Q&A Session with Phins Phocus Part 2

It’s time for our weekly Q&A session with a blogger who covers the Patriots next opponent.  Up this week is Phins Phocus, a great blog covering the Dolphins.  We last touched base with Phins Phocus three months ago to the day.  Back then both teams were 2-1, fresh off losses to the streaking Jets.  Their impending matchup on Monday Night Football was going to set the tone for the AFC East.  Thirteen weeks later, the Patriots have the AFC’s #1 seed clinched, while the Dolphins are on the outs.   However, just because there’s little to be gained in the standings, doesn’t mean that Sunday’s game won’t be a heated contest between two bitter rivals.  I asked the site’s lead writer, Cody Strahm, a series of questions about the Phins, and he, in turn, asked me a few about the Pats.  His responses are below, followed by a link to Foxboro Blog’s Q&A session on Phins Phocus.

1. How would you grade the Miami Dolphins’ season coming into the final game of the year?

If we’re talking record alone, this season has been a complete failure. At the very least, fans expected the Dolphins to win around ten games and sneak into the playoffs as a wildcard. But to dish out the money they did in the off-season to acquire Brandon Marshall and Karlos Dansby and only be on the verge of matching their 09′ win total of seven, is about as disappointing as it gets. If I’m looking at things from a future perspective, though, I wouldn’t give the year an F, simply because the Dolphins have answered some major questions on the defensive side of the ball and could hold down elite status for years to come. They have become dominate against the run with arguably one of the best defensive lines in football, and without a doubt one of the deepest, and the secondary has come together nicely with Vontae Davis and Sean Smith making huge strides in their second season. I don’t really even need to mention the role Cameron Wake has had who leads the league in sacks and has been a force to be reckoned with against the run as well. But when evaluating this year as a whole, the disappointing record, disastrous special-teams play, abysmal offense, and perhaps the biggest disappointment of all, Chad Henne turning out to not be the answer at quarterback, pretty much sum up a D or D- season.

2. Why do you think Miami is 6-1 on the road, but 1-7 in their own stadium?

This baffles me just as much as everybody else. At the beginning of the year, I simply chalked up a tougher home schedule to why the Dolphins were struggling so much in South Florida. But the latest three home losses to the Browns, Bills, and Lions obviously mean there is something desperately wrong with the Dolphins’ mentality when they play in the supposedly friendly combines of Sun Life Stadium. At the end of the day, that could lead to Tony Sparano losing his job.

3. Last year, I thought Chad Henne would have a better career than Mark Sanchez, looks like I am dead wrong? Is Henne the future QB of the Dolphins or does Miami look elsewhere either draft or free agency for a QB?

If the Dolphins had any faith at all left in Chad Henne, it went right out the window last Sunday when he gave the game over to the Lions by throwing two interceptions late in the fourth quarter. Henne has teased the Dolphins for two years now by flashing franchise quarterback like potential in every two or three games. But unfortunately, he always follows up a good performance with two or three picks the next week, and lately he hasn’t even been able to put together a solid four quarters. He possesses the arm strength to make any throw in football, but he just can’t shake rookie type habits like starring down his receivers. Not to mention, the guy is a like a robot out there that never shows emotion and doesn’t have the leadership qualities you need your starting quarterback to have.

4. What are your thoughts on the future employment of head coach Tony Sparano and GM Jeff Ireland? What coach, in your opinion, is the ideal fit for the Dolphins’ job?

If I’m making a prediction, all indications are pointing to Tony Sparano getting fired in the days following Sunday’s game. As for Jeff Ireland, Sparano’s exit would likely spell the end of his tenure in Miami as well, as Stephen Ross could then get one of his own people in the building. I don’t really care one way or another if Ireland is fired. On one hand, he proved last off-season that he’s not afraid to go out and spend some cash to bring in star talent like Brandon Marshall and Karlos Dansby. On the other, he single handedly blew up what was an elite running game, when he replaced the entire interior offensive line from a year ago. In Sparano’s case, though, I think Ross would be foolish to fire him out of sheer frustration. Sure, this season has been a failure, but it’s hard to point the finger at Sparano. The playoff teams in this league all have consistent play at quarterback. The Dolphins aren’t going to rise from mediocre status until they  find someone they can rely on at the game’s most important position. A big name like Bill Cowher or Jon Gruden won’t fix that.

