The New Look Dolphins

I have been considering more and more the ramifications of Ricky Williams leaving the Dolphins. While this will clearly have an impact I do not believe that this will be nearly as disastrous as the media has made it out to be. This situation will have its greatest impact immediately on the front end of this season. While this situation certainly is not good, there are upsides when looking at it from the Dolphins' viewpoint.

First of all, Miami has relied far too heavily on Ricky Williams over the past couple of seasons making stopping them relatively easy. Ricky Williams got 392 carries coupled with 50 receptions for a total of 442 touches out of the 968 offensive plays that the Dolphins ran last season. That was over 45% of the plays.

Now there are two ways to slice this. The first says that Williams was the Dolphins entire offense, which in a sense he was, and then act accordingly. The other says to move on and finally get a more balanced offense. I have often believed that Miami has neglected the development and utility of their passing game ever since Williams was acquired. This would be fine if their Williams led O was getting the job done, but clearly it was not. In both seasons during Williams' tenure, the Dolphins have failed to make the playoffs.

They are very similar offensively to teams such as Baltimore, Kansas City, San Diego. Yet, Williams did not nearly perform to the levels of Lewis, Holmes, or Tomlinson even though his name comes up often when referring to that class of RB. It can also reasonably be argued that the Dolphins had even greater talent in their passing game than any of those teams had.

Certainly none of those teams possessed marquee quarterbacks or anything much beyond even average quarterbacks for that matter with the greatest of the bunch being Trent Green, the former Redskin castoff. All three of those running backs made a more significant impact for their offenses. Tomlinson has had no support from the rest of his offense.

The defense in Miami has also been very good at worst and near the top otherwise in many facets of the game. So the defense not contributing their share was certainly no excuse for not winning games.

I stated in my recent "The Ricky Williams Dividend" piece that I was not sold on the fact that this revelation would render the Dolphins that much less competitive over time. First that entails determining exactly how competitive they were with him "doing it all."

As I see it, their problems over the past few seasons were similar to those of the Bills. They too were a team that was incapable of beating the better teams in the league and when it mattered the most. I stated in my last piece that they presently do not have what it takes to win an AFC Championship and advance past that if even that far. I will continue to believe that.

But let's look at Ricky's impact. First of all, I am not entirely impressed by a running back who has a career 4.0 yards-per-carry average with two seasons at 3.5, two at 4.0, and only one above 4.0 in 2002 with quite the phenomenal season then but only once in five seasons. A 4.0 yards-per-carry average is not good by running back standards.

Last season there were 26 running backs in the NFL who carried the ball in the triple digits that averaged 4.1 yards-per-carry or better ranging up to 5.5 yards-per-carry. Of the 13 running backs that carried the ball a minimum of 300 times, all but three averaged greater than 4.0 yards-per-carry. Those three were Ricky Williams, Curtis Martin, and Eddie George. Martin and George each have an excuse. Martin was 30 in his 9th season, George was 30 in his 8th. Williams was at the front end of his prime in his 5th season.

Of those 13, eight averaged 4.4 yards-per-carry or better. Twenty-four RBs in the league averaged 4.2 yards-per-carry or better. Seventeen RBs in the league averaged 4.4 yards-per-carry or better. Not all of them by a long shot had better talent around them or better lines than Williams had.

As I look at the other four seasons in Williams' dossier, I remain less than heartily impressed. I see very average numbers for a player so highly touted. The offensive lines that Ricky had while in New Orleans and Miami were not so poor that it should have held him to only 3.5 yards-per-carry in two seasons and to 4.0 in two others if he is as good as the media has suggested. Over the past two seasons in New Orleans, Deuce McAllister has averaged 4.5 yards-per-carry and easily outperformed Ricky in his stint there.

Williams finished first in the league last season in carries but 12th in yards-per-game. Also, when compared to the Lewis', the Holmes', and the Tomlinson's, etc., it is painfully evident that Williams' averages were more than nominally below theirs on the whole. Yet, those RBs had no more to detract opponents from focusing on their rushing games than Williams did with the exception of Green.

