Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 7/18/12
In 2007, the Miami Dolphins went 1-15 and were the laughingstock of the NFL. Rookie head coach Cam Cameron was fired and the team underwent an overhaul through most of the roster.

In 2008, they went 11-5 and won the AFC East (albeit with some help from Bernard Pollard).

In 2011, the Indianapolis Colts went 2-14 and were the laughingstock of the NFL. head coach Jim Caldwell was fired and the team changed personnel at some key positions.

Will 2012 share the same fate for them as 2008 did for the Dolphins?

There are some key parallels, but there are also several leaps that need to be made for the Colts to match that output.

The Coach

Cameron, who led a very successful offense in San Diego under Marty Schottenheimer, earned the Dolphins’ job after Nick Saban returned to the college ranks.

The team struggled mightily, and he was let go after only one season. He was replaced by Tony Sparano, a Bill Parcells disciple who was an assistant head coach under him in Dallas.

Caldwell shares more traits with Sparano than with Cameron, having been a position coach and assistant head coach under Tony Dungy in Indianapolis who inherited the job when Dungy retired. His replacement, Chuck Pagano, is the latest in a line of Ravens’ defensive coordinators to move onto top jobs. The Colts had trouble on both sides of the ball, but they did more to shore up offensively personnel-wise, so a defensive-minded head coach should serve as a balance.

The Quarterback

The 2007 Dolphins rotated three quarterbacks throughout the season, beginning with veteran Trent Green, who was lost for the season due to a concussion in Week 5. For the remainder of the season, they rotated journeyman Cleo Lemon with rookie John Beck, neither of whom fared very well. In the offseason, the position was considered a top priority to upgrade, and they did so by acquiring all-time passing accuracy leader Chad Pennington.

The 2011 Colts rotated three quarterbacks throughout the season, beginning with veteran Kerry Collins, who was lost for the season due to a concussion in Week 3. From there on out, they gave the job to Peyton Manning’s long-time backup Curtis Painter, who lost the job to journeyman Dan Orlovsky. After earning the first overall pick, the team drafted Andrew Luck out of Stanford.

Although he has yet to take a snap in the NFL, Luck is considered to already be a top NFL talent, and has more physical tools than Pennington had in 2008. If the team does become successful in 2012, Luck will have a lot to do with it. Their success this season is largely dependent on his immediate maturation.

The Running Backs

Despite missing half the season due to injury, Ronnie Brown led the 2007 Dolphins in rushing with 602 yards.  His replacement, Jesse Chatman, only managed 515 yards on nine extra carries. The team’s second-leading rusher in 2008, Ricky Williams, managed to top Brown’s 2007 total with 659 yards, while Brown himself rushed for 916 with a full season.

The Colts’ leading rusher in 2011, Donald Brown, also had his action limited, mostly by the presence of Joseph Addai ahead of him. With Addai leaving for New England in free agency, Brown should get the bulk of the carries.  If he can increase his rushing production, it would be a good start to success. New backup Delone Carter will need to double his production, however, to duplicate the 2008 Dolphins’ rushing attack.  New pick-up Mewelde Moore has also seen plenty of NFL action with Pittsburgh and should be able to contribute.

The Offensive Line

Some consider the biggest factor in the Dolphins’ 2008 success to be No. 1 overall pick Jake Long, who stepped in at left tackle and proved to be worth the high price he commanded, earning a Pro Bowl invitation in his first year.  2007 left tackle Vernon Carey was moved to his natural position of right tackle, center Samson Satele gained a year of experience, and both guards were replaced, giving Pennington plenty of time to read the field.

The Colts have made plenty of changes on the line, beginning with long-time center Jeff Saturday taking off for Green Bay in free agency. To replace him, the Colts signed the aforementioned Satele in free agency. On the right side of the line, former Philadelphia Eagles Matt McGlynn and Winston Justice were brought in to take over at guard and tackle, respectively. The left guard position will likely be filled by Ben Ijalana, who missed most of 2011 due to injury. Left Tackle Anthony Castonzo, a 2011 first-round pick, will likely be the only returning starter.  The turnover is troublesome, but the talent is improved from last season.

The Defense

Statistically speaking, one number speaks to the Dolphins’ turnaround more than any other. In 2007, they finished 22nd in the NFL with a minus-7 turnover differential, coming up with a tied-for-third-worst 22 takeaways. In 2008, they upped their takeaway total to 30 and led the NFL with a plus-17 turnover differential. 

Amazingly, their sack total dropped dramatically from 2007 to 2008, falling from 42 to 26. The source of the totals was different moving from defensive end in 2007 (Jason Taylor led with 11) to linebacker (Joey Porter led with 17.5 in 2008). The outside speed pass rush became more pronounced, which may explain the increase in turnovers coinciding with the drop in sacks.

The 2011 Colts finished just between those two teams with 35 sacks, with 18 coming from defensive ends Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney. They are both over 30, however, and could be slowing down. The major weakness for this Colts' defense is the lack of a speed rush from the linebacker position, with only two linebackers recording sacks in 2011 (Pat Angerer and Philip Wheeler had one sack each). If the Colts intend on competing in 2012, developing an outside pass rush is key.  With regards to the turnover differential, the Colts couldn’t get much worse than they were last season, forcing a second-worst 17 turnovers and a minus-12 turnover differential. 

Forcing more turnovers will be key, since Luck figures to lower the giveaway total by himself.

Conclusion

The 2008 Dolphins rode to the AFC East crown on the strength of timely changes at head coach and quarterback, the return of their top tight end, better offensive line play, and a more efficient defense. The Colts have made the necessary preseason adjustments, bringing in a new head coach and drafting the top quarterback in college football. 

Now the onus is on them to complete the job. The Dolphins’ major competition came from the Patriots in 2008, who were without Tom Brady for most of the year but still finished 11-5.  The Texans are the odds-on favorite to win the AFC South this season, but Matt Schaub has been bitten by the injury bug before.  If he misses time, and everything comes together, the Colts could pull off the shocker and win the division.

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