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  Credibility on the Line
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by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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When a team drops back-to-back prime time losses at home to divisional opponents, itís fair and objective to question the credibility and viability of its playoff chances.


For the Miami Dolphins, that time is now.


Really, what are we to make of this team at the quarter point of the season? They could just as easily be 4-0 right now as 0-4. Perhaps this means that their 2-2 record is right after all.


Itís just a darn shame that both losses had to come at home versus big rivals in front of rabid, prime time fans. For a franchise trying hard to rebuild its winning tradition, those sorts of setbacks really hurt the teamís credibility in the eyes of the fans and the media. All the glitz and stars and yards of orange carpeting canít make up for the one thing craved most of all: winning.


But all is not lost here. Not by a long shot. There is still time to get this season back on track. And IT IS off track now, no debate necessary. So the first thing to be done is to improve the execution of responsibilities, both by coaches and players. If they do this, the Miami Dolphins have the talent to win. They just need to start winning again, like right now, if they are re-gain what they lost under the lights of the past three weeks.


To put it specifically, they need to win three of their next four games to re-gain credibility lost. They need a winning record at the midway point if they are to be considered a truly serious playoff team.


Itís a tall order, made taller by the fact that their next four games are at Green Bay (3-2), at home versus Pittsburgh (3-1), at Cincinnati (2-3), and at Baltimore (4-1).


So just how is this team going to hit the halfway point with a 5-3 or 6-2 record facing a murderers row like that?


Itís simple to understand really when you realize that the biggest obstacle here is not the aforementioned opponents. Itís that old foe ďinconsistencyĒ, the single best way to describe the play of this yearís Dolphins; world beaters on one drive and chumps the next.


Coach Tony Sparano seemed to understand this when he decided to fire special teams coach and long time pal John Bonamego. Painful as it was for Sparano, the move was long overdue as Bonamego just wasnít getting through to his guys, and hadnít been in two plus seasons. The dogs just werenít eating the dog food, so Sparano replaced Bonamego with assistant Darren Rizzi. Rizzi, with heavy input from Sparano, took full advantage of the bye week by working on fundamentals and other assorted breakdowns straightaway. It was good and meaningful work.


I knowÖwhat about the players?


Yes, the players have to be accountable. And no one holds players accountable better than Sparano. But that wasnít going to go far enough here because these issues were not the result of one horrific game, but rather the sum of two plus seasons of sub par play involving, literally, dozens of players. The one constant through it all was Bonamego. He had to go.


If Sparano learned anything from last year, itís that sometimes you add to your team when you subtract from it. Case in point: Gibril Wilson, a safety who cost the Dolphins several games due to poor tacking and cover skills. Nothing was going to make Wilson better. Thatís why the simple act of cutting Wilson allowed the Dolphins the chance to get better. Thatís what Sparano is doing here in replacing Bomamego with Rizzi, giving the Dolphins a chance to get better.


Meanwhile, the Dolphin defense is giving itself a chance to get better simply by getting LB Channing Crowder and DE Jared Odrick back from injury. Both men are welcomed sights, and will immediately solidify the front seven. This will help alleviate the inconsistency issues weíve seen over the past two games, which is why we should expect the defense to return closer to the form we saw at the start of the season.


Then thereís the offense, that everlasting source of frustration. The answers are far less straightforward here, but I will tell you that firing Dan Henning isnít one of them. As passionate as some fans and media are in criticizing Henningís playcalling, and I have been in the chorus on a few occasions, he is still one of the most innovative minds in football. The Dolphins are much better with him than without.

Rather, Iím afraid the answers here begin with QB Chad Henne. The inconsistency on offense is a simple mirror of Henneís own inconsistency.


While his learning curve is hard for us to endure, patience is a must if the Dolphins are to have a chance at greatness. Would it be easier having Chad Pennington play? Of course it would. Yet staying the course here is something Sparano must be stubborn about.


Will the sum of these moves and non-moves be enough to propel the Dolphins back to the land of credibility? We shall soon find out.


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