The New England Patriots will not be going to a consecutive Super Bowl. High-fives all around. Last nights Tom Brady performance was memorable. As memorable as the game Peyton Manning ended his season on. Manning tossed a ill-fated interception on his final drive sealing the Baltimore Ravens bid for an AFC Championship match-up with the Patriots. On Sunday night, Tom Brady did the same thing.
While the game itself played out wonderfully for Miami Dolphins fans, one part of this seasons playoffs stood out as a reminder to the fans and steadfast directive to Jeff Ireland…if he was listening. The Dolphins need to find a pass catching seam threat TE.
Last nights game in Foxboro showcased Aaron Hernandez on one side of the ball and Dennis Pitta on the Ravens side of the ball. Looking at the box score it’s easy to see that Hernandez outperformed his TE counterpart statistically but while his 9 receptions for almost 80 yards fine and dandy, Pitta added a clutch TD to his five for 55. The numbers don’t jump off the screen at you as being a major reason to upgrade the Dolphins own TE position. Anthony Fasano has had better statistical games than both of Pitta and Hernandez. The difference however is that Fasano doesn’t come close to being a threat.
The Ravens use Pitta in their passing game consistently and that creates mismatches in opposing defenses. Most of the time, Pitta is covered by a LB or a safety and that frees up other WR’s downfield or over the middle. We routinely see the same offensive strategy employed in NE, they will actually use two TE’s. In Miami, the Dolphins fail to put their TE’s into the passing game enough to draw coverage. When they do, the inconsistent play of their TE’s doesn’t lead opposing defenses into a state of confusion.
It’s not just the Ravens and Patriots. Keys to all four Championship round teams were the TE’s. San Francisco uses Vernon Davis as a legit seam and outside threat. In Atlanta the Falcons have had offensive success with Tony Gonzalez. The fact is that the best offensive teams in the NFL this year can attribute a good portion of their success on the play and performance of the TE.
Of the 12 teams who made post-season appearances, five of those teams had a TE in the top 10 in receptions, six in the top 12 for yardage, and 9 were in the top 10 ranked in touchdowns. While Anthony Fasano finished tied for 10th in TD’s, his receptions ranked him 28th and his yardage ranked him 34th among TE’s in both conferences. Not lost on these stats is that a few teams had two TE’s ranking higher than Fasano.
This is not not knock Fasano. I have made it very clear that in terms of the current Miami Dolphins who have been on the team for at least 4 seasons, Fasano is by far my favorite player. That does not however mean that I am blinded by the reality that our offense needs a huge overhaul of the position. This off-season may or may not change the depth.
Most fans and some in the media will point to the possible free agency of Green Bay Packer Jermichael Finley. A natural mention given his connection to head coach Joe Philbin. Most Packer players will be in some way associated as a possible signing for the same reason that Cincinnati Bengal impending defensive free agents will be linked with DC Kevin Coyle. There is however no guarantee that Finley would want to play for Miami any more than Miami would want to pay him what he will likely receive.
Last off-season the Dolphins opted for no change at the position during free agency and instead turned to the draft where they missed very badly on 3rd round bust Michael Egnew. Egnew saw the field on two plays this season, started none, made no catches, and was not targeted. His season ending review by local media led to harsh criticism and one unidentified teammate calling him a “pussy” and referring to him as “not an NFL caliber player”.
Egnew took a public beating during his Hard Knocks portions but the fact is he never came close to making the game roster and only injuries opened up a spot late in the season. Again, he only managed two plays. The Dolphins don’t possess a true TE outside of Fasano and Egnew that has the consistency to step in and be a starter. Many wonder why Jeron Mastrud is still on the team and Charles Clay is still a H-back/TE hybrid. Behind them, Kyle Miller.
In order to open up the Dolphins West Coast style of offense, they need a seam threat TE and if we learned anything from sitting at home watching the playoffs this year, it’s that the TE in this era of the NFL is a vital part of the game plan. At the rate the Dolphins are going in getting up to speed, the TE offense will have faded and the Dolphins will be once again late to the party.
Fans have been wondering each and every year if this is the year and again, in 2013 we are asking the same question. Will the Dolphins solve their TE problem? Because the reality is this, while Fasano is good, he is good only at times. He isn’t going to change the game. He isn’t going to scare the defenses and defenses are not going to game plan for him. Until that happens, the Dolphins will remain inconsistent in their production…both at the position and on the offense as a whole.