When Nick Saban
agreed to come to Miami
a year ago, it was clear that a major rebuilding project awaited him. At the
time, no one really knew how long it
would take to return the 4-12 Dolphins to their winning ways.
That’s because no one
really knew how Saban, the latest
college coach to make the NFL leap, would do.
Saban never had a
losing season as a head coach in the college ranks. Now, with at least a .500
record guaranteed, he can add the NFL to his impressive resume.
Can anyone doubt that
owner Wayne Huizenga made a great decision in bringing Saban to Miami?
Clearly, Saban and
his staff have this team back on the right track. For the first time in a great
while, there is a conviction that the
Miami Dolphins will soon be back in the hunt for their third Super Bowl title.
seen new creativity in coverages and schemes; this has allowed the Dolphins to
overcome talent shortcomings in the secondary while creating big read and react
problems for opposing offenses.
For example, the
defense has been so successful in pressuring the quarterback that they need
just two more sacks to break the team record set in 1983 (49).
Give Saban an
opportunity to add better players into the mix and this unit is going to be
good. Really good.
Dolphins are undergoing a renaissance.
Line boss Hudson
Houck has indeed worked miracles by taking a collection of poorly performing
pieces and transforming them into a synchronized unit. The offensive line is
truly the pleasant surprise of 2005.
Scott Linehan, maligned by many (including yours truly) for poor playcalling,
has really improved his work since leaving the press box for the sidelines. The
result: more effective, practical,
and timely in-game decisions that players have raved about.
And while the search
for the quarterback of the future will continue to be at the top of GM Randy
Mueller’s to-do list, it is evident that the Dolphins already have much of what
they need at the other skill positions.
Good coaching and
good playing came together during the second half of the season to produce a
five game winning streak, including the first undefeated December in 20 years, for
an 8-7 record.
Pretty good stuff for
No, it isn’t good
enough for a playoff berth but it is commensurate with a realistic and positive
expectation for a team that is on the way back from the nadir of its storied
All that remains for
the 2005 Dolphins is the final test, another lock-up with old nemesis New England.
In the not too
distant past, it was the Dolphins who owned the “Patsies”; two annual wins that
were all but expected.
Belichick’s New England Patriots rule the football world. They have what the
Dolphins want to regain.
And so it is fitting
that the final game of the 2005 season be played in Foxborough, pitting two
terrific head coaches and the teams they define.
In terms of the
playoffs, the game is meaningless. The Patriots will learn nothing, gain
nothing from this game. In fact, they have much to lose in terms of added
injury to an already depleted roster. Their desire to maintain positive
momentum going into the playoffs will be their motivation to play well.
However, from the
Dolphin perspective, there is great benefit in playing this game: the
opportunity to measure work-in-progress against the world champions, on the
road and in cold weather.
Simply put, do the
Dolphins have what it takes to beat the Patriots in the most hostile
environment they can possibly face, on the eve of the playoffs?
Win or lose, more
will be learned about what needs improving. Saban and his staff will take this
knowledge, add it to what they already know, and use it to make the 2006 team better.
The optimism about the Dolphins’ future will be bright.
If the Dolphins win
there will, of course, be a mixed conclusion drawn. Most observers will
maintain that the Pats had little to play for and that the Dolphins did their
thing against second stringers.
Still, there is some real respect the Dolphins will earn by punking the Pats in
Let’s stop there
because we really can’t oversell the ramifications of a Dolphin win. It’s only
when the big money is on the table, say the division title and a playoff berth,
that a real message gets delivered.
For 2005, the
Dolphins have already earned a “B+”. Give them a solid “A” if they defeat the
hot Pats in cold New England.