Coaching Vs. Talent…Dolphins Off-Season Must Answer

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When it comes to hot debates relating to the Miami Dolphins, none compare to the mention of Jeff Ireland.  Ireland’s tenure in Miami thus far has been a dark cloud to say the least.  From the Dez Bryant Combine questions to the Jim Harbaugh trip, Ireland has been the ire of many fans.  Some of that hatred or discontent stems from nothing more than his association with Bill Parcells.

I can tell you how several members of NFL team offices feel about Ireland but it won’t change your mind.  Ireland has had a losing season every year since becoming the Dolphins GM sans two.  This one included.  Naturally, you point your finger at the talent level on the field and when your laser hits the 50 yard line it reflects immediately to the man in charge of bringing that talent to the field.  So, Jeff Ireland.

There is simply no need to re-hash the years with Bill Parcells and frankly that is as close to ancient history as Cam Cameron and Nick Saban.  Ireland has cleared those seasons and is operating fully on his own.  The only question that really is left to ask is whether or not Jeff Ireland has done enough to make this team talented or not.  If he has, then the fingers of blame fall on the shoulders of the coaches.  If he has not then he is the one eating that pie.

In the two years since Joe Philbin took over as the teams HC, the Dolphins offense has improved while their defense has regressed.  The latter of which will surely upset fans who have long contested that the Dolphins defense was always one of the best despite the offensive woes.  Now, it’s a tide that has changed…at least a little bit.  Kevin Coyle’s defense is on the verge of giving up 2,000 yards on the ground to opposing teams combined this season.  The Dolphins have given up 1,844 yards thus far.  It’s one of their worst seasons of recent years.

Paul Soliai, Randy Starks, and Jared Odrick anchor the middle and have been in some way for many years pre-dating Philbin and Kevin Coyle.  In a recent Miami Herald article it was pointed out that while the edge rushers were performing well the LB’s have not.  Does that fall on the shoulders of Jeff Ireland?  The additions of a highly touted LB from a Super Bowl winning team and one of the top LB’s in the league last year have done nothing in Miami this year.  Is that coincidence or coaching?

I am not one to compare how players perform before or after they leave Miami simply because there are system changes and they are often used differently than what they were in Miami.  The fact that Karlos Dansby is having a very solid year is not troubling to me because he came nowhere close to that in Miami.  Reggie Bush has been very productive in Detroit but he suffered through a season of bang-ups that cost him playing time.  I would much rather focus on the talent or lack of that is here today.

As it relates to Phillip Wheeler and Dannelle Ellerbe did the system change hurt their production?  Were they never that good to begin with?  Is it poor coaching?  Dismiss the debate on overpaying.  It’s not your money and the decisions to pay any player this off-season has not come close to hurting the team financially.  Including the contract signed by Mike Wallace.  Instead of comparing cost values and production compare production to wins/losses.  The Dolphins are still in the playoffs but just as easily could have already been eliminated.

They could have easily been in the mix for a first round bye.  They are not.

At some point the two come together.  Jeff Ireland has made this team far more talented than it was under Tony Sparano and it’s night and day compared to that of Cam Cameron’s team.  You can have all the talent in the world but if they can’t come together as a team they simply won’t win.  If they can’t be coached to win they are talentless until they prove otherwise.  The Dolphins had a lot of changeover this season compared to last.  Not just general roster moves but starting roster moves.

Consider this before you make a judgement on Philbin or Ireland.  Reggie Bush was gone and the team was handed to Lamar Miller who last year saw minimal playing time.  Charles Clay has been around for a few years but he was the back-up to Dustin Keller prior to the injury.  The offensive line was pieced together for this season with Tyson Clabo on the right side and a sophomore tackle on the right in Jonathan Martin.  Oh and he quit the team.  They added a new speed wide-out, a new slot WR, and banked on only four WR’s to start the season.

