The frustration is that the Dolphins are close. We see it every week now. They take early leads, they string together positive plays and they give you every reason to believe that this day or this night could be theirs. And then something happens.
That’s been the story of this season after seven games. It would be one thing if the Dolphins weren’t competitive. But that’s no longer the case. They have shown us how well they can play, evidenced by that 14-0 lead in Pittsburgh after one quarter and that 14-9 lead over Buffalo the week before.
Now it’s a matter of maintaining that level for four quarters and about playing their best in the most critical moments. Now it’s about coming together and collectively deciding enough is enough. I honestly believe that first victory will come soon, perhaps as soon as this Sunday against the Jets at Hard Rock Stadium. There have been too many positive signs to think otherwise. But there are issues this team must first address and problems they must solve.
So with the disappointment of that Monday night defeat in Pittsburgh still fresh in our minds and with the urgency of one less day to prepare for the Jets, let’s take a closer look at some of the good, the bad and what’s making news.
- The Dolphins committed four turnovers against the Steelers and only had one takeaway. That had so much to do with the outcome of this game, something Coach Brian Flores reiterated at his Tuesday afternoon press conference. “We didn’t play well in the second half and turnovers were a big part of it,” Flores said. “It’s so hard to win games in this league when you lose the turnover battle.”
- As for the much talked about third-and-20 play late in the first half that saw the Steelers take advantage of an eight-man blitz for a 45-yard touchdown, Flores adamantly defended the defensive call. “If you want to win games in this league you have to be aggressive,” he said. “That’ll never change for me. I’m not going to play conservative. We’ll go down swinging.”
- Cornerback Xavien Howard suffered a knee injury against the Steelers and several reports indicated he’ll be placed on injured reserve. It’s a tough blow for Howard and a major loss for this defense in general. He had just returned from an injury against the Steelers and had intercepted his first pass of the season. “I feel bad for the kid,” said Flores. “He’ll bounce back from this.” Based on what I know of Howard, I have no doubt.
- And the draft picks keep coming: The Dolphins acquired a fifth-round pick Tuesday from the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for veteran cornerback Aqib Talib, who is on injured reserve and, if he does play this season, isn’t eligible until Week 15. The bottom line in this deal is that the Dolphins took on the remaining year of Talib’s salary in exchange for that draft pick. Prudent spending over the past six months or so afforded them the luxury to pull off this deal.
- Ryan Fitzpatrick continues to have his moments where it sure looks like he is in complete command of this offense. That second quarter touchdown drive against the Steelers was the perfect example. He mixed up his receivers. He converted third downs. He kept the defense guessing. Now the challenge is playing with the same type of efficiency in the second half of games.
- The Dolphins also need to get more out of their running game. The longest run against the Steelers was nine yards. The leading rusher, Mark Walton, gained 35 yards on 11 carries. Without that balance, it becomes so much more difficult for Fitzpatrick to operate successfully.
- Conversely, the Dolphins have to do a better job stopping the run. Too many running backs have had big games against this defense. James Conner of the Steelers rushed for 145 yards on 23 carries. Many of those yards came far too easily. The result of this usually means a major discrepancy in time of possession, which was certainly the case against the Steelers who controlled the ball more than 10 minutes longer than the Dolphins.
- Some positives? Taco Charlton registered his fourth sack in five games and has clearly emerged as the team’s most consistent pass rusher. Linebacker Jerome Baker had his best game of the season and fellow linebacker Vince Biegel continued to impress.
- The Dolphins are tied for the fewest penalties in the league with 39, undeniable proof that the much talked about Takes No Talent wall (T.N.T.) at the training facility has had its desired impact.
- What does promise look like? It looks like Albert Wilson catching a touchdown pass and Jakeem Grant converting a few big third downs and the prospect of both players finally healthy heading into the second half of the season. We saw a season ago, at least for a few games, the impact they can collectively have. Now we need to see it evolve from here.
- So now we move on to the Jets, and another chance to get this right, this time against a team also struggling to get it right. Yes, the Dolphins are close. Now the question remains: Can they take it one step further than that?