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2015 Dolphins Draft Picks
2016 was the year of the unexpected.
The Cubs won the World Series. The last time that happened, the Ottoman Empire still existed. Really… I looked it up.
Donald Trump was elected president. (No matter what your politics, this has a stranger-than-fiction quality about it. This seemed less likely than the Cubs winning the World Series at the start of 2016.)
2016 saw the deaths of such important folks as Fidel Castro, Muhammad Ali, John Glenn, Keith Emerson, David Bowie and Prince, and now Carrie Fisher, among others. And yet, the seemingly immortal Betty White still shows up in the occasional TV commercial looking strangely the same as she did 40 years ago. She is literally older than sliced bread (it’s true, I researched this as well, because you just can’t make these claims frivolously, now can you?)
And now, perhaps just as unexpectedly, the Dolphins are in the playoffs. This in spite of the fact that the team two of its most important leaders and best players for the season in Reshad Jones and Mike Pouncey, as well as opening day starters at RB (Arian Foster), 2 linebackers (Koa Mis and Jelani Jenkins, who has played sparingly and has been largely ineffective due to injuries), TE (Jordan Cameron), and oh yeah, QB (Ryan Tannehill.) That’s not even mentioning the players that missed games such as Devante Parker, Dion Simms, Kiko Alonso, Byron Maxwell, Laremy Tunsil, Branden Albert, Xavien Howard, etc. Every team deals with injuries, but not to this degree. Especially on defense, the injuries have been devastating.
And those injuries have taken their toll, too. Our run defense is historically bad. At times this year our running game on offense has been ineffective as well, due largely to the absence of our best run blockers in the lineup. Our team is one of the most penalized in the league as well, with only 4 teams having more accepted penalties counting against them.
So how are these guys going out there week in and week out with a roster that is arguably worse than last year’s and yet keep winning?
Though there are lots of contributing factors, I believe they all stem from the same source.
Culture. Adam Gase has come in and established a winning culture in a team that hasn’t won consistently for decades. His culture focuses on accountability and individual responsibility. When players consistently underperform, they are benched or cut. When players making less money or with less name-recognition out-perform established vets, they end up on the starting roster (see Tony Lippett starting over Byron Maxwell.) Gase has managed to do this in a way that, while inspiring players to put forth their best effort, has not alienated them. He takes responsibility when he makes mistakes, sometimes (in my opinion) taking the blame when it could be placed on the players. He’s young, relatable, energetic and confident (edging on arrogant) and what he is doing is working. The players see it, and seem to love playing for him.
I listened to NFL analysts on the radio the other day discussing the dismissal of Rex Ryan in Buffalo. They both felt it was unfair to dismiss a coach in just his second year because it takes longer than that to get the players they need for the scheme they want to run and turn around a losing culture. In general, I agree with the sentiment, which makes it all the more impressive that Gase has done what he has done so quickly.
At the start of season, we needed to know if we had a coach that could restore the luster on our beloved franchise. One that could help his players reach their potential. Gase has helped Ryan Tannehill develop to the point that I am comfortable going into the next season with him at QB. (I do feel it is always smart to draft players to develop at that position though, but that’s a different subject.)
Players have stepped up all over the roster and contributed in big ways. Jay Ajayi heads the list, but players such as Lippett, McCain, Devante Parker, Dion Simms, Jordan Phillips, Neville Hewitt, Mike Hull, Michael Thomas, Walt Aikens, Kenny Stills, MarQuiese Gray and Dominique Jones have all made substantial contributions when called upon this year. They’ve grown as players, and I attribute a lot of that success to the ability of Gase (and his staff) to reach these guys and “coach them up.” Add to that the successful integration of rookies Tunsil, Kenyan Drake, Jakeem Grant, Xavien Howard, and it becomes clearer that this coaching staff is getting it right.
It all starts with the culture, and all of that points back to Adam Gase. I believe that not only does this establish him as the coach of our future, but it also should put him solidly in the running for another title as well.
Adam Gase, 2016 NFL Coach of the Year.
That’s my case for Gase.
Jay Ajayi destroyed the Bills once again, with his third 200+ yard game of the season and his second against the Bills. After hitting a lull in production for several weeks, Ajayi ripped off 206 yards on 32 carries and 1 TD. He also made the play of the game with a 57 yard run late in overtime to put the Dolphins in position to make a chip shot field goal.
How about Andrew Franks hitting a huge 55 yard field goal. I believe Franks had never hit a 50+ yarder before that. He did it in the biggest game of the year, during one of the biggest moments and in less than favorable conditions. He also hit the game winner in overtime. All this makes up for the miss earlier in the game.
Devante Parker had a nice game, especially on that 56 yard run and catch for a touchdown where he broke two tackles and outraced the defense to the endzone. It's been an up and down season for Parker, but it's nice to see him flash that big play ability.
Kenyan Drake's 45 yard touchdown run. Wow!
Great game by the offensive line, not allowing a single sack and helping the running backs have a productive day.
Overall, the offense produced 494 yards and 34 points. That is a productive day.
About the only players to show up on defense were Cameron Wake and Tony Lippett. Wake added another sack to his already incredible comeback season. Lippett established coverage on his side of the field early on, forcing the Bills to attack Xavien Howard instead. Lippett continues to grow and is becoming more consistent.
I could write an entire book on the defense. But I will focus on Vance Joseph. He only had one job to do. Stop the Bills rushing attack. The result? The defense allowed 272 yards rushing on the ground and the running game kept the Bills in the game. Both LeSean McCoy and Mike Gillislee had big days. Joseph kept calling all these different pass coverages to try to confuse Tyrod Taylor. Newflash Vance, Tyrod Taylor is not Tom Brady. You want to keep him in the pocket and you want the Bills to abandon the run and put the game in his hands. Kinda like you did in game one. Instead, you neglected to focus on stopping the run and the Bills wound up doing whatever they wanted. I do not think it is a talent issue. Our defensive line is talented. Our middle linebacker is talented. Donald Butler is a good run stopper at OLB. Our safeties are better at run stopping than coverage. Vance Joseph is just another example of a coach who outthinks himself and shoots himself in the leg. 589 yards on offense and 272 yards on the ground! Unacceptable!
Matt Moore had close to one of the ugliest first halves I've seen. He was missing 5 yard outs. Let's just say his sights were poorly calibrated. But he came back in the second half and while he didn't light it up, he did enough to keep his team in it. Give credit to Moore. It's a tough place to play. Hostile crowd, crappy field and wind. And he held it together. One thing about Moore is, yes he can get hot and yes he can go cold, but he never mentally implodes.
10 wins was unimaginable at the beginning of the season, let alone after a 1-4 start. It's a testament to the cultural shift provided by Adam Gase and the coaching staff. Yes, there are some Xs and Os issues and some strategic decisions that can be baffling, but a team takes on the personality of their coach. And folks, I think we have a good one in Miami. He has taken a team that is arguably less talented than last year's squad and has them on the brink of our first playoff berth since 2008.
Next up - the hated New England Patriots. But depending on what happens Sunday night (Broncos vs Chiefs), we may be looking at a bunch of back ups.
The good news is, we are playing football that matters late in December. Merry Christmas!