There are numerous ways to describe the 2011 season but overall the Miami Dolphins fell significantly short of everyone’s expectations. After struggling through the first half of the season (starting 0-7) the Dolphins finally notched their first victory of the year at Kansas City 31-3! The team continued to play with more consistency winning five of there next eight football games, and looked like a team that could compete with anyone in the NFL at the end of the season! A new head coach in 2012 will be asked to deliver a playoff contending team, and Miami has most of the pieces to make good on that statement. Before fully going down that road, let’s look back at the things I’ve learned about the past season.
1) Elite Quarterback Play Is Paramount– If you take a look at the teams left fighting for a championship this season, the one thing that stands out is most of them have a quarterback that I would call elite. Now I would exclude the Denver Broncos (Tim Tebow), Houston Texans (T.J. Yates) and Cincinnati Bengals (Andy Dalton) because all have either rookies or part-time starters trying to win in the playoffs, but the remaining teams have proven winners! Let’s take a look at the rest of the signal-callers and there 2011 regular season numbers:
Green Bay – Aaron Rodgers – 4,624 yards, 45 touchdowns/6 int’s & 122.5 QBR
New Orleans – Drew Brees – 5,476 yards, 46 touchdowns/14 int’s & 110.6 QBR
NY Giants – Eli Manning – 4,933 yards, 29 touchdowns/16 int’s & 92.9 QBR
Detroit – Matthew Stafford – 5,038 yards, 41 touchdowns/16 int’s & 97.2 QBR
Atlanta – Matt Ryan – 4,177 yards, 29 touchdowns/12 int’s & 92.2 QBR
San Francisco – Alex Smith – 3,150 yards, 17 touchdowns/5 int’s & 90.7 & 90.7 QBR
New England – Tom Brady – 5,235 yards, 39 touchdowns/12 int’s & 105.6 QBR
Pittsburgh – Ben Roethlisberger – 4,077 yards, 21 touchdowns/14 int’s & 90.1 QBR
Baltimore – Joe Flacco – 3,610 yards, 20 touchdowns/12 int’s & 80.9 QBR
Of the nine quarterbacks listed, I would say that five of them are elite (Rodgers, Brees, Brady, Roethlisberger and Manning). The remaining four have had years that they either carried their team to the playoffs (Stafford and Ryan) or a combination of quality play that benefited also from great defense play (Flacco and Smith).
When I look at Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore, I see a lot of upside and some of the same qualities that the playoff quarterbacks possess. Moore’s numbers through 11 starts, plus half of the San Diego game were impressive. Matt threw for 2,497 yards, 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions with a 60.5 completion percentage and a 87.1 QBR. Moore led the Dolphins to the third-most plus 25-yard pass plays in the AFC (38) only behind San Diego (39) and the New England Patriots with 40! Moore brought stability, mobility and the big play back into the Dolphins offense. There’s no arguing that Miami must look in the off-season to bring in a free-agent quarterback or a high draft pick for the future, but having a quality guy like Moore that has proven himself capable of leading a team only solidifies the position.
2) Reggie Bush And Brandon Marshall Show There Value – Running back Reggie Bush and wide receiver Brandon Marshall both were outstanding this season and the numbers showed how valuable they were to this offense. Bush ran for over a 1,000 yards (1,086 and six rushing touchdowns) for the first time as a pro, and became the twelfth player in Dolphins history to reach this plateau. Bush was able to accomplish this feat while leading all 1,000 yard rushers with a 5.0 yard per rush average this season. Reggie has now rushed for 100 yards six times in his career (five of them this year as a Dolphin) and finished the season with four consecutive games of over 100 yards! His 1,382 total yards from scrimmage ranks him sixth in team history and had 35 carries of over 10 plus yards this season, which was also a career high for Bush. Marshall was able to match his 2010 season (1,014) with another 1,000-yard performance in 2011 (1,214 and six touchdowns). Marshall and Bush became the first duo in team history to go over 1,000 yards in rushing and receiving. Brandon had five games this year with over 100 yards receiving, and is the first player in team history to have caught 80 or more passes in two seasons (86 receptions in 2010). Both players seemed to excel in Brian Daboll’s new offensive scheme and the numbers piled up by these two play makers helped the Dolphins get offensive in the second half of the season.
