The future, as promising as it now looks, will have to wait.
There is a season that is now entering its third week and the players and coaches on the Miami Dolphins are determined to make the most of it, hoping to prove that the product we saw in the first two games was not an indicator of who they are or what they could be.
They expect to start demonstrating that Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys.
We can only hope that they will.
“We’re 0-2, but we’re still working our tails off in practice,” said first-year linebacker Sam Eguavoen. “My attitude is simple: Let’s go out and get this win!”
This is another enormous test against a playoff team from a year ago, the third of four straight playoff teams the Dolphins face to open the season. The Cowboys are 2-0 and playing like it. They have one of the premier backs in the league in Ezekiel Elliott, one of the emerging young quarterbacks in Dak Prescott, an elite offensive line and a defense that just keeps getting better.
Clearly the Dolphins will have to find another level to have a chance in this game. They’ll have to eliminate many of the mistakes like the dropped passes and the blown assignments and they’ll have to figure out a way to make things interesting deep into the fourth quarter.
They’ll also be working with a new starting quarterback in Josh Rosen. Word surfaced Thursday that Rosen would get the start ahead of Ryan Fitzpatrick, an important opportunity for this second-year player who still has so much to prove. I like this move. It isn’t a reflection on Fitzpatrick it’s more about trying to jump-start an offense that has done little in the first two games. Rosen has shown flashes of excellence over the summer, now he needs to show he can be consistently productive. Any way you look at it, this could be a defining moment in his young career.
The Dolphins are hoping the seeds for improvement have been planted on the practice field over the past few weeks. There is a feeling of optimism now because the new players that were added following the final preseason game have had an opportunity to adjust and adapt and to learn the terminology, understand the system and get a feel for their teammates.
The best example of this could be the offensive line, which reshuffled the deck only days before the opener after the trade of Laremy Tunsil to Houston. Now, the starting five has been together for a few weeks and the expectation is a much more cohesive effort against the Cowboys.
“It starts at practice,” said coach Brian Flores. “We’ve had a couple of good weeks. I think we were better from Week 1 to Week 2. We’ll just try to continue to get better week after week after week.”
This has certainly been a challenging time, coming off two straight home losses and the players dealing with the trade that sent defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick to the Steelers. But the focus has remained on the Cowboys. There seems to be a unified effort taking place among those in that locker room to prove they are better than what they have showed.
Understand this: While the organization is thinking long-term with the moves they have made, the players and coaches are all about this season and winning games. Many of them come from highly successful college programs. None of them are willing to accept losing.
Look at defensive lineman Christian Wilkins. In four seasons at Clemson, he lost four games by a total of 23 points. You think he’s conceding anything? “I embrace this opportunity,” he said after Wednesday’s practice.
So what are the things we should focus on Sunday? Here’s five for starters.
- Slow down Elliott: The Dolphins have faced some good backs in the first two games, but they haven’t faced a great one. Elliott is exactly that. You slow him down and the Dallas offense changes. You let him have his way and everything else seems to work. The front seven on defense needs to play well, most notably linebackers Jerome Baker, Eguavoen and Raekwon McMillan. Their performance will dictate plenty.
- Xavien Howard vs. Amari Cooper: Another one of those marquis match-ups between two of the best at their position. Howard did a number on Cooper when he was with the Raiders last season, holding him to just two catches for 17 yards. He’ll need to be every bit as good this Sunday.
- Give Rosen some time: The two Dolphins’ quarterbacks have been sacked 10 times in the first two games. It is imperative if Rosen is to have success in his first start that he has the opportunity to set his feet, survey the field and, if necessary, go to his second or third option. This only happens if the offensive line does its job and that’s going to be a crucial factor, perhaps a deciding factor, in Sunday’s game.
- Don’t be over generous: A week ago the Dolphins threw two Pick-6’s, which clearly cemented the outcome. Both were avoidable: the first a Fitzpatrick pass he probably shouldn’t have thrown the second a Kalen Ballage bobble that landed right in the hands of Patriots’ linebacker Jamie Collins. This can’t continue, certainly not against a team like the Cowboys.
- Keep it interesting until the end: Through the first two games, the outcome had been decided entering the fourth quarter. The Dolphins need to play well to make the fourth quarter matter. That’s the challenge Sunday. Stay close, maybe even get an early lead, and then put yourself in position to win it in the closing minutes.