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
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
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
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.