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After hot start, Miami Dolphins hit a crossroads

Posted by Erik Frenz  October 21, 2013 08:00 AM

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Just shy of one month ago, the Dolphins knocked off the Falcons in surprising fashion to move to 3-0 on the season.

Flash forward four weeks, and the Dolphins have fallen to 3-3 after a 23-21 loss to the upstart Bills, starting third-string quarterback Thaddeus Lewis. The Dolphins have yet to even face the Patriots this season, but are already two games back in the AFC East, and one game behind the Jets for second place.

Unless that gets corrected sometime in the next 10 weeks, the Dolphins will be answering some serious questions this offseason.

The Dolphins were gearing up to make a run at the division title after spending an estimated $248.06 million this offseason. Now, headed into a Week 8 showdown with the Patriots at Gillette Stadium, the Dolphins could be fighting to keep their season alive.

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill finally threw for three touchdowns in a game, hitting that mark for the first time in his 22-game career, but that didn't come without three costly turnovers, including a sack-fumble with less than three minutes to go. The Dolphins have not played consistently enough to overcome turnovers from their quarterback; they are 7-4 when he does not turn it over and 3-8 when he does.

The Dolphins offensive line allowed just two sacks on the day, both at the hands of right tackle Tyson Clabo (has allowed eight sacks on the season), but the sack-fumble came at the most inopportune time, and brought the pass protection issues back to the forefront. They have allowed 26 sacks as a team this season, and are on pace to allow 69 sacks -- just seven shy of the NFL record.

They used the bye week wisely, and made some great adjustments to try to protect their quarterback, including their increased focus on running the ball and getting Tannehill outside the pocket on rollouts to protect him from pressure, but this is the second game in a row where the Dolphins have had some questionable coaching decisions in a late-game situation.

The Dolphins had run the ball successfully in the first three quarters, picking up 116 yards on 22 carries (5.3 average) but they reverted back to their old tendencies (ranked 29th in rushing prior to Sunday) and ran just three times in the fourth quarter.

"There's always more than one option when it comes to doing things," said Philbin after the loss.

A 46-yard pass play set the Dolphins up at the Ravens' 34-yard line, and with the clock ticking and 1:01 left in the game, Philbin had his quarterback spike the ball to stop the clock.

In that moment, they had the Ravens on their heels, and they were in field goal range, needing just three points to tie it. On one hand, they didn't want to blow their shot at a field goal by taking an unnecessary risk; on the other hand, running a play in this spot wouldn't have exactly been a huge risk -- the whole field was in play, and worst-case scenario, they could have spiked it on the next play.


One look at the Ravens defense, which hardly got set by the time the Dolphins ran to the line to set up for the spike, tells the story of a missed opportunity for the Dolphins. The next play, Tannehill was sacked (go figure), the next pass was dropped, and kicker Caleb Sturgis' 57-yard field goal try was eventually wide left.

It's understandable if a coach realizes he made a mistake, but Philbin stood by the decision the day after.

"I do. And I was the one who made the call," Philbin said, addressing the thought that Tannehill had autonomously decided to spike the ball.

It's important to remember these are sometimes singular moments in a 60-minute game, and while they shouldn't necessarily forge our lasting impression of these individuals, those decisions are often the difference between winning and losing.

General manager Jeff Ireland is an interesting case. The fourth-year GM quietly received a one-year contract extension this offseason, so it would appear he's safe. While NFL front office

Philbin and the offensive line are less safe,

It's impossible to pinpoint where the changes would be made. Really, it depends on how the rest of the season unfolds. At this point, though, drastic changes look necessary on the offensive line.

The Dolphins season isn't lost -- especially with a win in New England on Oct. 27 -- but a loss in the same spot will have a lot of people wondering what major changes, if any, the offseason holds.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Erik Frenz delivers analysis of the biggest news with the Patriots, including insight into the AFC East and New England's biggest rivals from a Patriots perspective. Erik is an interactive writer who engages his audience in his posts’ comments sections and on Twitter. Readers are encouraged to share their thoughts and ask questions. More »


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