Joe Philbin didn’t much like the way his team looked in pregame warmups last week, so he’s adjusting that Sunday because the way the team got warmed up for the Jacksonville Jaguars — apparently lacking energy or speed or something — is how they started the game.
And Philbin, the Miami Dolphins’ coach, admits failing to start fast “has been a little bit of an issue” for his team.
The Dolphins failed to start fast at Jacksonville, giving up a touchdown on the opening drive. Miami won the previous week at Washington, but the start to that game wasn’t textbook, either, as the Redskins took a 10-0 lead before the Dolphins woke up.
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And this is indicative of how the Dolphins have often started games in recent seasons. Regardless of whether they ultimately win or lose, more often than not this team starts as if it is rolling uphill.
Last season, for example, there were only three games in which the Dolphins jumped on an opponent offensively and defensively at the beginning of the game.
They took a 14-0 lead on the Bears and clearly established their superiority at Soldier Field. They started strong against the Chargers, increasing a 7-0 first-quarter advantage to 20-0 at halftime and never were challenged in the season’s most complete performance. They even had a 14-0 lead over Baltimore going to halftime before fading in the second half.
But starting fast three times over a 16-game season is not good. It’s bad.
It is, for example, much harder to beat the Patriots when they block a field goal and score on a 62-yard return less than three minutes into the game. That happened last season.
The Dolphins last season were down 10-0 at Detroit, down 14-0 to the Vikings, and even down 10-0 to the New York Jets.
Add to that a shocking 15 games in which the team failed to start fast in 2013 — with a 14-0 lead at New England being the exception — plus the two slow starts this season and you have more than a trend taking shape.
You have a developing picture of a team’s personality.
The Dolphins too often get into the flow of a game slowly, maybe taking a punch or two, before they wake up on offense or defense — or both — and start fighting back.
So maybe this team is what it is: A group of counter-punchers.
“I hope not,” Philbin said. “We’ve been a good team, a productive team, at halftime coming out scoring points. Obviously, these first two weeks, that’s been evident as well. But, yeah, we physically have to be ready to come out of the gate faster.”
But how does that happen?
“We’ve talked about having a better pregame,” Philbin said. “I didn’t really like our pregame last week. I know that sounds crazy, but I want more tempo in the pregame to get ourselves loosened up a little bit and moving a little bit.”
The coaching staff emphasized third downs and discipline regarding penalties during the practice week leading to the Buffalo Bills game.
Obviously, winning on third down determines whether the defense can get off the field. It also determines whether the offense can stay on the field. The Dolphins haven’t been good enough in either category, particularly early in games, to start fast.
“In the meeting room, it’s not just about me saying, ‘Get off to a fast start, get off to a fast start, get off to a fast start,’ ” Philbin said. “That’s great, but how are we going to do that? I think two things we needed to look at was third down and discipline. Let’s not hurt ourselves and let’s not extend drives for them. Let’s not give up anything free.”
Dolphins players believe having confidence is also important to a fast start.
“Confidence is everything in this league,” center Mike Pouncey said. “It isn’t just wake up out of bed and think you can do it. It takes repetition and practice, and it takes you believing in yourself.”
Cameron Wake said, “it’s going out, seeing situations at practice, running around and feeling fast, feeling confident. Then on game day it should be second nature.”
Here’s another suggestion: Coach more aggressively.
Force players to attack. Try a deep throw early. Get after the opposing quarterback or punter with an unexpectedly heavy rush in an early game situation.
Do something out of the ordinary to get an extraordinary result.
“I’d love to get off to a fast start. I’d love to get a nice lead,” Philbin said. “I talked to the team about seizing and then maintaining momentum. The first two weeks we really haven’t had it for any period of time, momentum. We’ve battled back. We won one game, we lost one game. But it’s never felt like … we haven’t been in control either week. That’s another point. We have to complement one another.
“We didn’t make a lot of impact plays on defense last week. We held them out in the second half until the very end. But the negative plays weren’t there. The sacks weren’t there, the fumble recoveries, the interceptions weren’t there. We have to a better job doing those things, getting momentum, and then building off one another on offense and defense.”