3) After Game One, The Defense Was Consistent– I really don’t want to post the numbers from week one’s loss to New England, but there was only one way to go and the Dolphins defense drastically improved. Miami’s defense was difficult to run the football against finishing third in the league (95.6 yards against per game) and limiting the opposition to only 3.71 yards per carry, which ranked third overall in the NFL. The longest run from scrimmage against this defense was 24 yards, and that led the league in that category. Safety Yeremiah Bell led all defenders in total tackles with 107, and also picked up two sacks on the season (Bell now has 11 sacks for his career which is the most ever by a Miami defensive back) but the strong play of linebackers Karlos Dansby (103 total tackles in 2011 and is one of only six active players with over 30 career sacks and 10 interceptions) and Kevin Burnett (103 total tackles in 2011 and one interception returned for a touchdown against the Oakland Raiders) really picked up from the midway point of the season. Defensive lineman Jared Odrick played like a first-round draft choice posting six sacks in his first full season as a Dolphin. Linebacker Cam Wake set the benchmark for the defense with eight and a half sacks and also led the team in tackles for loss with 16. One of this off-season’s focuses will be finding someone to offset the pressure opposite Wake with the retirement of Jason Taylor. His experience and play-making ability (seven sacks this season and 139.5 for his career) is something the Dolphins will be looking to replace. Cornerback Vontae Davis looked like he found his stride at the midway point as well notching four interceptions, which led all defenders. His ability to shutdown the opposing team’s number one receiver is probably one of the toughest jobs on the defensive side of the football.
4) Kicking Game, Special Teams Solid in 2011 – When you think back and reflect on this unit, punter Brandon Fields might be the first person you think about. Fields punted for an average of 45.7 yards per punt and a net average of 38.1, both are numbers that no one has achieved in team history. Punting for career highs in both categories assisted the defense with good field position and bailed out the offense in the first half of the season. If there was one player that deserved a Pro Bowl selection by a narrow margin this season, it was Brandon Fields. Place kicker Dan Carpenter turned in another solid performance this season converting on 29 of 34 attempts and was perfect on extra-point conversions (26 of 26). Carpenter now has scored 100 points in all four seasons as a pro, and his 58 yard field goal against the New York Jets to close the season was Dan’s second longest in his career (60 vs. Cleveland in 2010) and third longest in Dolphins history. Punt returner Davone Bess made an impact in the return game ranking fifth overall in the NFL, and second in the AFC with an 11.9 return average. Clyde Gates finished the season with a kick-off return average of 24.8 and a long of 77 yards. Gates seemed to become more comfortable with the return game as the season went along and I would expect him to excel more in 2012.
5) Dolphins Found Players In 2011 – There were some young players that emerged to play significant role on this football team. Center Mike Pouncey played like a first-round selection the entire season. His toughness and aggressive style only grew throughout the season, and his play was outstanding for a rookie. Look for Pouncey to be a mainstay at the center position for a long time with this franchise. Defensive back Jimmy Wilson also was a nice find deep in last year’s draft because of the multiple positions he can play. Wilson found his groove on special teams, but can also play corner, safety or on the inside verses the slot receiver. The experience Wilson received this season might allow him to challenge for a starting role in 2012. Injuries slowed the progression of running back Daniel Thomas this season. A lingering hamstring limited his progress but Thomas showed flashes to speed and toughness in 2011. Thomas will benefit from a full off-season to get his body ready for a full NFL season next year.
The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed by The Finsiders Blog represent those of individual writers, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions, policies or desires of the Miami Dolphins organization, front office, coaches and executives. Writers' views are formulated independently from any inside information and/or conversation with Dolphins officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.