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BREAKDOWN: Numbers don't lie for 2009 Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins have fallen, dethroned as AFC East champs, banished from another postseason thanks in part to a season-ending three-game slide.
This offseason is dedicated to getting the franchise back to the playoffs. The best way to do that is by addressing the shortcomings that surfaced in 2009 and finding ways to fill the voids.
"I wasn't kidding myself... I knew we won eleven games [in 2008] and I knew we had a ways to go," coach Tony Sparano said. "Then we got into [the season] and I felt we obviously had our goals. I believed wholeheartedly we had a good enough team to win the division, and we didn't. We are in a situation right now where we need to get some things fixed."
But what needs fixing most? In this statistical breakdown the Sun Sentinel examines the numbers, analyzing where positive progress was made this season, identifying where the team held steady and calling out the unit that stunk up the field.
The Dolphins invested nearly $155 million in its offensive line, and the unit paid off, plowing open running lanes for Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams, despite numerous serious injuries that prompted a guard rotation.
Key stats: The offense finished fourth in the NFL with 2,231 rushing yards, averaged 4.4 yard per carry and was tied for the NFL lead with 22 rushing touchdowns. The Dolphins averaged 139.4 rushing yards this season despite a drop off at the end caused by Brown's season-ending foot injury. During the final five games, team averaged 102.8 rushing yards.
Compared to 2008: The Dolphins finished 2008 with 1,897 rushing yards, averaging 4.2 yards per carry, and scored 18 rushing touchdowns. That's good enough for 118.6 yards per game, which made Miami the NFL's 11th best rushing attack.
In perspective: The Dolphins might have done more and won more if Brown wasn't lost to injury -- allowing the Wildcat to thrive -- and if Williams didn't physically wear down from shouldering the full workload in the final seven games. The run-game improvements prove this regime can achieve its goals when it's a high priority – and owner Steve Ross opens up his wallet.
Runner up: The Dolphins were among the league leaders in both converting third downs (49 percent success rate) and preventing opponents from converting them (34.8 percent).
The Dolphins want to have one of the NFL's most physical teams on both sides of the ball. Early in the year, the defensive front was doing its part, ranked in the top five of the league in stopping the run. But once nose tackle Jason Ferguson suffered his season-ending quadriceps injury in mid-November, the defensive line started spouting leaks.
Key stats: Opponents rushed for 1,835 yards and scored 16 rushing touchdowns. The Dolphins allowed 114.7 rushing yards per game, which ranked 18th in the NFL. Ten of the teams that finished ahead of Miami are in the playoffs.
Compared to 2008: Coincidently, opponents averaged 4.2 yards per attempt in 2008 and 2009. But last year opponents gained 215 fewer rushing yards and only scored 11 rushing touchdowns, which was tied with Dallas for the eighth fewest that season.
In perspective: It's never ideal for two safeties to lead a defense in tackles, but it happened this season because Ferguson's replacement, Paul Soliai, couldn't occupy two blockers. The front line's struggles allowed interior linemen to reach the inside linebackers. Effective 3-4 defenses need a forceful nose tackle to clog things up. The Dolphins know they must fill that void in order to make headway defending the run.
Runner up: The Dolphins finished third in the NFL in sacks, producing 44 in 2009. In 2008, the defense generated 40 sacks.
The Dolphins were one of the NFL's worst teams at defending the pass, giving up the most big plays through the air. Opposing quarterbacks produced a 86.9 QB rating in 2009. Only 13 teams allowed a higher total, and only one (Minnesota) made the playoffs.
Key stats: The Dolphins were last in the league in average per passing attempt (8.2) and averaged a dismal 13.3 yards per completion. The defense was tied with Detroit for allowing the most passing plays of 40 or more yards (17).
Compared to 2008: Opposing quarterbacks had a 77.0 rating (good enough for ninth) last season, averaged 7.0 yards per attempt and threw for 18 touchdowns, which is five less than what was allowed in 2009.
In perspective: Rookie cornerbacks Vontae Davis and Sean Smith cut their teeth, starting most of the season, and held their own at times. But it's clear their development could be stunted if the Dolphins fail to provide adequate safety help. While all the blame can't be placed on Gibril Wilson, the high-priced 2009 free-agent addition who doesn't have the necessary ball skills to serve as a free safety, something must be done to correct the problems.
Runner up: In 2008, the Dolphins led the NFL with a plus-17 turnover ratio. This season Miami was negative-8. Only five teams were worse.
Omar Kelly can be reached at okelly@SunSentinel.com