The Dolphins’ season is a few days away, and optimism hasn’t been this high in a few years. They have an exciting young coach, one of the most exciting wide receiver tandems in the NFL & a solid collection of young talent. After back-to-back seasons with winning records, this is the year that fans expect giant leaps, which means I’m here to take away that optimism and expose things that could derail the Dolphins’ season.
Note: I’m not going to include injuries since eight different injuries would derail the season. Most notably, Tua, Xavien Howard & Terron Armstead.
Austin Jackson & Liam Eichenberg are Struggling Again
It’s no secret that the Dolphins’ Offensive Line wasn’t very good last year, and that would be putting it kindly. They graded out as the worst group in PFF history, which should be an indicator of their struggles even if you don’t trust PFF. Despite some fans wanting a complete overhaul, the coaching staff instead chose to try and develop some of the talents with high draft pedigree.
Austin Jackson has had a tumultuous couple of seasons, and this staff trusts him by placing him as the starting Right Tackle. Training camp reports have praised his improvement and the fact that he’s slimmed down, but we still need to see him improve drastically to be considered a viable option at Tackle in the future. Having another disappointing season could harm Tua’s development and result in another unproductive year from Miami’s offense.
Eichenberg is in a similar situation to Jackson; he doesn’t have the draft pedigree that Austin has, but both were high draft picks and struggled at Tackle. Many scouts didn’t think Liam had the tools to be a successful Tackle in the league, and he did nothing to disprove that notion in his rookie year; now, the coaching staff has moved him to guard, a position that is probably a better fit. He’s playing next to Terron Armstead, so that alone should be a big help, but if he plays like he did last year, he could be harmful to the Dolphins’ running attack, which is what the offense is built upon.
Defense Takes a Step Back Without Flores
The Dolphins were a solid but not impressive defense in 2021. They ranked middle of the pack in points per game allowed, but that can also be attributed to the Dolphins not playing good complementary football. They also massively improved halfway through the year, with some performances being stellar, like against the Ravens and Saints.
There are a lot of reasons that could explain why the defense improved last year. One of these reasons is that Xavien Howard & Byron Jones were playing hurt the first quarter of the season and even missed the Jags game; this year, Byron is already set to miss the first four games, so cause for concern is there. Another reason could be the QBs Miami played down the stretch: Tyrod Taylor, Lamar Jackson, Ian Book, Cam Newton, Joe Flacco, Zach Wilson, Ryan Tannehill & Mac Jones. There are not many world beaters there, aside from Lamar Jackson (whom Miami was legitimately great against.) Miami will play better QBs this year, yet another cause for concern.
Finally, the fact that the mastermind behind the Dolphins’ defense is gone. I know Dolphins fans have soured on Brian Flores, and that’s partially fair; when it came to the offensive side of the ball, he made some incredibly poor choices, but no one can say that he wasn’t a great defensive coach. Miami relies on Josh Boyer to be fully in charge of the defense, and he remains an unproven coaching figure. If this defense struggles, I wouldn’t be shocked if Miami tries to make a change after the season.
Tua Tagovailoa Doesn’t Improve
This is the most obvious one. We’ve all heard people say Tua has no more excuses, and as lazy as that analysis is, it does have some validity. He’s got the best receiving core he’s ever had and one who, for the first time in his career, is suited for his skill set; his Offensive Line should be better even with the abovementioned concerns. If Tua struggles under a QB-friendly system with good receivers and a solid line, he shouldn’t be an NFL starter. There are many excuses to justify Tua’s first two seasons in the NFL, and most of them are valid, but it’s time to show that he can play in this league and be a productive player.
If he still has trouble processing, not setting his feet which makes his accuracy erratic, and reading defenses, then Miami’s offense could be in for a rough season. That would likely lead to Miami having to find a new QB for the 2023 season, and after the tampering scandal, they’re not in a great position to find a good one. So let’s hope he does improve, and all this becomes a freezing cold take.
Depth is Exposed
In reality, this is an issue every team has, and I’m cheating after saying I wouldn’t focus on injuries, but some teams are better prepared to lose some top-tier talent. Miami isn’t prepared to lose any of its key players. Their Offensive Line depth is abysmal unless Greg Little suddenly decides to become a capable NFL player.
Cornerback depth will be tested early on; linebacker depth is pretty bad, especially since the starting unit is perhaps the weakest on the team. Maybe Edge rusher is the only position Miami could handle an injury and not have the team lose much. It’s a top-heavy roster, but the backup units aren’t something I want to see get any playing time.