Play well early; play even better late.
That in its simplest terms is the chief objective of the Miami Dolphins in Sunday’s game against the Washington Redskins at Hard Rock Stadium.
Through four games the Dolphins have done some of the former and, well, none of the latter. We have seen some promising moments in first halves of games, especially the last two games against the Cowboys and Chargers. But what we haven't seen is the Dolphins building on those positives in the third and fourth quarters. In fact, we've seen just the opposite, the Dolphins inexplicably saving their worst for last.
This needs to change Sunday if the Dolphins are going to experience victory for the first time this season. The bye week afforded this coaching staff an opportunity to look back, carefully scrutinize what they have seen in the first four games and make the appropriate adjustments.
Now we'll find out the value of that extra week, how much this staff learned and whether it can translate to a more promising Sunday afternoon. Nobody needs to be reminded that the next points the Dolphins score in the second half will be their first.
"We evaluated every aspect of coming back in the second half," said offensive coordinator Chad O'Shea earlier this week. "Our halftime adjustments. What we do in the locker room. Our pre-planning of the second half. And one of the things that came out is just the importance of our fundamentals."
Coach Brian Flores likes to break the season down in quarters. The first quarter, a disappointing one, is now over. With the start of a new quarter on Sunday against the Redskins, the hope is that this team will use the frustrations of 0-4 as fuel to help find the right solutions.
On the plus side, the getting to know you period is over after the large turnover of players that occurred following the roster cut down to 53. This team, as it now primarily comprised, has been working together for about a month. A level of chemistry is developing as well as an understanding of skillsets and mindsets. The expectation is that familiarity will breed more success.
"We see signs (of progress) all the time," Flores said. "We just have to put it together and play a 60-minute game. That's been our focus."
I asked quarterback Josh Rosen earlier this week what a victory would mean to this team. "It just brings some joy back into the game," he responded. "It is kind of that extra little juice that keeps you coming back."
This Dolphins' team, players and coaches alike, could certainly use that. But so could the Redskins. Maybe we should call this The Hunger Games. Both teams want it so badly.
What are the keys for the Dolphins? Here's my top five in no particular order:
- Feed off the running game: The Redskins are giving up an average of 144 yards a game on the ground. The Dolphins are rushing for about 51 yards a game. Something's got to give here. It is imperative for this offense to be successful to have some semblance of balance and that means the trio of Kenyan Drake, Kalen Ballage and Mark Walton must produce.
- Then go stop the run: Redskins interim coach Bill Callahan has made it clear that he wants a strong running team and that makes sense for a former offensive line coach. Through five games the Redskins have been anything but, their leading rusher Adrian Peterson, averaging just 2.7 yards a carry. The Dolphins, meanwhile, have been giving up an unacceptable 175.8 yards a game on the ground. This will be an important test for the Dolphins' young group of linebackers. They simply can't allow the Redskins to dictate the pace of this game.
- Give Josh Rosen time: It always seems to come back to this. When Rosen has time, when has a chance to check out his second or third options, he has shown to be very accurate. But when he is rushed, when the blocking breaks down, his numbers drop considerably. This offensive line, by and large, has had a chance to work together for a few weeks now. There is a nice level of confidence developing. Nothing would help that confidence more than keeping Rosen upright.
- Be aware of rookie wide receiver Terry McClaurin: He leads the Redskins in yards per catch (16.2) and touchdowns (3) and the player nicknamed "Scary Terry" hopes to do just that to the Dolphins secondary. When you look at the ways the Redskins can beat you over the top, the focus always seems to shift to McClaurin, a third-round pick out of Ohio State. I expect he'll see a lot of cornerback Xavien Howard in man-to-man coverage.
- Win it in the fourth quarter: Enough of the talk. Enough of the scrutiny. It's time to take that sobering stat, getting outscored 81-0 in the second half, and put an emphatic end to it. It's time for the Dolphins to step up late, to produce impactful plays on both sides of the ball, and to seize the one moment late in the game that will ultimately define victory. That, in so many ways, is what this Sunday is all about.