The four-day break is over. The Dolphins return to work today, their bodies somewhat refreshed, their minds no doubt focused on moving on as quickly as possible from this 0-4 start.
The opponent this Sunday is the also winless Washington Redskins. Truth is, though, it has little to do with who the Dolphins are playing and far more to do with how they are playing.
Through four games, their toughest opponent has been themselves. They simply haven’t been able to avoid the type of self-inflicted mistakes that have so much to do with the final score. This is the focus moving forward. Clean up those mistakes. Build off the positives. Find difference-makers in all three phases.
Taking all of that into account lets look at where this team stands, by position group, at the quarter pole of the season and what the prospects are for improvement:
QUARTERBACK: The job belongs to Josh Rosen. He took over for Ryan Fitzpatrick after two games and, barring something unforeseen, he figures to stay there the remainder of the season. Rosen has shown some promise. He has improved vastly in his knowledge of the offense and has shown repeatedly that with enough time he can make the right decision and the right throw. No, his numbers aren’t impressive. But take away the dropped passes and they get a whole lot better.
Bottom line: The rest of this season is so much about Rosen’s development.
RUNNING BACK: This is an area where more production is essential. Whether it’s been the blocking of the line or decisions by the backs, the longest run through four games has been 11 yards and that just doesn’t cut it. Kenyan Drake appears to have emerged as the No. 1 back after some early season struggles by Kalen Ballage while Mark Walton is playing himself into the mix. Drake is coming off his best game of the season against the Chargers, averaging almost five yards a carry.
Bottom line: Some semblance of balance is imperative for this offense to have success. I expect Drake sometime soon – maybe Sunday against Washington – to break out in a big way.
TIGHT END: Through four games, we’re still waiting for the tight ends to become a greater factor in this offense. The Dolphins are using three tight ends – Mike Gesicki, Durham Smythe and Nick O’Leary – and they have combined for just 10 catches. Over the past two games, Smythe has gotten the most snaps, but that can quickly change. I know some of the lack of production has to do with this offense just not getting on the field very much. But when the opportunities do arise, someone needs to step up.
Bottom line: The Dolphins did a lot of self-evaluation during the bye week. I’m sure getting more out of this group will be a priority moving forward.
OFFENSIVE LINE: No area on the team has undergone more changes than the offensive line. Think of the group that started training camp. Think of the group that now remains. Between the trade of Laremy Tunsil and some significant injuries, it’s been a wild ride to say the least, but there are indications now of some stability.
Bottom line: The line collectively had its best game of the season against the Chargers and with tackle Jesse Davis expected to return Sunday from an elbow injury, the new starting five may actually have a chance to grow together.
WIDE RECEIVER: So much promise, too many dropped passes. That sums up the plight of the receivers through four games. Undrafted rookie Preston Williams has been the feel-good story, leading the team with 15 catches, while DeVante Parker is averaging 20.1 yards on his 10 receptions. But the dropped passes have been the story for Williams and Parker as well as Jakeem Grant.
Bottom line: Catch the ball consistently and good things will happen.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Two important pieces are in place for the long term: veteran Davon Godchaux and No. 1 pick Christian Wilkins. This season is so much about exploring who else could reside in that category. Add Taco Charlton, who has two sacks in his first two games? Maybe an Avery Moss, who continues to show progress? How about former Arizona No. 1 draft choice Robert Nkemdiche who is still working his way back into shape?
Bottom line: If the right things evolve, this could soon become one of the strengths of the team.
LINEBACKER: Jerome Baker and Vince Biegel on the outside and Raekwon McMillan and Sam Eguavoen on the inside have gotten most of the snaps. All have done some good things. None of them should be satisfied. Baker needs to make more game-changing plays. He’ll be the first to tell you that. Biegel is still learning the defense after being acquired in the trade that sent Kiko Alonso to New Orleans while McMillan and Eguavoen each have done some nice things against the run.
Bottom line: I think this group has an intriguing upside. It’s important we start seeing it on a more consistent basis.
SECONDARY: The only interception through four games is by safety Bobby McCain and that’s a concern. Except for a sub-standard game against Dallas, Xavien Howard continues to play well and that’s good. For the most part, we’ve seen a group of players getting their chance, players like Steven Parker at safety and Eric Rowe, Johnson Bademosi and Ken Webster at cornerback.
Bottom line: The play of the secondary in general has been far too inconsistent. Opposing quarterbacks have combined to throw for 12 touchdowns and only that one interception. We need to see measurable improvement over the final dozen games in order for some of these players to remain part of this team’s future.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Going into this season, the thought was that special teams could very well be the strength of this team. We’re still waiting for that to happen. Between Jason Sanders missing three field goals – albeit all from long distance – and Grant putting up mere pedestrian numbers on returns, the defining moments have yet to come. The big positive has been the coverage teams, the longest punt return given up just 15 yards, the longest kickoff return just 12 yards.
Bottom line: I have no concerns about Sanders and it’s just a matter of time, I believe, before Grant takes one to the house.