On Monday afternoon, the Miami Dolphins finally followed through with the writing on the wall and fired offensive coordinator Mike Sherman. Despite an emerging young quarterback and a few talented pass catchers, the Dolphins’ offense scored a combined seven points in the final two games with the playoffs on the line and finished the year ranked 27th in total yardage and 26th in points scored.
Sherman’s predictable play-calling and system were used as a scapegoat for the team’s shortcomings, and it appears as though the man who assembled the roster, Jeff Ireland, is safe and the man who oversaw everything Sherman did, head coach Joe Philbin, is safe as well. But should there be another fall guy?
The Dolphins underachieved offensively, but many could argue they did the same on the other side of the ball. Miami finished 21st in total defense for the second consecutive year after finishing in the top half of the league during the two seasons before defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle was hired.
With Coyle’s hiring in 2012 came a switch to the 4-3 defensive scheme after the Dolphins previously employed a 3-4 system — which their personnel still seems to be a better fit for. In a 3-4, Miami could have three of its best defensive players on the field at the same time as Paul Soliai, Randy Starks and Jared Odrick would comprise the defensive line.
Dion Jordan, the third-overall pick of last April’s draft, is also ideally an outside linebacker, where he could rush the passer and show off his athleticism in coverage more often. And in 2011 — the last season the Dolphins ran the 3-4 — the defense finished third in the NFL in run defense as opposed to 13th and 24th over the past two years in the 4-3.
For these reasons, many Dolphins fans would obviously love to see owner Stephen Ross part ways with Coyle in exchange for a coordinator who would make the switch back to three down linemen and four linebackers as the team’s base defense.
But this isn’t the only complaint against Coyle. His seeming refusal to play Dion Jordan at times was beyond frustrating to many Dolphins faithful. Despite displaying some explosive pass rushing traits, Jordan only saw the field for 339 defensive snaps in 2013. Meanwhile, fellow rookie pass rushers Ezekiel Ansah and Barkevious Mingo, who were also drafted in the top 10 albeit after Jordan, played 581 and 668 defensive snaps, respectively.
Despite these issues, Coyle wasn’t dealt the best hand by GM Jeff Ireland from a personnel standpoint. The Dolphins have one of the league’s most talented defensive lines and led by shutdown coverage from Brent Grimes, their pass defense improved. But in the middle was perhaps the league’s worst linebacker corps.
Ireland’s decision to replace Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett with Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler held the unit back more than anything else. The two combined to miss 32 tackles and were frequently washed away by blockers while attempting to stuff the run. According to Pro Football Focus, Ellerbe finished 50th among 55 qualifying inside linebackers in overall efficiency and Wheeler finished dead last among 4-3 outside linebackers.
Ireland apologists blame the coaches for supposedly ordering the swap, but at the end of the day it was still Ireland who had the final say and Ireland who chose who to replace Dansby and Burnett with. And if that isn’t the case, the GM clearly isn’t doing his job.
Like Sherman, Coyle called plays for an underachieving unit 2013. Unlike Sherman, though, he wasn’t the biggest reason for said underachievement. If Philbin deserves one more season despite his shortcomings as head coach, then Coyle probably deserves the same.
Cody Strahm is a Miami Dolphins contributor for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.