Everyone is entitled to their opinion. Especially in the sports world, where there are a million of different opinions published everyday. None more polarizing than the opinions of the NFL. One minute we are pleased, only to be outraged and demanding someone be fired three plays later.
Ah, the NFL, where a 10-6 record and a team's first playoff birth still isn't enough to satisfy an entire fan base.
Yesterday, just a few days after the Miami Dolphins concluded their season, a season that saw them defy all odds afer a 1-4 start in Adam Gase's first year and still make the playoffs, they lost their defensive coordinator Vance Joseph to the Denver Broncos. And just like all sports and NFL opinions, the fan bases of both the Dolphins and the Broncos were polarized.
On one side stood those fans who saw a culture change on both sides of the ball in Miami, thanks to Adam Gase and his first year staff of coaches (and thanks to some coaches like Darren Rizzi and Lou Anarumo who have been with this staff for many years). Gase even commended Vance Joseph on his job this season, claiming that he never once had to worry about the defensive side of the ball thanks to Joseph's tremendous leadership, energy and competitiveness. Three essential qualities that make for a good head coach by the way.
On the other side, somewhere near the North Pole where it is well below freezing year round stood the other side of the Miami Dolphins' fan-base, and most of the Denver Broncos' fanbase. They were not happy to say the least. In Denver's defense, their fans did not want to see the departure of defensive masterming Wade Phillips.
However, it is the Miami fans that were happy, even revelating in Vance Joseph's absence that I would like to address.
Why are Miami fans being so hard on Joseph? The likely answer?
They are paying way too much attention to statistics rather than watching other incredibly (and to me, more important factors) like change in culture or effort.
Yes, the Dolphins statistically speaking were below average this year in almost every category (except third down defense, which is a HUGE stat). As of now, a few days before the Divisional Round of the playoffs, the Dolphins D ranks 29th in yards per game, and 30th in rushing yards allowed per game. Yes, those are awful stats.
But the blame should not be put on Vance Joseph.
Let's consider what Joseph had to work with. At the linebacker position, he had Spencer Paysinger, Jelani Jenkins at 50-75% the whole year, Kiko Alonso, who was inconsistent the entire season playing out of position a lot, Neville Hewitt, again who showed flashes but never was able to play at a consistently high level, and Koa Misi, who was injured the entire season. Mike Hull played well coming off the bench, but his floor was not good enough to deem him an able starter. This was the unit that struggled the most, and is the reason for the terrible stats.
Why is Joseph to blame for inheriting a roster primarily (outside of Kiko) based in the last regime? Why is he to blame for the front office ignoring the LB position (again otside of Kiko) in FA and in the draft last season?
Which brings me to my point. Whether you are trapped in you statistical bubble or not, the Dolphins defense actually improved in arguably the most important category of them all.
They adopted and stuck to the bend but don't break philosophy. Flashback to the last time Aaron Rodgers and company came to Miami. Late in the 4th, then HC Joe Philbin called a very weak series that could have led to Miami running out the clock. Instead, he punted and game Aaron Rodgers the ball with a little more than two minuted to score to win. What happened?
The Dolphins defense crumbled as expected and Rodgers marched down the field and threw a TD to his tight end Richard Rodgers to win the game.
This season, for the first time in the last decade or so, the Miami Dolphins defense made stops when they needed them the most. Want examples? Look at the San Diego Chargers game. Rivers and company look all but ready to break Miami's hearts on the final drive of the game. What happened? Kiko Alonso pick six to ice the game.
What about the Bills game in Buffalo? After being absolutely trounced all game, the Miami defense comes up with two clutch stops in a row in overtime (after the offense failed to score to win on their first possession), and Ndamukong Suh has what may be the biggest defensive play all year and tips a ball at the line, forcing the Bills to punt. The next play, Ajayi scampers for 50 plus yards and the Dolphins basically win the game.
These clutch plays be swallowed under the statistics. Vance Joseph may not deserve to be a head coach yet, but he certainly does not warrant a celebration from those Dolphins fans who are happy he is gone.
The culture change on defense, whether you pay attention to those clutch plays the defense made this game or not, is largely in part thanks to Vance Joseph.
I wish him nothing but success, and while we may have had rough times on defense this season, I will miss him next season.
Until the Denver game next year, good luck coach.
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