Dolphins Still Not Ready to Take That “Next Step”

The Dolphins are 4-4. Nothing more, nothing less. Bill Parcells once said, “You are who your record says you are.” That rings especially true with these Dolphins. Golden opportunities after golden opportunities have presented themselves to this football team over the past two years, and the Dolphins simply haven’t had what it takes to make the jump from average to good.

Back in 2008, the Dolphins lacked in the talent department, but benefited from mistake free football and a weak schedule. As fans, we were content with the division title and the first-round playoff exit because we knew that the Dolphins had maxed out their potential.

Not taking anything away from that magical season, it will probably stand in my mind as the most memberable year I have ever experienced as a Miami Dolphin fan until the day this franchise ends it’s long Super Bowl drought. But the bottom line was, unless you were delusional, we all knew that there were still pieces that needed to be added for this team to emerge as a true title contender.

Last year, the Dolphins had a couple opportunities to take that next step a little bit ahead of schedule. In Week 2, the Dolphins had the golden standard for an elite football team, the Indianapolis Colts, right where they wanted them with a seven point lead in the fourth quarter. When it came time for them to rise up and defeat one of the best team’s in football on a national stage, though, they faltered in the fourth quarter and quietly returned to their average status.

Five weeks later, the Dolphins had the eventual Super Bowl champion Saints down by 21 in the first-half before laying down for a second-half massacre in a game that ultimately resulted in a 12 point loss.

Two opportunities right down the drain, but we all knew that 2009 would be a small step backwards that would hopefully lead to some giant steps in the right direction in the future. Chad Henne was only in his first-year as the starter after all, and he lacked a true go-to threat that would complete the offense.

So the Dolphins went out and traded for Brandon Marshall, arguably one of the top five receivers in football with plenty of good years ahead of him. They also beefed up the defense by bringing in a genius defensive coordinator in Mike Nolan and signing a huge upgrade at inside linebacker in Karlos Dansby.

On paper this Dolphins team was ready to take that next step forward and contend for a division title and eventually a Super Bowl. Things never work out like they are supposed to on paper, though, do they?

In my mind this Dolphins team has had four opportunities to prove to us and the world that they belong in the elite discussion. Not to downplay their wins at Minnesota and Green Bay, both were crucial and without them we are probably gearing up for the NFL Draft already. But the Vikings clearly aren’t the same team they were a year ago, and the Packers were injury depleted. Not to mention, games against NFC opponents just don’t have the same meaning in the big picture.

Sitting at 2-0, the Dolphins had a gift of an opportunity to put a chokehold on the AFC East with back-to-back home, prime-time games against their two biggest division competitors. The defense opened up the flood gates against the Jets and the special-teams had a meltdown of epic porportions against the Patriots.

Although, the division title is still attainable, many fans started turning their attention towards the wildcard. After looking at the schedule during the bye week, two big test with huge wildcard implications stood out. I’m obviously referring to the Steelers and Ravens games. Before both of those key conference showdowns, all I heard the players talk about was how they were ready to assert themselves as one of the league’s best teams.

Yes, they got hosed against the Steelers on Big Ben’s controversial fumble, but anyone with common sense knows the Dolphins beat themselves by settling for five field goals. Then, in Sunday’s game against the Ravens, the Dolphins were thoroughly beat in just about every aspect of the game. The defense looked uninspired, missing a reported nine tackles on the afternoon, and quite frankly I haven’t been so frustrated watching this offense in a long time.

You can’t sit here and tell me the Dolphins are still a legitament contender after dropping all four of those contest. A good team would have found a way to win at least one of those games, if not two considering three were at home.

Why haven’t we seen the type of improvement we were hoping for you might ask? First off, I do believe this team is better. Last year’s squad would have likely been buried by that brutal first-half schedule. But while the Dolphins have made significant strides in some areas, their identity on offense- really what everyone was banking on as a given entering the season- the running game, has completely fallen off.

I have placed the blame on the front office for replacing all three interior offensive line starters numerous times this season, but even when the running game starts to show some signs of life, like this past Sunday’s opening drive for example, Dan Henning finds a way to completely abandon it. I haven’t been AS critical of Dan Henning of some fans, but you have to wonder when enough is enough. That’s a topic for another day, though.

Yes, these Dolphins have given us no reason to believe they will be anything more than average this season, but there’s still plenty of football left to be played. They have nobody to blame but themselves for their current state, stuck in the middle of the pack with almost zero margin for error. But, hey, at least there is still hope.

We’ve seen this football team go on some clutch late season runs over the past two years, and they are certainly capable of doing just that with their second-half schedule. Grant it, that second-half looked considerably softer at the beginning of the season, but I only see two games (on the road against the Jets and Pats) in which they should be the underdogs.

What exactly will it take? Many are saying the Dolphins need to go at least 6-2 over the final eight games. That may be enough qualify for a wildcard spot, but personally, I think they can only afford to lose one more game just to be safe. I just don’t see them winning too many tie breakers with their current conference record and with the teams they have lost to.

7-1 doesn’t look very likely but it can be done. Obvioulsy, I’m going to hold out hope that it can happen, but still though, this team hasn’t given outsiders any reason to believe they have what it takes to make that kind of run, or be anything more than a one and done in the playoffs if they somehow pull it off.

Hopefully, Brandon Marshall’s playoff guarantee that he made earlier today will inspire this team to do great things, because right now they are simply average. Nothing more, nothing less. 500.

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