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Can anemic Dolphins offense be saved?

Miami Dolphins quarterback Jay Cutler is brought down by Los Angeles Chargers defensive end Chris McCain during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017, in Carson, Calif. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)
AP Photo/Denis Poroy

After not playing in Week 1 because of the natural disaster in their hometown, the Miami Dolphins got a win in Los Angeles against the Chargers the following week. Since then, Miami lost two in a row, having been outscored to the New York Jets and New Orleans Saints by a combined score of 40-6, and then narrowly defeated the Tennessee Titans in Miami, 16-10.

Tennessee was led by Matt Cassel in a game that was just difficult to watch. Low scoring games do not necessarily mean it is bad football, but in this contest, it was a case of two very poor offenses struggling back and forth, before Miami finally prevailed.

Miami has only played four games while most of the league has played five. However, this team has scored just 41 points in those four contests. The next-lowest scoring team in the league, Cleveland, has put up 77 points in their five games. That is terrible company to keep.

Can this anemic offense be saved? Adam Gase is an excellent and proven offensive mind who has shown that he can get the most out of his players. He did a very nice job with quarterback Ryan Tannehill last season and the Dolphins rode running back Jay Ajayi into the playoffs.

It also should be noted that Miami faced a crazy travel schedule to open the season. Not only are the Dolphins without their bye to take a step back and try to right this ship over a two-week period going forward, but they have been all over two continents, from Los Angeles to England to New York to finally back home in Miami last Sunday. That can’t be overlooked and is very difficult on a franchise.

Tannehill was lost for the year before the regular season even kicked off and has been replaced by Jay Cutler, who Gase got quite a bit out of when they were together in Chicago. Cutler is an easy target to blame for all of this offensive ineptitude. Quarterbacks are always an easy target for criticism, and Cutler takes that up a few levels with his perceived lackadaisical approach.

Has Cutler played well this year? Certainly not. But he also isn’t the biggest problem with this side of the ball for the Dolphins, either. He also has not been the reckless with the football, contrary to popular belief. But Cutler also has not made the “wow” throws that we have seen from him in the past. Still, if Miami continues down this path, it should at least be considered to make a change to Matt Moore, one of the NFL’s most proven backup quarterbacks.

As for Ajayi, he has run well, but there is little room, and he certainly isn’t taking anyone by surprise anymore. Every defense Miami faces gears up to stop Ajayi and his Marshawn Lynch-like running style. Ajayi is a volume back who needs a lot of touches to effectively wear on a defense, but he isn’t even averaging three-and-a-half yards per attempt thus far. No other runner has more than six carries for the Dolphins in 2017.

PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 08: Miami Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi (23) runs with the ball during the NFL Football Wild Card Playoff game between the Miami Dolphins and the Pittsburgh Steelers on January 8, 2017, at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, PA. (Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire)

You would think that Miami’s receiver situation would be one of strength. Jarvis Landry has quietly played very well. He is getting close to 11 targets per game on average and a lot of work in crucial down-and-distance situations. That is who Landry is, which is a great compliment.

Many envisioned a breakout year for DeVante Parker and for Julius Thomas to emerge once again under Gase as he did when they were together in Denver. Miami also has a lot invested in Kenny Stills, a true deep threat. While none of these guys has been spectacular, overall, Cutler’s receivers are not the problem for the Dolphins offense.

Parker is the team’s leading receiver in terms of yardage, even though he caught just one ball for six yards against San Diego before quickly leaving the game with an ankle injury. If his injury doesn’t get in the way, Parker still has breakout potential this season.

The field stretcher, Stills, hasn’t been able to properly do his job because the Dolphins’ protection has been problematic. Cutler also hasn’t shown very good accuracy downfield. Miami’s offensive line issues have also affected Thomas’ production in a negative manner, as he has been called on to block quite a bit on passing plays. To say the least, that is not Thomas’ forte and is a bad recipe for his skill set. Miami also hasn’t featured him enough in the red zone, which is in stark contrast from when Thomas and Gase were together in Denver.

Despite having a tough time in protection last season, the Dolphins, usually an aggressive team in free agency, did little to help their front five in the offseason. Laremy Tunsil moved from guard to his natural left tackle position, but that left huge question marks at both guard spots.  And we know that Mike Pouncey is hard to count on at center because of durability concerns. Pouncey also has not yet played up to his usual level this season. It was a shock that Miami did little to reinforce the interior of their offensive line, and they are paying for it now.

The interior problems have been especially worrisome, because Ajayi is such a potent inside runner. Miami is a very zone-heavy run scheme and Ajayi fits that extremely well. But the blocking is rarely getting a push inside, and the guards are not athletic enough to thrive on the move with their outside zone game. Ajayi also needs a little momentum to be at his best, and this line is allowing far too much penetration, forcing Ajayi to stop his feet.

No quarterback likes being under pressure, but Cutler has been particularly ineffective this season when under duress and when blitzed. Miami has also done a poor job with blitz pickup, which compounds matters. The Dolphins should expect a lot of blitzing going forward.

Pouncey isn’t playing great. The guard pairing of Anthony Steen and Jermon Bushrod is amongst the worst in the league. The talented duo of Ja’Wuan James and Tunsil are not playing up to their substantial ability.

Cutler isn’t helping matters, but the biggest problem in Miami right now is the offensive line. Can it improve? Possibly, but the talent at guard is sub-par and maybe you have heard: there are some issues right now with the man who was in charge of this unit up until now. Maybe that coaching change will pay dividends on and off the field for Miami.

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