Miami Dolphins 2019: Tank for Tua?

Miami Dolphins 2019: Tank for Tua?
Miami Dolphins 2019: Tank for Tua?

Miami Dolphins 2018 Stats Review

Record: 7-9

Pythagorean Wins: 5.1

ATS: 7-9; average line 3.5

Over/Under: 8-7-1; average total 44.9

Close Games Record: 7-1

Turnover Differential: +0.3

Adjusted Games Lost (injuries): 95.3 (23rd)

Offense: 28th in EPA per play (-0.070);  5.38 yards per play

Defense:  27th in EPA per play (+0.087);  6.26 yards per play

The Enigma

There are some enigmas in life. One is the question about how the Miami Dolphins won seven games in 2018 and held the 13th pick in the draft instead of a top-6 one. They ranked bottom-six in both offensive and defensive EPA per play, and QBs Ryan Tannehill and Brock Osweiler had the worst seasons of their careers. And that means something. How was it possible that the Dolphins didn’t finish with a much higher draft pick? There are three reasons: the league-wide best record in close games along with Dallas, the third-easiest win-loss schedule (.469) and incredible turnover contribution by their defense.

Their defense was very lousy on a per-play basis, but that unit collected 29 takeaways (4th-most) for 322 percent of total win probability added (3rd-most). Only the Rams and Bears added more win probability via takeaways. Either the Fins defense gave up a big play, or they forced a turnover. Those had a significant impact on the game script. The last-second lateral touchdown against the Pats, the goal line fumble recovery against the Bears – there are the two games the Dolphins could have easily lost which would have represented their season performance a lot better.

Overall, the Miami Dolphins played more like a 4-12 or 5-11 team, which is also mirrored by their Pythagorean win expectation of 5.1.

Let’s Rebuild!

Miami cleaned up their coaching staff and roster to start a rebuilding process. Nobody can fault them for this. Brian Flores, their new head coach, spent the last three years as the linebacker’s coach at New England. Hiring someone from the Belichick coaching tree is probably not the worst idea. However, Flores is a defensive mind who is coaching to coach a team and call plays for the first time. That’s a little red flag, at least for the upcoming season.

New offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea spent the past ten years as the wide receivers coach for New England. He has never called plays before, which is another red flag for 2019. First-year play-callers tend to struggle. The offensive personnel matters, but even geniuses like Andy Reid, Kyle Shanahan, Sean McVay, Bruce Arians or Pat Shurmur weren’t able to orchestrate offenses that ranked higher than 23rd in pass DVOA in their rookie seasons.

O’Shea will likely implement the Patriots Erhardt-Perkins system. But we have no clue how that’s going to look like, especially with questionable personnel at quarterback and along the offensive line. The optimistic part of off-season reports was that O’Shea is interested in fitting the scheme towards the skill set of his players.

Points Out of Nowhere for the Miami Dolphins?

It’s going to be a battle between journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick and newly acquired sophomore Josh Rosen for the Miami Dolphins starting quarterback job. According to camp reports, Fitzpatrick is ahead of the young Rosen. The latter had an abysmal rookie season, and any severe prediction for 2019 would be a blind guess at most. Fitzpatrick has been a below-average starter who had a couple of solid seasons in sound systems (2014, 2015, 2018), but his career has been up and down. During those seasons mentioned, he always had a better supporting cast than this year: DeAndre Hopkins & Andre Johnson, Eric Decker & Brandon Marshall, Mike Evans & DeSean Jackson.

Miami Dolphins Offensive Depth Chart Projection
Miami Dolphins Offensive Depth Chart Projection

A few days into training camp, the Miami Dolphins already replaced their offensive line coach. New coach Dave DeGuglielmo used a starting combination of Laremy Tunsil, rookie Michael Deiter, Daniel Kilgore, Will Holden and Jesse Davis from left to right. On paper, this is most likely the worst offensive line in the NFL. Only Tunsil should be considered an adequate starter. According to The Draft Network, Deiter is such a refined prospect that he could be a solid NFL starter right out of the gateway. But rookie offensive linemen are wild cards.  It’s hard to believe that either Fitzmagic or Josh Rosen are going to have success behind this unit.

