Coaching Checkup: Evaluating Adam Gase and the Dolphins’ Staff at the Bye Week
Now that we are near the halfway point of the 2016 NFL season, I thought it beneficial to take a quick look into how well the Miami Dolphins’ new coaching staff under Adam Gase has performed thus far. The staff has been far from perfect, but ultimately they’ve performed as well as a solid first year coaching staff should. In order to better organize my thoughts on Adam Gase and his coaching staff, I will be separating their jobs into four categories: Offensive Gameplans, Defensive Gameplans, Personnel Decisions, and team discipline. So, without further delay, let’s take a gander at how Miami’s coaching staff has performed ahead of their Week 8 bye.
The Miami Dolphins’ offensive gameplans have undoubtedly been the coaching staff’s greatest strength thus far into the season, especially over the last two weeks. Adam Gase’s reputation as student of football certainly proceeds him. Though Ryan Tannehill has not improved as we’d all hoped, his schemes and route concepts have given many of the Dolphins’ skill players the opportunity to succeed. Kenny Stills and Jay Ajayi have been the primary beneficiaries of Gase’s offense, while Jarvis Landry has continued to be the team’s rock at the wide receiver position.
Though Gase’s system has opened doors for many of the Dolphins’ receivers and running backs, his play calling is hardly free of criticism. If anything, it was Gase’s indecisiveness on critical plays that helped spiral Miami’s offense into disarray early in the season. His offense’s performances against the Patriots and Bengals in Weeks 2 and 4 respectively are indicative of this. The conservative play calling in the New England game directly contributed to the Dolphins’ slow start into what turned out to be an insurmountable deficit. Similarly, the offense was completely stagnant throughout the Thursday game against the Bengals. For example, the offense ran a draw play with Isaiah Pead, their 5th running back, on a critical 3rd and 6. When the deficit kept growing and the clock kept winding down the uninspired offense continued to employ screen passes on 3rd and long situations. In games where Miami has found themselves in a hole early, Adam Gase has struggled to get passion and execution out of his players.
In recent weeks, Gase has shifted from his typical short pass offense in order to lean on Jay Ajayi and the interior offensive line. After two convincing victories on the back of the Jay Train, I think that was a pretty good idea. Nobody has benefited as much as Ryan Tannehill has from this change in ideology. Tannehill has been so effective the last two weeks because the situation around him has gotten better as well. The one issue with the run-focused gameplan has been the frequent stalls in the Redzone as the shortened field neutralizes the threat of Miami’s speedy wide receiver corps. Either way, the hot-fix by Adam Gase, Clyde Christensen and the rest of the staff has worked wonders for the offense, and I’m definitely looking forward to seeing more improvement as the season wears on.
The primary difference between the offensive and defensive coaching staff is experience, and boy does it show. Between Gase and Christensen, the Dolphins’ offensive coaching staff has nearly a decade of coordinator experience from championship caliber units. Vance Joseph, while an exceptional positional coach, is still feeling the growing pains of his first year as a defensive coordinator. Outside of the first three quarters of the Seattle game in Week 1, Miami put together four of the least inspired defensive performances in recent Dolphins’ history. While a lot of the blame can be placed on a lack of solid personnel, it is ultimately the defensive coordinator’s job to scheme around the team’s weaknesses and put them in position to succeed. Joseph’s defense has allowed over 300 first half yards to Jimmy Garoppolo, 235 rushing yards to the Tennessee Titans, and 200 all-purpose yards to Terrelle Pryor.
During the Week 3 contest against the hapless Cleveland Browns, the defense simply didn’t prepare for the huge role Pryor ended up playing as a passer, runner and receiver, which ultimately kept Cleveland in that game. Vance Joseph was thoroughly outwitted by Hue Jackson and the defense looked quite uninspired. The same occurred against the Tennessee Titans and their one-dimensional offense. Every defensive unit played poorly that game as the team allowed the Titans to control the time of possession at 36 minutes to 24 minutes while allowing the Titans’ offense 235 yards on the ground without much effort.
In all fairness, Vance Joseph’s troops have been ready to take their opponents head on over the last two weeks. Shutting down Big Ben, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell is no easy task. Nor is shutting down Shady McCoy, regardless of his physical limitations. My biggest issue with Vance Joseph’s defense is the ineptitude of the secondary. As a former defensive backs coach, Joseph’s unit should be the strength of the defense. Instead, the Dolphins have managed just 3 interceptions on the year, which is among the worst marks in the league. Though the pass-rush has improved significantly as Cameron Wake resumed his starting duties, I need to see better play out of the secondary before I start having faith in Vance Joseph and the Miami Dolphins’ defense.
At the beginning of the year, Adam Gase made poor personnel decisions. The most egregious offense was naming Arian Foster, who is now retired, over Jay Ajayi as the starting running back. Then, Kenyan Drake received more playing time as a result of Ajayi’s reportedly poor handling of the situation. Here, Gase let his feelings cloud his football acumen. Though, to his credit, Gase eventually came to the right decision; as I’m sure all of you are well aware, Ajayi is now coming off of back-to-back 200+ yard performances. All of a sudden, Jay Ajayi is the focal point of the offense. If only Gase had made the right decision before Miami was down the 1-4 hole.
Among Gase’s best personnel decisions has been his experimenting along the offensive line while axing guys like Billy Turner and Dallas Thomas that simply could not pull their own weight. Since left tackle Branden Albert, rookie guard sensation Laremy Tunsil and center Mike Pouncey have returned to the field healthy, the Dolphins’ offensive line has actually been a team strength, as shocking as that sounds. As good as Jay Ajayi has been, his ridiculous level of play would be impossible without his maulers up front. The interior offensive line anchored by Tunsil has been especially impressive in both pass protection and in establishing the run.
The defensive line’s rapid improvement in pass rushing is a result of two personnel decisions made by the coaching staff. First, the coaching staff benched underperforming Mario Williams in favor of former Detroit Lion Jason Jones in order to improve all aspects of the defense. Second, and perhaps more importantly, the team eased Cameron Wake slowly back into action as he has recovered from Achilles surgery. Wake has been a man possessed, and may actually be the Dolphins’ best current player not named “Ndamukong Suh”.
Contrary to popular belief, Byron Maxwell is not the Achilles heel of the Miami Dolphins. However, discipline definitely is. Penalties on both sides of the football have plagued the Dolphins all season, making life harder than it needs to be. In fact, last week’s 13 penalties for 113 yards kept the Bills in the game until time expired. Two of those penalties directly led to first downs on 3rd and longs. Whether it’s an offsides on Jordan Phillips, pass interference by Byron Maxwell, holding by Ju’Wuan James, or taunting on Jarvis Landry the discipline needs to be reestablished for all of the players. The amount of penalties on the Dolphins has been unprecedented, and I can think of no worse way to lose a game than on a penalty. Whatever the case, I have faith that Adam Gase and his staff can continue the strives that they’ve made over the last few weeks in order to keep the Miami Dolphins’ momentum going in the right direction.