by Matt Wells
The Indianapolis Colts. The Cincinnati Bengals. The Pittsburgh Steelers. These were just some of the teams picked to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl this year. All three picks make sense; every one of those teams went to the playoffs last year, with the Steelers winning it all.
Another team added in the mix of Super Bowl contenders prior to this season were the Miami Dolphins. This was the trendy pick. Many people chose the Dolphins to go all the way and Daunte Culpepper’s name was thrown out there as a potential MVP candidate. The pieces were in place: Culpepper was the new QB, Ronnie Brown was still carrying the load out of the backfield, and Chris Chambers was still the top receiver on the team. Zach Thomas and Jason Taylor still anchor the defense.So, where are the Dolphins through the first four weeks of the season? 4-0? Nope. Instead of looking at the top of the standings, you have to look at the bottom of the AFC East. The Dolphins are dead last through the first 4 weeks this year. That’s right…the Jets, predicted to play poorly all season, are 2-2. They almost squeaked out a win over mighty Indianapolis. Yet, the Dolphins are on the bottom looking up.
Super Bowl contenders? Think again. The fault is being placed squarely on Daunte Culpepper. Should it be, though?
Many expected the Dolphins to lose in Week 1. After all, they were playing the defending champion Steelers. The Dolphins defense got outplayed by Charlie Batch, NOT Ben Rothelisberger. As was expected, the Dolphins dropped the game 28-17.
The big news after Week 1 was not the Dolphins losing. It was the poor play of Culpepper. He finished 18-37 with 2 interceptions. One of those interceptions was returned for a touchdown by Pittsburgh’s Joey Porter. Culpepper was also sacked 3 times. This was just the beginning.
In Week 2, the Dolphins played their home opener against a very beatable team in the Buffalo Bills. The potent Miami offense with names such as Culpepper, Brown, and Chambers scored…6 points. 6 points against the Buffalo Bills?! Granted, Buffalo’s defense has been better this year, but still…6 points with Culpepper at the help?
Culpepper was better in this game. He finished 23-32 for 250 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception. Again, better stats compared to Week 1. However, Culpepper was sacked 5 times on the first 15 snaps of the game. He was sacked 6 times overall. The hometown fans began to boo the Dolphins prized offseason acquisition. It took less than one game for them to do so.
So, was Culpepper really to blame for the poor game? No, but you have to take your frustration out on someone. It was the offensive line’s fault that Culpepper was hassled by Buffalo’s defense. It wasn’t Culpepper’s fault that the Bills special teams unit blocked a punt. Yet, it was Culpepper who got the boos. Couldn’t he scramble around more? Couldn’t he make something out of nothing? Apparently not.
The Tennessee Titans are currently 0-4 and they are getting outplayed in every game they have played so far. Yet, in Week 3, Culpepper’s Dolphins put up just 13 points against a pretty poor defense. Culpepper was sacked 5 times and threw 0 touchdowns. Once again he was booed, only this time, the Dolphins won. Barely. The “speedy” Culpepper ran 7 times for 5 yards. Not exactly Michael Vick-type ground stats.
Finally, yesterday (Week 4), the Dolphins traveled to Houston and lost…to the previously winless Texans. Talk about embarrassing. That high-octane offense of the Dolphins scored 15 measly points against a weak Houston defense. My hat goes off to Daunte Culpepper, though. He threw for 249 yards and a touchdown. Yet, he was sacked 5 times…again.
Is it time to throw in the towel for the Miami Dolphins? You bet it is. And there are plenty of reasons to do so:
–“Daunte’s Inferno”: It may be early in the season, but you’ve read it before: Daunte Culpepper is not the same QB he was in Minnesota. Culpepper is less mobile; he was once almost on the same page as Michael Vick or Donovan McNabb when it came to QB speed. Now, Culpepper, it would seem, is as mobile as Drew Bledsoe or Kerry Collins. Culpepper takes longer to get out of the pocket. This means that defenders can chase him down, which leads to either sacks or gains of 1-3 yards. Back in the day, Culpepper could turn a near sack into a 25-yard run. Not anymore.
–The Offensive Line: Daunte Culpepper has been sacked 19 times in 4 games. Yes, Culpepper is less mobile than he once was. But, Culpepper also doesn’t have nearly as much time to throw the ball as he would like. This means that the Dolphins offense has little chance to move the football down the field. That leads to long field goal attempts and/or punts. No wonder the Dolphins have scored 51 points in 4 games (12+ per game).
–Touchdown to Field Goal Ratio: This could be the most crucial stat. Through five games the Dolphins have kicked 6 field goals, while scoring just 5 touchdowns. Having more field goals than touchdowns is never a good ratio. Compare this touchdown to field goal ratio of 5:6 to that of the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts have 14 touchdowns and 8 field goals in 4 weeks. Generally, touchdown to field goal ratio that is greater than 1 is desired. The Dolphins ratio is equivalent to .833333. Not good.
–Jason Taylor/Zach Thomas: These two defenders are on of the best 1-2 combos on any defense in the league. In 4 weeks, the tandem has joined forces for 36 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble, and 1 fumble recovery. Those numbers seem decent until you compare them with the numbers of individual players around the league. 4 different players have 5 sacks each (Taylor/Thomas: 3). Tennessee’s Chris Hope has 41 tackles (Taylor/Thomas: 36). And you know many players have more than 1 interception, more than 1 forced fumble, and more than 1 fumble recovery. It seems as if the Taylor/Thomas combo isn’t performing as well as they once did. Maybe offensive lines are getting stronger…
Ladies and gentlemen, the Dolphins will not rebound to make the playoffs this year. I hate to disappoint any Miami Dolphin fans. However, I have to do one thing. I have to quote ESPN’s Woody Paige: “YOU GOTTA LOOK AT THE SCHEDULE, GUYS!!”:
-The Dolphins intra-conference games (outside of their own division) are against the AFC South. They barely beat the Tennessee Titans. They lost to the Houston Texans. Who’s left? The Indianapolis Colts and the Jacksonville Jaguars, two teams who are sure to make the playoffs this year. The get Jacksonville at home. They get Indianapolis on the road. Ouch.
-The Dolphins play in the AFC East, which is more competitive than people thought it would be. Tom Brady and the Patriots are still the class of the division and they should easily win the title. But, hold on a minute. The Buffalo Bills are
2-2. Their defense seems to be playing at a higher level than previously thought. The New York Jets are 2-2. Their offense is playing at a higher level than previously thought. The Dolphins still have 5 games left against the AFC East. That could be a difficult task if the Bills and Jets keep up their tough play.
-The remainder of the games are brutal. They play at Chicago against that killer Bears team. They host the Vikings, who have been playing well. The will get the Kansas City Chiefs at home when Trent Green will be back at the helm. They also play the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions, perhaps the only two easy games left on their schedule. Rough.
Oddsmakers had the Dolphins going to the Super Bowl. Instead, they may end up with a top 10 pick in next year’s draft. What a bummer.