Kenny Stills is as reliable as it gets and might be a trade asset at some point in August. DeVante Parker, who never lived up to his first-round status, should battle with newly acquired Allen Hurns for the second WR spot. Albert Wilson has been the NFL’s best screen-receiver at Kansas City, but he missed most of 2018. Jakeem Grant is the guy for screens and gimmick plays. Tight end Mike Gesicki is looking to take the expected step forward. I wouldn’t rank this receiving corps at the bottom. But it’s hard to see where points will come from in combination with Ryan Fitzpatrick and a weak offensive line.

Improvements Needed on Defense

Flores will likely bring Belichick’s modern defensive approach to South Beach. That means multiple fronts, various blitz packages, a lot of man coverage, and opponent-adjusted game plans. Defensive coordinator Patrick Graham approves:

“The pass rush is going to come from us game-planning it,” Graham said. “Just like anything we do on defense, we’re going to try to exploit the weaknesses of the offense.

Whether they have the right players in place, remains to be seen. As mentioned, this defense was terrible on a per-play basis but had a lot of high-leverage turnovers. The latter is very likely going to regress. Flores and Graham need this defense to take a big step forward to contribute to winning games next season.

Miami Dolphins Defensive Depth Chart Projection
Miami Dolphins Defensive Depth Chart Projection

I have no clue about how the front-seven is going to look like in week one, and I think it’s a waste of time thinking about it. We will likely see many various formations and rotations until Flores and Graham find the guys they trust. The secondary, however, looks to be very decent on paper. The unit had 17 interceptions. For comparison, the 49ers had two as a whole. But they cannot rely on turnovers. According to camp reports, Torry McTyer has a chance for the second outside cornerback spot opposite of Xavien Howard. TJ McDonald and Reshad Jones are a decent safety tandem, Xavien Howard is a stud, and Minkah Fitzpatrick has a lot of potentials. But even with solid secondary play, I am having a hard time seeing a jump from bottom-five to the average for the Fins defense.

2019 Schedule

Everything comes together. Despite playing in the AFC East, the Miami Dolphins are projected to face the fourth-hardest schedule (.5172), according to Pinnacle win totals markets. Markets are considering the Bills and the Jets to be vastly improved teams. Their win totals are currently sitting at 7.0 and 7.4 wins, respectively. Two games against the Patriots, a second-place schedule against the Chargers and Colts, and three matchups versus Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Cleveland don’t help. In the NFC it could be worse than facing the East, but it’s far from reality to project victories over the Eagles and Cowboys.

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Their defensive schedule is projected to be the 9th-easiest, according to 2018 EPA numbers. But that takes into consideration that a team like the Jets (two matchups) isn’t going to improve offensively.

Miami Dolphins 2019: Tank for Tua?

“#Tank4Tua” is a hashtag that’s already making the rounds on Twitter, even though we don’t even know whether Alabama signal-caller Tua Tagovailoa is going to be the consensus number one pick in next year’s draft. The Dolphins are in rebuild mode, and they already have 13 picks in next year’s draft. Ryan Fitzmagic is not the answer. If Josh Rosen isn’t the answer either, the Fins are going to lose many games. That could inevitably lead to the worst record in football and the number one draft pick.

The Dolphins will feature a rookie head coach, two first-year play-callers, and either a below-average Ryan Fitzpatrick or Josh Rosen at quarterback. Rosen had a horrible situation last year, but the current doesn’t seem like an upgrade. Also, they probably have the worst offensive line in football and an underwhelming receiving corps. I think there is a reason why the season wins total at a juiced 4.5 number is the lowest across the board. It’s hard to find more than five wins on that schedule. If you can shop around and find a 5, that doesn’t seem like a bad bet on the Under, depending on the price.

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