When was the last time the Miami Dolphins mattered? I mean really mattered?
Sure, they have tons of fans down here in South Florida where football is a religion. And sure, they really don’t have to worry about losing fans, but this isn’t the late 80′s anymore or even the early 90′s.
The last time this franchise mattered league-wide was at the end of the Shula era and the dawn of the Jimmy Johnson era. The latter was much hyped, but short on real results.
Since then, there has been a lack of substance on the field. This can’t be denied. The question then becomes, why? Why can’t this once-proud franchise finally get to where it belongs, among the flagship NFL franchises competing for championships, not just a spot in the playoffs?
It’s simple – they don’t have a blueprint.
Today’s whoopin’ by the Patriots is a perfect example. Sure, the score was a bloody event – 38-7 (that touchdown, by the way, came courtesy of a pass interference call which looked more like a mercy gift than a cohesive effort to march downfield). You can see the clear difference between where this franchise is and where it has to go by looking at the play on the field. The Patriots were flawless in their attack, and relentless on the defensive side of the ball. They were really never challenged by the Dolphins’ offense.
Yet, answer this – who is the running back for the Patriots? Who comprises their receiving corp? I bet the average fan can only name two people off of that team consistently – and one is the coach. This is precisely the point. You don’t necessarily have to have a roster billowing with giant contracts. What you need is a blueprint, a proven system that works.
The Patriots have been winning for years. They have done it by consistently replacing personnel with guys that fit their system and fill their roles. They have gotten better at this, too. Consider the upcoming draft where the Patriots will have potentially 7 of the top 100 draft picks in their pockets. This coming after the fact that they dealt Randy Moss away in mid-season! Any other franchise tries to pull that off, and they are ripped to shreds. The Patriots do it, and everyone takes pause and considers Randy Moss’ “character issues”.
The Patriots were scoring on the Dolphins defense with their 2nd and 3rd stringers out there. They won precisely as you want to win going into the playoffs – with all pistons firing and getting some rest for your starters while keeping them fresh. They have momentum and they did it against a division rival who was trying to play a game to save their coach’s life.
But enough about the Patriots. What about the Dolphins? What evidence do we need to show they are not a dominant franchise anymore? The last time the Dolphins mattered they had a coach that was a name-brand in this league (Don Shula, Jimmy Johnson). More importantly, they had a very good quarterback in Dan Marino. In fact, the Dolphin teams of the 70′s had Bob Griese while the 80′s had Dan Marino. Since then, how many quarterbacks have the Dolphins gone through?
They are still searching.
Surely it isn’t as simple as get a great QB and make a run of it. Then again, if you look at the Indianapolis Colts, you might think differently. This is a QB-driven league, no matter how many former offensive-linemen or DBs or whatever spout their tops off on TV these days. No QB, no winning. Not consistently, anyway.
Ironically, the Dolphins were working to prove otherwise in previous years. They were using the wildcat which was predicated on getting Ronnie Brown the ball in the offense and forcing defenses to at least re-think how they were going to cover the field. It was mostly a gimmick that needed to be used like a fine spice in an offense, and certainly not the formation that would cement any serious blueprint for success in the NFL – which is why it faded away this season. But the Dolphins did hit upon something – they had a two headed monster at running back in Brown and Ricky Williams, and they had a solid QB in Chad Pennington that was accurate and managed the ball effectively.
I contend that once the Dolphins traded for Brandon Marshall, they actually took themselves in the wrong direction. All of a sudden, the identity of this team changed and they wanted to become a deep passing threat and attack through the air. The personnel had to be retrofitted for pass blocking while the running game would eventually fall into atrophy through a lack of use. Was this all foreseeable? Yes.
More importantly, it indicates a fundamental problem with this franchise – lack of vision, lack of a plan, lack of leadership. If this franchise is going to truly get back on the right track, it needs a vision and it needs a proven leader to implement that vision. Bill Parcells failed here in Miami and the record should note that. Yet Bill Parcells, will get a pass because he has been to the promised land. The Dolphins front office and ownership will also get a pat on the back for trying.
This time, however, they need to get it right. If they are going to do this right, they need to scrap everything and start over. Does that mean going out and getting Bill Cowher? Maybe. Hear him out – does he have a system that he can build here in Miami? Seems to be continuing to work in Pittsburgh years after he stepped down.
Let’s take a look at an example already in Miami for the Dolphins to follow – the Miami Heat. They hired a coach away from a major market and gave him a portion of the franchise. The Heat hired Pat Riley and have never looked back. All he did was go out and implement his system, find the best players to fit his system, establish a culture of winning and accountability and, gasp, won. The Heat have a tradition now of winning basketball (not that most fans in Miami would notice but that is another discussion). The Dolphins should do the same – find a leader who can mold this franchise with a proven vision of winning. Give the guys on the field a direction and tell everyone else to get out of the way. First, the Dolphins need to scrap all that has come before, and start over. Now is the time.