Stephen Ross loves to win but apparently that’s not all. He loves to entertain. And so when his team won the season opener last week by playing an entertaining game charged with emotion and electricity, the Miami Dolphins owner couldn’t help but be thrilled.
He told multiple people that he loved the “fun” brand of football the Dolphins played because that’s the kind of play Miami fans want to watch. It’s the brand of football Ross wants to offer.
“It was fun. We had a great time,” receiver Mike Wallace said. “Just winning is fun, but I don’t know what it was, it was more fun out there. I had a really good time.
“After the game I was telling Coach [Joe Philbin] I hurt my hamstring on the first play of the game but I refused to come out because it was too much fun. I felt it would have to tear off the bone before I came out, that’s how much fun I was having. I had a great time.”
This, by the way, initially signals good things for Philbin.
The coach, treading water with a 16-17 overall record in his third season, must prove himself to keep his job after this season. He’s off to a rousing start because the owner, his boss, is thrilled after Week1.
But there are more games to play. More challenges to meet. More obstacles to avoid.
Welcome to Sunday afternoon’s game at Buffalo, the place where so many Dolphins seasons of yesteryear went to die.
The Dolphins in this game are seeking to not merely continue the journey began last week but actually legitimize what they did last week.
Remember: The Dolphins beat the Patriots in a heart-stopping manner last year also. They played at Buffalo the next week also.
And then they lost.
In a shutout.
While showing little energy.
And hardly any effort.
So this game offers the same scenario that turned into a nightmare for the team last year. Thus the question:
Are these the same old Dolphins about to deliver a similar result?
Or are these guys different? Better?
The outcome Sunday will cast an important vote. But many people inside and also outside the organization already see a different team.
Buffalo coach Doug Marrone studies tape of the Dolphins searching for flaws to exploit. He’s looking for failure. Yet he sees more fight, more enthusiasm, more toughness from this team than Miami teams of the recent past.
“I would say check, check, check, but I wouldn’t talk about the past,” Marrone said. “I don’t want to be unfair to teams in the past. But everything you said, that’s what they showed. [They have] a catalyst on defense, catalyst on offense. You see them running around. You see them excited.
“Our players recognize that and we know we’ll be up for a great challenge. It’s a credit to Joe and the staff and the players there. They came out of the gate well. They’re a good football team. We’re going to have our hands full.”
Marrone isn’t the typical coach praising every opponent regardless of how strong or weak they are. If he says the Dolphins are showing a different attitude, he sees it.
And he’s getting agreement from players in the Dolphins locker room because they see it also. Although it is still too early to draw bold conclusions about these Dolphins, this much is certain:
This team can be more fun to watch because this team has more fight in it.
It has, as they used to say in my neighborhood, more dog in it.
“Definitely, we got more dog and you can’t win without it,” Wallace said. “Not too many teams go and win a championship with a finesse attitude. You have to come physical. You have to go out there and have that dog in you. You got to have it. And we got guys who have it in them.”
The Dolphins had some of those guys before — Reshad Jones, Mike Pouncey and others. But general manager Dennis Hickey has added a handful of players who compete with attitude.
Safety Louis Delmas? Dog.
Cornerback Cortland Finnegan? Dog.
Rookie Chris McCain? Puppy. But a dog nonetheless.
Offensive lineman Daryn Colledge? Dog.
Running back Knowshon Moreno? He’s a different kind of cat. But he’s also got dog in him.
I’m not saying that means the Dolphins roll through their schedule. I. Am. Not. Predicting. That.
But it will be harder for a roster with this kind of passion to play a game like it played at Buffalo last year. It will be easier for a team like this to keep Stephen Ross happy.
