No one likes a pessimist. Spending too much time around one makes me queasy, to put it in Philbin-speak.
Dolphins fans have fought from giving in to the negativity for years now. No rings of late, no playoff wins, heck, hardly any playoff appearances. All the waiting around for success can have you looking like smokin’ Jay Cutler if you’re not careful.
This could very well be the season that the Dolphins finally begin to realize the goal of their rebuild that started with Adam Gase’s firing after the 2018 season, but there are warts on this roster that could also derail those dreams.
And this is where I urge you not to label me as a pessimist.
Last year I did this same exercise – one article on why the Fins could miss the playoffs and one on why they could make it in. Lo and behold, two of the three reasons I listed in the ‘missing the playoffs’ article ended up torpedoing Miami’s playoff chances last season: a talented but injury-prone wide receiver room and a young and inexperienced offensive line.
This year, with two of three preseason games out of the way and week one closing in, we’re starting to get an idea of who this Miami Dolphins team is.
We are also, however, getting an idea of who they are not.
As realistically as possible, let’s take a look at the top three things this season that could keep the Dolphins from making it to the postseason.
3.) A BRUTAL SCHEDULE TO OPEN THE SEASON
This is a tough one because it’s not the team’s fault that they have a tough slate to open the year. The Dolphins are at the mercy of the schedule-makers here.
However, what makes this a Dolphins-specific problem is the team’s circumstances with a new head coach to open the season.
In weeks one through four, Miami will square off against the Patriots, Ravens, Bills, and Bengals in that order. Of the four, only the Patriots game is one where a case could comfortably be made to pick the Dolphins. As for the rest?
Those are tough, tough draws for a team that is implementing an entirely new scheme on offense with loads of fresh faces on that side of the ball. And that’s before even mentioning that both the Ravens and Bengals games are on the road. All four of these opponents have capable defenses.
There’s always the chance that the starting offense gels and is able to come out swinging, given the track record that head coach Mike McDaniel has on the offensive side of the ball and the level of talent Miami now boasts at the skill positions. The concern, however, stems from the fact that through two preseason games, the most important parts of the starting O haven’t seen live action together – Jaylen Waddle, Tyreek Hill, Terron Armstead, and Raheem Mostert all have yet to play outside of practice.
Given the continuity from last season on the defensive side of the ball, Miami will need its defenders to play lights-out as the offense finds its footing. Otherwise, they may be looking down the barrel of a possible 1-3 or 0-4 start to the 2022 campaign.
— DolphinsTalk.com (@DolphinsTalk) August 22, 2022
2.) A TOP-HEAVY CORNERBACK ROOM
Everyone knows that Xavien Howard and Byron Jones can ball. Behind them, Nik Needham has proved his worth time and again, and Keion Crossen has had an impressive camp.
Beyond those four names, though? Trouble.
Noah Igbonoghene, barring a miracle in the next two weeks that would leave Jesus himself dumbfounded, is nowhere near being trustworthy or capable enough to sniff the field as a perimeter cornerback. And unfortunately, it’s looking more and more each week like the former first-round pick never will become what the team envisioned.
Trill Williams, a promising UDFA from last year who is an ascending player and provided solid depth, tore his ACL in the first preseason game.
And Mackensie Alexander, a new signing in the wake of Williams’ injury, brings a veteran presence to the room that is valuable but was unsigned through mid-August for a reason. Plus, he offers very little on the perimeter as compared to the slot. He’s better than a lot of other options the team has – which is why they signed him – but he’s not someone you want playing a ton of snaps for you as the season wears on.
**UPDATE: Alexander has been placed in IR due to his injury from preseason week two, which will likely end his season. Needless to say, this makes the team’s already unenviable position at backup cornerback even more precarious.
Ditto for D’Angelo Ross, Quincy Wilson, Elijah Hamilton, and Kader Kohou. Young players with promise, but not cornerbacks you would feel comfortable throwing to the wolves if injuries were to happen.
Xavien Howard has had knee injuries in the past. Byron Jones still hasn’t come off the PUP list following ankle surgery and, at this point, has everyone hoping he’s just ready for the season opener. And last preseason game alone, both Needham and Crossen suffered injury scares. After that group, this room is thinner than a disciplined New Year’s resolutioner on a diet.
If the team’s top CBs get hit by the injury bug, the defense will have to readjust in a major way.
1.) GROUNDHOG DAY ON THE OFFENSIVE LINE
You’ve heard this story before:
The Dolphins have a position that is a major problem area. They sign a big name to help and shuffle some people around in hopes these efforts will shore up a weakness. Of course, things don’t go to plan. The big name struggles to either perform to stay healthy, a few people regress or stagnate, and the team is right back where it started. End scene.
This is the situation that Miami finds itself in with regard to its offensive line. Last season, this position group would have single-handedly shoved the team’s playoff hopes into the garbage disposal if it weren’t for injuries wiping out the wide receiving corps. The offensive line play in front of Tua was atrocious.
Now the Dolphins have Terron Armstead, a player head and shoulders above anyone on last year’s starting five, and a very sensible signing based on both the team’s need and his level of skill. But of course, this is still the Dolphins we’re talking about, so there is a caveat: his health.
Armstead has never played a full season in the NFL and is going into his tenth now with the Dolphins. The team is gambling big on the health of the offensive line’s new anchor because without him, the situation at tackle is dire. Austin Jackson is the starting right tackle as of now, with Liam Eichenberg being a name you could feasibly use as a swing tackle if you needed him there.
Both of those players, while young, were objectively terrible last year. Greg Little as a swing tackle doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, either.
The additional signing of Connor Williams does help on the interior – as does the continued good play of Robert Hunt at guard – but there’s some reason to worry that the Dolphins are once again outsmarting themselves by moving him to center. He’s been a capable guard for some time, and snapping issues with him have persisted throughout camp.
The Dolphins need to hope that McDaniel’s new zone-blocking scheme can unlock the skills of some of the younger faces in this room. If not, and injuries strike, or the young starters fail to progress, we’ll be in for a groundhog day that would make the playoffs an incredibly tough ask once again in 2022.
(Thanks for reading! For silver linings, give me a follow on Twitter @EvanMorris72 and check back in next week for the flip-side piece on why the Dolphins could finally break back into the playoffs this season.)
— DolphinsTalk.com (@DolphinsTalk) August 22, 2022