The first Dolphin win
of the season, a 13-10 defensive contest against the Tennessee Titans was much
“A load off all of
our shoulders”, DT Keith Traylor (2 sacks, 5 tackles) called it.
Ugly is what the
faithful are calling it.
No matter. A win is a
win and these Dolphins needed that season-saving victory in the worst way.
Still finding themselves, especially on offense, the Dolphins knew that an 0-3
start would have been a killer.
And so, they did what
A goal line fumble
recovery by Andre Goodman. An interception by Zach Thomas. Sacks by Traylor.
Clutch receptions and sheer grittiness by Wes Welker. Hard running by Ronnie
And, yes, the game-saving
interception by one Travis Daniels, fresh off the injury list and fighting to
get his game legs back under him. Daniels fittingly finished his celebration by
immersing himself in a bunch of Dolphin fans who run web sites devoted to
Daniels and his mates.
Culpepper, struggling for most of the game, contributed with a 5 yard TD run
and a critical 19 yard pass completion on 3rd and 8 to keep the
Titans off the field. It was perhaps the most positive pass Culpepper has
completed all season, mostly because it came in a clutch 3rd and long
situation with the game on the line.
For those of us
looking for a sign that better days are ahead for the passing game, important
moments, like the aforementioned 3rd down completion, offer
So was a day-after observation
from Dan Marino, noting that the “rhythm was a little better”.
Baby steps, perhaps,
when leaps are needed. You know Nick Saban won’t be pulling punches with his
team, recognizing that they “have a lot of things to improve on”.
True enough. The
secondary continues to fail at too frequent a rate, special teams breakdowns
have been damaging, and the passing game is unsatisfying.
The salient question
now is whether or not the Dolphins can improve enough to survive an upcoming
three game stretch on the road, starting with the Texans and continuing with the
murderous Patriots and, finally, archrival New York Jets.
With Culpepper, it
will continue to be about patience. We may not see his best football until next
year, if the precedent regarding similar knee injuries continues to hold. For
#8 in 2006, it will come down to his ability to play effectively within his
limitations, along with a growing willingness to trust the system.
And, without a doubt,
the offensive line has got to do a better job of keeping him clean.
In the defensive
secondary, there is not a lot more that the coaches can do with the talent on
hand. As Saban might say, ‘they are what they are’.
Yes, Daniels’ return
will help. Just remember that he is not the silver bullet. Improved play by the
safeties might be, though don’t expect Jason Allen to come to the rescue
anytime soon; his time to shine probably won’t come until 2007.
For now, what the
cover guys need to do more than anything else is do a better job of executing
their assignments. Mssrs. Tom Brady and Chad Pennington are considerably more
accurate than Kerry Collins, with David Carr enjoying the services of the
dangerous Andre Johnson more than ever.
As for the special
teams gaffes, which will happen from time to time, there just isn’t enough
offensive firepower to withstand fumbles, missed assignments, penalties, and blown
opportunities to flip field position. The Dolphins are simply beating themselves
in this regard.
Back to the schedule,
one gets the sense that the Dolphins must go 2-1 over this three game road trip
to keep their playoff aspirations intact. Finding a way to score more than 12
points per game is the key. They don’t have to be sexy doing it but they must
Culpepper will come
along eventually but probably not in time for this three game swing. As such, more
Ronnie Brown would be a very good idea. Brown, Miami’s
best offensive player this year, had 26 carries versus Tennessee and should continue to get 20-25
carries. Furthermore, the Dolphins ought to involve him more in the passing
game, where his speed and size creates a mismatch in almost all cases.
As a matter of need,
the Dolphins have been keeping Brown in as a pass blocker. This practice plays
right into the hands of the opposition as the Dolphins are essentially
eliminating a scoring threat for the defense. Another option for protecting
Culpepper must be found.
I’m not proposing a
return to Wannstedt wad ball here but they’re not going to win very many games
by continuing to send out only two WRs from their base offense and relying
Culpepper in his current state.
As with any season,
adjustments must be made. The Dolphins can win with what they have. It won’t
always be pretty, but winning will be perfume enough.