miami to compete with New England for the division title.

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