The storm before the season
The 2017 season for the Miami Dolphins was a tumultuous one to say the least. There was a lot of promise and potential in the offseason. Especially after a trip to the postseason in the 2016 campaign.
That all changed the moment that starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill went down with a knee injury. It would be this same knee that ended both his 2016 and 2017 seasons.
Tannehill’s injury burst many people’s bubbles about this team’s ceiling. It felt as though the window to make the playoffs consistently had shattered. However, there was a certain quarterback who was about to begin a new career that could change that.
The Dolphins were able to conjure up quarterback Jay Cutler from retirement. This was mostly due to his ties with head coach Adam Gase. Cutler experienced his best years statistically under Gase’s tutelage. The potential got the fans excited again.
Ultimately, that pairing ended in disappointment. The Dolphins missed the playoffs, finishing the season with a 6-10 record. Many would argue that paying Cutler $10 million to come out of retirement was a waste, as the goal of making the playoffs was not met.
Instead, the Dolphins finished with only six wins. Neither a high draft pick nor a spot in the playoffs were secured. 2017 was a waste of a season with such high potential. Ultimately, the Dolphins gambled on Cutler and lost.
The money dealt to him will make things harder financially going forward, as many believe that the Dolphins have some bad contracts on their hands. It will be especially difficult to figure out the finances for fan favorites that many would like to see remain in the Aqua and Orange for many seasons to come.
Having said all of that, it would make sense to take a look at how the season went offensively for the Dolphins. Calling the season and the Cutler experiment a disappointment and failure relative to expectations is a bold claim, until the statistics are observed that back those claims up.
The numbers don’t lie
Miami’s offensive rankings this season were nothing to brag about. The Dolphins finished the season ranked 25th in terms of total yards gained (4,923 or 307.7/gm). When broken down to the passing game, the Dolphins finished with a ranking of 18th in the league (3,535 or 220.9/gm).
When it came to rushing, the numbers look even worse. Miami finished the season ranked 29th in the league in terms of total rushing yards gained (1,388 or 86.8/gm). As many fans can recall, the offense was quite stagnant early in the season. The Dolphins were struggling mightily to put points on the board and put together sustained drives on a consistent basis.
A shocking trade
As it turns out, the Dolphins ended up trading running back Jay Ajayi. The eventual Super Bowl LII Champion Philadelphia Eagles received Ajayi and gave a 2018 4th-round draft pick. It is widely believed that he was the cause of many issues on the offense, as he had been accused of freelancing.
Gase is on record stating that there were many players who were not doing their jobs correctly on a consistent basis. Many believe that Ajayi was a part of that bunch.
Once Ajayi was out of the picture, the offense picked up dramatically. If the Dolphins had continued to play like they did earlier in the season throughout the entirety of the 2017 campaign they would have likely finished last in many offensive categories.
The difference in the way the offense ran pre and post Ajayi’s departure can be captured with the tweet below:
Dolphins points per game:
Weeks 1-8: 13.1 (32nd)
Weeks 9-14: 24 (12th)
Dolphins yards per game:
Weeks 1-8: 252 (32nd)
Weeks 9-14: 351 (14th)
Dolphins yards per play:
Weeks 1-8: 4.1 (32nd)
Weeks 9-14: 5.7 (11th)
*Jay Ajayi was traded between weeks 8 and 9.
— Matty I (@MattyInfante) December 14, 2017
The receiving trio
Another aspect of the offense that needs to be examined would be the receiving corps. Entering the season, many felt as though the Dolphins had more talent at wide receiver than most teams. With Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker on paper that claim made sense.
However, Parker ended up being a massive disappointment this season, relative to expectations based on his potential. Many predicted that he would have a breakout season based on his work ethic during the offseason. That, and the fact that Cutler has a tendency to throw the ball up for big receivers to get it. The two built near instant chemistry over the summer. Unfortunately they were not able to produce when it counted.
Parker started in more games than ever in his career and was targeted more times in 2017 than in his previous two seasons. Despite this, he only produced one more catch compared to his best season (2016). Despite all of this, he also recorded 74 less yards receiving even with the advantage of being on the field more and targeted more when compared to last season.
He came up with one touchdown reception this season. Forget about comparisons for a second, that is just terrible relative to expectations this season from the former 14th overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Speaking of touchdown production, that is one area where Parker’s teammates Stills and Landry shined. Landry doubled his average touchdown production in 2017 with nine. Stills was not able to beat his own personal record, but his touchdown totals over the last two seasons with Miami are way up over his first three season’s totals.
Wrap up and a look ahead
With Parker not producing, Ajayi freelancing, a lack of consistent blocking, poor fundamentals by Cutler and hyper-conservative playcalling by Gase, the Dolphins offense was not a fun one to watch this season.
Thankfully there were a few things to look forward to, as Dolphins fans witnessed the emergence of running back Kenyan Drake this past season. Drake was able to display his versatility, as he showed off his ability to run over and around defenders, as well as his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.
The skill set that Drake posesses is exactly what Gase’s offense is built for. The second-year running back and the entire offense thrived towards the end of the season, as the tweet above shows, once again.
Another pleasant surprise this season was 5’6” wide receiver Jakeem Grant. The undersized receiver made explosive plays this season that showed why he belongs in the NFL. Grant was able to haul in his first two career touchdown receptions this season and like Drake, added a necessary spark to the offense.
Hopefully Gase and new offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains are able to turn things around for the Dolphins on the offensive side. The draft will be important, as many feel as though an interior lineman is in desperate demand in Miami.
Be on the lookout for more to come from us here at FPC Dolphins as we get into the Defensive Breakdown of the season next, discuss unit performance grades, coaching grades and new hires, and of course, the 2018 NFL Draft!