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  Dolphins Own Worst Enemy
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by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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There are many questions flying across Dolphinland this week in the wake (and it sure feels like a wake) of the Dolphinsí disappointing 0-2 start. Two games that could have been won, two games lost mostly to self-inflicted wounds.


Whatís disturbing is that different areas of the team have failed at different points along this early journey, completely counter to what we saw last season from essentially the same bunch. Itís certainly inconsistent with what we were expecting.


Take the offensive line and defense, for example. Against Atlanta, the line couldnít block your grandmother while defense kept bailing out the boat. Against the Colts, the roles were reversed! The line dominated while the defense looked like something out of a Tom Olivadotti horror flick.


How can this be? This is supposed to be a disciplined divisional champion! There is solid veteran leadership on both sides of the ball and in the front office, so they had to know that opponents were going to be bringing their A-games. Surely, they knew they had to show up each and every week, that there would be no sneak attacks this time around.


Apparently not.


Unfortunately, itís inconsistency and, yes, lack of preparation that plagues the 2009 Miami Dolphins.


Let me put it bluntly: the Dolphins, players and coaches, didnít come out of the preseason ready to play live action football. At times they look stuck in mid-August, struggling to get into a consistent groove, working to get organized. Whatís worse, there is a cavalier attitude that is settling on different parts of the team at different times.


That lack of discipline and urgency is why they are 0-2 today.


The good news is that it isnít a talent issue, for the most part. Weíve seen enough to know that the running game and defensive front seven are good enough to stand with anybody. These are two core elements of a championship team. But NFL history is littered with talented teams that simply squandered that ability by not coming prepared to produce each and every week.


Offensively, weíve seen glaring and shocking consistency issues that have cost the team both games.


In Week One, it was Jake Long and offensive line sleepwalking against the Falcon defense. We saw TE Anthony Fasano fumble balls away that he normally secures. We saw Chad Pennington display an uncharacteristic lack of field vision and pocket awareness while turning the ball over twice, things he just doesnít tolerate.


In Week Two, it was the mid-to-deep passing game, together with the two minute offense, that cost the Dolphins a win. WR Ted Ginn Jr., who pulled in 11 catches, many for 1st downs, missed two long touchdown passes that top notch receivers come down with. Simply going 1 for 2 would have been the difference in a Dolphin win, but Ginn misjudged both passes.


Offensive coordinator Dan Henning fell on his sword in claiming responsibility for the disorganization in the two minute offense. Thatís fine, but it doesnít tell the whole story.


Pennington was not forceful enough in driving the tempo of the offense. Thatís the quarterbackís job! Yeah, Sparano and Henning both crow about getting off 14 plays in 3:13, but everyone watching that drive knows that they left A LOT of time on the field. When Pennington saw that he didnít have the right guys to do what a play called for, he should have taken matters into his own hands and called a different play to make the best of the situation. Time is king, and Pennington failed to manage it well. Passing it off to coaches and players was, in my opinion, lame.


Something just is not right with Pennington this year. Last season, he was much more on top of his game and was smart in how he managed the offense. Thatís mostly a subjective statement, I know. But his passer rating is down 20+ points from where he was last season.


What is that?


I canít answer that question in specific terms, but I am very suspicious of some of the hits he took in the preseason. In particular, the wicked shot he took from the Bucsí Louis Holmes back on August 27 concerns me.


Pennington had pirouetted away from several pass rushers and, just after releasing a pass to Fasano for a touchdown, Holmes cracked Pennington very hard. Pennington came off the field with a brave expression on his face that seemed to betray pain. Did something happen there (or on another hit) that Pennington is trying to play through?


Hereís what I know. Up until the moment of the Holmes hit, Pennington looked primed to have a monster year, ready to build on his NFL MVP runner-up season. Everything about his play up to that point screamed it. But he just hasnít been quite the same since that hit. Again, I admit this is a very subjective observation that could be totally wrong. But there it is.


Of course it isnít all about the quarterback. Defensively, the run stoppers are solid (7th in NFL), but the pass rush is inconsistent. And while the pass defense dodged some bullets against Matt Ryanís Falcons, they couldnít do the same against the Colts. Peyton Manning does have a Marino-like way about making defenses pay for mistakes, doesnít he?


Of course much has been said and written about the starting safeties, Yeremiah Bell and Gibril Wilson. Itís true that neither man has distinguished himself particularly well. Both guys have been abused in successive weeks by tight ends Tony Gonzalez and Dallas Clark, with Antonio Gates now on deck. Yes, Gonzalez embarrasses a lot of safeties, so in a way you tip your cap and move on.


Still, the thing to do when facing guys like Gonzalez, and is there really anyone as good as him over the years, is to get the man on the ground when he does make the catch. We know Bell can tackle and takes good angles; his work in pass coverage and run support over the years proves that. But Wilson? Heís looking more and more like this yearís Ernest WilfordÖa highly paid free agent who isnít justifying his contract. He canít tackle, canít catch, and is shaky is pass coverage. Tyrone Culver, anyone?


The Dolphins are now off to San Diego for a ďmust winĒ game as a loss will all but mathematically kill the teamís playoff hopes. Thatís the inescapable reality of starting a season 0-3, especially with the tough stretch of opponents coming up.


We know the talentís better than last year. The time has come for the team to play up to it. So far the Dolphins have committed turnovers, blown assignments, failed to tackle or catch consistently, and have managed games poorly.


As Don Shula would say, thatís failing to get the job done.

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