5.  What have you thought of Cameron Wake’s play this season? Is he the defensive player of the year in the NFL?

With the Dolphins not being relevant in the playoff picture, Wake probably won’t get much respect from the voters. But do I believe he’s been the league’s best defensive player? Absolutely. And not just because he leads the league in sacks with 14. I don’t know the exact number, but the guy has probably drawn a holding penalty just as many times. He’s also been a real force as an edge setter, which was the biggest concern many had about him taking over every down duties. There’s no doubt, the Dolphins aren’t the league’s third overall total defense without Cameron Wake.

6. Miami is top 10 in the major defensive categories this year, who has been the most surprising and disappointing players either on offense or defense?

Outside of Wake, guys like Paul Soliai, Tony McDaniel, Koa Misi, and Chris Clemons have all been pleasant surprises that have enabled the Dolphins to improve so drastically on defense. Tony McDaniel has been a run stuffing machine at defense end, and his emergence gives the Dolphins one of the deepest defensive lines in football and more than enough options at DE. Koa Misi has played well as a rookie, particularly against the run. He’s been limited as a pass rusher, though, something that hopefully changes in the future, as perhaps the Dolphins’ last pressing need on defense is another pass rushing threat outside of Wake. Chris Clemons has been solid at free safety, a huge relief for a defense that was plagued by terrible coverage and missed tackles out of Gibril Wilson a year ago. But the biggest surprise of all, and arguably the most influential factor in the Dolphins’ dominance against the run lately, has been the play of nose tackle Paul Soliai. Soliai struggled last season when asked to start at the nose, and many began to wonder if he would be a better fit as a 4-3 defensive tackle. But Soliai has emerged as the clear cut long-term answer at arguably the most important position in the 3-4 defense. I should also probably mention Vontae Davis and Sean Smith. Smith has had a bad case of the dropsees all season, but other than that, both should be shutting down opposing receivers on the outside for years to come.

7. Biggest need for Miami in your opinion to address in offseason or draft?

Obviously, with how Chad Henne has collapsed down the stretch of the season, quarterback will be priority number one. With the Dolphins picking right in the middle of the draft, though, I’m concerned that guys like Ryan Mallet and Cam Newton will already be off the board. Maybe they look to bring in a short-term fix like Donovan McNabb in free agency, but that doesn’t really solve the long-term issue. Outside of quarterback, the Dolphins desperately need to upgrade their interior offensive line. Sparano moved Richie Incognito to center last week, and he showed some promise there. If Richie has another impressive showing on Sunday, the Dolphins could stick with him at center and look to address right and left guard in free agency and the draft. With Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams’ contracts expiring at the end of the year, the Dolphins may also be forced to pick up a running back or two. Before the season, I was under the impression that the Dolphins wouldn’t bring back either one because of injury concerns and age. Now, though, I see the Dolphins possibly keeping Ricky Williams around just because they have too many other needs to worry about to have to look for two running backs. The Dolphins could also use some more speed at receiver and a pass catching tight end to help whoever is the signal caller next season.

8. Prediction for the Game on Sunday, Does Miami take advantage of New England resting key players or at least we think they are resting players?

If New England plays their regulars for a half or so, I still see Tom Brady doing enough damage to win this game. The Dolphins have been great on the road all season long, but going into Foxboro, in January is obviously a completely different animal. 

New England 24 Dolphins 17

Ricky Keeler

About Ricky Keeler

I am a senior at St. John's University, where I am majoring in sports management. I have been writing game previews here at Foxboro Blog for each of the last four seasons. Plus, you can catch my Yankees' coverage over at YanksGoYard.com.