With the Indianapolis Colts facing the Miami Dolphins this Sunday, Stampede Blue's Josh Wilson talked with The Phinsider's Kevin Nogle about the Dolphins and this Sunday's matchup. The questions are in bold and then Kevin's responses follow.
1. Colts fans know the feeling of having a crazy season filled with coaching questions, which is something that Dolphins fans understand as well. What is the feeling about the coaching changes this year? Was firing Joe Philbin mid-season the right move? And should Dan Campbell get a look at becoming the permanent head coach?
Firing Philbin before the season was probably the right move, but four games into the season was what we got. He had to go, unfortunately, because he seems like a great guy and he knows football, he just did not have the "it" factor you need in a head coach. The Dolphins were set up poorly for this year, and it has come back to bite them throughout the season.
I think Campbell was given a great opportunity, but it just seems early in his coaching career to have him become a head coach. I would have loved to see him turn this season around and be given the job full time next year, but going 4-6 through 10 games probably has not earned him the job. If he comes away with two wins over the final two weeks, maybe his chances for the job increases. My best guess is that the Dolphins are going to look for a head coach who already has NFL head coaching experience - including the possibility of Chuck Pagano if the Colts fire him - with trying to find a way to keep Campbell on the coaching staff somewhere.
2. The last two seasons, the Dolphins were 8-8. This year, in a year in which they should have taken a step forward, they are 5-9. What happened?
The evolution of the team stopped. Bill Lazor, coming into his second season as an offensive coordinator was expected to take the offense to a new level, with Ryan Tannehill finally in control and the new receiving options would allow the offense to become multi-dimensional. Instead, they completely abandoned the running game, turned to just check-down passes, and never adjusted to defenses.
The Dolphins defense, expected to dominate along the defensive line with the addition of Ndamukong Suh, but the defensive schemes never seemed to put players in the right position to make plays. Suh was being asked to read the play before he started his rush, which took away the advantage of his quick first step. Cameron Wake was injured early in the season, then got healthy after the bye week and started to dominate, only to tear his Achilles and land on IR. Brent Grimes seems to have lost as step in the secondary, and the linebackers - not dominate to begin with - could never get healthy.
Overall, it was a bad season, full of injuries and poorly planned schemes. A shakeup of the coaching staff is probably exactly what Miami needs.
3. Last year, it looked like Ryan Tannehill was poised to take the next step toward being a great quarterback. How has this season gone, and has it changed the expectations for him going forward?
It's hard to say. There are plenty of fans out there that blame Tannehill for everything that goes wrong for the team. When your quarterback is the most sacked player in the league since he entered the NFL, it is hard to fault him for being a little skittish when it comes to throwing the deep ball and, instead, relying on the short passing game. Bill Lazor's designed offense is made for a quarterback to throw to a spot, with the receiver running a precise route to meet the ball. Some of Miami's receivers do not run the routes as precisely as they should, and it makes the offense stop clicking.
Not having a running game, or at least not having a running game that the coaches will use throughout a contest, does not help. Defenses just tee off on Tannehill because there is no threat of Miller running the ball. Add in that Lazor, for whatever reason, severely limited Tannehill's ability to audible - to the point that you could see Tannehill pointing out that they were about to play right into a defense's strength, but he had to run the play anyway because there was no way to change it at the line of scrimmage - and you start to get a picture of exactly why Tannehill has regressed this year.
4. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the Dolphins' defense?
If Suh is on his game, the strength is still the defensive line, especially with defensive end Olivier Vernon turning it up the last few weeks. They can get after a quarterback fairly easily if they are working as a unit, and if the coaches continue to move the players around so you are not quite sure where everyone will line up from one play to the next. Safety Reshad Jones, who plays almost like a hybrid linebacker/safety, is probably the best player on the defense, and will be flying all over the field, making tackles, breaking up passes, and looking to force turnovers.
The weaknesses are clearly the linebackers and the cornerbacks. Miami's linebackers, not the strength of the defense when the season started, have been banged up all year. Koa Misi was placed on injured reserve this week and Jelani Jenkins may not be able to play, taking out two of the Dolphins' three starting linebackers. The team has had to rely on undrafted free agents this year, and, though they are playing well and could develop into great players, still make the mistakes you would expect of undrafted free agent rookies. Cornerbacks have been similar, with Brent Grimes losing a step this year and no one else able to stay healthy or play at a starter level opposite him. The Dolphins have used a combination of Brice McCain, Bobby McCain, Jamar Taylor, and Tony Lippett as the second cornerback, and it has not been pretty. Attack the second level of the Miami defense, staying away from Jones, and the Colts will find success.
5. Knowing what you do of the Dolphins, how would you attack them if you were the Colts' offensive and defensive coordinator?
As I mentioned, attack the Dolphins secondary and you will have success. Double moves from the receivers will likely lead to cornerbacks jumping the first move in an effort to pick off a pass or have them simply run themselves out of position. For the running game, double team Suh and run away from him. There will be plenty of space after that.
For the Indianapolis defense, just keep the pressure up. Get to Tannehill early in the game, and get him thinking about the struggles of the offensive line, and he will start to throw all short passes. Then make the tackle. Unless something has changed, the running game will show up early in the contest, then disappear on its own, so you really will only have to concentrate on pass rush.