ESPN, which does not deem the national anthem worthy of airtime on its Monday Night Football broadcast, also doesn’t think much of the Miami Dolphins. That’s obvious based on the sports media company dropping Adam Gase’s team to No. 32 in its latest preseason “power rankings” of NFL teams.
No. 32, by the way, is dead last.
So somebody at ESPN thinks the Dolphins are the NFL’s worst team.
My problem with that? Look, opinions are fleeting, especially when based on factors that will be settled with tangible facts on the field and in the standings. But it would be nice if the Dolphins could do a better job of proving this opinion worthless sooner rather than later.
And so far this preseason, they haven’t.
So far the Dolphins starting offense hasn’t scored a touchdown in two preseason games. The New England Patriots have. The Buffalo Bills have. The New York Jets haven’t, but only if you don’t think Teddy Bridgewater will be their starting quarterback because, otherwise, they have.
So the Dolphins are perhaps alone in the AFC East in not getting their starters in the end zone yet -- despite having one drive start at Carolina Panthers 9 yard line last week.
Miami’s offense hasn’t been good on third down across the board. The starters and backups have combined for four conversions in 24 tries. That is worst in the NFL so far this preseason.
So none of this suggests a 10- or 11-win season is on the horizon. This stuff makes ESPN sound like it has the Dolphins nailed for what they are.
The good news?
The Dolphins know they have issues to clean up and are working toward that.
And the Dolphins are holding stuff back for, you know, when the games actually count.
About the third down failures: They’re more appropriately failures on earlier downs.
“We’re third-and-13, third-and-25, third-and-14. It’s just unmanageable,” Gase said on Sunday. “It comes from second down, penalty, negative play. Those are where we really have to eliminate our issues. No negative plays on first and second down gives us a chance to see third-and-6 or less, which gives us a high percentage of converting.
“We had an opportunity on third-and-six, we made a mistake, and it’s a critical one because it affects everybody else. That’s what we need to get cleaned up. We have to be on it as far as not making the mistakes that we can control. These are things that we’re hurting ourselves. Our guys have to understand this week that that has to be our focus.
“If we want to be better on third down, we have to clean up first and second down, and then when we get to third and manageable, we have to convert. Everybody needs to do the right thing.”
Everybody has to do the right thing on defense also because, guess what? The Miami defense has also looked bad at significant moments this preseason.
And I’m defining significant moments as a majority of the time.
The Miami defense is last in run defense this preseason. It’s 28th in rushing average allowed. It’s 28th in first downs allowed per game. And it’s 27th in third down conversions, allowing 12 conversions in 25 opportunities.
The most troubling picture of the Dolphins defense so far is that 71-yard run given up on the second play from scrimmage against Carolina.
Cameron Wake got blocked right by one man.
Akeem Spence got blocked left by another man.
And that created a hole at the line of scrimmage because linebacker Jerome Baker picked a side of the hole rather than, you know, fill the hole. And that allowed him to get blocked, too.
Middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan got blocked by another guy.
Notice no one is getting off blocks so far in this narrative?
“[Cornerback] Bobby [McCain] had a chance to save the day,” Gase said. “He got a little too aggressive. Sometimes, when you’re a secondary player, you want to be aggressive to really show, ‘I’ll mix it up, I’ll get in there.’ Sometimes we need him to be just ‘hang there, do your job, and if that breaks through you just get him down and let us reload.’
“I think we had two guys get too aggressive in that aspect in the secondary and we didn’t fit it right. We had a lot of guys do right on that play, but then all it takes is one guy to not do the right thing and it could be a chain reaction across the board.”
The other guy who got too aggressive was safety T.J. McDonald, who took a bad angle to running back Christian McCaffrey. And that’s how McCaffrey’s 71-yard touchdown run happened.
So is the Miami defense going to fill the gaps, fit the holes with defenders and be a better run defense this year than a year ago when it was middle-of-the-pack ordinary?
“Yes,” Gase said. “Because I can see kind of how it’s starting to come together. We got two young linebackers back there that, we’ll get those guys up to speed and they’ll be doing it right once we hit this thing that first week.
“We have athletic guys in that second level, and we’ll get it fit right, because that’s going to be on us as coaches. We’ll give those guys an opportunity to make plays, and they’ll make it.
“I think it’s coming down to cleaning up the details. It’s like those little tiny things that big picture-wise, you see something negative happen and you start going, ‘Why is that happening? Why did that happen?’ Then when you go back and start watching the film, you start correcting them, you really get encouraged because you’re going, ‘We can fix this.’ I’m not sitting there like ‘How do we fix this?’ where there’s frustration.
“We can see how to fix it. We have to go do it in practice, and then we have to execute it correctly in a game. If we keep taking things from practice to a game, that’s going to give us our best shot to do it right in pressure situations. I think the guys that we have right now, I’m encouraged that we’re going to get that done.”
We’ll have to wait to see if the Dolphins can prove ESPN wrong.
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