After finishing a 7-9 season with a face-slapping thumping at the hands of their AFC East rival New England Patriots, there wasn't a lot to smile about during Monday’s exit meetings for Miami Dolphins players and rookie coach Joe Philbin.
"Seven and nine is not good enough," Philbin said. "You put a lot of sacrifices and you come to work starting July 27, the goal is to compete for championships. There should be nobody in our team meeting room who's satisfied with where we're at, so we've got a lot of work to do."
While packing day was mostly about Philbin holding individual exit meetings with every player and asking for one suggestion from each on how to improve the team next season, he did ascribe this year's main reason for failure on the Dolphins' inability to create turnovers.
Miami had 16 turnovers, including 10 interceptions, for the fourth fewest in the NFL. They had just six fumble recoveries, the sixth fewest. Conversely, the Dolphins committed 26 turnovers, including 13 interceptions by rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill for a minus-10 differential (24th in the league).
Including Sunday's minus-2 turnover differential, the Dolphins were 2-10 this season when losing or tying the turnover battle, while the 12-4 Patriots led the NFL with a plus-25.
"The most glaring thing is the turnover margin," Philbin said. "[Minus-10] is not good enough. The first component of the program is playing sound football and the No. 1 criteria for winning games in the NFL is holding onto the ball and taking the ball away.
"I'm not a huge numbers guy but I certainly believe in that strongly. That's part of the program that needs to be addressed ASAP."
Cornerback Nolan Carroll said the defense's failure to force turnovers was just the, "bounce of the ball."
Cornerback Sean Smith, who had just two interceptions this season, pointed to Sunday's correct reversal of what originally was ruled a Chris Clemons' fumble recovery touchdown run as a microscosm of their turnover shortcomings.
"At one point we were causing so many fumbles, but we came out on the short end of the stick," Smith said. "A lineman would get it or the quarterback or running back. We've got to keep working at it and those things will come the way we're pressuring the quarterback. The ball just seemed to bounce left instead of right."
Philbin said improved ball-hawking tackling technique and better instincts by the cornerbacks could generate more takeaways.
While Philbin wouldn't disparage any individuals, particularly a receiving corps that didn't have any wideouts with more than one touchdown catch, he did attribute the Dolphins' lack of explosive plays on offense and the ones given up on defense as another ingredient for four defeats by five points or less.
"At the top of the list is explosive plays on both sides of the ball," he said. "We’ve got to create more and eliminate them from our opponent's play. Those things jump right out."
The Dolphins had 22 pass plays of 25 yards or more, while allowing the opposition 24. Jettisoned receiver Brandon Marshall had a Pro Bowl season with Chicago, hauling in 118 catches, including 11 for touchdowns or two less than Miami's total number of touchdown receptions.
Philbin singled out Miami's recent 24-10 victory over the Bills as the type of role-model performance he'd like to see on a regular basis.
"Probably the [30-9 win over the] Jets or Buffalo game where we had a 24-3 lead with no penalties and a plus-3 turnover margin entering the fourth quarter as to the kind of how you’d like it to be," Philbin said.
He admitted that scoring an average of 18 points a game is also unacceptable. That was the sixth fewest points in the league with every team below the Dolphins also finishing out of the playoffs.
"We've got to a better job of putting points on the board. This game isn't very complicated," he said.
Philbin said after taking some time away from each other, he will evaluate his coaching staff and himself before getting together with general manager Jeff Ireland to collaborate on free agency and draft plans to help build the program.
"We have an excellent group of men in that locker room," Philbin said. "It's a high-character group. Football is very important to those guys. Now we have our systems in place, offense, defense, special teams. Obviously, we’ve got a lot of work to do. We need to take a thorough evaluation of the entire program. When these guys come back in the offseason, hit the thing running and take it from there."