Armando Salguero

Comparing the 2017 Miami Dolphins to last year’s playoff team at midway point

Miami Dolphins Devante Parker was one of the Dolphins bright spots Sunday night.
Miami Dolphins Devante Parker was one of the Dolphins bright spots Sunday night. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

The Miami Dolphins are 4-4 at the halfway point of the 2017. And that’s exactly where they were last season at the halfway point.

So why does this 4-4 feel so ... so... unsatisfying compared to that bygone 4-4?

Well, it must be said the 2016 Dolphins won three consecutive games to get to 4-4. They were on a roll. They were starting to play well.

Jay Ajayi had already delivered the first of what would be three 200-yard games. Ryan Tannehill was settling into the offense. The defense had not yet been besieged by injuries to its linebacker corps.

The team was starting to find itself.

The ‘17 Dolphins?

Ajayi is gone in a trade and rushing for 46-yard touchdowns for the Philadelphia Eagles. Tannehill isn’t playing and new starter Jay Cutler has been good, then bad, then good.

But if you ask Cutler, all is well.

“I think we just have to look at the positives; offensively, we did some good things tonight,” Cutler said. “If we eliminate some of those penalties and that turnover when we’re driving, and we’re in good position. We’re 4-4 at the halfway point. (There is) a lot of football left to play. There’s a lot of opportunities for us to put it together.”

None of that is exactly wrong. But it feels wrong. It seems unlikely to be right.

Why?

Because the Dolphins, while not rudderless, are without direction right now.

I mean, what are they? Who are they?

Sunday night the team that showed up was a stranger.

On the bright side, DeVante Parker, who had missed three games with an ankle injury, showed up big this night. He had five catches for 76 yards and a 15.2 yard per catch average.

The rest was problematic.

Normally a team with a modest amount of discipline in staying away from penalties, the Dolphins drew 11 flags for 107 yards.

Five of those penalties came in the fourth quarter when, you know, it was most important to avoid negative plays.

“Whenever we weren’t going backwards from holding calls, I thought we had a really good rhythm,” Cutler said. “Guys were on the ball. I thought we mixed it up really well with our tempo. I got the ball out of my hand and got it to the guys that can make some plays. The running game, we had a few big runs that were sprinkled in there. (There were) a lot of positives. I think we’re going to look at the film and discuss some of these calls that we got against us. We’ve just got to clean it up for next week.”

Yeah, fine.

Except this is a new problem. The Dolphins it seems have become something of a leaky dam the past couple of weeks.

Patch one lead in that the offense scored 24 points and now the defense that played well earlier in the year is leaking.

The Raiders not only threw for 300 yards and ran for 84 yards but also this: The Raiders converted 8 of 15 third down plays. That’s 53 percent. And that is awful for the Miami defense.

“(It was) definitely frustrating,” defensive end Cameron Wake said. “Obviously the number one priority usually going into weeks is stopping the run. I think we did a decent job of that, but you stop the run so that you do get in that third-and-long situation, so that the guys up front can get after the pass rush, things like that; but they made a few more plays than we did when it came time to get off the field.

“By the time we started clicking, it seemed like it was too little too late, and that’s unfortunate because you have to treat every play like ˜this is the play that’s going to change the game,’ and literally one play either way -- in our favor or to our detriment. They made one more play than we did.”

Actually, the Raiders had at least three significant drops by accomplished wide receiver. And they still did significant damage to the Miami secondary. The Dolphins also could not stop tight end Jared Cook, who caught eight passes for 126 yards.

“We didn’t make that play that we needed to make to tie him up, whether it be through the rush or coverage,” coach Adam Gase said. “I know we tried a whole bunch of different things, but he seemed to find a way to get open.”

About getting open...The thinking is because Cutler had a fine game -- and he did because 34 of 42 for 311 yards and 3 TDs is great -- maybe this is the cornerstone the Dolphins can build on the remainder of this year.

And I’m going to be the bad guy that says pump the brakes on that.

I remind you the Raiders had not one, not two, but three cornerbacks injured this game. They were minus a starter and their No. 3 (slot) cornerback.

So the Dolphins were doing damage against two reserves who normally are not on the field. And so if you’re thinking that’s the building block upon which a second-half-of-the-season winning streak can be built, I would agree with you.

But only if the next eight games feature opposing defenses missing three cornerbacks.

And only if the next eight games feature opposing defenses missing three cornerbacks and an offense that still doesn’t score more points than the Dolphins despite the void.

Not great.

Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

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