The Miami Dolphins have gotten off to a slow start this season, with the team’s first victory coming in Thursday night’s 31-13 win against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The victory, which puts the Dolphins at 1-2 on the season, alleviated some pressure on players and coaches. But it doesn’t prove that South Florida’s NFL franchise is making the type of progress most fans hoped to see in year two of this massive rebuild, which featured a record-setting offseason spending spree.
Here are a few second-guess specials and suggestions that could help improve the Dolphins' performance the rest of the season.
Get more creative with Kyle Van Noy
Using Van Noy, one of the Dolphins' more expensive free agent acquisitions this offseason, as a pass rusher exclusively is a waste of his talents. While Van Noy had a couple of impactful plays against the Jaguars, that’s how someone being paid $15 million this season should be performing on a weekly basis. The Dolphins need to get more creative with the roles Van Noy fills and where he’s bringing pressure from. So far, offenses haven’t had to guess much about where Van Noy is going or what he’s doing, and it has kept the Dolphins' defense fairly vanilla. Miami needs to mix it up with this versatile linebacker, adding some sprinkles and sauce to the defense.
Preston Williams needs to be more involved
Williams has caught five of the 14 passes thrown his way, and although he was assigned some of the NFL’s better cornerback in his first two games, this talented second-year player should be delivering more than the 74 yards and one touchdowns in three games. The Dolphins need to find a way to help Williams have more of an impact in Chan Gailey’s offense. A healthy Williams, who dominated Miami’s training camp practices, has the skill set and potential to be a 1,000-yard receiver. But we’re not seeing that now for some reason. Let’s hope this has more to do with him coming back from last year’s ACL injury than it does his understanding of the offense or each week’s game plan.
Stick with the defensive line rotation
Zach Sieler’s inclusion in the defensive line rotation helped everyone improve against the Jaguars, allowing Miami’s marginal NFL starters to win more snaps on Thursday night. That doesn’t mean they won’t struggle against a better offensive line, but Sieler’s three tackles and half a sack proves he can make a difference. Cutting Davon Godchaux, Christian Wilkins, Shaq Lawson and Emmanuel Ogbah’s snap count a little could help them all play at a higher level for 25-30 snaps a game.
Get better pulling from interior linemen
Miami’s offensive line has been decent in the first three games, but they are much better at pass protection than they are at opening up running lanes. The Dolphins need to help get Ereck Flowers, Ted Karras and Solomon Kindley more efficient and effective on pulling plays, which can help create more run-lane creases. So far, the trio of interior players hasn’t provided much punch in the run game, and that’s hindering Miami’s yards-per-carry average (3.8).
A solid nickel cornerback must emerge
Jamal Perry, Nik Needham and Tae Hayes have all played the nickel role for the Dolphins in the first three games, and none has proven his name should be written in pen at that position. The Dolphins need better play defending slot receivers if this secondary is going to tighten its coverage. With a healthy Xavien Howard and Byron Jones on the boundary, the nickel cornerback will be under constant attack, so tighter coverage is required. Miami might need to consider having Noah Igbinoghene shift his focus, playing inside when Jones returns from his groin injury. And let’s not forget that Bobby McCain could handle the nickel workload if someone (Eric Rowe or Brandon Jones) could emerge as a reliable free safety.
Tua Tagovailoa needs to get a series every game
Ryan Fitzpatrick is without a doubt the Dolphins' leader, and the engine that drives Miami’s offense. But Tagovailoa is the quarterback of the future, and the Dolphins should consider giving him a series a game — say the first offensive rep of the second quarter — to get adjusted to the speed of the NFL game and comfortable with his skills players. Taking this approach could possibly speed up his development, helping the No. 5 pick become the quarterback he has the potential to be. Plus, if Fitzpatrick gets injured, that’s not the best time for this rookie to take his first snaps. Nobody is talking about Tua doing any heavy lifting at this point if it’s not needed, but this season will be wasted if he doesn’t get 200-plus snaps at quarterback.
Dial up Jerome Baker’s blitzes
Baker should be blitzing eight to 10 times a game, considering this linebacker has a knack for timing the snap count just right, pressuring and sacking quarterbacks like he did Cam Newton in the season opener. While Baker’s coverage ability explains why he’s usually dropping back in coverage, the Dolphins need to find a way to apply more pressure to opposing quarterbacks. Having Baker roam around as a blitzer, creating protection breakdowns, could be the solution that gives the Dolphins' defense more bite.
Juice up the run game
Although the Dolphins produced 138 rushing yards against the Jaguars, Fitzpatrick and Jakeem Grant accounted for 67 of those yards. Miami’s tailbacks produced 71 rushing yards on 28 carries, which amounts to a 2.5 yards per carry average. That just won’t do for this offense, because the goal was for the Dolphins' offense to be play-action based. If nobody is scared of your running game, or it isn’t effective, that forces Gailey to throw out roughly 30 percent of his playbook. The Dolphins need to find a package or style that helps Jordan Howard and Matt Breida be more effective.
Gas up the gimmicks
Miami’s offense is lacking in the big-play department, but there are solutions on this roster. Every time Grant and Breida step on the field, Miami’s opponents should be on high alert because of their speed and ability to produce big plays. Miami needs to develop a five-plays-per-game package for them, and it shouldn’t just impact these speedsters. The attention they draw should also benefit the other skill players on the field. It would also be ideal for the Dolphins to speed up the development of Lynn Bowden Jr. and Malcolm Perry because of the playmaking ability both rookies showed in college.
Why aren’t the Dolphins churning bottom of the roster?
Last year the Dolphins were constantly rummaging the waiver wire and NFL practice squad to improve the roster, and as a result Miami made more roster transactions than any team in NFL history. A few decent players — Zack Sieler, Calvin Munson, Mack Hollins and Adam Pankey — were found using this approach. It would benefit General Manager Chris Grier and his staff to get back to their waiver-wire rummaging, because this roster still has holes and could use an infusion of players with more upside. This team is far from a finished product in terms of talent.
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