Last season Williams had 1,372 yards but on almost 400 carries averaging 3.5 yards-per-carry. But in games vs. playoff teams the Dolphins were 2-5 and Williams did not have nearly the impact that we are believed such a runner would have. He had only two rushing touchdowns in those seven matchups, the first vs. the Eagles, a team with the 22nd ranked rushing defense. The other game in which he scored was versus the Colts with the 20th ranked rushing defense.

In five games versus the Patriots twice, the Titans, the Ravens, and Dallas, he averaged barely over three yards per carry and had no touchdowns. Sure, he had plenty of carries in some of those games and therefore plenty of yards. But what this did to the Dolphins was render them essentially one-dimensional. Teams knew that the key to stopping the Dolphins was to stop Ricky. As a Bills fan I know this all too well. But if you did it, then you would assure yourself that if you scored even a reasonable amount of points that the game was yours.

Versus New England, Indianapolis, Tennessee, Baltimore, and New England again the Dolphins put up 13, 17, 7, 9, and 0 points respectively winning only the Raven game 9-6 sheerly on the merits of defense. The only decent defense that the Dolphins manage to put up more than a below average number of points against was Dallas' defense and as any NFL fan realizes, Dallas had no offense to speak of to balance out their defense. They did not have a single offensive standout player.

The Dolphins put up 40 in that game with three passing TDs from Fiedler who added another rushing TD himself. To put things in a perspective, Troy Hambrick, not exactly among the NFL's elite RBs, also averaged 3.5 yards-per-carry on 275 carries and had 5 TDs, numbers and averages not all that much different than Williams and certainly on a team much worse offensively. With another 100 carries Hambrick would have just about matched Williams' contributions.

Now, am I suggesting that Williams is only as good as his averages? No. In fact, I would even suggest that if he had been around this season, his numbers would have improved, possibly very significantly due to the advancement of the Dolphin passing game largely via the acquisition of David Boston who seems a wee bit more matured as he enters a season which could very well be a turning point in his career in the NFL one way or the other. But this is no given and I would also caveat that notion with the idea that Williams only would have improved if the Dolphins truly would have attempted to balance out their approach more by focusing more on their passing game thereby taking the pressure off of Williams almost entirely.

What I am suggesting however is that perhaps this will force the Dolphins to refocus their game, particularly on offense, and begin to take measures to make it a much more balanced offense and quit relying so much on a single player for their offensive success which clearly fell short in games vs. the types of teams that one needs to beat in order to achieve the ultimate success in pro football.

Losing a running back such as Ricky Williams will always have an impact, particularly so close to the start of the season leaving the Dolphins high and dry with their proverbial pants down around their ankles. Not is all lost quite yet however. With some creativity in the offensive scheming the Dolphins should not have too much difficulty altering their offense to be far more balanced than it ever was with Williams carrying the offensive load.

The first question is whether or not they will do this. The second is whether or not, if they do, can it possibly be done prior to the start of the season or can it somehow be transitioned for them during the first few weeks in order to be competitive. This is not exactly what head coach Dave Wannstedt, who is already in a precarious situation, needs. This may very well be a very good measure of the head coach's abilities in this regard however. On the flip side, success may restore confidences in his coaching.

The Dolphins have several things going for them as well. First, if they can resolve their quarterback issues their offense could easily resemble Minnesota's offense although to a lesser extent. Travis Minor is a very quick cutback rusher with a seeming inability, not much unlike Travis Henry, to break the long one yet a running back who will average in the mid to high fours in yards-per-carry in a balanced offense.

Minor was drafted five picks behind Kevan Barlow with Rudi Johnson being the next back chosen. Minor is very similar to Michael Bennett in several ways including size. Minor has equal if not better hands which makes him a threat out of the backfield. Minor is not a likely candidate to carry the ball 30+ times as Williams did often. Then again, few running backs are. This can have its benefits to the Dolphins however.

Whether they can alter their offense and re-tailor it so quickly remains to be seen and is seemingly unlikely to make an impact for this season. However, looking at last season's performance, it is also unlikely that the Dolphins cannot beat the teams that they are supposed to beat while losing to most of the playoff teams with Minor, Morris, and whomever else in there as well.

