Monday, June 14, 2021

What does success look like for the 2021 Miami Dolphins?

With the draft firmly behind us, and rookie camps in full swing, it’s a good time to look to the forthcoming season and asses what might be deemed as a successful campaign for the Miami Dolphins

Last year, it’s a fair reflection that the team outperformed what most were expecting, and as a result, this season’s expectations are naturally higher. Coach Flo himself has said the rebuild is over, the core of the team that will (or will not) make it to the Superbowl are currently on the roster. This doesn’t mean the Miami Dolphins are the finished article, there are a number of question marks hanging over multiple positions such as Running Back, Centre and Free Safety, but the front office now feel they have the heart of a team that can compete.

MIAMI DOLPHINS ON THE UP IN 2021?

All the notions of bringing in Watson should be firmly behind us now. Tua is our Quarterback, and we’ve drafted some exceptionally exciting talent on both sides of the ball, Waddle and Phillips to name but a few. It doesn’t matter if you were in the Waddle camp or the Smith camp, if you thought we should have drafted Najee Harris at 18 (I’ll admit I was one), this is the team we’re working with and it’s clear, the 2021 Miami Dolphins are a better prospect than they were at this time in 2020.

You can view success in a variety of ways. Do you class is as winning more games? Making the playoffs? Winning the Division? Or, that holy grail, the Superbowl? Whilst the Dolphins are good, I don’t think they’re quite Superbowl material just yet, but that’s not to say they won’t be in the forthcoming seasons.

I’d like to break this analysis down into two parts. Firstly, we need to establish what success will look like within the division, as ultimately, that will determine the teams future and secondly, what the overall outlook looks like.

The AFC East
Buffalo Bills

In 2020, Josh Allen proved to the league that he has MVP potential and yet again he caused the Dolphins trouble with his slippery footwork and canon-like arm. Signing Stefon Diggs was a stroke of inspiration in 2020 and it paid off in spades, having a massive influence on crowning the Bills the champions of the AFC East.

Coming into 2021 they’ve managed to keep most of the band together, losing the likes of John Brown and replacing him with veterans like Emmanuel Sanders and Isaiah McKenzie. They also added former Dolphins Matt Brieda into the backfield, but you have to wonder how much these signings have actually improved the team.

Draft wise, I was surprised to see them go with Gregory Rousseau and Carlos Basham. Both have high ceilings but also have the potential to be distinctly average players, and will either one of them start on day one?

When you compare last year’s roster to this years, it’s improved, but maybe not as noticeably as other rivals in the division if any. Now, when you’re starting from a higher level there’s only so many improvements you can make, but every other team within the AFC East took a step closer to narrowing the gap to the Bills, and you never know what could happen in a divisional game.

The Miami Dolphins drafted wisely to help compete against the Bills, acquiring players in free agency that can help stuff the run such as Benardrick McKinney and drafting Jaelan Phillips, a true Quarterback hunter. We know what to expect from the Bills and Coach Flo clearly had that in the back of his mind when considering how to improve an already solid defence.

For me, if we want to prove that we have the potential to compete at the highest level and to be talked about as an elite calibre team, beating the Bill’s is where it starts. Allen is 5 – 1 against the Dolphins and those kinds of stats can’t continue if we want to be playoff bound.

Success here has to be seen as a 1-1 record. We need to know that on our day we can beat them as there’s always a chance we could meet them again during a playoff run.

New England Patriots

The team everybody loves to hate. My how Bill Belichick must still be reeling following on from Brady’s Superbowl win. The reign of New England in the AFC East surely has to be on the decline, even with the (and it really pains me to write this) most successful coach the NFL has ever seen. 

They went for it in free agency spending big. I was surprised to see them sign two Tight Ends in Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith as they drafted Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene on the 2020 draft. This strikes me as either a. desperation or b. they want to run the two tight end packages that brought them so much success with Gronk and Hernandez. They also added Matt Judon, Trent Brown, Kyle Van Noy, Kendrick Bourne, Ted Karris and Nelson Agholor just to name a few.

Let’s not kid ourselves, the Patriots are going for it because they have to go for it. Last year was a bitter disappointment for them and it’s clear that they don’t want to be in a position where they feel they have to rebuild, but it almost feels like they’re trying to force it, something the rest of the AFC East could use to their advantage.

