Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Seven-step drop: Miami Dolphins
By James Walker
The Miami Dolphins are a .500 team on a three-game losing streak. Here are seven thoughts I have on the team entering Sunday's game against the first-place New England Patriots (5-2):
The Dolphins haven't had a winning locker room since Sept. 22, and it's officially time to question their confidence. What Miami is doing for the past month isn't working. The Dolphins tried to make some changes against the Buffalo Bills, but it wasn't enough and they suffered their most disheartening loss of the season. I'm not getting a confident feel from Miami's players and coaches heading into Sunday's game against New England. All the swagger the Dolphins had a month ago is gone from the locker room.
The Dolphins traded for Bryant McKinnie despite his struggles with his weight and red flags about his character.
Miami head coach Joe Philbin was grilled by the media for nearly seven straight minutes Tuesday about the acquisition of Bryant McKinnie. It was a fair grilling, because trading for McKinnie goes against nearly every principle Philbin has preached over the past year-and-a-half. Philbin -- and by extension general manager Jeff Ireland -- has been unrelenting the past two seasons about building a high-character locker room, even if it came at the expense of talent. It was the reason the Dolphins cut Chad Ochocinco. It was the reason Miami also traded talented players such as Brandon Marshall and Vontae Davis. I think it's fine to pick one side of the fence when building a team. But it looks bad to play both sides whenever it's convenient. The McKinnie trade proved the Dolphins are willing to go against their principles when they're on a three-game losing streak and desperate for a win. Right or wrong, it makes Philbin's character-first message less potent moving forward.
Speaking of McKinnie, he said Tuesday that he weighed in at 364 pounds. His listed weight on the Dolphins' roster is 352 pounds. Miami most likely wants McKinnie to drop a little more weight during the course of the season. The Dolphins like to employ a lot of zone blocking, which requires their linemen to move in space.
Jonathan Martin appears to be handling the switch well. Martin will be moved from left tackle to right tackle once McKinnie learns the offense and gets up to speed. Miami starting right tackle Tyson Clabo, who has allowed eight sacks this year, will go to the bench. Martin had some issues at left tackle, but the 2012 second-round pick has improved in his second season. Going back to the right side can be viewed as a downgrade for an offensive lineman. "You can approach this two different ways," Martin explained. "You can go in the tank and be one of those guys that [complains] and be a cancer in the locker room. Or you can go out there and be professional and play as hard as I can. So my mindset is I'm going to go out there and try to get better and do whatever I can to help this team win."
I think the Clabo dynamic is interesting. Miami might need him in the starting lineup for at least one more game Sunday against the Patriots, yet the team clearly showed its lack of confidence in Clabo by trading for McKinnie. Clabo's professionalism will be tested, because it's just a matter of time before he loses his starting job. Will Clabo have a good game Sunday if he plays or is he mentally in the tank? The Dolphins want McKinnie in the lineup sooner rather than later. But he won't have much practice time before Sunday's game to learn a new offense.
The Dolphins are still struggling with time of possession. That is something that continues to impact the entire team. Miami's offense holds the football just over 27 minutes a game. That means the Dolphins' defense is on the field more than the offense. Miami's offense, led by second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill, has struggled on third downs recently. The Dolphins converted just 3 of 13 third downs in the loss to Buffalo. Miami's defense has shown signs of wearing down this year late in games, partly due to being on the field so much.
A case can be made that the Dolphins (3-3) are currently the worst team in the AFC East. They are in third place behind the New England Patriots (5-2) and New York Jets (4-3), and the Dolphins lost head-to-head against Buffalo (3-4) in Miami. Few predicted this for Miami at the beginning of the season. The Dolphins were expected to challenge the Patriots for the top spot in the AFC East. New England is not as strong as in previous years. So we will find out Sunday how much the gap has closed.