Yet here we are,
staring unbelievably at Miami’s dismal 1-3 record at the quarter pole,
wondering if this is all there is to the hype, or if a corner has yet to be turned.
If we carefully and
objectively sift through the ashes of the latest nightmare, a 17-15 loss to the
lowly Houston Texans, we will find a team that is slowly (VERY SLOWLY)
The problem here, of
course, is that there are only 16 games in a season. At their current rate of
“improvement”, 2007 NFL Draft talk will begin before Halloween.
Who could have
imagined it? Who ever thought we’d be facing this early chin music again, given
all the dramatic changes since the infamous crash and burn of 2004?
Yes, I know…in
today’s NFL, you never count any team out. And, honestly, the Dolphins just have
too much talent to be playing this poorly.
Yet reality smacks us
in the face like a wet towel. The product on the field is inexcusably lousy.
I’m an optimist at
heart but, right now, it is difficult to see how these Dolphins have a prayer
of defeating the Patriots and Jets on the road these next two weeks. Not when
they stink out loud against the likes of the Bills and Texans and, arguably,
the Titans….creampuffs all.
among the worst in Dolphin history. The loss of Scott Linehan and, perhaps, Gus
Frerotte has obviously been more costly than anyone expected.
In the end, it takes
coaches and players to fix the problems.
Start with the
coaches. New offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey and his staff have done a
terrible, terrible job in fielding a winner. The line is surrendering sacks at
a record-breaking pace, the receivers can’t make plays, their best player
(Ronnie Brown) is not involved nearly enough, and the quarterback (Daunte
Culpepper) is still struggling to find himself.
As a whole, the
offense simply lacks identity and purpose. Once again, it is fair to question
whether Mularkey was the right man for the Dolphin job. Mularkey’s a smart guy
but was it a wise decision by Nick Saban to splice Mularkey’s philosophy onto
Scott Linehan’s system and expect everything to jell in just one offseason?
Or, did Saban privately
expect that it would take this long?
This we know: only eight
teams scored fewer points than Mularkey’s 2005 Bills. At their current pace,
the Dolphins will fall well short of those anemic Bills.
Saban’s not going
anywhere but Mularkey can’t be anywhere else but on the hot seat right now
given the autonomy (and salary) Saban gave him to get the job done.
The same can be said
for Culpepper, though it is fair to question the wisdom of him starting the
season given his all too obvious health issues.
His play in the
preseason, what little there was of it, appears to have been a mirage. The
truth of the matter is that he is not sufficiently recovered to help the
Dolphins win games now. And, given the porous pass protection in front of him
(more on that in a minute), his lack of mobility is more troublesome.
The end result has
been indecisive play. To his credit, he is learning to better function within
his current limitations. Saban even said he was the offensive player of the
week. However, the bottom line is that Culpepper has, thus far, been more of a
hindrance than a help.
Is a less than full-strength
Culpepper better than a full-strength Joey Harrington?
In the judgment of
the coaches, the answer is apparently “yes”. Keep in mind that Saban is a long
term thinker. As such, he probably sees benefit in continuing to play Culpepper
now so that he will be ready for the future.
Of course Saban won’t
come out and say that but neither will he damage the team’s long term
investment in Culpepper by benching him.
As for the offensive
line, things just haven’t improved. Yes, right guard has been a revolving door
that the opposition has taken advantage of. But that can’t be the only cause of
the flood of insufficiently checked pass rushers and an absence of holes to run
through. And, since Saban won’t tell us who’s been naughty or nice (outside of
Vernon Carey—nice), we are left to speculate.
In all fairness, it
is difficult to specifically lay blame on individuals without knowledge of the
protection schemes. What we do know is that, without an effective offensive
line, nothing on offense works well.
Dolphins continue to make mistakes, especially in the undermanned secondary.
Yet it is hard to lay the weight of this 1-3 mess on the defense when they have
pitched a winning effort in every single game this season.
Yes, I know they gave
up 14 fourth quarter points to the Texans. But when you hold the opposition to
17 points, you should win the game when the other team’s defense is the worst
(worst!) in the NFL.
Guys like Zach Thomas
and Jason Taylor have to be questioning their teammates, the coaches,
everything. They expected the team to be moving forward, to be improving. Yes,
they’re “team first” guys and always will be. But they’re human, too.
So are the fans.
Last year the Dolphins
went 3-7 before the lights came on, too late to make the playoffs. These
Dolphins need an epiphany, and soon, or else 2006 will end with another playoff