The Miami Dolphins will visit the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday and I wrote that not so you know who the Dolphins play on Sunday but because it’s been said you never start an article with “I”. So there, “I” didn’t. I understand that a lot of this game will be placed on the shoulders of the Colt’s Andrew Luck and the Dolphins’ Ryan Tannehill. A lot of fans want to know which QB can handle that kind of pressure to one up the other. For the Dolphins, a win this weekend will have more to do with Joe Philbin than either of those two QB’s.
The Dolphins didn’t expect to be in this position. They were not expected to be competing let alone be in a playoff chase mid-way through the season. Yet here they are. Media rankings have the Dolphins everywhere from a 10 to 15 with the Colts one game ahead or one game behind. The national media has taken notice and while none of those who dissed the Phins and declared them losers before the season started has stepped up to apologize, many are starting to lay on the accolades thick.
And that is exactly where Joe Philbin runs into the responsibility room.
This team is young and young team with success tend to get hungrier. No one is around to tell them they are not supposed to be doing this. The same can be said when a young team is faced with positive attention and hype. If they start buying into the wrong type of hype, they will lose and lose bad. It’s the head coaches job to keep them grounded. Do that, and your team will continue to win. Fail and they will lose.
The Colts are playing for more than pride and have rallied around Chuck Pagano’s cancer announcement. That will only sustain a teams emotions for so long and the Colts, like the Dolphins, are finding themselves at the center of playoff talk and overachieving accolades. But frankly, in Miami we don’t care about the turnaround of the Indianapolis Colts. We care about the Dolphins.
The Dolphins are one of only two teams in the entire NFL that have not been behind in regulation since week one of the season. The Atlanta Falcons are the other team. The Dolphins have not lost after suffering back to back overtime losses to the Jets and Cardinals in weeks 3 and 4. While the Dolphins have beat the Rams, Bengals, and Jets, since those two losses, the Colts have impressed by beating the Green Bay Packers in a shootout in week 5.
The Colts have not taken the same road as the Dolphins. Where Miami has reeled off consecutive wins, the Colts have been more up and down. They beat the Vikings in week 2 by three points but lose to the Jaguars in week 4. They beat the Packers in week 5 but get manhandled by the Jets 35-9 in week 6. They have turned it around the last two weeks posting victories consecutively over the Browns and Titans.
Before you say it, the Browns have actually been playing good football lately. I know, I laughed myself. Despite their record, it is true.
The Dolphins face their second of two consecutive road trips following their bye week and their first indoor game of the season. The last time the Dolphins faced consecutive road games they split. Losing to the Cardinals in the first game and beating the Bengals in the second. For Miami, this week is important because it stands to legitimize their achievements thus far and sets a tone for the rest of their season.
The Dolphins have faced strong defensive teams all season. The Houston Texans are one of the best and the Dolphins actually held a lead over the Texans before a six minute second quarter meltdown in week 1. They have faced a staunch defense from the Jets twice and while they posted a large margin of victory of the Jets, they did so with a lot of help from their defense and special teams play.
They have also faced a very tough front seven from the Bengals and Cardinals who at the time were in the top eight in sacks. They faced a Rams team that statistically was tough against the run and again one of the better pass rushing teams in the NFL as well. To date, every team the Dolphins offense has faced has been a statistical nightmare, yet the offensive line has stood their ground and found played up to the challenge.
A lot of that credit goes to the prep of Joe Philbin and his coaches. Now, once again, Philbin and company will be tasked to elevate this team not above sack statistics, although the Colts have 15 on the year and will be getting Dwight Freeney back, but instead the aura of a franchise QB battling the same weekly attention that Ryan Tannehill has. This week, the Colts and Luck will be facing the same statistical demons that the Dolphins have.
This time around it’s the Dolphins who have the higher sack totals and the better run defense up front being faced by a rookie. The Colts have the 7th ranked pass defense but a lot of that stat comes from team running on them first (they are ranked 27th against the run) and the fact that most teams are not playing from behind. The Colts are winning games coming from behind.
The parallels between these two teams are eerily similar and that is precisely where the coaches come in to prep their teams. This week, as I said it’s the rookie luck facing the top ranked defense instead of Tannehill facing a topped ranked defense while the opposing QB is a veteran facing Miami’s. This is equal footing for Tannehill and on paper, the Dolphins should be able put an effort on the field that proves enough to win. But the team can’t buy into this being a given. The Dolphins are not that good yet.
Teams like the Patriots, Packers, New York Giants, and the Pittsburgh Steelers win not because they are head and shoulders better above the rest of the NFL, it’s because they are coached to play each week like their opponent is better than they are. Look no further than the New Orleans Saints to see how a top offense can play down to their opponents and then ask the importance of a head coach.
For the Dolphins, they need to play like they are playing against the Pats, Giants, and Packers and not the Colts. Because I can tell you come Sunday, the Colts are not going to be playing like they are playing against the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins haven’t proven they are that team yet. The Colts will be preparing like they will be playing the Pats, Packers, and Giants. In other words, they won’t be overlooking the Dolphins and Joe Philbin must make sure his Dolphins are not overlooking the Colts.
When Sunday is over, the Dolphins are going to win or lose based on one thing. How well Joe Philbin has them mentally prepared to win this game. If the team believes this game is winnable because of statistics, then this team is beatable because they are not mentally ready to win the games they should. And that too, is on Joe Philbin.