How else would you react to the Dolphins' special teams on Monday night? Players called it embarrassing, South Beach is in panic mode, and head coach Tony Sparano fired special-teams coach John Bonamego.
In their 41-14 loss to the Patriots at home in front of a national audience, the Dolphins gave up a kickoff-return TD, a field-goal block that was returned for a TD and a punt block. The punt block led to a Patriots TD three plays later, meaning special teams accounted for 21 Patriots points.
Take away those 21 points and Chad Henne's three interceptions (two in Patriots territory and one that was returned for a TD) and the Dolphins win the game. But breakdowns were contagious on Monday night, and problems snowballed in the second half. As a matter of fact, as Sparano reminded reporters on Tuesday, the Dolphins were down only 20-14 midway through the third quarter.
Simply put, the Dolphins' special-teams unit cost them the game. When asked after the game whether the special-teams breakdowns were because of coaching or execution, Sparano responded: "Next question."
With his firing of Bonamego, he likely knew at that moment that the issues stemmed from schemes, but the personnel decisions the Dolphins have made leading up to the 2010 season should not be ignored when taking special-teams play into account.
The PFW spin
Something had to happen after such a dismal performance. The Dolphins had to do something, but was firing Bonamego the answer? The Palm Beach Post calculated the number of roster additions for all 32 NFL teams since Sept. 5, and the Dolphins lead the league with 16 additions — most of those being bottom-of-the-roster guys looking to factor in on special teams.
When rosters were cut to 53 and the Dolphins made a conscious decision to go younger, their special-teams units suffered in two ways. First, young players who stepped up last year on special teams have earned starting roles, so the number of their snaps on special teams will decline. The second reason for the decline is that the Dolphins parted ways with many of their top special-teamers from a year ago.
Nate Jones, last year's leading tackler on special teams, is now with the Broncos. CB Jason Allen, who was second with 15 special-teams tackles in 2009, is now starting, along with LB Cameron Wake and FS Chris Clemons. Wake was in the game on punt returns on Monday night. Reggie Torbor, Charlie Anderson and Erik Walden are among players who made significant contributions on special teams last year and aren't on the roster this year. Walden has been on and off the roster this season but was responsible for the blocked punt against the Jets.
Sparano told reporters Tuesday that he wants his core players to play better on special teams. "If we need to put some starters out there right now, then we will."
The biggest concern, though, is that Sparano highlighted special teams as an area that needed improvement before the Patriots game. After having a punt blocked by the Jets and allowing Brad Smith to average over 37 yards per kick return, he had acknowledged that the unit needed fixing, but it regressed immensely on Monday night.