by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist
The Enemy Within continues to haunt this team.
Against the Buffalo Bills, the latest blotter reads: 21 penalties, 18 enforced, for 102 yards. 5 turnovers; 2 in the red zone.
You do the math. As Nick Saban figures it, a hundred yards in penalties is worth a touchdown. We know the redzone turnovers alone cost the team as much as 14 points.
There’s the ‘ol ballgame right there. What a shame.
Nothing, absolutely nothing, kills winning more than turnovers. However, a heavy dose of dumb penalties demonstrates a lack of self-control.
For their efforts, or a lack thereof, the Dolphins earned themselves a dubious new team record for number of penalties committed in a game (18).
In order of sin committed: Defensive Offside. Defensive Offside, Defensive Pass Interference, Unnecessary Roughness, Offensive Holding, Defensive Holding, Roughing the Passer, False Start, False Start, Defensive Offside, Defensive Offside, Defensive Holding, False Start, Defensive Offside, False Start, Defensive Pass Interference, Illegal Block Above the Waist, False Start, Delay of Game, Neutral Zone Infraction, and (inexplicably) Taunting.
Don Shula’s jaw must have ached watching this debacle.
What’s really surprising here is that Saban is a disciple of discipline. He has worked hard to transform this team into a group of highly-focused professionals. Yet, from the first preseason game (August 8) until now, very little has changed in terms of dumb on-field behavior.
Saban says the stupidity doesn’t manifest itself in practice. He probably wishes it would; some obvious teaching moments would be beneficial. Instead, Saban is left to preach self-discipline and awareness to his men.
Clearly, the message hasn’t taken hold.
What, then, is the answer?
“I’m not sure”, says Saban.
Glib response? Well, yes and no.
Clearly, Saban is sick of having to continuously answer questions about this issue. Deep down, he knows that the real fix lies within the players themselves. After all, avoiding penalties is mostly about playing the game under control with self-discipline and awareness. Either players, as individuals, do it or they don’t.
He certainly can’t go on a cutting spree. Not now. But you know Saban is keeping score. He has no use for players who cannot get it done the right way. His way.
How about making guys run extra gassers after practice? While Saban prefers the carrot to the stick, perhaps it’s time for the stick.
How about fining them for every penalty? Then again, Randy McMichael could afford to taunt with his new $18 million contract.
How about embarrassing them in film sessions in front of their peers? Trouble here is that many of their peers are just as guilty.
How about taking away playing time? This could be a good way to punish chronic offenders who need to clean up their acts. Unfortunately, the depth behind some of the more notorious offenders is so poor that the entire team would suffer. That wouldn’t be fair, to the team or to the fans.
There is, of course, the stigma from a bad loss such as this. Each and every player must face the paying public at some point. Be it on talk radio, the newspaper, television, or even this web site, the offenders can (and will) face the music.
Back to the turnovers.
One gets charged to quarterback Gus Frerotte for blatantly locking in on Marty Booker, making the theft so much easier for Terrence McGee.
Two get charged to Chris Chambers for failing to turn defender at the opportune moment.
One on John Denney for bungling a punt snap, his first real miscue as a pro. However, dishonorable mention to Donnie Jones; he needs to do a better job of coming up with less than perfect exchanges (remember the missed field goal against the Jets?).
Finally, we have the so-called fumble by Ronnie Brown. It says here that the refs blew this call. Brown was down when the ball came out. Yes, it was a close call but it was conclusive enough to be overturned.
Then again, had Brown better protected the ball this entire matter is moot. Heck, the Dolphins might have even won.
Zach Thomas has it right. As told to Greg Cote of The Miami Herald, “We had our chances at the end -- which is crazy. It shows if we take care of business we can be a good team.''
Yes, the Dolphins nearly pulled this one out. Such an event would have been deemed either a great victory or a true travesty of justice. That the Dolphins could commit over 100 yards in penalties, turn the ball over five times, and still be in that game speaks volumes for just how bad the Bills truly are.
For now, Saban can only hope the players learn their lesson and soon. If not for their own self-inflicted wounds, this team could be a sparkling 4-0 right now and have a solid two game lead on the Patriots in the AFC East.
They could also be 1-3, save a timely Lance Schulters interception.
The only constant between the two scenarios has been the penalties and, to a lesser extent, the turnovers, and the team’s ability (or lack thereof) to overcome them.
Good teams play smart, bad teams play dumb. When will the 2005 Miami Dolphins figure it out?