The Dolphins’ biggest problem is not their banged up offensive line.
It is not their leaky secondary.
It’s not their lack of pass rush or poor special teams or inconsistent running game.
This has been the Dolphins’ biggest problem this year, or at least it was entering Monday night’s game against the Carolina Panthers: They do not play like a team.
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“The biggest thing is we need to play better complementary football,” Dolphins special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi said. “It seems to me like when the offense is playing well, we’re not playing well in the other phases and when the defense is playing well, we’re not playing well in the other phases.”
Rizzi continued: “I think complementary football is probably the biggest improvement we can make moving forward in the second half of the season, that’s where I see it from my seat, just being more consistent in all three phases and playing well together. It seems like we haven’t done that very well or very often. I think that will help us play better in the first half of games if we play complementary football. That’s where I think we can make the biggest improvement here in the second half.”
Here are a few examples:
▪ In their first three losses — to the Jets, Saints and Ravens — the Dolphins scored a total of six points and turned the ball over five times. And while the defense was a similar no-show in the 40-0 pasting by Baltimore, that side of the ball held up its end of the bargain against New York and New Orleans. Miami allowed a combined first-half 13 points in those two games, only to wear down late.
▪ The Dolphins’ offense finally figured things out last week against the Raiders, but this time it was the defense’s turn to struggle. Miami allowed 27 points, including a gift field goal at the end of the first half, which ended up being the difference in the game. But the offense was far from blameless. The Dolphins had a chance to go up two scores in the first half, but Kenyan Drake fumbled in the red zone.
▪ During the Dolphins’ long winning streak last year, someone different would step up and make a play each week. Kiko Alonso had a pick-six against the Chargers. Ryan Tannehill led the Dolphins on back-to-back touchdown drives late against the Rams. Jay Ajayi ripped off a long run in overtime against the Bills. Kenyan Drake had the kick return against the Jets. But that has not been the case this year. The Dolphins’ return game has been nonexistent and Miami had just three interceptions through its first eight games. They were minus-3 in takeaways entering Monday night after going plus-2 a year ago.
▪ They can never seem to start fast. Last Sunday marked the seventh time in eight games the Dolphins trailed at the half. If not for late special-teams gaffes by the Chargers and the Falcons, the Dolphins would have been 2-6 at the midway mark instead of 4-4.
“Not to be ‘Captain Obvious,’ but obviously we want to start better,” Rizzi said. “I think we put a lot of emphasis on that and I think our team has been a very good second half team now for a couple of years, not just this year. Really since Adam [Gase] has been here, we have played well, we have played pretty good second half football. I think that’s pretty well-documented. I think the one emphasis that Adam has obviously made this year is just getting started better. I’d love to tell you I have the magic answer on why we don’t; but it’s something that we certainly can’t [do].
“Digging yourself into a hole is not really the way you want to go.”