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  What Now, Dolphins?
    | Home | News Wire | Roster | Depth Chart | Schedule | Links |  
         

by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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By all measures, the Miami Dolphins exceeded expectations over the first half of the season.

 

A team expected to have a losing record ended with a .500 record, which could have easily been a 6-2 record and first place in the AFC East if not for a few bad breaks.

 

A team expected to slog away on offense found rhythm and was benefitted, not hindered, by the development of rookie QB Ryan Tannehill.

 

A team expected to fall back on defense appeared not to miss a beat.

 

A rookie coach expected to go through learning pains and bungled games showed a mostly steady hand and earned respect from players and colleagues alike.

 

Most importantly, fans were beginning to see this team in a fresh new way: a team on the way up, building legitimacy and hope behind a real deal QB. There was a sense that a tipping point was fast approaching, where fans would come out of the shadows and return to Sun Life Stadium.

 

Yes, it seemed like happy times were on the way back.

 

Unfortunately, in the span of just five days last week, all of that goodness was frustratingly washed way.

 

The second half of the season started out horribly wrong with a historic 37-3 blowout versus Tennessee, the worst home loss for the Miami Dolphins in 44 years. Thatís basically a lifetime, and as nightmarish a disaster as this team could have experienced. They were flat and consequently crushed by the desperate Titans, who feature one of the worst defenses in the NFL.

 

Three hours of carelessness by the players all but snuffed out the hope and goodwill that had been built up over the past four months. That aggravating and tired pall of skepticism that has plagued this franchise for ten seasons returned.

 

Then the Dolphins flew to Buffalo and continued their offensive ineptitude five days later in a 19-14 defeat. 7 of the teamís 14 points came on a 96 yard kickoff return for a TD by Marcus Thigpen. Most of the effort was utterly unwatchable, which is doubly bad when it is a nationally televised game.

 

Eight quarters of football, ten lousy offensive points scored, and 56 points surrendered. And that, friends, is how the Dolphins are back to last place in the division with a 4-6 record and a host of questions about the identity of their team.

 

How did it all go so wrong so fast? Thatís a question which has puzzled team watchers.

 

Offensive coordinator Mike Sherman said the team looked like they hadnít practiced one single day. Others pointed at the need for better effort. Still some wanted to dismiss the losses to a bad patch.

 

Whatever.

 

Three things are very apparent to yours truly.

 

The first is that the offense doesnít have confidence in what they are doing right now. It isnít that they donít believe in the system or their coaches, itís that they donít believe in themselves. Their body language betrays this and it doesnít help that their leader (Tannehill) is a rookie mired in his own struggles. They are essentially rudderless.

 

The second is that the offense is very limited in what they can do well. Opposing defenses have now identified those things and have been daring the Dolphins to fall back on their weaknesses. Not surprisingly, the offense has struggled. Most apparent is that defenses are determined not to let RB Reggie Bush beat them, essentially daring Tannehill to try. Not surprisingly he just isnít ready yet for that responsibility. Opposing defensive coordinators know this and have feasted.

 

The third issue is a thin defense. Karlos Dansby is not 100%, not even close, and losing CB Richard Marshall has been a major blow. The depth in the secondary is appallingly bad. This has messed up the pass defense with players out of position and continuity lost. With consistency at free safety also an ongoing issue, opposing offenses have been able to take easy advantage, especially when the front seven doesnít generating enough pressure. Frankly speaking, the loss to Tennessee is largely the fault of the defense for failing to pressure QB Jake Locker and get him on the ground.

 

One disturbing thing jumped out at me from the Tennessee game. Standing just outside the Dolphinsí locker room at the start of the game, I was afforded an unvarnished view of the players as they came out and walked to the tunnel. They werenít hungry or eager. They were flat. No emotion, no excitement, no energy was apparent. They looked like kids who were roused from bed early by their moms. And the fact is, they havenít looked like the first half of the season Dolphins since the moment I saw them shuffling out of that locker room.

 

Whatever was wrong that day, especially with the offense, five days clearly wasnít enough for Coach Joe Philbin and his staff to fix it. Thus the loss in Buffalo.

 

The big question now is if they can get the players sorted out and back to their first half fighting form. Which Dolphins team is the real version, the one that could have been 6-2 and in first place, or the lost boys of the past two games?

 

As Iíve always said, Dolfans are among the most educated fans in the NFL. They know what a real contender looks like and have the trophies and records to prove it. Sadly they also know what a fraud looks like, having been taught by the likes of Dave Wannstedt, Rick Spielman, Nick Saban, Randy Mueller, Cam Cameron, Bill Parcells, Tony Sparano, and Jeff Ireland. Only the most serious Dolfans will look past a bad product no matter what. The rest donít want their time wasted any more.

 

So now the Dolphins must decide what they want 2012 to be: a bridge to the future or another wasted losing effort. More of the same or a fresh new future? They have six games to make the case to the faithful.

 
     
   
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