Tuesday, August 02, 2016

AFC EAST Position by Position Preview: Quarterbacks

    In this series of articles, I will compare the four AFC East teams at each position/group.  At the end of the series, I will publish each team's grades and predict the finishing records for each team.  We begin today with quarterback.

1.)  New England (Brady/Garopollo)  
    Although the Patriots will be without Brady for the first four games of the season as he serves, in my view, a long overdue suspension, this quarterback group is still the best in division.  There can be little to say here.  A superstar with four chips, even nearing the end of his career, is still the class of the division- however smug and irritating he might be.  Garoppolo, however, will likely struggle in his four starts. The Patriots will try to get by on the short passing game (though they will take a few deep shots early in games as a way of masking their insecurity in Garopollo's abilities.) Next year they will be forced to try to draft Brady's successor after previewing the limitations of their current clipboard holder and the horrors of life without Brady.  Still, 12 games with Brady makes this the top passing unit in division- for now.

2.)  Miami  (Tannehill/Moore) Tannehill has posted impressive statistics in every category except one.  His career completion percentage of 62% splits the difference between that of Andrew Luck (58) and Matt Ryan (64).  In the last three seasons, his average touchdowns (25) and interceptions (14), are also all positives in comparison to the above quarterbacks, with Ryan at 25/13 per year and Luck at 26/17 if you project his injury-shortened numbers over a full season last year.  The one category in which Tannehill lags: wins.  This is, of course, the most important single category any quarterback can be judged by, but it isn't a personal statistic in the way that W/L might be for a starting pitcher in baseball.  Consider the number of RT's passing attempts erased by sacks and rushes in the past three years, to say nothing of the number of dropped passes.  My point is that Tannehill is doing his part in what should be an 11 man unit and a 54 man team.  Better protection and surer hands might really make him shine, and they will certainly raise the win ratio, as would a more competitive defense. In short, Tannehill has the passing game in solid shape.  Add in that Matt Moore is a serviceable backup, and The Dolphins have the second ranked passers in the division.

3.)  Jets (Fitzpatrick/Smith) When Geno Smith's jaw fractured, anyone listening closely could hear the sound of a blind squirrel finding a nut.  The Jets were idiotically going to trot a perilously foolish, low performance player out as their leader.  Instead, in a lucky (sorry) "break", they got a leader of men with a beard and an Ivy League pedigree.  I will make no secret of my admiration for Fitzpatrick.  It is the affection inspired by one limited tool, big heart athlete looking at a better version of his own skill set.  Fitz efforts, every game, every down, and his teammates love him.  Think Jay Fiedler with a better education and the same average arm.  If Fitzpatrick's backup were anyone other than Interception Smurf, I would rate the Jets even with Miami at passer.  But the Jets are one hit away from starting a man who stays in bounds in two minute drills, makes Rex Ryan look genteel, and preens and struts as though he were Cam Newton.  Geno is closer to a fig newton's consistency than Cam's.  And I'm being gentle here.

4.)  Bills (Taylor/Manuel)  The Dolphins were so close to two inept opponents making the wrong choices and fielding quarterbacks who simply can't win through mental ineptitude.  Unfortunately, Buffalo and New Jersey both got off of losing players and into considerable upgrades.  Taylor is good.  He's smart, crafty, and a genuine leader.  Too bad he plays for a man who is only one of the above (Rex Ryan is a leader; he just lacks intellect and awareness.)  Taylor will be limited by his coach's leadership.  Mark Sanchez couldn't develop under Ryan.  There is little chance for Taylor, who is a far less gifted passer than Sanchez.  In still more bad news for the Bills, it is hard to hide limitations in a passing scheme against press defenses like the one the Dolphins now employ.  A final nail in the coffin: the Bills start a running quarterback with Manuel one hit away.  This is, without question, the weakest passing group in our division.  

I'll be back soon with receivers!

Jay Lopez

Dolphins So Far...

So I have been reading everyone's posts and kinda paying attention to camp and decided to make my first post of the year. This will give my opinion on almost everything Dolphins related.

Expectations. 9-7 with 3 of those losses coming by 1 score or less. That will make me ecstatic. If they do better then great! If they do worse, did anyone really expect more? I mean realistically. Rookie head coach, questions an RB, CB and LB? I know Adam Gase is supposed to be an offensive genius but I am choosing to keep my expectations down this year for good reason. 

RB's. If Arian Foster can stay healthy then we are in great shape! Ajayi is already out the first week of camp with a "minor knee injury" and it's not on the knee that has troubled him his whole life, it's the other one. Drake is a rookie and unproven and also has been injured more often than not in his football career. So, 3 backs, tons of potential, all have a ridiculous injury history and are a huge risk. I am not liking our odds.

The O-line. I honestly expect them to be better this year. Not because they magically have learned how to play football, they have known how to do that all along. I expect better things because I think Gase is smart enough to mask their weaknesses week to week with his game planning and play calling. That is what good coaches do and that is what I expect from the O-Line this year.

