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  For Dolphins, Answers Just Ahead In Big D
    | Home | News Wire | Roster | Depth Chart | Schedule |  

by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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Are you confused? Or just plain frustrated? Maybe you are thrilled yet flabbergasted.

Itís a state of mixed emotions right now thundering across Dolphin Nation. For many, the current three game winning streak is welcomed. For others who crave the top overall pick in next Aprilís draft, itís not.

Never in this teamís history has there been such a passionate debate about the value of winning. Itís extraordinary and a little sad.

First, let me address the naysayers. As I wrote in this space two weeks ago, the ďSuck for LuckĒ campaign was desperate and an embarrassment. The chance of it working was slim. And any argument that too much winning is bad simply because you want the team to draft a highly regarded QB prospect is equally misguided.

There are no guarantees, people. None. Instead of wishing for losses, pray for competency in the front office and let the natural course of events lead this team where it may. Meanwhile, enjoy the ride.

Ah yes, the ride! Three dominant weeks of football, the kind of stuff people were expecting from the start from these Dolphins. Better late than never, I say. Only now youíll need a pretty thick rug for the kind of praying required to get to 9-7 and a shot at the playoffs.

Those losses to Denver and Cleveland look even more egregious now, donít they?

But whatís done is done, and the right and proper thing for Tony Sparano and his players now is to focus on their Thanksgiving tilt with the Dallas Cowboys at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas (4:15pm ET, CBS).

This is a big game, people; a nationally televised affair that promises to answer a great many questions about the true nature of the 2011 edition of the Miami Dolphins.

Remember the last time the Dolphins locked up with the Cowboys on Thanksgiving? That was 2003, ironically against a Bill Parcells-coached team with Sparano inaugurated in his role as offensive line coach. The Dolphins, in their Ď72 perfecto duds, thrashed the Cowboys 40-21 that day to continue their playoff push (ultimately unsuccessful).

This season, the circumstances are obviously different. We had a sense then that those Dolphins were probably not good enough. Now we are just wondering if these Dolphins are good at all.

In other words, who are the real 2011 Dolphins? The 0-7 lost boys, or the 3-0 dominators?

"People don't want to hear it, but chemistry takes time," WR Brian Hartline theorized to Brian Biggane of the Palm Beach Post. "We have an offensive coordinator (Brian Daboll) in his first year here. We have a quarterback (Matt Moore) in his first year, and a receiver (Brandon Marshall) in his second. Most of the offensive line has been here one or two years."

Hartline is correct with all of his points. Additionally, as I wrote back in the summer, the lockout had the predicted detrimental effect on overall preparation, conditioning, and readiness. Settled teams like the Green Bay Packers and the New England Patriots would have an easier time overcoming it.

One thing most pundits would agree on is that the Dolphins were not 0-7 bad in terms of talent. But some things had to change for the winning to begin, the two biggest being improved QB play and better defense. The Dolphins have those now. But are these changes permanent or just a reflection of the quality of the recent opposition?

Letís start with QB Matt Moore, who has taken his game to the next level over the past month. He is the biggest reason why the Dolphins are winning right now. Moore has been accurate with all manner of throws, heís pitching TDs, and heís not turning the ball over. Thatís a winning combination. On top of that, his mobility extends plays and gains yards off broken plays. And his teammates believe in him as a leader. Moore even won AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors for his work against the Chiefs and gained recognition for his fine play against the Bills.

All of this in such a short period of time leaves folks wondering whether or not Moore is truly heir Marino.

While the signs thus far are intriguing, itís just too early to know. But if Moore plays well on Thursday against Dallas, a quality opponent in front of a captive national audience, we must take his candidacy seriously.

Of course Moore has had help, most notably from a suddenly stingy defense thatís created favorable field position and denied opposing TDs now for 12 quarters. What was once a soft sieve is now a hard hitting bunch that sends messages to current and future opponents.

This defensive epiphany also began a month ago, right after Giants QB Eli Manning went through them like a hot knife through butter to snatch away a 20-17 win. While Matt Cassel, Rex Grossman, and Ryan Fitzpatrick arenít exactly chopped liver, neither are they the caliber of player Cowboys QB Tony Romo is.

So a stiffer test for these Dolphins approaches. How will this ďnewĒ Dolphin D do against the better offensive talent that the Cowboys possess? How will they handle the next version of their nemesis playmaker, the dominant receiving TE in Jason Witten, a five time Pro Bowl selection? How will they handle a quality RB like DeMarco Murray? And how will they handle Romo, a guy who wonít miss the receivers that lesser talents do?

And, burning even hotter, how will QB Moore do against DeMarcus Ware and the Cowboy D?

These Thanksgiving answers will tell us more about these Dolphins and their legitimacy. Letís just hope they help, not hinder, our digestion.


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