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  Time for Ross to Decide
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by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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Very little about this train wreck of a season went according to plan.

The talent level was overhyped.

The coaching wasn’t consistent.

And the biggest embarrassment in the team’s history went down, a national story that still hasn’t been closed.

In the aftermath of the disappointing season ending loss to the Jets, owner Stephen Ross vowed that “we’re going to look at everything”.

Really, what else could the man say?

Ross is wise to step back away from the emotions of the season and think clearly about what needs fixing. But with the advent of the new year, the time has now come for him to decide what to do.

Is flushing the entire front office and coaching staff down the toilet the answer for an 8-8 team? Does he stand pat with the current leadership team? Or, will some tweaks be in order?

Let’s begin here: winning football starts with winning match-ups. To do that, you need talented, quality people. An 8-8 record, 3rd place in the division, and an express ticket to the offseason tells us the Dolphins didn’t have enough of them.

And, in my opinion, that was the biggest issue with the 2013 Miami Dolphins. After more than $200 million in new contracts, with over $100 million in guaranteed money, and an unprecedented haul of high draft picks, the Dolphins STILL couldn’t win enough match-ups and, consequently, couldn’t realize more than a one game improvement.

On offense, the Dolphins got what they DIDN’T pay for: a ramshackle offensive line that couldn’t protect the quarterback (setting a new team record for sacks) and couldn’t generate a running game. This retarded the growth of QB Ryan Tannehill, who is supposed to be the team’s most important asset. It also proved ruinous to any offensive continuity the team hoped to generate. The Dolphins ranked among the worst in the NFL in Total Offense and Points per Game at the end of the regular season.

Remember this: nothing on offense, no matter the scheme, works well if you don’t have a good offensive line. And these Dolphins didn’t. It’s likely that 80% of this unit will have to be rebuilt in the offseason.

Defensively, a once stellar run deterrent was compromised by expensive personnel decisions at linebacker which simply didn’t pan out. They finished 24th in the NFL in total yards allowed, though a stout redzone group managed to keep the team in the top 10 in fewest points allowed. LB play remains a persistent inconsistency on this team several years running.

Even special teams regressed! Kicker Caleb Sturgis was not an upgrade over the departed Dan Carpenter, and return teams were statistically worse versus 2012 in just about every category. In 78 kick and punt returns, the Dolphins weren’t able to generate a single TD (versus two last season).

Forget the transaction level analysis. That’s a distraction. Reality is the sum of the moves because the NFL is a bottom line business. And ANY GM that has one winning season in six years with two different head coaches, and several offensive and defensive coordinators, is just not moving the franchise forward.

Add to it the off-the-field embarrassments, and the situation is really a lot worse. The Dez Bryant matter was appalling enough, something that wouldn’t be tolerated in ANY properly run business. But this season’s Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito situation cannot be forgiven. Yes, it would be unfair to lay all of the blame for that squarely on Jeff Ireland, but he was the one who brought both men, and their known baggage, into the organization: two time bombs ready to go off. When Philbin wanted to get rid of Incognito, Ireland refused. And Martin isn’t even a good player…another wasted second round pick.

It says here that no coach can be successful when the GM is constantly stuffing the roster with stiffs and troublemakers; a one step forward, one step back exercise.

Enough is enough. Jeff Ireland needs to go.

It’s time for Ross to hire a new GM, someone who will bring the right players, and enough of them, into the organization for a solid foundation of winning. Ross should also look closely at the coaching to make sure he has the right man for the job.

Head coach Joe Philbin has his strengths, the biggest being his steady, even-tempered nature. He doesn’t get too high on wins and doesn’t get too low on losses. When chaos struck, he kept the team on an even keel and got them into position for a playoff berth. This moved him into Coach of the Year discussions, and rightfully so…before the bottom fell out.

And yes, Philbin has his shortcomings. He seems to lack a feel for the pulse of his team, mainly because he didn’t have a reliable conduit into the vibe of his locker room. He foolishly allowed Incognito to serve as a team leader. He’s ridiculously stubborn at times. And he could have played more to the strengths of his personnel.

Many media and fans are wondering whether or not Joe Philbin is the right man for the job. It’s a fair conversation to have.

Just know that Don Shula isn’t wondering. He’ll tell you the Dolphins are in good hands.

“I like (Philbin) a lot,” Shula said this past Sunday. “He’s a heck of a guy. He comes from a great program (Green Bay) so he’s been with a winner. You can see the imprint on what’s happening here and the people he’s hiring and the way they’re playing. I think he’s the right man for the job.”

It goes without saying that no one, you and me included, knows coaching better than Shula, a man who is privileged to know a heck of a lot more than we do about the TRUE goings on in Davie. He’s forgotten more about football than we have learned. So if Shula says it, that’s good enough for me and should be good enough for you.

Again, that’s not to suggest Philbin and his staff have been perfect. No one is saying that.

Offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, often criticized for his playcalling, could be leaving, or retiring. The timing for him and Philbin is probably right. But let us not forget that Sherman served a valuable purpose in helping the club to properly identify Tannehill as the QB of the future, and in getting him started as a pro.

Let’s also not forget the inadequacies of the personnel Sherman was handed, especially on the offensive line and at running back, which essentially condemned the offense to being one-dimensional. It’s very hard to be consistently good under those circumstances.

Looking back on the season, the win over the Patriots was something of an illusion. While it reflected progress, the depleted Pats still finished a strong four games ahead of the Dolphins…a genuine blowout and an indication of the talent gap that remains.

That’s not what we were expecting in 2013. And so the owner will indeed “look at everything”, knowing that he still doesn’t have the right group of men at the top and in the locker room to lead the Dolphins to the promised land.

Will he clean house, or just clean out the GM’s office? We already know that one in four Dolphins on the roster today will not be with the 2014 team, the league norm.

As for Dolfans, it’s another long, cold, and empty winter sulking over broken dreams and looking forward to spring.

 
     
   
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