There are two things that can save the Miami Dolphins’ 2021 season:
1. Tua Tagovailoa gets healthy enough to return off injured reserve by the Oct. 17 game, and he suddenly plays like an elite, franchise quarterback.
2. The Dolphins’ coaching staff develops the rest of the roster to such heights that the other players play complementary football across the board in a form and fashion that lives up to everyone’s draft and free agency pedigree.
But, you see, those two things are unlikely to happen.
Because Tagovailoa has so far only lived up to his pre-draft question mark as fragile but not his pre-draft hype as an elite future NFL quarterback.
The rest of the Dolphins roster has also not grown into the ascending group of second- and third-year players head coach Brian Flores and general manager Chris Grier said would make big leaps starting this season and into future years.
And the reason those things are less rather than more likely to happen is mostly because of two men:
Flores, who has shown a curious but so far flailing approach to picking a coaching staff.
And Grier, who has shown so far a curious but so far flailing approach to trading away proven talent for draft picks then failing to upgrade the roster with those new picks.
In other words, the head coach and the general manager are failing the Dolphins so far in Year 3 of their administration.
Grier’s roster isn’t any better and, in many ways, is performing at levels below the roster he completely dismantled before the 2019 season.
And Flores has been so inept at identifying and keeping great coaching talent that we should not be at all surprised a team that should be developing into its best days in Year 3 of the Flores tenure has basically started over again — and their 1-3 now is kind of like the 1-3 start the previous set of Flores coaches got last year’s team off to.
So we have to do this every year with each new set of coaches?
“I think we have to take a look at everything,” an embattled Flores said after Sunday’s 27-17 loss to the previously winless Indianapolis Colts.
“We will take a look at everything, but I would say it’s really across the board. Offense, defense, special teams — starts with me, coaching. I got to do a better job. I know I say that every week. I don’t want to come up here and say that every week, but I got to do a better job of figuring out a way to help us play better than that, but we also got to play better, and we’re out there taking turns making mistakes in all three phases, and it’s not enough.
“It’s not good enough.”
The coach is telling you what it is happening.
We know that. We have eyes.
Let me tell you why it’s happening:
Because either Grier or Flores or both are not getting it done and haven’t been for a while.
That statement might fly in the face of last year’s 10-6 upgrade from the 5-11 record of the previous year.
But let’s be honest, that record came in a COVID year with empty stadiums across the league. It came with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick saving a game at Las Vegas and raising the team’s play after early struggles because of his veteran experience.
And it came after the club invested $150 million in guaranteed contracts for free agents, many of which the team used for one year and then discarded. The problem is the salary cap doesn’t allow teams to go out and buy 10 wins every year. So when the Dolphins cut players such as Kyle Van Noy and traded others such as Ereck Flowers, it put the onus of replacing that talent with draft picks.
Enter Grier and the Flores staff issue.
Grier has been wheeling and dealing draft picks for two years.
He had three first-round picks in 2020. Which one is a bona fide star?
He had two more first round picks this year and while linebacker Jaelan Phillips finally had a good game on Sunday, collecting 1/2 a sack and three quarterback hits, that was his first notable performance of the season.
Meanwhile, players such as Christian Wilkins, Austin Jackson, Noah Igbinoghene, Jaylen Waddle, Robert Hunt, Liam Eichenberg, and yes, Tagovailoa are still searching for their breakout performances. None have yet to finally play to the level of expectation that comes with their very high draft pick status.
So either these guys were overdrafted …
… Or are not being fully developed.
And that’s where Flores comes in. Because as the head coach, it is his responsibility to identify and hire a coaching staff that can bring young players into their prime at peak performance.
But we’re not seeing that peak performance.
And Flores at times suggests it’s a player problem.
“I think this is a hard-working team. I think they compete,” he said Sunday. “They prepare the right way. It’s not manifesting itself on Sundays right now. For long enough periods of time we are inconsistent. We can’t string plays together. When we do string plays together, there’s a penalty or a drop that sets us back or a penalty defensively and then, you know, instead of being off the field, we’re back on the field or a penalty in the kicking game instead of getting the ball, we give it back to them.
“I mean, there’s a lot of things that aren’t connected. We got to play complementary football in this league. We have not been able to do that, and a lot of it is basic fundamentals, watching the ball, keeping your hands down and away from the face mask area or the face area. I mean, there are things that are correctible that have been correctible, and we need to correct.”
The problem is Flores has cobbled together a coaching staff that isn’t correcting the players well enough for it to show on game days.
And let me be clear: Flores, in his third season as Miami’s coach, has had plenty of time to get that staff together. He’s actually hired and fired so many assistants he’s basically compiled three different staffs in his three years.
He’s hired four offensive coordinators in his three seasons.
He’s hired four offensive line coaches in his three seasons.
Is it any wonder the offensive line is not consistent?
Is it any wonder the offense has no real identity or go-to plays, or continuity series to series?
It’s problematic that Miami’s best offensive series the past three weeks have come after the original game plan authored by co-offensive coordinators Eric Studesville and George Godsey showed itself inadequate and the offense was in desperation catch-up mode against prevent defenses?
This isn’t a coincidence, folks.
This is a pattern.
And how is Flores responsible for this?
He’s hard to work for and this offseason, for example, he couldn’t find outstanding outside candidates wanting to take over the vacancies left by the departure of his last offensive coordinator and offensive line coach.
So he chose an outstanding running back coach in Eric Studesville who’s never been an offensive coordinator before. And he also chose a fine tight end coach in George Godsey who had all of one season as an offensive coordinator with Houston in 2015 before being fired.
The Texans boasted the No. 22 scoring offense during Godsey’s first year and then regressed in 2016 and finished 27th in the NFL in scoring in 2016.
So what part of those twin credentials suggested to Flores his 2021 offense would be outstanding?
There’s an adage in the NFL that if you have two quarterbacks, you don’t have any. Well, so far this season the Dolphins have two offensive coordinators, but they lack one cohesive offense.
Flores, of course, can and should blame himself. But he takes the fall for the wrong thing.
“I think it’s a lack of focus, a lack of concentration, a lack of attention to detail, a lack of – I think it’s all those things, and that starts with me and getting these guys to understand how important those little things are,” Flores said. “The little things are important in this game. They’re very important.
“We got to focus on those little things, those details, and play a smarter, more disciplined football game because we’re not doing that right now. We’re not doing that. That starts with me.”
Coach is blaming himself because his players aren’t getting it. Coach should blame himself because he hired a young, inexperienced, unproven coaching staff that isn’t teaching it well enough so far.