This Golden Anniversary season in which the Dolphins are supposed to be in the conversation for the Golden Anniversary Super Bowl promised so much when Sunday dawned. There was palpable excitement about this new team’s new approach. There were high hopes about this franchise’s new possibilities.
And maybe that is still the case. Maybe great things remain on the horizon. After all, the Dolphins did win their season opener against the Redskins.
But any dispassionate look at the 17-10 result, which felt more like an exercise in survival than a grand victory, suggests very little is new now. It was, in some unnerving respects, the same old Dolphins.
And what is it about these new Dolphins that reminded so much of the old team that went 8-8 the past two seasons?
Bad run defense.
Bad red-zone play on offense.
Failure followed by success, followed by some more failure, and then more intermittent success.
On this first day of the 2015 season, the Dolphins looked a lot like the team they were for much of 2014 and 2013. And that is not a compliment.
When this game was over and coach Joe Philbin talked about its outcome, it was hard to tell if he was simply poaching quotes from a couple of years ago. It was hard to tell if his team had won or lost.
“We couldn’t get them in long yardage situations,” he said.
“They were moving the chains well,” he said.
“They certainly controlled the tempo in the first half,” he said.
Philbin was talking about a first half in which the Redskins dominated the Dolphins on the field if not on the scoreboard. While the Redskins rushed for 92 yards on Miami’s defensive front — the one fans, players, coaches and even owner Stephen Ross expected to be among the best in the NFL — the Dolphins managed only 2 rushing yards of their own.
In its second year under coordinator Bill Lazor and infused with new talent at wide receiver and tight end, the Miami offense is supposed to fly this year. Except it couldn’t stay on the field long enough to attempt a takeoff.
The Dolphins had the football less than seven minutes while the Redskins churned first downs and moved the chains for over 23 minutes in the first half. Washington had 15 more minutes of possession by the time the game ended.
The offense was not good, but it’s not uncommon to see offenses struggle early. But Miami’s trouble on defense, particularly in stopping the run, was an unwelcome surprise because that’s what Miami paid Ndamukong Suh $114 million to solve.
“Washington had a good scheme,” Philbin said. “They executed well. They kind of controlled the line of scrimmage. They didn’t have a ton of huge, long runs, thankfully. But they were ripping off four here, six here, eight here. They kept us off balance.”
The Redskins double-teamed Suh and cut block all of Miami’s interior linemen. Some Dolphins players said the cut blocks, legal by the way, were something they were not expecting.
“The football game is about adjustments, second-half adjustments, in-game adjustments,” Suh said. “So we obviously figured out what they were trying to do.”
In the second half, the Redskins were limited to 151 total yards, 67 rushing yards and, most importantly, zero points. That’s very good.
But here’s the thing: The Dolphins didn’t adjust until halftime. And that isn’t good enough.
The old adage is that high school teams adjust next game, college teams adjust next half, and NFL teams adjust next series. The Dolphins didn’t fix their issues on defense after one series. Or two. Or three.
It didn’t happen until halftime.
Another issue? The Redskins should not be confused with the New England Patriots. Washington has been a rollicking, rolling joke of a franchise for a couple of years, and the past three weeks have highlighted the height of the craziness.
In the past few weeks, a front office executive’s wife went on social media and accused a female reporter of trading sex for scoops. The team benched quarterback Robert Griffin III amid, of course, reams of controversy. And the team also announced it is charging everyone $50 simply for the privilege of using its Will Call window.
What does that have to do with the opponent the Dolphins faced on the field? Well, let’s just say this is not a model franchise and that doesn’t even account for the fact deep threat DeSean Jackson, the team’s most explosive offensive player, left the game in the first quarter, and safety Duke Ihenacho went out before halftime.
And against this unit the Dolphins couldn’t turn an interception Brent Grimes collected at the Washington 21-yard line into any points because they were stopped on fourth down at the 12-yard line.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill missed open tight end Dion Sims in the end zone on what should have been a TD. He fumbled once. He threw two passes that would have been intercepted had they not been dropped — including one that would have been returned for a touchdown.
Afterward, I asked Tannehill how this offense is any different from the one we’ve seen before — the one that has trouble running consistently and struggles in the red zone.
“It’s the same offense,” he said.
He meant scheme. I was thinking inconsistency.
I also asked linebacker Jelani Jenkins whether the Dolphins run defense — No.24 in the NFL last season — will this season more closely resemble the one we saw in the first half or the second half.
“The second half,” he said smiling.
It better be. Otherwise … same old Dolphins.