After the Dolphins lost again -- ending the first quarter of their season with an 0-4 record, as expected -- the charade continued.
Coach Brian Flores talked about his team making some improvements, although obviously not enough to win. He talked about his players again falling “eight to 10 plays” short of making this “a much tighter game.”
He told his players he wanted everyone, coaches and players, to be better so the results everyone’s hoping for can start to manifest soon.
“And that’s my message to the team,” Flores said. “We need to start making those plays. We’ve got to coach it better, we’ve got to play better, and that’s kind of where we’re at.”
In the Miami locker room, players were asked about a first half in which they played almost even with the Los Angeles Chargers. But they were also asked about the second half in which the Chargers outscored Miami 17-0, continuing a theme that has run through every game this season:
That Miami gets plowed in the second half -- now, by a combined total of 81-0.
Several players seemed to suggest following Sunday’s 30-10 loss that Miami’s issues can be addressed simply by playing better. And a little work will remedy that, they said.
“We had a good first half of executing what we need to do right,” receiver DeVante Parker said. “And then in the second half we have to just work on it.”
Then the conversation turned to correcting things during the coming bye week so that when the season picks up again on October 13 against the Washington Redskins, these Dolphins can finally muster 60 complete minutes of football -- which they has not yet delivered this season.
And this is where I tell you I admire Flores for remaining hopeful. And ardent. And holding his players to a standard.
I appreciate him doing the work to squeeze better results out of this dry lemon of a season.
But hasn’t anyone told these folks their franchise is tanking?
Hasn’t anyone informed Flores his roster was substandard before the season began and then he agreed with two blockbuster trades that sent perhaps three of his top five players elsewhere? Did he miss those moves?
Look, the Dolphins are a team with little to no chance of succeeding in 2019. Everyone is aware of this. And Flores is in the unenviable spot of putting lipstick on the porpoise by doing the job as if he has a legitimate team on his hands.
But he cannot be the only one who doesn’t know he doesn’t have a real team. And he cannot be the only person who doesn’t know this season is about nothing other than next season.
He cannot be unaware of the idea that his head coaching career’s long-term viability depends on Miami finding the best quarterback in next year’s draft so maybe the franchise can get back to having a chance next year.
So forgive me if the talk of getting better execution from inferior players not capable of consistent execution loses me to more important thoughts of Tua Tagovailoa or Justin Herbert or some other top tier college quarterback being drafted next year.
I know fans will say this year is about more than that. It’s about seeing if Josh Rosen is going to be a great player. It’s about developing guys. It’s about finding gems that will carry over to Dolphins teams of years to come.
Except we pretty much already know the answers to all these things.
Rosen? He’s solid. Sometimes when he gets good protection he looks amazing. And sometimes when the defense pressures him or his pass protection breaks down, he looks bad.
You know what that makes him? The guy the Dolphins will bring back next year to compete with Tangovailoa or Herbert or the other quarterback the Dolphins pick in the first round of the 2020 draft. That’s decided. That’s done.
There’s nothing Rosen can do or will do between now and December to change that -- particularly since he doesn’t have a load of talent around him to increase his chances of pleasantly surprising.
Other things we know from the first quarter of this season?
First round draft pick Charles Harris was a disappointment under the Wide 9 system he played in the last two years. And he has not been any more productive under the Flores defense.
Cornerback Eric Rowe in New England was a player who looked the part at 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, with plenty of speed and quickness. And yet the Patriots jettisoned him because receivers were too often open.
Just as the receivers Rowe has been covering in Miami have been too often open.
By the way, Phillip Rivers completed 80 percent of his passes on Sunday. He threw a couple of touchdowns.
He too often made it look easy. Because the Dolphins failed to execute the plan Flores and his assistants had devised for pressuring the future Hall of Fame quarterback. And do you know why the players failed to execute the plan?
Because they are not good enough. It’s not a secret. And it’s not changing, folks.
Dolphins’ leadership has said multiple times the team has a good nucleus of young players. Kalen Ballage, Jakeem Grant, and Albert Wilson are included in that group.
Well, Ballage’s season continues to head in the wrong direction. He dropped another pass on Sunday. He rushed two times for seven yards. He is now losing snaps to Mark Walton, who is a better pass catcher, as well as Kenyan Drake.
Grant struggled the first three games and injured a hamstring on Sunday. The injury isn’t his fault. Except when players who should be part-timers are asked to play more snaps and deliver bigger moments, they either rise to the occasion or their limitations are exposed.
And that’s where Miami is with Grant.
Wilson, meanwhile, missed his third consecutive game. He’s played only eight of a possible 20 games. When he’s on the field he’s been fantastic. But durability is important in the NFL and it’s become an issue with Wilson.
Finally, let’s address the elephant in the room and that is Miami’s second-half struggles this year. Flores blames himself and his coaches for their adjustments and his players for their execution.
I blame the other team. Because what I’ve seen in those games against New England, Dallas and even against the Chargers, was teams not consistently stepping on the accelerator in the first half against Miami.
And that made the Dolphins look pretty good by comparison. But once the other teams see themselves in a fight, they bow their backs in the second half and put the Dolphins away. It wasn’t that the Dolphins collapsed.
It was the other teams simply took Miami more seriously.
I have no proof of this. It’s only my belief. But I like the chances of that being true much more than Flores believing his undermanned team can execute better and do it consistently over multiple games to make the remainder of this season more palatable.