If your temptation is to the think things are getting better because the Miami Dolphins didn’t get completely blown out, but rather were just moderately dismantled in this one, then you’ve fallen under the tanking spell and I suggest you stop reading now.
Because this Sunday was a disaster every bit as disheartening as last one and the one before.
Truth is if it weren’t for the sliver of hope new starting quarterback Josh Rosen offered in the first half of this 31-6 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, the case could be made this Sunday was the worst the Dolphins have had this season.
And the reason is this Sunday we saw problems that reach beyond a sub-standard roster being overmatched by a superior opponent. Sure, we saw the Dolphins unable to match up.
But we also saw a compilation of misjudgments and mistakes and misdeeds come to life and those go beyond young players doing wrong things. Those suggest trouble is coming in the future when everyone’s expecting the gain portion of this short-term pain for long-term gain trade off to begin.
The reasons I’m saying this?
It’s a long list but let’s hit the highlights:
Begin with the fact Minkah Fitzpatrick’s first 60 minutes in Pittsburgh were better than any singular game he had with the Dolphins last year or the first two weeks this year.
Fitzpatrick, playing safety for a team he’s practiced with only three times, had an interception, a quarterback hit, a pass defensed, and he forced a fumble. He generally played the way the Dolphins told us he’d play when he was drafted by them with the No. 11 overall selection in 2018.
Except he didn’t play like that in Miami. And under this coaching staff, he hated being with Miami because he wanted to play a position or two and this staff stubbornly wanted him to play four or more and that caused him to ask to be traded.
So, yeah, this coaching staff had a good player in their grasp and couldn’t make it work.
Which leads me to Xavien Howard. He’s also a very good player.
And he just turned in his worst game of the season and one of the top three worst games of his career. Assigned to shadow Cowboys receiver Amari Cooper, the Dolphins cornerback gave up two touchdowns. Cooper caught six passes for 88 yards and those two scores.
On one play, Cooper put a double move on the Dolphins Pro Bowl cornerback and basically left him in his wake. Howard seemed to slow during the play as the ball went over his head.
That was the first play of the game for the Miami defense. So it wasn’t like Howard had struggled all day -- yet.
And, yes, Howard eventually manifested his frustration more openly when he started trading shoves with a Dallas receiver, delivered one shot to the head too many, was flagged for unnecessary roughness, and got ejected from the game in the fourth quarter.
So not a great day for an otherwise excellent player.
And taken as one snapshot, it’s not something to worry about because everyone has a good day or bad day. But taken as part of a total portrait, the picture I’m seeing is worrisome.
That picture is of good players not playing to standard or not playing in Miami anymore. That picture has Teddy Bridgewater going off as the New Orleans Saints starting quarterback when the Dolphins didn’t think Bridgewater was worth starting quarterback money last offseason.
That picture has Jakeem Grant regressing because his first three games this year have included two dropped punts, a dropped touchdown and other dropped passes. Those three games, meanwhile, have lacked any high-five-en-route-to-the-end-zone-moments like we saw last season -- before he got a contract extension from the team.
That picture has DeVante Parker being no better with this coaching staff than he was with the previous one, which is to say he’s inconsistent. Except the Dolphins decided to pay him more this year than they had in any previous season.
That picture includes the Dolphins being outscored, 68-0 in the second of games so far, which doesn’t speak well of the Miami staff’s in-game adjustments.
“I think as a staff, we’ve got to a better job with our second half adjustments,” coach Brian Flores said, before including the playmaking and execution of his roster as another issue.
That picture has running back Kalen Ballage amassing all of 16 rushing yards on 16 carries the first three games. This is the 231-pound second-year back who was given the football three times inside the 10 yard line Sunday -- showing the team’s confidence in him -- and he couldn’t score.
And speaking of confidence, the Dolphins looked at Ballage before training camp opened and made him the starting running back. And he’s played poorly multiple times now, including against New England when he ducked a pass thrown his way and bobbled a pass that was turned into a pick six.
These things speak of the players that either are or are not making the play. But it also speaks to a Dolphins coaching staff and personnel department that is failing to correctly judge or evaluate what those players can or cannot do.
That has ramifications for the future because the folks making those evaluations now are going to be making the evaluations during the so-called rebuild.
So where does this leave us?
Well many Dolphins fans have exited the scene altogether. This season became unpalatable to them well before this 0-3 start. Others are hanging on, many by a thread, looking for any semblance of improvement as a sign of hope.
That semblance Sunday was Rosen. He didn’t have a great day. As he said, there was “some good, some bad. I’d say in the middle.”
Rosen, running around behind a makeshift offensive line made worse by injuries to Jesse Davis and Danny Isidora, threw a dime to Preston Williams. It should have been a touchdown but the rookie dropped it.
He threw a perfect pass to Parker across the middle inside the 10 yard line. It looked like a touchdown in the making. Parker dropped it.
But he’s also troubled with Mike points -- meaning when the quarterback basically assigns blockers by identifying the middle linebacker prior to a play. He blew one in the Baltimore game and it turned into an interception.
He missed one Sunday and it affected the blocking on Ballage’s third-down run inside the 5 yard line.
Don’t ask me why Rosen wasn’t given a chance to throw on three downs inside the 10 yard line. As Rosen rightly said, “It’s not my call.”
But when Flores decided to take a field goal instead of going for the touchdown on fourth, Rosen wanted to go for it instead. That’s a great sign. A positive sign.
“I didn’t want to step off the field,” Rosen said. “I’m a quarterback and very competitive. I’d be very disappointed in any quarterback in any situation in that situation just jogging off the field like.
“If I had a little more say I’d have liked to Peyton Manning it -- wave them off and called the play. But we’re not there yet.”