The NFL is about pitting opposing forces against each other in a battle for survival. It's about one team against another. An offense against a defense. A unit, perhaps offensive line, against another unit, such as the defensive line. Sometimes the NFL even pits a team against itself. Teammates practice against one another. Teammates at the same position compete against one another for jobs and playing team.
And at times like this, one department within a team may be forced to face off against another.
That's what it seems might have happened with the Dolphins Thursday. You see, if owner Stephen Ross's visit to the Dolphins training facility was what was widely reported -- a fact-finding mission to help the owner understand why his team was only 8-8 -- then Ross might have unintentionally been asking one department to face off against another.
On Thursday at Dolphins camp it could have been the coaching staff vs. the personnel department.
It was Ross meeting separately with coach Joe Philbin and general manager Jeff Ireland to find out why things went sideways in 2012. And he almost surely got vastly different answers to the same questions.
We already know Philbin believes his coaching staff, led by offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, did an outstanding job in 2013. That's why Philbin wants to keep the group intact. And it's pretty clear the personnel department believes it also deserves a continuing opportunity to upgrade the Dolphins because, well, the talent in '13 was upgraded over 2012.
But both cannot be exactly right when they're both responsible for a team folding in the final two weeks and losing as many games as it won. So here are the different views of the world:
The coaching staff's view: We did as well as we could under difficult circumstances and talent that simply wasn't good enough.
The personnel department's view: We provided enough talent to get this team to the playoffs and the development and coaching of that talent failed to get us there.
I'm not saying that is exactly what the two department heads -- Philbin and Ireland -- told Stephen Ross. But ultimately, that has to have been the general message for each to make a case they deserve to continue with the team.
Same team. Two different views of why the Dolphins failed to make the playoffs.
And, interestingly, both can score points. Both have a case. It's not 100 percent one department's fault why the Dolphins didn't reach the playoffs.
Consider, if you will, the issues I am about to present. I will give you the coaching staff's view of the issue and the personnel department's view.
The offensive line
The coaching staff's view: Are you kidding us? We worked a miracle with this rag tag bunch. Sure they allowed a franchise record 58 sacks but we lost two starters, we were working with an afterthought signing at RT that got benched midway through the season, we had to start Sam Brenner, a rookie undrafted guy, a couple of games. We might have used a rookie high-round draft pick to fill in but we didn't have any. We had Dallas Thomas but he didn't meet his draft pedigree expectations. We made Mike Pouncey into a Pro Bowl player. And we didn't have Jake Long.
The personnel department's view: We offered Jake Long nearly as much money to sign in Miami as he got in St. Louis and he made the decision to leave. We didn't cast him out. Also, he finished the season on the injured reserve list for the third time in three years so he simply is not a playoff-caliber LT because he doesn't last until the playoffs anymore. We had a solid answer to replace Long with Jonathan Martin but he freaked out. That's not the personnel department's fault. And even before that happened, we traded for Bryant McKinnie and he played well much of the time he was here. As for right tackle, Tyson Clabo was very good in Atlanta last year and was good toward the end of this season. He neither forgot how to play after leaving Atlanta nor suddenly remembered late in the year. His early season struggles was a coaching issue. Oh yeah, we drafted Mike Pouncey.
The run defense
Coaching staff's view: The two new linebackers the personnel department signed -- Dannell Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler -- didn't pan out as advertised. They didn't play downhill. They didn't make plays behind the line of scrimmage. They weren't the upgrade we were promised. Randy Starks had a good year. Paul Soliai was good as well. We improved the play of Cameron Wake in holding the edge and developed Olivier Vernon into a fine player. We rock!
Personnel department's view: The two new linebackers did not play as well in Miami under this coaching staff as they did last year for different staffs -- Ellerbe in Baltimore and Wheeler in Oakland. And here's a trend: The two guys we got rid of, because this staff wanted an upgrade, played better for their new coaches than they played here for these guys. By the way, we didn't overpay for Starks or Soliai so they played harder in a contract year. And we drafted Vernon. What a bargain!
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill
The coach staff's view: He improved this year. He's still a work in progress but anyone who doesn't see he's getting better is a hater. Yes, he's got pocket presence issues. But Zac Taylor will take care of those next training camp just like he took care of the issue for ... um, nevermind. Tannehill cannot hit the deep pass to Mike Wallace but that's because Wallace runs too fast. Why did we sign a guy that runs too fast? We will get that taken care of next training camp.
The personnel staff's view: We drafted him. Fans said we overdrafted him at No. 8. If he was coming out in this year's draft he'd be No. 1 overall to the Texans. You going to get rid of a GM who finally found you a quarterback? Checkmate.
The coaching staff's view: He had a great season. We were given a player who doesn't fight for the football when it's in the air so his ball skills are questionable. He had durability issues in training camp and we milked him for a good, solid season. It's not our fault if someone, ahem, overpaid for him.
The personnel department's view: Wallace is a proven, dynamic, deep threat receiver who averaged 17.5 yards per catch in Pittsburgh and that's what he would have been here if the coaching staff hadn't turned him into a 12.7 yard per catch possession receiver. They always lined him up on the same side of the field. They never motioned him to get him open quicker. They never used him in the slot.
The coaching staff's view: We coached him back to his Pro Bowl form.
The personnel department's view: We saw something in him and were willing to pay what other teams, including the Atlanta Falcons, were not. We rock!
The coaching staff's view: He took something of a step back once those other guys paid him. We did the best we could and turned him into a run-stopping strong safety.
The personnel department's view: He was becoming a playmaker until those other guys couldn't find a way to stop to the run and started lining him up in the tackle box most of the time.
The rookie draft class
The coaching staff's view: They didn't help one bit. They were always hurt. It's as if they weren't there. We can't make chicken salad out of chicken, well, you know.
The personnel department's view: No one developed them. Great coaching staffs develop players as we go, even after training camp is over. This group gives up on young players after training camp so it takes a year to develop even the good players -- like Olivier Vernon. Trust us, Dion Jordan is a beast and Jamar Taylor will be good.
The running game
The coaching staff's view: We didn't have Reggie Bush. The offensive line fell apart. Daniel Thomas is just a guy. Lamar Miller is just a faster guy, but ultimately he's JAG.
The personnel department's view: Bush fumbled a bunch and was benched in Detroit. How do you think that would have played here? Miller averaged 4 yards a carry. We'll address the position in the offseason. And, by the way, you can't run the ball against Buffalo (the No. 26 ranked team against the run) if you don't try it more than 12 times. New England ran it on Buffalo 43 times one week after we tried only 12 runs. They gained 267 yards.
The coaching staff's view: We had a bad game at Buffalo and none of the players made a play. That's a talent issue. Against New York, they played very well. We congratulate the New York Jets for the victory. They deserved to win. But everyone gave effort. We tried hard. We milked every last point out of a team that was so lacking in talent we were 3-4 against AFC teams that failed to make the playoffs.
The personnel department's view: We were talented enough to beat Phillip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Andy Dalton and Tom Brady but we lost to Thad Lewis twice and Geno Smith with the playoffs on the line? We were 4-1 against AFC playoff teams but lost twice to the last-place Bills and the winless (at the time) Bucs? That inconsistency isn't a talent issue. We had the talent to make the playoffs.