Injuries and OL Drama a Blessing in Disguise for Dolphins - Part 1: Offense

Written by Matthew Cannata. Be sure to follow me on Twitter: @PhinManiacs

The Dolphins have seen their fair share of injuries on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. They’ve also had drama on the offensive line with the bullying scandal. However, the players behind the starters who have been thrust into action have done a phenomenal job of stepping up and making it work. Tonight, I will analyze the offense. Tomorrow will be the defense and on Thursday, I will analyze special teams.

Jonathan Martin started the season at left tackle after the Dolphins allowed Jake Long to leave via free agency to the St. Louis Rams. In the seven games that Martin played in, he had 2 penalties and allowed 6.5 sacks for a total loss of 42 yards.  Bryant McKinnie, who was acquired in a rare mid-season trade, was literally thrown into the starting lineup days after he arrived in Miami. McKinnie has appeared in eight games and during that time, he has 0 penalties and has allowed 5 sacks for a total loss of 47 yards. It’s easy to see that McKinnie has helped solidify the line and is an improvement over Jonathan Martin.Richie Incognito was a pro bowl player last year and came back as the left guard. He appeared in eight games (although the last one was only for a brief portion of the game due to injury) and during that time, he had 1 penalty and allowed 4 sacks for a total loss of 32 yards. His replacement, Sam Brenner, has appeared in 5 games. He’s had 0 penalties and has only allowed 1 sack for a total loss of 6 yards. While Brenner hasn’t caught up to Incognito in terms of games appeared in, it’s easy to see that as of now, Brenner looks like he is an improvement over him.

When Dustin Keller was injured in preseason, many people, including me, had serious doubts about Charles Clay. After all, he hadn’t shown much since he’s been drafted and why would we expect him to be the force that we thought Keller would be? How wrong were we all! I have to go back to 2011 for Keller, which is the last time he played in 16 games. In that season, he had 65 receptions for 815 yards and 5 touchdowns. Last season, when he appeared in eight games, he caught 28 passes for 317 yards and 2 touchdowns. Since 2008, Keller’s rookie year, he has never had more than 5 touchdown catches, never had more than 815 receiving yards, and never had more than 65 receptions in a season.

Charles Clay, who has appeared in 14 games this season, has 61 receptions for 684 yards and 6 touchdowns. In addition, he has made several huge plays, which we saw the past two weeks against the Steelers and Patriots. Add to the fact that Bill Belichick thought so highly of Clay that he had Aqib Talib, their number one corner, cover Clay for the vast majority of the game. Clay is a playmaker and is quickly becoming one of the top tight ends in the league. Clay isn’t injury prone and he makes people miss. He is definitely an upgrade over Keller.

Brandon Gibson was injured seven games into the season and was a reliable target for Tannehill. When he went down, he had 30 receptions for 326 yards and 3 touchdowns. That thrust Rishard Matthews into the starting lineup. In the seven games that Matthews has started, he has 36 receptions for 381 yards and 2 touchdowns. This is obviously a slight improvement over Gibson. In addition, Matthews can make the tough catches and stay on his feet. He has had numerous big catches this season on crucial drives throughout various games.

In the end, it’s almost a blessing in disguise that these things happened this season. While Bryant McKinnie isn’t the future at left tackle, it solidified the line and the Dolphins can take their time to get a franchise left tackle. I hope McKinnie comes back next year while the Dolphins groom someone else. They also look to have found their permanent left guard in Sam Brenner. Clay is ascending to the top of the league and Matthews is becoming a very solid receiver who can always be counted on. Jeff Ireland deserves credit for bringing these guys in but the coaching staff deserves even more credit for developing these players and getting them ready to play and make an impact.

Tomorrow night, I will analyze the defensive side of the ball and see how players have stepped up and helped make an impact.

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Tags: Bryant Mckinnie Charles Clay Miami Dolphins Rishard Matthews

  • Duh

    Keller is better than Clay.
    That is why Keller was the starter.
    This team would have won 2-3 more games if he was playing.

    • Duh

      Richie is needed now

      • Phin Maniacs

        Richie isn’t needed now. Brenner is playing just as good, if not better. Incognito couldn’t always get up to the second level. Brenner does.