Defensively the Dolphins made changes as well.  Dansby and Burnett were gone for the aforementioned Wheeler and Ellerbe while the team added Brent Grimes to the secondary and promoted Dimitri Patterson who missed almost the entire season with a hamstring injury.  While the defensive front stayed the same in the center, the Dolphins relied on 2nd year man Olivier Vernon and rookie Dion Jordan.

Continuity?  Cohesiveness?  In the final two seasons of Don Shula, Plan-B free agency brought a lot of talent to Miami.  The Dolphins were unable to win in those years because the team never had time to develop together.  This is a similar situation now.  We expect far better results from this team due to the talent but reality is they are all playing together for the first time and yes, you would think a season would be plenty of time to get them all on the same page but that really isn’t the case.

It also doesn’t solve the problem.  Is this team devoid of talent or are they not coached properly?  If there is no talent than the Dolphins would need to look at firing Ireland and reshaping the team.  If they have talent then they need to make hard decisions at the DC and OC spot where the players are being underutilized or simply utilized wrong.

From where I sit, I’m an Ireland fan.  I like his no-nonsense approach and I don’t have any issues with the Bryant situation now or then.  Ireland and Sparano were never “friends” as many want to make that out to believe and in my opinion Ireland didn’t owe Sparano any explanations.  The owner did.  The fact they both came from Dallas means nothing.  I look at the level of talent on this team and I think it’s very good sans the offensive line.  I suspect that the Oline will be a top priority come this off-season.

For the first time in as many years as I can remember, likely dating back to the Jimmy Johnson years, the Dolphins will be looking at adding depth and prospects this year in both free agency and the draft (again outside of the Oline).  They have no glaring holes to fill except the one mentioned.  TE is not a problem, LB’s are there and need to improve but neither are going to get replaced.  We are set at CB if we keep Grimes, safety isn’t an issue as it once was and while we will likely lose a couple of Dlineman we still have solid depth behind them.  We have wide-receivers, running backs, and a starting QB.  We also have a team that although has been disappointing at times this year  is on the verge of making the playoffs.

My money however goes on the chip that demands change.  The lack of overall production and the fact that we have unrealized talent on this team points finger somewhere.  Kevin Coyle and Mike Sherman.  Defensively the Dolphins lack pure aggression.  They play like the offense.  Methodical and with finesse.  They bend but don’t break.  That’s great in close games but every game has been close.  This defense has not shut down another team, taken over a game, or knocked the snot out of anyone.

Offensively there has been nothing remotely akin to the West Coast style that was supposed to be implemented.  Ryan Tannehill showed what he could do with his legs late last year and we again got only flashes this season.  The team played with a lack of urgency and the finesse offense doesn’t score enough points.  Lacking the same type of aggression the defense does.  Far too many three and outs this season.

While it’s easy to look at both sides of the ball and question the talent level vs. the coaching level to me what stands out more as the reason this team has not lived up to what their talent says they are is the adjustments.  Good coaches make great in-game adjustments.  Great coaches make the decisions that win games.  In New England the Patriots have won yet another division title.  They have done it without any top WR’s, no TE, an assembly of running-backs, and a defense plays up and down.  The difference is there is no better coach in the NFL than Bill Belichick.  While we loathe that thought it’s true.  This season may be Belichick’s best coaching season of his entire career.

Why?  Because they make the right adjustments.  Because they are well coached.  Miami on paper has far more talent at almost every position but QB and yet the Patriots have played head and shoulders above the Dolphins in games not against Miami.  To me that is the number one factor in my decision to believe that this team has been given the taken by Jeff Ireland and why we still are not performing up to expectations.  When it all comes down to it, it comes down to coaching.  I like Joe Philbin and I want to see more of what he can do, but I’m not sold on Sherman and Coyle, especially not Sherman.

Miami has talent on the field but do they have it on the sidelines?  It’s debatable.  As is to what degree Ireland holds responsibility over the coaching staff.

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Tags: Jeff Ireland Joe Philbin Kevin Coyle Miami Dolphins MIke Sherman

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