They still have Cam but drafted who you would expect to be his long term replacement in Mac Jones in the first round. These Quarterbacks style of play are very different from each other with both having different sets of skills. Personally, I’d be happy if either one of them started. Cam showed last season that he’s a shadow of his former MVP self and Jones isn’t exactly what you’d call mobile but gives the Patriots the chance to move back to a more functional passing game.

It’s difficult to judge how the Miami Dolphins will fare against this Patriots team as it’s a similar situation to last year in we don’t know how the team will play. Thankfully, pre season should give us some sort of indication which was lacking in 2020. If they run with Jones then we have the advantage of an exceptional defensive coach going up against a rookie. If we go up against Cam, similarly to Buffalo, we’ve drafted players to help in the run game and we already know we can beat them, as witnessed when we ended their playoff potential towards the end of last season.

The Patriots are probably the team that concern me the most just because of that element of the unknown and the history behind the franchise. Should we be in a position where the Bill’s are running away with the division, then it stands to reason that the Patriots are going to be the team we need to beat.

I honestly think we’re the better team but playing the Patriots in their own back yard in the first game of the season is going to be tough. I do think the Bills will beat them on both occasions and as I’ve already said, I think the Miami Dolphins will share the spoils with the Bills. Therefore, I think it’s probably a fair reflection that we’ll probably end up 1-1, but I do think we’re much closer to going 2-0 than we are 0-2. For me Success against the Patriots this year is more about the style in which we play against them, and if we do what we all think we can do, 2-0 certainly isn’t outside the relm of possibility.

New York Jets

Frustratingly, the Jets had a very good draft and offseason, giving rookie Quarterback Zach Wilson the kind of weapons Sam Darnold could only have dreamed of along with further reinforcing the Offensive Line. Before the offseason even began, the Jet’s had already improved simply by parting ways with Adam Gase and replacing him with Robert Saleh. When you combine the two, I’d imagine if you were a jets fan you’d be pretty happy with the potential the future could bring.

The good news is that this is a very new and therefore, inexperienced squad. Although Wilson will have more time to gel with his new teammates compared to Tua in his rookie season, he doesn’t have the experienced mentor that was afforded to Tua in Ryan Fitpatrick. Currently, the only other quarterbacks on the roster are James Morgan and Mike White, so Wilson really is going to be learning on the job.

The defensive side of the ball still needs a lot of work and although they picked up a few Cornerbacks in the draft, I don’t think they’re in a position to threaten the Miami Dolphins every improving offense.

Going up against one of the best defensive coaches in the league and one of the best defensive units should be enough to block out any initial rays of light generated by this new offense. I don’t see them giving the Dolphins much trouble in the 2021 season, but expect them to be better and perhaps more worryingly, expect them to start being more relevant in the upcoming campaigns. Success here has to be seen as a 2-0 record.

If we can turn it on in our own division, then there’s no reason to think we couldn’t end up going 4-2 or even 5-1 which would been seen as a great step forward from 2020’s 3-3. There’s potential the Dolphins could be going up against two rookie quarterbacks which puts us in an incredibly strong position with the talent on the defensive side of the ball. But what about the rest of the games and the Dolphins aspirations for the playoffs?

In 2020, the Dolphins were incredibly unlucky not to make the playoffs with a 10-6 record. If they were to win 10 games this year and made the playoffs, would that be seen as a step forward? My answer is no. There are 17 games on the schedule this season so to win 10 means you lose 7, one more than last season. For me, you want to get into the playoffs by showing improvement from the previous year. Plus, it’s incredibly unlikely that 10 wins would make the playoffs anyway.

So, how many wins could be seen as a success? Miami has the 4th easiest schedule on the NFL calendar (based on last years’ teams who have all improved), but despite that we still have to play the reigning Superbowl champions, the number 1 overall draft pick and 6 games within what is potentially going to be one of the most competitive divisions in the NFL.

I think it’s within the realms of possibility that they could go 13-4. The Raven’s and Buc’s are probably the two toughest games outside of the division and whilst all the teams the Miami Dolphins are playing have improved, I simply think the Dolphins are the better team, both on the field and on the side-line. 

Realistically, for me, 12-5 and a spot in the playoff’s would be more than sufficient to deem to 2021 season a success. It will show an improvement in the consistency of the team, but more importantly, it should show growth from a team perspective and highlight the area’s where they aren’t quite there just yet to enable them to fine tune in preparation for a huge run in 2022. We’re not there yet, but it’s certainly an exciting time to be a Miami Dolphins fan.

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