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  Five Keys to Success for 2007
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by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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Football is the greatest of team sports; eleven men on the field at once, all performing in unison to achieve a desired goal. All must do their jobs well, or the team fails.


But simply saying that ‘each player must go out and play their best every week’ is too easy and misses the point of my annual “keys to success” column. Rather, the idea is to identify the vital few things that will make the difference between success and failure for the Miami Dolphins.


There have been few surprises thus far. The defense looks to be as good as expected, and the offense seems to be improving. The early returns on the latest draft class are positive in all respects, while the new leadership team of coach Cam Cameron and GM Randy Mueller is making an early positive impression.


The bottom line, however, is winning. That’s how the 2007 Dolphins will ultimately be judged.


While I always refrain from predicting records, it seems reasonable to conclude that they have enough talent to make the playoffs.


Yet talent alone won’t get it done for the Dolphins this season; they simply don’t have enough of it to just show up and play reasonably well, as truly great teams are capable of.


And so, with the final preseason game serving primarily as an evaluative tool for the final 10-15 roster spots, the time has come to share my five “keys to success” for the 2007 Miami Dolphins:


1) Starters Must Avoid the Injury Bug

Overall, this is not a deep team. For example, the offensive line doesn’t have eight NFL caliber linemen to choose from; some players will make the final cut that wouldn’t stand a chance on most other teams; the defensive line will be forced to play promising, yet untested, players; the third and fourth wide receivers (likely Ted Ginn, Jr. and Derek Hagan) have one year of experience between them; reserve quarterbacks Cleo Lemon and John Beck have one NFL start between them. There’s more, but you get the idea.


What this means is that the Dolphin starters must stay healthy. An injury to a key starter such as Trent Green, Vernon Carey, Ronnie Brown, Jason Taylor, or even Yeremiah Bell could have severe consequences. The talent gap between many of the starters and their back-ups is just too great.


2) Average 20 points or more per game

Cameron wants the 2007 offense to be ranked in top half of the NFL, and with good reason: only 14 of 60 (23%) of the playoff teams from the past five years were ranked lower than 16th in scoring. In 2006, the Dolphins were ranked 29th with a pitiful 16.2 point/game average; the top 16 teams averaged 20 ppg. The rate of improvement of the offensive line is perhaps the biggest factor in achieving this goal. Still, Cameron’s offense revolves primarily around the quarterback and halfback positions; this means that Green and Brown must play well.


3) Start fast, finish strong

It is vital that the Dolphins find ways to win early while their offense is maturing, or they’ll risk being out of the playoff hunt before Thanksgiving. It helps that the first six games are against softer opponents. The Dolphins must take advantage.  In the end, however, playoff tickets are almost always punched in December. As such, the Dolphins must be far enough along to be able to withstand a tough closing gauntlet that includes trips to Buffalo and New England, with home games against 2006 playoff teams (Jets, Ravens). The Dolphins close out the year at home against the Bengals.


4) Cam Cameron and Dom Capers need to bring their “A” games each week

Cameron is in Miami largely due to his acumen on offense. Capers was given a very lucrative contract, with broad decision powers as a defensive coordinator because he is one of the best in the business. Capers’ brilliance as a strategist, coupled with the impressive talent at his command, gives the Dolphins an exceptional edge each and every week. Without it, the Dolphins aren’t competitive. For Cameron, he must find creative ways to achieve Item #2 above (20 points per game). A lot is at stake. Consider that the Dolphins would have made the playoffs last year had they been able to accomplish this feat.


5) Win at home

During the Dolphins’ five year playoff drought, their home winning percentage is 57%. The combined home winning percentage of the eventual Super Bowl champions during that same time is 88%. If we throw out the 7-1 home record in 2002, Miami is an even .500 team at Dolphin Stadium. This trend must change if there is to be success in 2007. Success on the field will bring excitement back to the fan base, which will help turn Dolphin Stadium into a tougher place for opponents to play, which will help the Dolphins play better.  

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