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  Dolphins Must Lose Inconsistency to Gain Postseason
    | Home | News Wire | Roster | Depth Chart | Schedule | Links |  
         

by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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Through twelve games there are two things we can say about the 2014 Miami Dolphins.

1) They have enough talent, on paper, to be a playoff contender.

2) They are maddeningly inconsistent.

We’ve seen great moments. An important season-opening win over the Patriots, blowout victories over the Raiders and Chargers, and a critical divisional win over the Bills are highlights. And we’ve seen disappointments. The last second losses to the Packers, Lions, and Broncos still aggravate the nerves. And now a much harder than expected win over a 2-10 Jets team that was truly more luck than skill in favor of the good guys.

Bad game, good win”, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor noted dryly. ”We’ll take it”.

They surely will.

Ugly doesn’t matter this morning. Not when the sum of all things Dolphins today is a 7-5 record as we head into December, that quintessential time of year when real winning begins. The Dolphins now find themselves in a place where other great Dolphin teams have been: contending for the postseason. It’s the best time of the year for NFL football fans, especially Dolfans.

If the season ended today, the Dolphins would be the sixth seed in the AFC bracket. Alas, the season does not end today. Up next are the Baltimore Ravens, also posting a 7-5 record and harboring their own postseason ambitions. They will come into SunLife Stadium with a physical brand of ball that has, as of late, been giving the Dolphins fits. The Ravens boast the 5th best rushing attack in the league.

Are these Dolphins up for the challenge? They’ve been up and down so often this season that performances like Monday night’s versus the Jets makes one want to vomit. And memories of the recent past don’t help matters much. Dolfans have dared believe, only to have dreams squashed like a bug. Last year’s lose-lose end to the season still hasn’t been forgotten.

How will this December be any different?

The answer lies, as it always does, with the coaches and players. Persistent issues, like shedding blocks, tackling, and completing deep third passes, all need to be addressed if this team wants to participate in the postseason.

Are head coach Joe Philbin and his band of merry men putting enough focus on the right things to clean this stuff up? Philbin is a creature of habit, and his practices don’t deviate a lot. What did an old sage once say? Keep doing the same thing and you will get the same result? Sure, Philbin devoted “a little bit” of time last week to tackling fundamentals. But was it enough?

What we’ve seen the last two games suggest it’s not. I really believe Philbin needs to consider some changes in the team’s preparation to allow for mistakes to be properly corrected. It could help smooth out these chronic bumps in play which continue to be problematic.

From the players perspective, talent doesn’t seem to be a worry but rather it’s mental and technique errors. And while there are injuries to deal with at key positions like cornerback and tight end, the team seems to be muddling through for now.

A great example is TE Dion Sims, who is stepping up nicely and really emerging as a weapon in his own right.

It’s his second year, and he’s starting to really make a positive impact and a positive contribution, not that he hasn’t before but it’s probably been more noticeable”, gushed Philbin. “We’ve been asking him to do in his second year more things than he did maybe in his first year. He’s shown up in the passing game more. He’s got very good hands, as last night was evidence. He made a couple of catches that were critical in the ball game. I like the trend that he is on. The staff has a lot of confidence in him. His teammates have a lot of confidence in him. He’s getting better.”

That’s not to say the Dolphins are fine without a talent like Charles Clay, but they are managing through it. As for starting a street free agent like R.J. Stanford at CB, this move won’t cut it for long against the likes of Joe Flacco and Tom Brady. Dolfans better find a thick rug to pray on for the return of starter Cortland Finnegan, and soon.

To beat the Ravens this Sunday, in what appears to be a must-win game, the Dolphin defense must first stop the Ravens from running the ball. If Flacco is allowed to employ playaction, and possess the ball for long stretches, things will become very difficult in a hurry. The offense must also avoid turnovers and be almost perfectly balanced to keep the Ravens defense guessing. If Tannehill can complete 25 passes against the Ravens, and Lazor will commit to at least 25 rushing attempts, I believe the Dolphins can earn a hard fought victory.

In his Monday presser, Philbin acknowledged the challenge and the stakes ahead. He called the Ravens “as good as team as we’ve seen. They are in the top 10 in scoring defense and scoring offense. They are aware. We’re going to have our hands full with this one. We’re going to have to play extremely well. We’re going to have to play better than we did on Monday night against this team coming in, without a doubt.”

A lot better. They’ll need better execution than they’ve shown us for large stretches of the season, and they’ll need it consistently.

We’ll also learn a lot about the quality of the Dolphins coaching staff when they face off against John Harbaugh, Bill Belichick, and their respective staffs. In December, coaching matters. And it’s top shelf coaching that’s needed to take this Dolphins team to the next level and avoid another late season collapse.

There’s no losing in December”, said defensive back Jimmy Wilson. “We don’t want to have that taste in our mouth again. The guys are hungry to come out and win.”


 
     
   
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