By Jeff Goldberg
Cold, Hard Football Facts quarterback of the future
You think you got problems finding a good place for Buffalo wings? It could be worse. You could be a Dolphins fan, searching desperately for an heir to the throne at quarterback.
Call it karmic payback: the team enjoyed a glut of talent at the position for more than 30 years, with Hall of Famers Bob Griese and Dan Marino taking snaps from the late 1960s to the late 1990s. Even the back-ups and in-between guys were pretty good. Earl Morrall helped carry the team to an undefeated season in 1972 and the team won an AFC crown with David Woodley at quarterback 10 years later.
Since then? It's been a rotating cast of characters who have largely struggled to rekindle the glory years. On the bright side, there are some building blocks elsewhere in place.
The 2010 Storyline: Home was not where the heart was.
The Vital Signs
2010 record: 7-9 (17.1 PPG – 20.8 PPG)
Last five seasons overall: 32-48 (.400)
Best Quality Stat in 2010: Defensive Hog Index (5th)
Worst Quality Stat in 2010: Scoreability (31st)
All Quality Stats
Defensive Passing YPA: 20th
Quarterback Rating: 25th
Defensive Quarterback Rating: 16th
Defensive Passer Rating: 18th
Relativity Index: 19th
Statistical curiosity of 2010
Call it the Sun Life Curse. In the first year of their new stadium naming contract, the Dolphins had the worst home record in the NFL at 1-7, even worse than the 2-14 Carolina Panthers. But on the road, the Dolphins went 6-2, making them the first team in NFL history to win five more road games than home games in a single season.
Best game of 2010
33-17 win at Oakland (Week 12). A week after being shut out by the Bears at home (see below), the Dolphins received two pieces of good news: they were going on the road and they were getting quarterback Chad Henne back. Henne had been benched, then injured, but he returned against the Raiders and threw for 307 yards and a pair of touchdowns as the Dolphins enjoyed their most prolific day of offense all season, scoring a season-high 33 points and racking up 471 yards.
Worst game of 2010
16-0 loss vs. Chicago (Week 11). The week before Oakland, the Dolphins turned to Tyler Thigpen to run the offense, with both Henne and Chad Pennington sidelined with injuries. The results against the stout Bears defense was sadly predictable, as the Dolphins managed just 187 yards of offense, including just 39 on the ground.
Defensive line. The Dolphins really didn't do anything well in 2010, ranking in the bottom half of the league in 12 of 13 quality stats. But the one area they shined was along the defensive line, posting the fifth-best ranking in Defensive Hog Index in the league. The Dolphins held opponents under 100 yards rushing in eight games, including five in a row from weeks 12-16. In their first 14 games, the Dolphins allowed more than 21 points just four times, and one of those was the Patriots special teams festival in Week 4.
Quarterback. The Dolphins offense struggled all season, in large part because Chad Henne was not the sleeper quarterback than many thought he might be entering 2010. Instead, it was the offense that went to sleep, ranking in the bottom third of our Quality Stats in the passing game. Unlike 2009, the two-headed running attack of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams could not cover for Henne's shortcomings and the Wildcat was neutered.
General off-season strategy/overview
Improve the offense. The needs are many on the offensive side of the ball, but it all starts at quarterback, and the Dolphins will be hoping one of the top draft candidates falls to them at No. 15, or perhaps they will try to move up and grab one. The Dolphins could also use some fresh blood at running back, where Brown and Williams' effectiveness appears on the wane, and the offensive line could use re-tooling as well.
Totally premature 2011 diagnosis
Given all their needs on the offense, and the fact they play in the top-heavy AFC East, it is hard to imagine the Dolphins improving much on their 7-9 record. With a third-place finish about the best they can expect, and the rest of the conference loaded with talent, another season on the outside looking in appears likely.