Sammy Morris is somewhat like Moe Williams on Minnesota. Any sane person would grab Williams over Morris in a NY second, but they are similar in style and size. With a renewed lease on life in the NFL Morris may surprise as well. Miami has no Randy Moss, but it does have a newly motivated David Boston, an emerging Chris Chambers, and one of the leagues better receiving TEs in Randy McMichael who went oft unused last season. That receiving trio is more than adequate to say the least and arguably better than Minnesota's trio of 2 WRs and their TE Moss included. Throw in Minor, a very good receiving back, and there is potential.

I believe that this situation, while not desirable, has the potential to make Miami's offense better and more balanced than it was. If Miami uses their running backs in rotation much as Minnesota does utilizing Morris as the goal line back much as the Vikes use Williams as the goal line back, then Minor's contributions on the field will go that much further. Minor has very good cutback ability, quickness and agility, excellent balance, and plays well through the line playing low. I have been surprised that in the past they have not worked him in more in an effort to extend Williams' career a little bit.

I have a hunch that Minor has the potential this season to carry the ball 250 times and be a 1,200 yard 8 touchdown back with significant contributions, four to five hundred yards, in the receiving department as well. If that happens, then opponents will be wishing that Williams had stayed.

Where the Dolphins have perhaps inadvertently stepped into a fortunate situation is in the signing of A.J. Feeley this offseason. Feeley has sat on the Eagles bench observing a system in which the top three rushers combined did not have as many carries as Ricky Williams did last season and nowhere near the wide receiving talent now on the Dolphins. Two seasons ago the wide receiving situation in Philadelphia was not much different with Duce Staley being the featured running back yet carrying the ball a modest 269 times for 1,029 yards on 3.8 per carry with five rushing TDs adding 51 grabs for 541 yards and 3 receiving TDs.

It is not difficult to imagine Minor in such a role. He is perfect for it. The Dolphins would be an entirely different team than they were under Ricky. But taking a quick peak at their scoring production vs. the top teams last season, an average of about 16 points-per-game including a 40-point performance vs. Dallas, only about 12 points-per-game otherwise, this may be a blessing in disguise for them.

I certainly hope I am wrong because the Bills play the Dolphins twice. However, I also fail to see how this cannot help the Dolphins in the long run if it jars them out of their "let Ricky do it all" mode on the offensive side of the ball. As well, as stated in my "Dividend" piece, the Bills ability to beat the Dolphins will hinge almost entirely on the ability of the Bills to put up some points. The issue has not been stopping Miami's offense by any stretch. In fact, in 2002 Williams rushed for over 400 yards in both games and the Bills emerged 2-0 in those contests. The seven and three that they put up versus the Dolphins last season would not win any games.

Also, one has to question how long Ricky was for this league taking the pounding that he took inside, game in and game out. Running backs carrying the ball as often as Williams did generally wear out much, much quicker than others do. It is a good question to ponder as to how much longer Williams would have lasted as a decent RB in such a role. Just ask Eddie George how his past few seasons have been at the age of 31 in September and how he felt at 28 after five seasons of relentless pounding as his production went into the can thereafter. I have a hunch Williams was not far behind with his single superlative season and best days quite possibly behind him too having also been subjected to a similar career in Miami as George was in Tennessee.

The Dolphins face the same difficult schedule that the Bills do this season with one major exception. That exception is that they do not have nearly the front-end gauntlet that the Bills need to run. This will give them time to allow whatever offense they convert to settle somewhat. How much this helps them remains to be seen. I also do not believe the Dolphins to be well enough coached to ever do more than make the playoffs and make some first round noise in a wild card game if the game is a home game.

Look for the Dolphins to be approximately 8-8 this season. If they can find their way quickly on offense they may be much better than many revised estimates will have them. It is almost impossible for a team with a defense as good as Miami's to be much worse than 8-8 in spite of the fact that it is an aging defense. An offense would have to be abysmally pathetic in order to do that. Just ask me. I know, I'm a Bills fan!


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