KEYS TO THE GAME | BY SPORTSWRITER ARMANDO SALGUERO
When the Bills pass the football
The Bills are not a proven passing team. Despite the fact they invested heavily to draft wide receiver Sammy Watkins this year and invested heavily to draft quarterback EJ Manuel last year, this team is a question mark throwing the football. Last week the Bills threw for a modest (modest is a nice word for paltry) 169 yards. That’s not scaring anyone. Until Watkins proves he is the same beast in the NFL he was at Clemson and until Manuel proves he’s an accurate, polished NFL passer, the Bills will likely see teams stack the tackle box to stop a very good running game while daring them to throw. The Dolphins are definitely going to throw multiple fronts at the Bills, including a four-man line, a three-man line and even a five-man line. They will zone blitz and count on ends Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon to win their matchup against Buffalo’s offensive tackles. Vernon should be no stranger to Buffalo tackle Seantrel Henderson. They both played and practiced against one another at the University of Miami.
When the Bills run the football
The Bills make their living running the football. It has been that way in the past, and they have picked up were they’ve previously left off, having averaged 5.8 yards per carry while gashing the Chicago Bears for 193 yards last week. C.J. Spiller, the smallish, fast back, is the primary ball carrier. He does a lot of work inside but has the speed to go 70 yards on a given play. Fred Jackson is the bigger, slower but also more instinctive ball carrier. The Dolphins should be wary of quarterback EJ Manuel running the ball, particularly in the red zone. Although Manuel isn’t a scrambler and actually was injured last year against Cleveland while running, he can pick his spots. He did so last week, keeping the ball on a spread-option play and scoring on a 6-yard run. The Dolphins know to win this game they must stop Buffalo’s run game. So even with all three of their starting linebackers out of the game, the Dolphins will commit to this up front even if it exposes them some to play-action. If the Dolphins stop the run, the Bills cannot win.
When the Dolphins pass the football
Ryan Tannehill has picked up where he left off last season but in some instances that’s not a good thing. Last week, Tannehill failed to connect on three potential touchdown passes to Mike Wallace when he delivered poor throws to a wide-open receiver. (OK, one that Wallace caught out of bounds in the end zone might have been a TD with a better effort.) The point is Tannehill left a lot of points on the field instead of on the scoreboard. The Dolphins also want to welcome Charles Clay into the season. He not only was bracketed in coverage by the Patriots last week, making him hard to find, but he also had a drop that might have resulted in a touchdown. He can be a dynamic player. The Dolphins want him to start being that now.
When the Dolphins run the football
Knowshon Moreno is the NFL’s leading rusher after one week. And although common thinking suggests that will not be the case after this game because the Bills are supposedly very good up front and good against the run, consider this: The Dolphins have seen holes in the Buffalo front in that it sometimes suffers from its linebackers over-pursuing. When linebackers over-pursue, that opens up cutback lanes. And the Dolphins’ zone blocking scheme is perfectly suited for providing cutback lanes. So what happens when a run game built to create cutback lanes meets a defense that sometimes over-pursues and allows cutback lanes? Big holes. The Bills can obviously dash Miami’s hopes of running by winning at the line of scrimmage and keeping discipline among its linebackers. Pretty simple, really.
Dan Carpenter is better than Caleb Sturgis. Let’s agree on that. But the Dolphins’ second-year kicker nonetheless connected on all four of his kicks last week, giving him a very good start to the season. The Miami special teams are capable of big plays as they proved when they set the tone immediately and gave the offense a short field with a blocked punt against New England. Jarvis Landry was very good on kick returns and that’s why his 28-yard-per-return average ranks fourth in the NFL. Landry was solid (not great) on punt returns. Colton Schmidt has taken over the punting duties for the Bills from Brian Moorman, who was the punter the past dozen years and did it so well he was on the Bills’ 50th anniversary team. Moorman was cut in August and all but announced his retirement.
Joe Philbin has put a different looking team on the field, if the season opener against New England can be believed. That, in part, is because he is doing a better job and has better assistants who are upgrades over last year. Last year’s offensive coordinator, Mike Sherman, was thrilled when Mike Wallace caught three passes for 59 yards in a game. This week, current offensive coordinator Bill Lazor criticized his offense that put up 33 points and implored his players to be better. Doug Marrone is coaching for his job. New ownership in Buffalo is on the way so this is the year for Bills coaches. Meaning? They are obviously motivated to succeed. The fact they’ve had success against the Dolphins in the past gives them a slight edge. Philbin has not won at Buffalo as the Dolphins’ coach.