In South Florida, disappointing Decembers for the Dolphins have become as predictable as late-afternoon summer thunderstorms.
But even though these Dolphins can identify their shortcomings – they’re very good at that – they also seem incapable of fixing them, and another season is slipping away.
Lose Sunday at New England, or at home against the Vikings or Jets, and the Dolphins’ teetering, diminished playoff hopes will essentially evaporate.
“To win games in December against good teams, you’ve got to make plays in the fourth quarter,” coach Joe Philbin said Monday, a day after the Baltimore Ravens outscored the Dolphins 28-3 over the final 31 minutes in a 28-13 win.
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“I don’t feel like we played well in the fourth quarter,” Philbin said. “That starts with me. We have to finish games better. We have to learn from the mistakes. We have to correct them. We’ve got to have better execution, a better plan.”
The Dolphins, at least on Sunday, seemed doomed to repeat a recent history of December collapses. During the past 4 1/2 Decembers they entered still in playoff contention, Miami has gone 9-13.
They lost their last three games in 2009 and 2010, their last game in 2012 and their final two games in 2013, which cost them a playoff berth.
Several problems doomed the Dolphins on Sunday, and they’re nothing new: shoddy run defense, offensive line breakdowns and a lack of explosive plays.
On Monday, Philbin and his coordinators discussed them:
▪ The Dolphins allowed six sacks and right tackle Dallas Thomas permitted four of them, according to Pro Football Focus. Philbin, for the second day in a row, declined to say why he stuck with Thomas in the second half instead of replacing him with Jason Fox.
Asked if the Dolphins can continue with Thomas or if Fox is a viable option to replace him, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said “yes” on both.
“Dallas has played better than he played [Sunday] and I expect he will again,” Lazor said. “I have faith in Jason Fox and he’s an option for us also. It’s also my job to make sure we’re putting guys in the right position.”
Lazor said he hopes the six sacks were an anomaly. Miami ranks 20th in sacks allowed per passing play.
“There were errors that were made that we don’t feel should have been made,” he said. “Baltimore … kind of got the taste of blood in the water a little bit and they took advantage of it. …
“We have a lot of things we can do to help. Everything from running it instead of throwing, changing up the snap count, helping in protection, keeping more guys in, throwing it faster. It’s our job to make sure we mix up all of those things.”
But, Lazor added: “Let’s face it. … It’s also the players’ job to block. I don’t want to downplay that.”
▪ Miami’s run defense, which rose as high as fourth in the league, is now 22nd after allowing 202, 277 and 183 yards rushing in the past three games.
The Dolphins relinquished 107 yards rushing in the fourth quarter against Baltimore and defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle called that “inexcusable.”
So is this team simply not as good at stopping the run as everybody thought?
“No, I don’t think that’s the case,” Coyle said. “We were doing a decent job up until probably the last two drives when the majority of the yardage was gained. Early in the game, we played the run pretty well.”
▪ This offense still can’t make enough explosive plays. The Dolphins’ longest offensive touchdown in 2014 remains 21 yards. For two months earlier in the season, the Dolphins often could overcome that with an effective running game and a short and intermediate passing game.
But aside from the 36-point eruption in the loss at Denver, Miami’s offense has mustered just 16, 22, 16 and 13 points in their other games over the past five weeks.
Lazor, whose team is tied for 12th in points, said there were deep throws called Sunday that never materialized for an assortment of reasons, including quarterback pressure.
“Most of the time, there is a deep throw somewhere built into the play that’s called and then it’s up to the quarterback to say, ‘Hey, that one particular situation where that deep throw shows up – we call it an alert – if it’s there, take it,’ or otherwise work the rest of the play like you’re supposed to,” Lazor said. “There were some [Sunday] that we called specifically to throw it down the field, but the ball wasn’t able to get there. I’d be happy to score quickly on deep throws when we can. We’ve got to find another way. That’s my job.”