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  Five Goals for Winning Five Straight
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by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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It’s 2008 again. Déjà vu. Groundhog Day.


Pick your synonym; they all work.


You’ve heard this story before. Two years ago, the Miami Dolphins were 6-5 and needed to run off five straight wins to qualify for the playoffs. They did it in grand style, not only making the postseason tournament by stepping over the Jets in the Meadowlands, but winning the AFC East with an 11-5 record and sending the Pats home for the season. Even though the Dolphins were eliminated in the first round by the Ravens, they achieved the greatest single season turnaround in NFL history and wrote a new chapter in the franchise’s storied history.


Fast forward to the present day, and the Dolphins are once again at 6-5 and needing to run off five straight wins to achieve an 11-5 record and a possible playoff berth. Only this time, the playoffs will be more difficult to achieve. Here’s why:


  1. Tiebreakers versus conference rivals are more problematic right now than before, especially with losses to the Ravens and Steelers.
  2. The 2008 Dolphins were 2-2 in the division at this point in the season, with a win against the Pats already in hand. The 2010 Dolphins are currently 1-2 in the division and have yet to defeat the Pats; that opportunity is scheduled for January 2 at Foxborough (1pm ET, CBS). Games against the Jets in the Meadowlands (December 12) and the Bills at Sun Life Stadium the following week round out the remaining divisional match-ups.
  3. The 2008 Dolphins were quarterbacked by Chad Pennington, a savvy veteran with no intellectual superior. An outstanding team leader, he knew how to win big games down the stretch. Chad Henne, the current starter, has been inconsistent and was benched for lack of performance. His excellent rebound in the Oakland game was good to see, but will it continue?


Difficulties and all, I believe the Dolphins are capable of doing what their 2008 brothers did by winning out. The reason for my optimism is simple: their resiliency. It’s an intangible that should serve them well in December. Whether an 11-5 record is good enough to qualify for the playoffs is out of their control, of course. But a lot can, and usually does, happen over the final month of the regular season.


For the Dolphins to stir up some of that 2008 magic, to be in position to take advantage, they need to achieve the following five goals over the next five weeks:


  1. Productivity from the passing game: Henne is the key here. If he plays at the level he did against the Raiders, the Dolphins will be fine. Actually, they’ll be more than fine because they’ll have confirmed that Henne is indeed their QB of the future whether or not they make the playoffs. That aside, the 2010 Dolphins just aren’t as proficient running the ball the way their 2008 predecessors were. This places greater emphasis on Henne and his receivers. Getting WR Brandon Marshall back soon is important, but his hamstring needs to be close to full strength for him to be a difference-maker (due to his style of play).
  2. Win the line of scrimmage: The Dolphins were built to win with a ball control philosophy. This means running the ball efficiently and preventing the opposition from doing the same. Against the Raiders, and really in all of their wins, the Dolphins were successful in achieving this. In their losses, they weren’t. It won’t be easy for them to do it consistently here on out, especially with LT Jake Long and C Joe Berger at less than 100%, but it won’t be due to a lack of effort. The return of the Wildcat has been a factor recently and the Dolphins really need this to continue.
  3. Defensive turnovers: In the mold of the great Don Shula teams that built a great winning tradition in Miami, the 2008 Dolphins didn’t beat themselves. Today’s Dolphins have what it takes to follow that formula, starting with the fact that they are the least penalized team in the NFL (#1 in yards, #2 in flags). The next step is to take the ball away from the other team. The defense made a great start in that department versus the Raiders, with two interceptions and a fumble recovery. For this thievery to continue, it is vital that the defensive backs CATCH those wayward passes which will come their way!
  4. Improved special teams play: It’s truly exasperating watching the coverage teams allow long returns, touchdowns, and blocked punts time and again. The problem, in my opinion, is a lack of talented special teamers due to an overly weighted focus on front line position skills. But this cannot be correct that this point in the season. The only meaningful changes that can be made are to insert more starters into the mix. Tony Sparano would prefer not to do this, but he doesn’t appear to have a choice.
  5. Maintain a “one week” focus: One of the great challenges in sports is not looking ahead or taking anyone for granted. That’s why the most important game is the next one. The 2008 Dolphins were very good about maintaining a one week, one game-at-a-time laser focus. This week the Dolphins face the Browns, a 4-7 team that could prove troublesome. Are the Dolphins mentally strong enough to stay on task, or will players get careless and start thinking of the huge rivalry game the following week at the NY Jets? The Dolphins have no more room for error.
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