Learning from the past: A look at the 2016 Miami Dolphins Wild Card season.

The Miami Dolphins last made the postseason in 2016 under ex-head coach Adam Gase and current GM Chris Grier.  While Dolphin fans do not miss Gase by any means, there are many things we can learn from a 10-6 season that gave the Dolphins their first playoff appearance since 2008.

Background

After the Dolphins began the 2015 season with a 1-3 record, head coach Joe Philbin was fired and replaced by interim head coach Dan Campbell.  Campbell, current head coach of the Detroit Lions, led the Dolphins to a 6-10 record by producing 5 wins and 7 losses to close out the season.  The Dolphins then hired alleged offensive guru Adam Gase in the offseason to take over as head coach.  Many expected Adam Gase to be a quarterback whisperer, and the man to finally turn Ryan Tannehill into a top NFL quarterback.

The Dolphins came into 2016 with first year head coach Adam Gase and QB Ryan Tannehill manning the offense.

2016 Season Summary

Adam Gase’s first season as head coach with the Dolphins did not start easy.  The Dolphins began the season with a 1-4 record, losing to the Seahawks, Patriots, Bengals, and Titans, while posting only one win against the struggling Browns.  In the following weeks, a fire was lit under the Dolphins as they went on a 6-game tear, winning games against the Steelers, Bills, Jets, Chargers, Rams, and 49ers.  This brought their record to 7-4 and put them back in the thick of a playoff hunt.  The streak was disrupted in week 13 with a brutal 38-6 loss at M&T Bank against the Ravens but was followed by 3 straight wins against the Cardinals, Jets, and Bills.  The Dolphins then closed out the season with a loss against the Patriots to finish 10-6.

The Dolphins suffered early in close games, including this 71 yard drop by wide receiver Kenny Stills in week 1 against the Seahawks.

Key Notes

After the first 4 games, Ryan Tannehill finally began to have the season many Dolphins fans had been praying for.  Before suffering a season ending injury in week 13, Tannehill was having tremendous success in the offense.  During the team’s 6 game win streak he did not turn the ball over a single time.  While the stats won’t show it, Tannehill was vital in leading the Dolphins to their first playoff berth in 8 seasons.

The run game was actually a threat in 2016.  Running back Jay Ajayi broke out as an unexpected star for the Dolphins and finished 4th in the league in rushing yards despite not starting until week 6.  The “Jay-train” averaged nearly 5 yards per attempt and posted 200 rushing yards three times in wins against the Steelers and Bills twice.  Rookie Laremy Tunsil also emerged as a solid contributor in the run game during that year.  Another notable rookie who did not play much in 2016 was future starter Kenyan Drake, a successful draft choice by Chris Grier.

Jay Ajayi broke 200 rushing yards in 3 games in 2016.

Minimal injuries were a top key for a playoff run.  While the most notable loss before the playoffs was Tannehill, the Dolphins lost another key contributor during the regular season with 2015 pro-bowler Reshad Jones going down in week 6.  The Dolphins had been building a solid secondary with rookie Xavien Howard emerging as a top man-coverage corner, but he missed games from week 5 to week 14 with a knee injury.  Howard’s development and Jones’s talent would have been a huge factor for winning in the playoffs.

Injuries had a massive impact on the Dolphins in 2016.

Takeaways

GM Chris Grier had a solid draft in 2016.  While most aren’t on the Dolphins anymore, each of the early draft picks provided eventual value to the Dolphins.  Laremy Tunsil, Xavien Howard, and Kenyan Drake all went on to become great NFL starters.  Late-round pick Jakeem Grant also emerged as a capable returner, although we will soon see how his status on the Dolphins pans out.

Chris Grier drafted eventual 1st team All-Pro cornerback Xavien Howard in the 2016 draft.

Every team has injuries, but depth is the key to sustained success. 

GM Chris Grier has learned from the 2016 season and developed a roster built with the next-man-up mentality. 

This current roster is loaded with depth at every position, and this team will have confidence when back-ups inevitably need to step-up.  The secondary, linebacker, and wide receiver rooms are each stacked with players who won’t let this season end with injury plagues the same way it did in 2016. 

Jacoby Brissett is another solid offseason addition who could very well lead this team if Tua were to go down.

Winning close games is the name of the game in the NFL.  The best teams simply find a way to win without making excuses. 

The Dolphins started out 2016 with several very close games, but the key to their turnaround was finding a way to finish.  As we all know in the NFL, every game matters.  A lot of the Dolphins wins in 2016 were not pretty, but they did what they had to do when it mattered most. 

In 2021, the Dolphins will need to find creative ways to make big plays in the 4th quarter and put their best players in a position to impact the outcome. 

Even with a new regime, the hope the Dolphins can learn from the past in 2021 and make the jump to the playoffs once again. It will be up to Brian Flores and his players to make a push for the playoffs.

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