Miami Dolphins: Their 2014 Final Report Card
The Miami Dolphins have to make some changes in the offseason. How will the team handle Mike Wallace and his antic on the field? Can the team find a compliment to Lamar Miller and the running game? Can the defense find consistency again and become a top-tier unit? And most of all, will the coaching staff survive another season and make 2015 a playoff success?
Here is a look at the 2014 with grades for a team that finished 8-8 again and looks to get better in 2015.
The team improved offensively – most notably in the running game and with quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who threw for over 4,000 yards, had 28 touchdowns and became only the second passer to reach that feat besides the great Dan Marino. Tannehill looks poised to take another step next season, but it is not known if all his weapons will be on hand to share in the maturation process.
The team must find an answer for Mike Wallace and whether or not he will be part of the plans for 2015 or should the team release him after the second season of a four-year, $60 million contract.
Jarvis Landry proved he could shoulder the load as the team’s top receiver as he led the team in catches as a rookie.
The running game looked in the beginning of the season to still be a problem. Knowshon Moreno was signed to a one-year deal but was injured in training camp and then again in the regular season, earning himself a trip to injured reserve. Lamar Miller proved he was the back the team drafted in the third round three years ago, going over 1,000 yards and helping with the passing game out of the back field.
The offensive line played better, but still needs work. First round pick Ju’Wuan James proved to be solid at left tackle in place of Branden Albert who was hurt and lost for the season. Mike Pouncey earned a Pro Bowl invite even though he was injured the first few games of the season. Daryn Colledge played well and helped the line gel this season.
Look for more improvements in the offense as a whole next season. There are depth issues and the team must solve consistency issues, but the output was much better than last season.
The biggest surprise in the offseason so far might be the fact that defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle will still be on the sidelines in 2015 for the team.
According to Marc Sessler of NFL.com, Dolphins fans are unlikely to be impressed with Philbin's thinking after watching Miami crumble down the stretch to give up 165.3 rushing yards per game from Week 12 onward. The Dolphins also ranked 20th in points allowed per tilt, their worst finish in that category since 2009.
Coyle landed on the radar in September after The Herald reported that Dolphins players were "beyond furious, irate" at the coordinator's game plan and defensive adjustments in a 34-15 loss to the Chiefs at home in Week 3.
We expect plenty of changes for a defense that gave up 28, 41, 35 and 37 points over their last four games. The Dolphins don't view Coyle as the problem, though -- at least not Philbin.
Look for there to be major improvements on the defense next season, which means help is needed at linebacker and in the secondary.
The defensive line still had its share of solid play from Olivier Vernon and Cameron Wake. Second year player Dion Jordan showed improved play in the final eight games of the season.
The secondary still needs help and will be addressed in free agency and in the Draft.
GRADE – C-
The one unit that could put a smile on fans’ faces is special teams. Miami ended up with five blocked kicks — three punts and two field goals — the second-highest total in the NFL behind the six blocks by the Philadelphia Eagles.
Interestingly, the Dolphins’ five blocks were recorded by five different players: Chris McCain, Jonathan Freeny and Terrence Fede got the punt blocks, while Olivier Vernon and Earl Mitchell got the field goal blocks.
Fede’s block against the Minnesota Vikings resulted in a game-winning safety, the first time in NFL history a team had won on a safety in the final minute.
The three blocked punts broke the Dolphins single-season record of two, which has been accomplished seven times, most recently in 2011.
Brandon Fields fell short in his attempt to become the first punter in NFL history with four consecutive seasons with a gross average of 48.8 yards or higher, but he had an impressive year nonetheless.
Fields, who shares the 48.8 distinction with Shane Lechler, finished with a 46.3 average. That was good for 12th in the NFL and also was the fourth-best average in franchise history.
Kicker Caleb Sturgis ended with 128 points, which was good for 11th in the NFL and second in Dolphins history, behind only the 144 points scored by Olindo Mare in 1999 when he set a franchise record with 39 field goals.
Sturgis ended 2014 with 29 field goals, which tied for fifth-best in franchise history with Dan Carpenter’s 2011 season.
Sturgis had six field goal attempts of 50 yards or longer, which tied for fifth-most in team history. He had 13 attempts from 50 or more yards in his first two seasons, the most ever for a Dolphins kicker.
GRADE – B+
Joe Philbin will be back in 2015. That in itself is a surprise to many, including many of the Dolphins players. But you have to figure the leash he will be given by management will be very short.
Coyle’s leash may be just as short. Look for the team to adjust more to Bill Lazor in his second season as offensive coordinator. This will be a boom or bust season for the Dolphins in 2015.
FINAL GRADE - C