Continuity Questions: Will the Dolphins’ Offense Will Be Better in 2017?
Teams are always looking for ways to get better. Success in football can come from any direction. Sometimes drafting a first-round quarterback is the only way to get better. After that, there are countless adjustments a team can make to improve statistically.
Teams can sign or draft new players, they can change schemes, or even something as simple as changing a 10-yard in-route to an eight-yard in route. Contrary to what Meryl Streep said at the Golden Globes, football is an art. The amount of detail needed to create a successful play, let alone a successful drive or game, is like trying to paint the perfect picture.
With all of this in mind, let’s take a step back and ask a pretty simple question: Is the Miami Dolphins’ offense going to be better than it was in 2016?
Building Off 2016:
The Dolphins ranked 24th in yards per game in 2016, averaging more than two playoff teams in the New York Giants and the Houston Texans. The Dolphins weren’t a high-powered offense but rather they leaned on a positive turnover ratio (+2) and a 55 percent touchdown efficiency in the red zone. Ryan Tannehill had the best red zone quarterback rating and the second best completion percentage within 20 yards of the end zone.
Miami was mediocre on offense, averaging 110 yards on the ground (14th) and 220 (26th) yards through the air. Just by looking at these statistics we would tend to believe that the Dolphins finished last in their division and had a hard time overcoming a 1-4 start to the season.
That wasn’t the case. With a 9-2 end to the season, the Dolphins did what they could to limit mistakes on offenses. Dolphins’ quarterbacks were only sacked two times a game and the receiving core averaged less than two drops a game, good for the eighth best percentage in the NFL.
Only 11 of Ryan Tannehill’s 19 touchdowns came from inside of the red zone. This continues to fit the narrative of Miami’s inconsistency. Using weapons like Kenny Stills helped Miami’s offense significantly. Nine of Stills’ 20 career touchdowns came in 2016. While some may call it an anomaly, it is important to remember this: Seven of Stills’ touchdowns came from outside of the red zone in 2016. Ironically, seven of eight touchdowns caught by Stills from Drew Brees also came from outside of the red zone.
While New Orleans has never had an issue producing offense, Stills gave the Dolphins someone who could break a play open when the offense was unable to move the sticks.
On the ground, Jay Ajayi was third in the NFL with 10 runs of 20 yards or more. This follows the idea that Miami’s offense was often saved by big plays. Take away a few of these runs and a few drops by Stills and Miami’s offense is easily one of the worst in the league.
Miami’s 9-2 run at the end of the season was fueled by big plays that we did not see early in the season. A perfect example is when Stills dropped the deep ball Week 1 against the Seattle Seahawks. Taking advantage of the big plays was the difference between being a 6-10 team and a 10-6 team.
When we look at Jarvis Landry’s statics over the last two seasons, we see consistency. There was a 20-yard difference in Landry’s yard total’s in 2015 and 2016, and he finished each season with four touchdowns.
While his numbers haven’t been bad, they don’t move the needle in terms of a great offense. He is a good slot receiver (which is not a knock on him), but the team needs a lot more than a slot receiver.
What to expect in 2017?
So when we ask if Miami’s offense is going to be better in 2017, we are really asking if it will be more consistent in 2017. The Dolphins did a lot of good things last season, but they can’t lean on one play every game. Good teams give themselves room for error.
For this to happen, it comes down to the two question marks on Miami’s offense: DeVante Parker and Julius Thomas. These two players are loaded with potential, but potential doesn’t win football games.
In 2016, Parker averaged 13.3 yards per reception and had only four touchdowns. Throughout the season, Parker was called out by the coaching staff for being a “teenager in an elite wide-receiver’s body” (thanks to Armando Salguero for the perfect metaphor to describe the receiver).
Since then, the coaching staff has said that Parker has been treating his body better and is acting more professional. If Parker continues to treat his craft seriously, his 744 yards and four touchdowns from 2016 can turn into 1,300 yards and ten touchdowns in 2017. That does move the needle.
Julius Thomas, who is slated to be the starting tight end for the Dolphins in 2017, is harder to judge. Thomas is coming off two subpar seasons in Jacksonville (to be fair, who does play well in Jacksonville?). Over those two seasons, he has 700 receiving yards and nine touchdowns (still better numbers than any tight end on the Dolphins over the last two seasons!).
If Thomas continues at that rate, he already helps Miami’s red zone offense that scored touchdowns only 55 percent of the time. With that being said, I am sure that isn’t what Adam Gase and his staff are looking for.
Gase was the offensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos’ offense that resulted in 108 receptions for 1,277 yards and 24 touchdowns over two seasons. Ryan Tannehill has always been a great passer when throwing down the seem, and adding Thomas gives the Dolphins a big red zone target.
Thomas has recently said he is 100 percent healthy after struggling with injuries over the past few seasons. If that is the case, Adam Gase is going to find every way possible to get Thomas in a situation to produce 12 touchdowns a season. That moves the needle.
Trust the Process:
Can we confidently say that Miami’s offense is going to be better in 2017? Absolutely not. Ryan Tannehill is coming off a career-threatening injury and still needs to become more consistent. Two of Miami’s most important pieces are question marks. The offensive line remains an area of concern.
As I mentioned earlier, it is hard to put together a good play, let alone a good game; that is why the stock on Miami’s offense should not be high going into the season.
With that being said, this offense has a lot of potential if their two biggest questions turn into two big answers in DeVante Parker and Julius Thomas.