During a team meeting last week, Dolphins coaches explained to players that after three games, the team’s identity — and, indeed, every player’s identity — has been established for the 2012 season.
The Dolphins are a good running team. The Dolphins are a tough defensive team against the run. The team plays hard. The players are mostly tough-minded.
And all that is good.
But Miami’s identity also suggests problems. The Dolphins are not a good passing team and the defense isn’t very good against the pass. There is inconsistency everywhere on both sides of the football in the passing game.
And all that is bad.
“Like Coach [Joe Philbin] said, we have three games on film now, so we’re kind of seeing what our identity is,” running back Reggie Bush said, “and that’s something that we’re going to have to lean on game in and game out.”
The idea that the Dolphins have to accept and even embrace their identity could be problematic for some fans because they’re still waiting for outside help to arrive and improve matters.
Some fans are still waiting for general manager Jeff Ireland to use the “ammunition” he added in the Vontae Davis trade to add a wide receiver or perhaps another cornerback.
That hope for added help was actually inspired by Ireland himself because the day he made the trade he suggested a significant move employing the added draft picks was soon coming.
It is not.
Even as the trade deadline is weeks away, the Dolphins aren’t likely to add a wide receiver or cornerback who would be a starting-caliber player to help the cause this season.
Yes, the team will continue to churn the bottom of the roster, hoping some cream rises. But forget the idea of Ireland making a season-saving trade because NFL teams do not ordinarily give up that kind of talent this time of year.
Also, forget the idea of a Plaxico Burress or another veteran suddenly being added off the street and making a difference. The Dolphins have had ample time to add such players but have shown no inclination to do anything that significant without a major injury forcing them.
So, basically, the Dolphins have what they’re going to have. And if they’re going to improve, it will have to happen from within — because players currently on the roster suddenly find a groove not yet seen.
That hope shines a spotlight on Daniel Thomas, Ryan Tannehill, Charles Clay and perhaps Lamar Miller on offense. That hope for sudden improvement begs veterans Cameron Wake and Richard Marshall to step it up on defense.
More is needed
The idea that Miami needs more from Tannehill is not new. He’s supposed to improve, and dramatically. It is expected.
And he can start with his accuracy. While Tannehill doesn’t typically throw into bad coverage or look away from open receivers, he has lately been spotty in placing the ball where he and coaches want it because his accuracy sometimes betrays him.
“I think it’s been sporadic at times,” coach Joe Philbin said of the quarterback’s accuracy. “We’re still working through some things. We don’t have the rhythm in the passing game that I expect to have a month from now or six weeks from now or eight weeks from now. Some of that’s him, some of that is the protection and the receivers and so forth.
“So I don’t think our passing game is operating at a high rate of effectiveness right at this point in time. Certainly part of it is him. There are some throws that he has to make better.”
Tannehill promises that will happen. He had a couple of throws last week that he missed because, he said, there wasn’t much work done on them in practice. Tannehill said that has been corrected.
Miami’s passing game counts on certain players to be contributors every week. Brian Hartline and Davone Bess have succeeded in doing that. Clay has not.
The tight end should be a threat down the seam of the defense and be something of a security blanket for Tannehill. But instead, he has only one reception.
And that isn’t likely to improve much until he starts practicing better, because if he doesn’t make plays in practice, coaches hesitate to rely on him in games.
“It’s a little bit of the chicken and the egg. In practice, we’d like to see a little more, maybe more consistency in playmaking,” Philbin said. “I think we both seem to be feeling one another out. We haven’t necessarily unleashed him, so to speak. I think there is more there, I think we can get more out of him and he can be a more productive member of the offense. We’re working towards that, as is he.”
Thomas needs to work toward being a better player because, so far, his fumbling has been a disappointment. He has two fumbles, which is bad because he has played in two games and one fumble per game is a ticket to the running back unemployment line.
Thomas also is averaging only 3.6 yards per rush on team that has Bush averaging 6 and Miller 5.9.
Defensively, the Dolphins need to get more from Marshall and Wake because they are reliable veterans and the club doesn’t have any players behind them who can be expected to play better.
Marshall’s play in the preseason was a reason Ireland traded Davis. But since the start of the regular season, Marshall has struggled. He has been flagged four times for pass interference or defensive holding. And according to ProFootballFocus.com, he has yielded 10 completions on the 17 passes thrown to receivers he’s covering.
Not getting it done
Marshall is ranked 78th among NFL cornerbacks who have played 25 percent of their team’s snaps. Sean Smith, Miami’s other starting cornerback, is ranked 43rd.
The same website has measured Wake’s play, and ranks him first among all defensive ends. His 13 hurries and eight hits on quarterbacks suggest he’s affecting the opposing team’s passing game.
But Wake doesn’t have a sack.
And the Dolphins need more pressure on the passer, preferably sacks that come with a strip of the football and a fumble recovery.
“I’ve never been a guy to look at numbers,” Wake said. “I have no idea how many sacks anybody has around the league. I don’t know who’s leading in sacks. I’ve never counted. I go week to week and play to play. When I have to do my job, getting there that play is all that matters and when that play is over and done with, I go on to the next play.”
That’s fine. And still, the Dolphins need sacks from Wake.
It would improve their identity.