Here is Joe Philbin’s vision for the 2015 Miami Dolphins:
Consistent. Precise. Physical. Opportunistic. Disciplined.
Now the reality of the first two weeks of the season:
The Dolphins have played poorly in the first half of games, well in the second.
They have committed 19 penalties, sixth-most in football through two weeks.
They have allowed 4.1 yards per rush (19th in the NFL) while gaining just 3.4 per run (26th).
They are middle of the pack in red-zone efficiency and bottom third in third-down conversions.
And both the offense and defense failed late in a tie game against the Jaguars last Sunday.
Put it all together, and you have a team that through two weeks has been average. And its 1-1 record reflects that.
“I think you get challenged every single week, and that’s the beauty of the National Football League,” Philbin said. “We can’t ever sit around and say that we’ve got this covered and you know exactly what’s going to happen on every single Sunday.”
He added: “Certainly we’re developing, and we’re working ourselves into playing the best football that we’re capable of playing. We haven’t gotten there yet, without a doubt. I’m not sure how many teams have, but I know this team hasn’t.”
And with that context, here come the Buffalo Bills — the team arguably most responsible for Philbin being on the hot seat in Season 4. The Bills and Dolphins meet Sunday afternoon in Miami’s home opener.
If history is any guide, the Dolphins will need to be at or near their best. From 2012 through 2014, they lost four of six games to Buffalo. The Bills went 17-25 against all other NFL teams in that span.
The Bills have had success because they have been such a tough matchup for Miami. Since Philbin took over the Dolphins, the Bills have sacked Ryan Tannehill 23 times and averaged 122.3 yards per game on the ground.
Granted, this is a new season with new faces.
Buffalo has a new coach (Rex Ryan), a new quarterback (Tyrod Taylor) and a new running back (LeSean McCoy). But their identity has stayed the same: play mistake-free offense and overwhelming defense.
Buffalo and Miami have the same record in this young season, but this game has dramatically different stakes for each. The Bills aren’t in a win-now mode. The Dolphins are. The Bills play more than two true home games in the first two months of the season. The Dolphins do not.
And the Bills have, more or less, met expectations.
The Dolphins have not — and all the “noise,” as center Mike Pouncey called it, from 2014 has already come roaring back.
Another loss — particularly if the Dolphins don’t play well — could take a simmering situation and make it boil over.
“The success of this team depends on the players and the coaches in the building,” tackle Jason Fox said.
Said lineman Branden Albert: “It’s a big game. We all know the implications of the game.”
Barring an 11th-hour recovery, Albert (hamstring injury) won’t play, and Fox will fill in at left tackle. That makes the challenge of stopping standout defensive linemen Jerry Hughes and Marcell Dareus that much tougher.
But no one — from Dolphins owner Stephen Ross to the casual fan — is in the mood for excuses. Not with what has been invested, in money and effort, the past four years.
If there’s ever a time for the Dolphins to find their identity, it’s now.
“There are no slumps; you can’t have an opportunity to get it back,” defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh said. “We’re at home, so we should protect our turf.”
▪ The Dolphins elevated center Sam Brenner from their practice squad, releasing center/guard Jacques McClendon to make room.