    • tpl

      You won’t see Incognito play for Miami again. Not with Brenner playing so good at LG.

      • Phin Maniacs

        Incognito is gone. Philbin wanted to cut him last year and with the news coming out about that, there’s no way Dolphins can bring him back. In addition, a few staff members will file a lawsuit if they bring him back due to past actions.

    • Phin Maniacs

      I agree that earlier in the season, the Dolphins would’ve won 2-3 more games. However, would Keller have made the play that Clay made on 4th and 5? Don’t think so. Would Keller have broken the tackles in Pittsburgh and scored that touchdown? Don’t think so. So, in the end, I think it ends up balancing out.

      • Duh

        Maybe there are bigger needs, that will consume the cap space.
        But it sure would be nice to have Keller back.
        Keller is significantly more athletic than Clay, and a better playmaker.

    • Duh

      From my understanding the dolphins had changed their play book and attack to have Keller be the main focus of the offensive attack, because Keller and Ryan had such chemistry in OTAs and minicamp.
      Clay has done reasonably, just not as well as Keller would of done.

      Still the inexperience on the line could spell trouble

  • tpl

    Ireland has done a good job finding talent, that’s for sure. And I agree, the injuries have helped Miami get better depth. With the job clay has done, it makes me wonder whether Miami will re-sign keller. I would not be surprised to see Miami draft another TE next year. Miami will definitely draft a LT in the first two rounds of next years draft. I figure they re-sign McKinney, and throw him in the mix with McKinney, and maybe Thomas. And does Miami draft a RT to compete with Clabo?

    • Phin Maniacs

      I highly doubt the Dolphins re-sign Keller. There really isn’t much of a need for him with Clay emerging and being a top tight end in the league now. Keller wasn’t the best at blocking – he was mainly brought in for his receiving skills. I do agree that Miami will draft a LT and have McKinnie groom him for a season. As far as RT, I’m guessing that’s a first round pick or they sign someone in free agency.

  • gofins60

    “Jeff Ireland deserves credit for bringing these guys in but the
    coaching staff deserves even more credit for developing these players
    and getting them ready to play and make an impact.”

    BULL! The only person who deserves any credit is the owner, Mr. Ross. Everyone knew Martin wasn’t very good, but Ireland gambled that he would grow into a good LT so he didn’t bring anyone in for the LT position. (McKinnie could have been signed in the off-season.) Philbin and Sherman made Martin, Incognito, Pouncey, Jerry, and Clabo their starting o-line. They looked bad in preseason, and continued their poor play into the regular season. We all know how this o-line was terrible at pass and run blocking, allowing Tannehill to be sacked at a record-breaking pace. So, seeing that their young QB was well on his way to the IR list, what did Philbin and Sherman do? Absolutely nothing! Week after week they refused to make any changes to the o-line. They had other linemen on the roster… the line was playing so bad that it would not have hurt to give someone else a shot on game day.

    Here comes the bye week; an excellent time to bring in McKinnie. Nope, nothing done again, and Miami loses to Buffalo. After that game, Ross has a meeting with Ireland and Philbin, and it was reported that they (Ireland and Philbin) didn’t look too happy when they were done. A few days later, Ireland brings in McKinnie. Philbin/Sherman put McKinnie at LT, moved Martin to RT, and benched Clabo. Soon after, Martin walks away, and Clabo returns. Incognito gets injured, and Brenner/Garner get playing time. Incognito gets suspended. After a few weeks of playing together, the “new” o-line is doing better than the original starting line.

    I believe that if Ross had not put his foot down, Philbin and Sherman would still be playing the original starters. They refused to try different personnel, and Ireland would not have signed McKinnie. If Ireland wanted McKinnie, he could have signed him earlier. These guys do not deserve any credit at all for the “new” o-line. They made no changes on their own for the good of the team; the owner forced them to make changes!

  • Jony WALKER

    Where is the analysis of the defensive side of the ball that was promised, Cannata? Im a brazilian fan of the Miami Dolphins since the 90s. I read so many things about the team in websites and I enjoyed the analysis that you made about the offense.