AFC East preview: Dolphins hope defensive reset ends trend of late-season slumps


Staff member

Throughout the Miami Dolphins’ offices this offseason, the number “24” was prominent for coach Mike McDaniel. It had meaning, purpose and importance.

“I had every staff meeting at like 7:24 or 3:24 or 5:24,” McDaniel told reporters. “To (the media), it means nothing. That’s how many years it’s been since the organization has won a playoff game. … You do that to empower guys to know what’s coming and to understand it, not run from it. If you’re going to achieve success (when) people are predicting failure, you’re going to have to go above and beyond.”

McDaniel’s first two Dolphins teams have gone above and beyond … until the calendar flipped to December.

Combined record in September, October and November: 16-6.
Combined record in December and January (including playoffs): 4-10.

Compare that with the Buffalo Bills, who are 14-9 in September through November and 12-2 in December and January.
The Dolphins’ current playoff win drought, dating to the 2000 season, is the longest in the NFL. They have five first-round losses in their last five appearances.
“It’s important to understand narratives aren’t a bad thing,” McDaniel said. “What can we learn from all of this and how do we adjust what we do now?”

Former Bills safety Jordan Poyer was signed by Miami during the Dolphins' overhaul of their defense this offseason. Harry Scull Jr., Buffalo News

This offseason was certainly a period of adjustment for the Dolphins, who could have as many as five new defensive starters in addition to a third coordinator (Anthony Weaver) in as many years. The newcomers include safety Jordan Poyer, who was released by the Bills in March.

There is nothing wrong with Miami’s offense – it led the NFL in yards per game (401.3) and was second in scoring (29.2 points per game). Now, the Dolphins need to find continuity on defense.

Offseason buzz: The Dolphins extended receiver Jaylen Waddle this spring, leaving quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s contractual status as a major storyline/potential major distraction entering camp.

Tagovailoa expressed frustration – although not in many words – about the pace of negotiations. His camp likely looks Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence’s new contract averaging $55 million as the goal.

After playing a full season in 2024 and throwing a career-best 29 touchdowns and league-leading 4,624 yards, it is unlikely Tagovailoa will hit free agency, so it is just a matter of whether the Dolphins sign him long term or franchise tag him for 2025.

Who’s new? A lot of players on defense. The Dolphins’ defense improved from 18th to 10th in yards allowed and 27th to 15th in passing yards allowed last year, but coordinator Vic Fangio departed for Philadelphia, and McDaniel hired Weaver from Baltimore’s coaching staff. Lacking salary cap space to make a big addition, the Dolphins worked the margins to add players on defense, including Poyer, linebacker Jordyn Brooks from Seattle and pass rusher Shaq Barrett from Tampa Bay.

On offense, the Dolphins signed receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who was last with the Ravens. Beckham, who turns 32 in November, hasn’t made a Pro Bowl or caught double-digit touchdowns since 2016 or reached 1,000 yards since 2019. The Dolphins’ passing game will go through Tyreek Hill and Waddle, but Beckham could find good matchups playing in three-receiver personnel.

Also new: C Aaron Brewer (Tennessee), DE Calais Campbell (Atlanta), TE Jody Fortson (Kansas City/South Park High School), CB Kendall Fuller (Washington), DT Benito Jones (Detroit), S Siran Neal (Bills), OLB Chop Robinson (draft, first round), TE Jonnu Smith (Atlanta), DT Teair Tart (Houston) and LB Anthony Walker (Cleveland).

Who’s gone? NT Raekwon Davis (Indianapolis), CB DeShon Elliott (Pittsburgh), CB Xavien Howard (free agent), G Robert Hunt (Carolina), S Brandon Jones (Denver), LB Andrew Van Ginkel (Minnesota), DT Christian Wilkins (Las Vegas) and WR Cedrick Wilson (New Orleans).

Key number: 8. The Dolphins led the NFL last year with eight rushes of at least 40 yards, three more than the next-closest team (Arizona).

Miami Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel has led his team to the playoffs in each of his first two seasons, but lost first-round games at Buffalo and Kansas City. ASSOCIATED PRESS

What’s next? A playoff win as a wild card team. Miami is still trailing the Bills in the division, so it will have to go on the road in the playoffs. An important storyline early in the season is the return of outside linebackers Jaelan Phillips and Bradley Chubb from injury. Phillips tore his Achilles in Week 12 of last season and Chubb his ACL in Week 17. If they’re healthy, the Dolphins have a formidable pass rush of Phillips, Chubb, Robinson and Barrett to throw at quarterbacks such as the Bills’ Josh Allen and New York Jets’ Aaron Rodgers.
Chubb tore ACL week 17? No way he’s a factor this season. Bills get frapped on for losing all the D players they did… Dolphins D is basically rebuilt.

Nothing Wrong with Miami’s offense? 4-10 in Dec. says different. Timing timing timing . If disrupted the fish flounder.
Chubb tore ACL week 17? No way he’s a factor this season. Bills get frapped on for losing all the D players they did… Dolphins D is basically rebuilt.

Nothing Wrong with Miami’s offense? 4-10 in Dec. says different. Timing timing timing . If disrupted the fish flounder.
Sounds like the Florida players fall apart in the cold
The recipe has been written. TBubbs isn’t one to improvise and extend plays. If option 1 is timing disrupted… success rate plummets.