The Past: An unfamiliar and familiar opponent all at the same time; the Green Bay Packers travel to sunny Miami to visit their old offensive coordinator Joe Philbin and former head coach and GM Mike Sherman. The Packers have only played the Dolphins a grand total of 13 times, which is quite surprising for two franchises that were founded 93 and 48 years ago but boy has it been ugly for the Packers. Overall, the Packers are 3-10 overall, with losing their last game in Miami in 2006 and their last game at Lambeau in 2010. Week 6 of the 2010 was probably the worst point of a magical season; the Packers played alright but in the ended losing by a field goal in overtime for the second week in a row. The Packers dropped to 3-3 and really looked like a team that wasn’t going to be able to get it done down the stretch. Of course, the Packers managed to get into a hot streak during the playoffs and the rest is history. Since then the Dolphins have largely been trending downward; the 2011 squad managed to get former head coach Tony Sparano fired after a 0-7 start and a 6-10 overall record, paving the way for the hiring of former Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin as the head coach. 2012 was again fairly disappointing ending in a 7-9 season but did start the Ryan Tannehill era, who was the starting quarterback at Texas A&M while Mike Sherman was the head coach for the Aggies. Finally the 2013 season was less about their record (8-8) and more about “bullygate” between tackle Jonathan Martin and guard Richie Incognito, which ended up marring the franchise, players and coaches all at once.
The Present: The Miami Dolphins currently sit at 2-2 and in 3rd place in the AFC East (surprisingly the Buffalo Bills currently lead the AFC East). Even more surprising is that the offensively minded coaches are currently fielding a better defense (ranked 8th in the league according to FootballOutsiders) and offense (ranked 19th in the league according to FootballOutsiders). On offense, the Dolphins have the ability to play effectively against a very schizophrenic Packers defense; the Dolphins best players are their offensive linemen (sans former Packer Daryn Colledge, but you knew that already) and running backs, which likely will lead to a very conservative and balanced offense. However Philbin is a Mike McCarthy disciple, and he knows he needs to get big name free agent Mike Wallace more involved so expect to see a lot of passing even if it isn’t all that effective. On defense, the Dolphins are best with their front 7 but do a little bit of everything well in the back half. The defensive star is Cameron Wake, who is currently the 2nd rated 4-3 defensive end according to ProFootballFocus. The Dolphins excel at stopping the run and will be another tough test for Eddie Lacy and the offensive line; luckily the Dolphins are only average when it comes to defending the pass, so it’s likely that the Packers try to bait the defense into to empty boxes before really trying to pound the ball. Overall, look for the game to be decided with the Packers offense and the Dolphins defense.
The Future: Head coach Joe Philbin’s seat is getting warmer after 3 seasons of average or worse records and will always be marred by the “bullygate” scandal. The offense, which is Philbin’s speciality, has never ranked higher than 18th in DVOA and many people still wonder if Ryan Tannehill is a franchise quarterback and if the offense will ever have a passing game as potent as the Packers (The Dolphins have never ranked higher than 20th in passing DVOA either). While some of the blame, including most of “bullygate” lies firmly in Philbin’s hands, the rest of the organization hasn’t been a pillar of excellence either. While it’s not the Cleveland Browns or the Oakland Raiders, the Dolphins do seem to operate a little dysfunctionally with no real firm philosophy; perhaps the most obvious example is the infatuation with the wildcat offense, which sparked the 2008 Dolphins season, but lead to numerous questionable draft decisions, most notably 2nd round pick Pat White, who was supposed to be the wildcat quarterback of the future but ended up throwing 21 passes in his entire career. Perhaps this starts at the top as owner Stephen Ross seems to be more interested in the glamor of the NFL than actually being successful; it seems every year the Dolphins try to make a headlines in free agency and a couple years back Ross sold portions of the team to “famous people” like Marc Anthony, Gloria Estefan and the Venus sisters to make them minority owners.
In terms of salary cap, the Dolphins aren’t sitting pretty with the 9th least salary cap space in 2014 and over $6.7 million dollars in dead money, most of which is tied to releasing Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett. The biggest reason behind this is the yearly questionable free agent signing that the Dolphins ownership and front office seem to require; last year Mike Wallace was brought in with a 5-year, $60 million contract that currently puts him as the highest cap charge on the team with $17.25 million counting this year. Last year it was Dannell Ellerbe, who managed to get hot at the right time (basically the Raven’s Super Bowl run) and turned a key backup role to a $35 million contract and would have counted $7.4 million if he weren’t currently on injured reserve. Perhaps the only high value player that actually makes any sense on this roster is Cameron Wake, who is making a modest $7.2 million this year despite being one of the best defensive ends in the league. The 2015 salary cap is also filled with land mines, with $141 million already accounted for (keep in mind the salary cap will be around $131 million, so the Dolphins will have to clean house one way or another) with Branden Albert and Brent Grimes both with salary cap numbers over $10 million. One bright side is that the Dolphins don’t have many big name free agents they have to take care of, but this might be a back handed compliment since the Dolphins don’t really have that much homegrown talent to start out with. The biggest name will likely be Ryan Tannehill in 2016, but whether or not he will command a huge contract is less clear.
As mentioned before, the Dolphins aren’t exactly a draft-focused team and as a result, the picks this year have been rather weak. Offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James was a surprise 1st round pick but has played well at right tackle, mostly as a run blocker. 2nd round pick Jarvis Landry has largely been forgettable with 12 receptions and 111 yards, but does contribute to the return game as well. Outside of that, no other drafted player has gotten more than 10 snaps. Interestingly, most of the Dolphins draftees are on the roster (wide receiver Matt Hazel is on the practice squad and tight end Arthur Lynch was sent to IR during the preseason), which either mean the roster wasn’t all that good to start out with or they had one of their better drafts to date. Again with the Dolphins reliance on free agents, their success rate in drafting isn’t as important as it is for a team like the Packers but again this puts a lot of stress on the salary cap as they constantly need to pay more players since they don’t have many waiting in the wings.——————
Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.