Miami at a Glance
Friday, October 22, 2004

By Nick Wagoner
Staff Writer

After a tumultuous offseason in which its best player suddenly retired, Miami has clearly been reeling from the effects.

The Dolphins are off to a 0-6 start, worst in the league and appear poised to live the dream of the undefeated 1972 team in reverse, only this would be much more of a nightmare than a dream.

Miami has struggled to create any kind of offensive cohesiveness in spite of solid defensive performances. It seems there is a new player starting at running back every week and the quarterback tandem in place has struggled to make any big plays.

The offseason gave many fans in Miami hope that there could be improvements, but then running back Ricky Williams retired to go on tour with Lenny Kravitz and offseason acquisition David Boston went out for the season with an injury. The defense continues to be a mainstay, but without much offensive production, the Dolphins will continue to struggle and coach Dave Wannstedt’s seat will only get hotter.

COACHING: Wannstedt is in his fifth season as Miami’s coach, making him the second-longest tenured coach in Dolphins’ history behind the legendary Don Shula. He is 3-3 in his career against the Rams and 0-1 against St. Louis with the Dolphins.

Wannstedt’s teams have always played hard, but without the talent in place, it has been hard for Miami to generate any kind of momentum. Wannstedt could be in his final season with the Dolphins, barring a dramatic turnaround that would probably involve Miami somehow winning out. Wannstedt isn’t really to blame for the awful start this season, after all, it wasn’t his fault that Williams bailed on his teammates, Boston got hurt and the team made some poor decisions in the trade and free agency market.

OFFENSE: This is clearly Miami’s biggest problem area. It isn’t just struggling to run the ball in Williams’ place or throw it without Boston, but the offense in general. The Dolphins are putting up just 243 yards per game and has scored just four touchdowns.

Jay Fiedler starts at quarterback, but has fought off A.J. Feeley most of the season. Fiedler has an anemic passer rating of 51.1 with two touchdowns and six interceptions. Feeley wasn’t much better with a 57.2 rating, two touchdowns and five interceptions. That combination simply isn’t getting the job done and it will be difficult to improve with a depleted receiving corps and inexperienced offensive line.

The running game has been the only area of the offense worse than the pass. The Dolphins have put up only 69.5 yards per game on the ground using a rotating door at running back. So far this season, former Ram Lamar Gordon, Travis Minor, Brock Forsey, Leonard Henry and Sammy Morris have gotten the bulk of the carries at various times. Henry leads the team in rushing with 136 yards, but he has averaged just 3.6 yards per carry. Miami has yet to score a touchdown on the ground.

At receiver, there are some capable playmakers, but none of them matter much without a quarterback to get them the ball. Marty Booker, who was acquired in a trade with the Bears, is a solid possession receiver who is also capable of the big play. Chris Chambers has been one of the AFC’s better targets in recent years, but has only had 22 catches for 179 yards this season. Perhaps the best target for Miami is its biggest. Tight end Randy McMichael leads the Dolphins with 31 catches and 370 yards to go with a touchdown. His size and speed have made McMichael one of the league’s best receiving threats at tight end.

The offensive line has seen its share of new names and that has contributed to many of the offensive problems. Rookie Vernon Carey starts at right tackle and is joined on that side by guard Taylor Whitley. In the middle is center Seth McKinney and the left side is manned by tackle Damion McIntosh and guard Jeno James. This group has allowed 20 sacks, a number that could expand with pass rusher supreme Leonard Little leading the Rams’ pass rush.

DEFENSE: This unit has kept games close for the Dolphins all season. Allowing no more than 24 points in a game all season, the defense has single-handedly given Miami the opportunity to win some games late. It has to be difficult for any defense to continue to play at a high level when the offense struggles so much, but there has been no apparent letdown for this unit.

The Dolphins defense is led by one of the league’s best secondaries. Miami has the best pass defense in the league, allowing 122.7 yards per game through the air and snaring four interceptions in the process. Cornerbacks Patrick Surtain and Sam Madison form one of the league’s best cornerback tandems, anchoring not just the secondary, but also the defense as a whole. At safety, Miami deploys Antuan Edwards and Sammy Knight. Knight has had some big games against the Rams, dating to his time with the Saints. Surtain has a pair of interceptions this season to lead the team.

The Dolphins have a solid linebacker corps to match the strong secondary. Middle linebacker Zach Thomas is one of the game’s fiercest and hardest working players, consistently finishing near the top of the tackles list. Junior Seau is a likely future Hall of Famer and Morlon Greenwood is a solid complement on the other side.

Up front, Miami boasts one of the game’s best defensive lines. Right end Jason Taylor is one of the league’s best at his position, ranking second in the past four years with 54.5 sacks. His counterpart on the left side is David Bowens. In the middle, the Dolphins employ a trio of strong run stuffers in Tim Bowens, Bryan Robinson and former Ram Jeff Zgonina. All told, the defense is allowing 257.8 yards per game. If it wasn’t for the fact that the offense is putting up about 14 yards less per game, Miami’s record might be much better.