Defense. What can we all really say? It's the same story as last year mostly. D-line is supposed to be great, LBs have improved on paper and we still have issues at CB. Let me be clear though, I blame none of this of the current brain trust. In my opinion, they have done everything they could to improve the defense, like it or not. I am happy they didn't pay Oliver Vernon what he was asking, the money he got from the Giants was ridiculous. They addressed the issue at LB the best they could, it's a risk with Kiko Alonso but I like the move regardless. As for CB, they got Maxwell and drafted Xavien Howard. Nobody could have know he would be out all of camp. Look, Philbin got rid of Vontae Davis because of his maturity level, I get it. But at the end of the day Davis was a Pro Bowl talent, he should have been managed better by the last coaching staff. So there is one. How about Grimes? Who would have guessed his wife wouldn't be able to shut her mouth? Did we really have a choice when it came to him? I don't think so. It was apparent that she wasn't going to shut her mouth so we offered him a lower contract and he declined. End of story. Good luck Tampa! So there is 2 pro bowl caliber players that the current brain trust had no choice in their fates. Not their fault. Let's all just hope for the best.

QB's and receivers. As of this writing, none of the QB's have thrown an INT in 4 practices. Kenny Stills has been the best receiver in camp so far. Surprising being that we have Landry and Parker. They are in the right track and I am happy to see their progress. This offense all hinges on Tannehill's ability to audible into the best play. That is the unknown factor here. Time will tell on that subject.

This season is filled with potential and I hope the Dolphins over achieve but let's not all forget all the circumstances here. 

On a side note, I placed a bet in Vegas for the Phins to win the east, just for fun!

Monday, August 01, 2016

Gase has nothing but love for Joseph's Wide Nine Defense

I've said this before.  When you have thoroughbreds, you don't race them as trotters.  That image in a nutshell explains the difference between Kevin Coyle's and Vance Joseph's defense.  The Wide Nine Defense is an attacking defense.  Yes, it leaves the linebackers and safeties slightly vulnerable, but the  benefits of this style of defense far outweighs the risk.  Hell, this gives our linebackers and safeties an opportunity to shine.  The skill and depth of our defensive line is the envy of most coaches.  And, the attacking style will put a strain on the best of offenses.

I know everyone believed we would dominate on defense last year.  And, in preseason we did dominate, but as soon as Coyle decided to play genius and try to out-smart the other coaches instead of just dominate them, we got exposed.  With the depth and talent, we should be able to attack 40 minutes a game.  Let's just hope we never have to defend that long.

One major benefit to the offensive line, is that there may only be 2 or 3 teams in the league with as dominant a defensive front.  So, they will practice against the best, and learn to operate fast and play tough each play.  The benefit to the offense in general is that it will give them an opportunity to work on and master hot reads.  I can honestly say I have never been so excited.  I sincerely believe we will be one of the scariest teams to face for every opponent.

I am pumped.  I love the owner, great job on the new and improved stadium (rehab), as well as the off-season hires.  I love the head coach and his offensive philosophy.  He is the real deal.  I love the new defensive coordinator and all the line coaches.  What an upgrade.  I am confident we have the front office to keep getting better and better talent.  And, lastly I love the team's upbeat attitude..  it shows in every interview.  These guys love coming to work now.  It will be a great year!

Jay Ajayi Unlikely to Start for Dolphins

    This is the season when writers like to overreact to a thin slice of data, whether it's impressive speed that makes players look unstoppable before the pads go on (Jakeem Grant) or an inspiring one-handed catch that turns heads in the first week (Arian Foster).  But my contention that Ajayi is unlikely to start for this year's squad is nothing to do with early camp heroics.

    It is based on history.  In three years as the Denver OC, Adam Gase has leaned on experience in the backfield.  In 2012, Willis McGahee (31 at the time) started over Knowshon Moreno (then 25).  In 2013, Gase looked to Moreno at age 26 over the much heralded Montee Ball.  The following year, despite evidence Ball wasn't yet much of a player, Gase still looked to the 24 year-old over two younger alternatives. It wasn't until after the bye in week 4 that he moved on to his less proven alternatives.

    All of this suggests that Arian Foster is more likely to hold the reins in the coming season, at least early on, than is Ajayi.  This is not to fault Ajayi, who I believe will grow into an excellent pro.  It is only to temper the expectations (especially fantasy induced expectations) that this is Ajayi's job to lose.  It might be worth bearing in mind that Ajayi was a fifth round flier for a now departed coaching staff.  There is a promising running back on the roster (Kenyan Drake) that this group of coaches selected themselves in the third round.

    The smart guess is that Gase will run a committee by drive, rotating backs and letting a hot player see the field for more reps.  I love this approach, though it drives fantasy owners crazy.  As a football player, what more can you want than a meritocracy?  The three backs will likely distribute carries somewhere around 40%/30%/20%, with the last 10% going to Tannehill, a far more fleet quarterback than Gase has lately had.  In the end, I'm not sure if Ajayi will get that 30% workload or the 20%, but I'm betting the experienced Foster will get the 40% share.

    So long as these Dolphins find balance and score on the ground, I don't think any of us should care too much who gets it done.  Still, it pays to have reasonable expectations of Ajayi going in, and to let someone else overpay on fantasy draft day.

Jay Lopez