Sometimes failure clouds our view, and perspective can be lost.
The Miami Dolphins' 2014 season certainly was a disappointment considering the team had more talent than its 8-8 record, but there are a few positives that can be taken from last year.
And plenty of lessons that can be learned from the team's struggles.
The Good shouldn't be ignored
Ryan Tannehill blossomed in his three season as an NFL starter, becoming a tier two quarterback. He completed 66.4 percent of his passes (6th in the NFL among starters), throwing for 4,045 yards with 27 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He produced a 92.8 passer rating (14th best in the NFL), and has clearly shown enough to prove he deserves his fifth-year option in May, which will guarantee him $15 million for the 2016 season.
Lamar Miller contributed 1,374 all-purpose yards, scored nine touchdowns and averaged 5.1 yards per carry in his second season as an NFL starter. The former University of Miami standout worked hard this offseason to prove he can be a featured tailbacks and he accomplished his goal, becoming one of 13 tailbacks to rush for more than 1,000 yards this season.
Youngsters like Miller, Ja'Wuan James, Jarvis Landry, Jelani Jenkins, Dion Sims and Derrick Shelby blossomed throughout the season, proving that this coaching staff can develop talent if given enough time. Miller became the first Dolphins tailback to rush for 1,000 yards since Reggie Bush did it in 2011. James, the Dolphins' 2014 first-round pick, held down the offensive line at both right and left tackle, proving he's got a bright future if he can stay healthy. Landry led the team with 84 receptions in his rookie season. Jenkins led the team with 110 tackles and contributed 3.5 sacks and forced two fumbles in the 15 games he played. Sims and Shelby established themselves as quality backups who proved they could become capable starters if the opportunity presented itself.
Reshad Jones' play returned to elite status, and he's working to become a better leader. He contributed 80 tackles, three interceptions, one sack and forced one fumble in the 12 games he played in a suspension shortened season. There were doubts Jones was worth the four-year, $29 contracted he signed last season, but he used this year to establishing himself as one of the building blocks of the Dolphins defense, which must be rebuilt.
The Dolphins had a franchise record six blocked kicks in 2014, which often swung the moment in games, if not won them outright like the Minnesota victory, which was sealed by Terrence Fede blocking a punt for a safety. Miami's special teams unit struggled early (cough, cough Buffalo) but eventually got their act together, especially once Don Jones and R.J. Stanford returned and provided Miami solid gunner play. This season's special teams struggles, and success are a reminder that the third phase of the game can often decide the outcome.
The Bad requires reflection
For a second straight season the Dolphins squandered its opportunity to get to the playoffs, and produce the franchise's first winning record since 2008. Joe Philbin delivered yet another 8-8 season, and brings his three season record to 23-25. The Dolphins lost three critical fourth-quarter games where the team had a late lead. Miami fizzled at the end of the season, getting dominated in critical AFC matchups with the Ravens and Patriots, and Philbin's team has a 1-5 record against teams that made it to the postseason.
The Dolphins featured a top five defense in the season's first 10 games and then the unit struggled stopping the run, suffered a few injuries, and eventually bottomed out. The defensive line struggle without a nose tackle, and the linebackers didn't make enough plays to stop Miami's final six opponents from producing 992 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns. Only eight teams were worse at defending the run than the Dolphins. And only three teams – Falcons, Saints and the Jets - were worse at third down defense than Miami's 2014 defense. The middle of the defense – nose tackle, inside linebacker, free safety – needs to be improved moving forward.
The Dolphins put a lot of resources into fortifying the offense line last offseason, signing Branden Albert, Shelly Smith, Daryn Colledge, Samson Satele and Jason Fox, and drafting James and Billy Turner. Unfortunately the unit remained an issue in 2014, especially once Albert suffered his season-ending knee injury in the first week of November. Mike Pouncey's move to right guard didn't allow him to shine, and Dallas Thomas struggled in many of his nine starts. This means Miami clearly needs to put more resources into improving the offensive line, which allowed 46 sacks, but did pave the way for the NFL's second best yards per carry (5.1) average.
The Dolphins offense made strides in its first season utilizing the QB read option Bill Lazor borrowed from the Eagles. But Miami struggled in three critical areas that suffocated the team in many of its losses. The Dolphins had more trips to the red zone than any other NFL team, but only turned 51.5 percent of those opportunities into touchdowns. As a result the Dolphins finished 11th in scoring this season, but could have done much more. And when the offense wasn't stalling in the red zone it short-circuited on third downs. Miami's offense converted just 40 percent of third downs, which ranked the unit 17th in the NFL this season.