By far and away the most critical area in which the 2024 Miami Dolphins must improve to win their first playoff game since 2000 is offensive line. Most of the criticism in the acute aftermath of this year’s wild card loss to the Kansas City Chiefs has focused on quarterback and coaching.  But let’s take a closer look at the offensive line.

Most would agree the Dolphins offensive line did improve in 2023 from years prior.  A lot of this improvement can be attributed to new Dolphins offensive line coach Butch Barry.  But let’s take a look at some numbers. (Note that here I will use Pro Football Focus metrics; PFF’s reliability in evaluating players can, and has, been debated.  But there is objectivity to this, so we will use it.)

The Dolphins best offensive lineman in 2023 was, by far, Connor Williams. PFF ranked Williams the second best center in the league, behind the Lions’ Frank Ragnow, with an overall grade grade of 86.5. The Dolphins offensive line play clearly declined when Williams was lost for the season with an ACL injury. For perspective, Liam Eigenberg, Williams’ replacement, finished the season with an abysmal 45.2 overall grade.

Miami’s next best offensive lineman was Terron Armstead, listed as the 16th best tackle with an overall grade of 79.3, followed by Robert Hunt, the 6th ranked offensive guard with a grade of 76.4.  Austin Jackson, a Dolphins former first round pick, was PFF’s 42nd ranked tackle with a grade of 66.9.

Another set of data to which we can look is a new ESPN Analytics metric developed to measure offensive line performance using NFL Next Gen Stats.  The metric focuses on pass blocking and run blocking win rates. The 2023 Miami Dolphins offensive line pass blocking win rate was 49%, ranked 31st out of 32 teams.  Obviously this is not ideal for a quarterback with some limitations to his game. Interestingly, the Dolphins run blocking win rate was 72%, 8th best in the league. This is striking because despite struggling to protect Tua Tagovailoa late in the year, head coach and offensive play caller Mike McDaniel seemed to be averse to relying on the run game down the stretch.

If one thing is for sure, we’ve seen that effective run blocking is critical for success in the playoffs.   All four of last week’s divisional playoff round winning teams posted over 100 yards rushing in their games.

This off-season will prove to be challenging for the Dolphins to improve their offensive line. Terron Armstead is contemplating retirement. Connor Williams is a free agent, and is rehabbing from ACL reconstruction. Robert Hunt is an unrestricted free agent. Objectively speaking, this leaves the Dolphins with no reliably high-performing offensive linemen for the 2024 season. The Dolphins absolutely must use one of their first two picks in this year’s NFL Draft to select an offensive lineman who projects as a day one starter. The Dolphins must commit more to the run from a play-calling perspective, run block effectively, and provide better pass protection for franchise quarterback Tua Tagovailoa if they are to win a playoff game in 2024.  This may prove to be a tall task for general manager Chris Grier–who has a well-documented scotoma for offensive line talent–in an already uncertain off-season.