The 2005 Miami
Dolphins are a team rife with potential excuses.
New coaches, new
systems, new players, lost players, lack of experience, lack of talent, too
hot, too cold….
Blah, blah, blah.
Save it, Dolphins.
Yes, everyone knows
and understands the talent flaws. Everyone understands the time needed to gain
experience in new offensive and defensive systems and all the rest of it.
No one cares. The
expectations for the 2005 Miami Dolphins are high.
No, not Super Bowl high.
Only the biggest homer would dare think such a thing.
People want to see a
competitive product, a team that contends for a playoff berth. Another year of
4-12 or even 6-10 isn’t what the fans have in mind.
Surely, there is
enough talent on this team to achieve an 8-8 or 9-7 record. There’s just too
much ability at the offensive skill positions and across the defensive front
seven to settle for less.
We already know that
the coaching staff is among the brightest (and well paid) in football.
The salient question
here is whether or not the players have enough self-discipline AND WILL to
fulfill their potential.
Simply put, each
Dolphin must defeat the enemy within if they expect to win.
Those who play golf
understand that the game is not about the other players. It’s about one’s own ability
to overcome the difficulties of the course with the mental toughness and
self-discipline needed to achieve the best possible result. Only when that
happens does anything else begin to matter.
And so it will be
with these Dolphins. Getting beat physically is a part of the game; it happens
to the best of them. Getting beat mentally is simply inexcusable.
such as false starts, must be eliminated. Good technique in carrying and
protecting the football must become inherent. Knowing assignments and correctly
executing those assignments must become a given.
results were not encouraging. In particular, turnovers, penalties, and poorly
executed assignments were major problems that continue to require correction.
The Dolphins ended up
last (last!) in the NFL in turnover differential with a -9, the single biggest
issue being lost fumbles (10).
Avoiding fumbles is
mostly about proper technique in carrying and protecting the football. Avoiding
interceptions is directly tied to good decision making by the quarterback.
Nothing, absolutely nothing, kills winning more
than turnovers. Last year’s team was a testament to that.
Avoiding penalties is
mostly about playing the game under control with self-discipline and awareness.
During the preseason,
as in 2004, the Dolphins did not play under control. Particularly glaring were
false start penalties by offensive linemen, a self-discipline issue, and pass
interference penalties by defensive backs, a technique issue.
All told, the
Dolphins averaged 8 flags and 59 yards in lost field position per game this
preseason. Both marks put the Dolphins in the bottom half of the NFL.
Remember when Don
Shula’s Dolphins were consistently among the least penalized teams in the
Look, this is not
rocket science. Teams that beat themselves generally lose. Shula knew that.
Nick Saban knows it, too. Saban knows these Dolphins don’t figure to be
talented enough to have a large margin for error.
Of course, there’s
the learning curve. Yes, the coaches are asking a lot of the players. They’re
asking them to quickly become proficient in new offensive and defensive systems
The preseason revealed
that many Dolphins are still on that learning curve. These are the players who
will lose their battles when the games start counting. Some of them have
already lost their starting jobs.
What about talent?
Yes, at some point talent prevails. Even as disciplined as the New England
Patriots are, as anonymous as they’d like their players to be, they still have
the horses to get it done.
For the Dolphins,
there is not an appreciable difference in overall talent between them and the
teams that earn wild card berths. Generally speaking, teams that make the cut
do it because they make fewer mental mistakes.
That’s what makes them good, that culture of discipline and focus.
It’s that culture
that Nick Saban looks to create and build on, the foundation of a championship
As Jimmy Johnson once
observed, going from 4-12 to 9-7 isn’t the hardest part of the comeback road; it’s
shaving off those last 3-4 losses.