Greg Cote: Miami Dolphins’ win can’t hide several team issues

09/09/2013 12:00 AM

09/08/2014 6:51 PM

Impeccably dressed Mike Wallace might have been understandably seen as one of two wholly different types of teammates as he strode angrily to the Dolphins’ team bus after Sunday’s season opener here, striding quickly from the visitors’ locker room before the media could swarm in.

He was unquestionably being a diva, putting his own interests above his team’s. After all, the immediate afterglow of a victory might not be the best time to pout and moan that you only caught one pass — if ever there is a best time for such things.

“I don’t feel like talking,” Wallace said, a few reporters half-trotting to keep up, his stride not breaking.

But what about the game plan that seemed to deemphasize the team’s new star receiver?

“Ask coach,” he advised, striding on.

Wallace would be easy to excoriate today for his pique, if only for the timing of it. But he was just as accurately being this type of teammate, too: One who cares enough to have emotion and fire. And one who knows very well that the offense Miami displayed on Sunday, even in beating the awful Browns, 23-10, was not good enough.

I thought defensive tackle Randy Starks’ anger at not starting Sunday, displayed in an apparent gesture toward his own bench at one point late in the game after a sack, was a far worse breach than what Wallace did.

Miami will need more to beat better teams and to position itself as an NFL playoff contender as this 48th franchise season rolls out — and that includes more harmony, based on what we saw after this game. Not a good sign when you have prominent players who are very angry after a victory. (Can’t we all just get along?)

Miami also will need more of the tangible, on-field stuff, of course.

It will need better offensive line play.

It will need a running game (because Sunday there was scant evidence to even suggest one).

And it will need a more explosive passing game embodied by Wallace.

That’s what made that little tableau with Diva Mike so telling. It may be portrayed as just raw ego or at least very premature frustration, but it will have served its purpose if it jars the Dolphins and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman into understanding a lot more offense starts with a lot more Wallace.

And that a lot more of both will be needed if Miami hopes to outscore the Colts, Falcons, Saints or Ravens over the next four weeks.

Wallace was not thrown to a single time the entire first half Sunday as Miami trailed 7-6. Magically, a deep pass spiraled his way on the second half’s opening play. The player had made his anger and frustration known in the locker room at halftime, I was told.

Evidently it took a meeting of coaches during the break to figure out that a man you are paying $60 million to be your new offensive star probably ought to be thrown to occasionally.

Wallace ended up being targeted five times, catching one pass for 15 yards.

“They did a lot of things to take him away,” explained quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who had a strong second half. “It was frustrating for him and us as well. We want to get him the ball. We’re going to find ways.”

Brian Hartline caught nine balls for 114 yards and Brandon Gibson seven for 77, largely because Wallace drew so much attention, including the coverage of Browns star cornerback Joe Haden. Even young tight end Charles Clay showed flashes with five catches.

Wallace is the game-breaker, though, the guy with the speed to score touchdown fast. He is being paid, big, to be that explosive force, and they need to use him as such every week.

That isn’t all that must change and improve.

Miami’s offensive line seemed a shambles at times, giving up four sacks and being dominated in the run-blocking phase. The Dolphins had 23 carries for 20 yards. You read that right.

“Yeah, I think we averaged under 1 yard a carry,” coach Joe Philbin said afterward. “It’s not a good way to live in the National Football League.”

If it seems as if I am emphasizing shortcomings here despite the win, that is because the Browns are so woeful that the victory is tougher to weigh and judge.

Plenty went right, sure.

Miami’s defense dominated. Cameron Wake had 2 1/2 sacks and six quarterback hits, crushing whoever tried to block him and making Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden all but scream like a baby. Rookie top draft pick Dion Jordan had his first career sack.

And the secondary had three interceptions, a pair by Dimitri Patterson. Miami had 16 takeaways all last season, so three in the opener is a welcome number.

Tannehill’s performance, after a slow start, also was encouraging. Philbin had mentioned he sought three areas of improvement in his second-year quarterback: Better decision-making, better accuracy and more clutch play late in games.

Well, Tannehill made pretty strong decisions; his only interception was on a tipped ball. He was pretty accurate (24 for 38). And he led the second-half comeback, including a deftly engineered, game-securing 85-yard TD drive in the fourth quarter.

Enough went right to handily dispatch a bad opponent, in a game Miami felt it had to have to set in motion realistic playoff hopes.

The Dolphins had lost eight of the previous nine road openers, so no style points were necessary. Only the win was.

Now a much tougher stretch of schedule comes, and of all the improvement Miami must make, fast, maybe the most needed and also the simplest to achieve is the one voiced by a certain receiver as he huffed to the team bus Sunday.

Sometimes the diva can be off-putting and ill-timed with his selfishness, but it doesn’t mean what he’s saying isn’t worth hearing.

More Mike Wallace, please.

About Greg Cote

Greg Cote

@gregcote

Greg Cote has been a Miami Herald sports columnist since 1995 and also writes the Random Evidence blog and NFL predictions along with his notorious sidekick the Upset Bird. He has covered Hurricanes football (1984-88), the Dolphins (1990-91) and major events including Super Bowls, NBA Finals, World Series, Stanley Cup, Olympics and World Cup.

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