The Dolphins’ Historic Tank Job, As Explained by the Worst Plays

The Dolphins’ Historic Tank Job, As Explained by the Worst Plays

Every Miami Dolphins play this season has felt like a scene in a movie about a space catastrophe or nuclear accident. The ball is snapped, and before you know what’s happening, alarm bells are ringing: The linemen are out of position, or an opposing player is streaking unimpeded toward somewhere he’s not supposed to be—either…

Every Miami Dolphins play this season has felt like a scene in a movie about a space catastrophe or nuclear accident. The ball is snapped, and before you know what’s happening, alarm bells are ringing: The linemen are out of position, or an opposing player is streaking unimpeded toward somewhere he’s not supposed to be—either the end zone or the Miami quarterback. Some Dolphins player steps up to be the authority figure, grabbing a megaphone to stress that everything is under control and urge everyone to remain calm. But soon he is dead, killed by the obvious disaster that he just tried to pretend didn’t exist. The Miami football experience is like this on virtually every play. The spacecraft computer malfunctions on first down; the airlock won’t close properly on second down; an oxygen tank explodes on third down. Watching this unfold at home allows us to consider the structural causes of the catastrophe. For the players, though, there’s no time for deep critical thinking. The alarm bells are ringing, and they’re trying to survive. The Dolphins have allowed 1,498 yards through three weeks, the most in NFL history. They have scored one touchdown in three games; they have allowed 16. They have scored just 16 total points; no other team this season has fewer than 33. They have allowed 133 points; no other team has allowed more than 94. Miami’s point differential of minus-117 is the worst of all time through three weeks. The Jets, another football failure factory, have the second-worst differential at minus-37. Miami is three times worse. The Dolphins are on pace to score the fewest points of any team since the NFL moved to a 16-game regular season, breaking a record set in 1992. They are also on pace to allow the most points of any team in history, snapping a mark set in 1981. It seems unfathomable that one team could shatter decades-old records to become the worst at offense and the worst at defense. The Dolphins legitimately have a shot. Of course, this is partly intentional. Like so many marine mammals at aquariums around the world, the Dolphins are in the tank. Miami massively overperformed expectations last year by going 7-1 in one-score games and 0-8 in games decided by multiple scores. In spite of finishing 26th in total points and 27th in points allowed, it nearly made the playoffs. Some front offices might have considered this exciting and built around incumbent quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Miami thought that it was a bummer to be such a crappy team without getting any material reward for its crappiness. So the Dolphins stripped away everything of value: They made no effort to sign or draft a quality QB, let former Pro Bowlers Robert Quinn, Cameron Wake, and Frank Gore walk in free agency (and lost a fourth, Josh Sitton, to retirement), and made no noteworthy offseason signings. They changed coaches, bringing in longtime Patriots assistant Brian Flores, who had never previously worked as a coordinator. The
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