“I think we’re a better football team today than we were in September,” Philbin said. “We haven’t turned the ball over as much as of late. That’s been a big thing. The feel I have for the football team, if you watch them on tape, I think our fundamentals are better. I think our decision making of [our] quarterback has been better. Those are just a couple things, but again, I haven’t really looked at the whole season in a perspective yet. But I would say we’re a better football team.”
That all suggests the Dolphins have a long-term keeper at coach. But no one really knows for sure.
The fact is Philbin doesn’t have a roster full of stars. So he has neither had the chance to raise the team to grand levels nor failed at getting a talented roster to perform to high expectations — something even Don Shula found daunting toward the end of his career.
Philbin has enjoyed a honeymoon season without crisis.
That means we don’t know how he’ll handle crisis when it comes. We don’t know how he’ll deal with stars when the Dolphins have more of them. We don’t know how he’ll compare to counterparts in the playoffs because his team isn’t there yet.
Most fans like Philbin and believe in him now. Those same fans believed in Dave Wannstedt after his first season, believed in Nick Saban after his first season, and believed in Tony Sparano after his first season.
Those three had better records their first seasons than Philbin. And all three eventually washed out in Miami.
So we simply do not know for sure about the man who will continue to be the Dolphins coach.
We don’t know about rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill, either.
The Dolphins admit as much. A highly placed source within the organization recently said Tannehill has earned the right to be Miami’s quarterback next year and perhaps even the year after as the Dolphins hope for continued improvement.
But is Tannehill going to be a franchise quarterback?
“I don’t think anybody’s ready to say that yet,” the source said. “We can say he’s our quarterback. What type of quarterback that will be, we’ll have to see.”
Tannehill this year has been excellent (against Oakland, Seattle and last week against Buffalo). He also has been terrible (against Tennessee and at the Bills in November) and he has been inconsistent even from one quarter to another (against Houston and Indianapolis).
But how fair is it to judge him with so little talent around him to help him?
The Dolphins passing game lacks a big-time speed wide receiver and tight end that can attack the defense down the middle of the field or in the red zone. The team’s four-wide formation offers only two legitimate NFL receivers and that’s only when Davone Bess and Brian Hartline are healthy.
Although other rookie quarterbacks have receivers named Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon, Santana Moss and Sidney Rice helping, Tannehill has thrown to three receivers — Legedu Naanee, Jabar Gaffney and Anthony Armstrong — who played significant snaps just before they were cut.
So what will happen when Tannehill has more experience? What will happen if he is surrounded by more talented pass-catchers?
It’s impossible to answer. No one knows for sure.
And in that regard, he’s just like his coach and general manager.