Interim Was Accurate
Like the Titans, the Dolphins fired a disappointing coach during the 2015 season. Unlike the Titans, the Dolphins did not keep their 2015 interim coach to (hopefully) turn around the team's fortunes. Miami has missed the playoffs since 2008. For 2016 and a to be determined number of seasons, Adam Gase will get a chance to get the Dolphins back in the proper current.
Gase was a hot coaching prospect in 2015. He did not get an offer to his liking between 2014 and 2015, so he spent last season in a familiar role in Chicago; being John Fox's offensive coordinator. Apparently, one season with Jay Cutler was enough to make Miami look like an attractive offer. He will now be the one with the task of getting the enigma known as Ryan Tannehill to become a franchise QB instead of a season to season question mark.
Defensively, this squad is likely what cost Joe Philbin his job. The Dolphins spent a lot of money to bring in Ndomukong Suh to anchor their 4-3 defense and he under-performed the contract (granted, he would have to be playing at defensive player of the year levels to play to the contract). Their linebacker unit was also pretty bad last season, but the secondary did play well overall. The Dolphins also never really recovered from the loss of 3 O-linemen in the wake of the Richie Incognito scandal of 2013. How much this has affected Tannehill, by not having trustworthy pass protection or running game, is certainly a valid question. Gase and his staff went to work right away...
The Dolphins were once again active in free agency, both acquiring big name players and losing some long time players. The biggest lost was without question Olivier Vernon. To replace him, the Dolphins lured Mario Williams south from frigid Buffalo (and an out of position OLB slot) to warmer Miami to play a pure hand in the dirt DE. Andre Branch was also added to the D-line. One of the more interesting transactions was the trade with Philadelphia to acquire Kiko Alonzo. The ‘phins did not give up too much for him, and if he can stay on the field, he brings a decent combination of speed and toughness to a unit that has lacked both in recent years.
The Dolphins also essentially traded RB's with Houston. Lamar Miller, viewed as an inconsistent disappointment, was permitted to walk to Houston. Later in free agency, the Dolphins acquired Adrian Foster in the hopes that he had enough left in the tank (and could stay healthy enough) to contribute in the ground game. The Dolphins also lost Rishard Matthews to the Titans via free agency.
Miami had an interesting draft. Taking advantage of Laramy Tunsil's fall from his expected draft status, they selected him and his gas mask 13th overall. Assuming he can pass the NFL's drug tests for the next few years, he could be a valuable asset on the o-line for another decade or longer. The remainder of the draft seemed more geared toward getting players to provide depth for strong areas (2nd round CB Xavien Howard and 3rd round RB Kenyan Drake) or as development players (WR's Leonte Caroo and Jakeem Grant).
The schedule was not kind to the AFC East this season. The Dolphins do get games against the Titans and Chargers, but then the remaining games are against the other AFC East teams, the AFC North, and NFC West. (In fact, the Dolphins will fly back out to the west coast the week after they visit the Bolts to play against the Rams. The frequent flyer mileage should be sweet!)
Gase has some nice weapons and a line that is starting to come together to support Tannehill. Branden Albert is old but has been a steady LT for years. If Mike Pouncey can successfully recover from his hip surgery from last season, he is an excellent center. Tunsil will probably compete for the Left Guard position, Billy Turner and Ju'Wan James on the right side to block for the offense.
How things will look in the backfield is anyone's guess. Ajayi seemed to show enough year to justify being "the guy". The addition of Foster and drafting of Drake suggests that Gase and offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen might not be convinced or at least have some plans for a committee. The WR and TE corps, together with the lack of a true FB, indicates that the Dolphins will be playing a lot of 11 formations to get their best skill players on the field at the same time.
Having Da'Vante Parker, Jarvis Landry, Kenny Still, Jordon Cameron, and Jay Ajayi all eligible and on the field at the same time could certainly stress a defense, but also suggests some potential red-zone issues. And then there is Tannehill. Word from Miami was that Tannehill was unhappy with the limitations and controls set on him by Philbon. Gase has indicated a desire to make the offense more Tannehill friendly (such as allowing him more latitude in scrambling and throwing on the run). What that will look like and if it means a QB that effectively and consistently uses his athletic gifts to win football games remains to be seen.
Defensively, the Dolphins will retain their 4-3 and otherwise hope that Williams and Suh will play better than they did last season. How well Cameron Wake returns from a torn Achilles at 34 years of age, if Kiko Alonzo can be effective given his recent (and frequent) injury history, and if Dion Jordan, lost for all of 2015 from suspension, can produce are all huge question marks for the defense. The play of Jelani Jenkins and Koa Misi is also barely above replacement level. The linebacking unit looks to be the weak link in the defense if the line can play to its potential and the secondary maintains its solid performance.
By this time of the season, we should know if Miami is an improved team over last year's 6-10 squad. From the outside looking in, a two game improvement would be over achieving from a roster with too little depth and too many crossed fingers for good health. This looks like another 6-10 or perhaps 7-9 squad.
Outlook Against The Chargers
The Bolts actually match up pretty well against this team. Unless all of the Dolphins questions are positively answered on defense, the Bolts should be able to protect PR and exploit the shallow middle with Gates, Henry, and Woodhead. Running between the tackles may be a problem, but attacking the edges with Gordon and Oliver may force the secondary to start thinking about run support enough to set up play action and deeper passes.
On offense, the starting trio of Parker, Stills, and Landry can certainly pressure any secondary, but the Bolts back-end can hang in with any receiver corps. Landry especially can be dangerous, lining up outside and in the slot; even last year, Miami used him creatively, and he produced at a high level. Expect the Dolphins to be a left handed running team and a finesse running team at that. The key to this game will be making Tannehill uncomfortable and confused. If the rush and coverage schemes can do that, this should be one of the easier games on the schedule.
Prediction: Bolts win 27-14. The match-ups for this game favor that Bolts in many areas of the field and the team should be eager to go into the bye week on a high note. At home, they should be able to do that.