The Miami Dolphins are making the turn on the 2018 season with a mediocre 4-4 record and not much about this team is trending in a positive direction right now.
It’s not so much that the team’s roster is depleted. It’s not so much that the Dolphins are in the middle of their second two-game losing skid so far this season.
It’s not even that starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill is injured and after patching things with backup Brock Osweiler for a while (two games, one of which the team lost) now the Dolphins are getting the much dreaded but predictable regression to mean by Osweiler.
It’s just that this team got to 4-4 by starting 3-1 and most recently has delivered a 1-3 record in the last month. And I’m believing the 1-3 team is way more indicative of what the Dolphins really are than the 3-1 Dolphins.
So on Thursday night, after the Dolphins endured a 42-23 loss to the Houston Texans, I asked coach Adam Gase which of these truths is most accurate. Are the Dolphins closer to that 3-1 team of September and early October or the 1-3 team of the last few weeks?
“Right now we’re 0-1 after today,” Gase said. “It’s hard to look at it like that. We’ve had some change over here in the last two weeks to where now we have to re-evaluate where we’re at personnel wise, who do we have healthy, what do we have to make adjustments at.”
The last part of that is easy. The Dolphins have to make significant and effective adjustments to their terrible defense.
The Dolphins yielded 427 yards on Thursday and it was equal parts pain in run and pass. The pass defense allowed Houston quarterback DeShaun Watson to throw five touchdown passes.
The run defense gave up 188 yards, which is awful but sounds not as bad is it actually is only because four days earlier against Detroit the same unit allowed 248 rushing yards.
So the defense is a mess right now.
“We have to take a look hard at the defense and figure out where we can plug the holes,” Gase said. “How can we figure out certain things and make sure we have more success against the run game.”
Gase was asked in his postgame presser if he’s going to consider staff changes. And then he was asked specifically if defensive coordinator Matt Burke might lose his job before the Dolphins play their next game Nov. 4 against the New York Jets.
“I haven’t even thought about that,” Gase said. “In my head I don’t see that happening. I’m just … we need to go back and figure out what is going on that we’re giving up this massive amount of yardage in the run game.”
Remember, now, the opposing quarterback just threw five touchdown passes. But the Dolphins defense is so bad right now, that doesn’t qualify as its biggest problem.
“I just got done with the game and I’m fairly irritated right now,” Gase said. “I’ll re-evaluate everything this weekend. We got the extended weekend. We got to figure out how to get better on defense. We got to figure out how to sustain drives and put it in the end zone on offense.”
That sounds like this team has issues on, that’s right, defense for sure. But also on offense.
And should I mention an onside kick attempt also didn’t work?
This game was bad on multiple levels for the Dolphins. But it was also strangely interesting.
You saw Burke, who last week called his unit’s performance a “collectively crappy effort” throw his blue tablet coaches use to see pictures of formations and plays on the sideline after DeAndre Hopkins caught a 49-yard touchdowns to give the Texans a 35-20 lead. And why not?
I’m sure Burke had no use for re-watching what he’d just seen live.
Because it was embarrassingly bad. I mean, guys running wide open bad. I mean, the Texans using the same overloaded offensive line look that Detroit used to run the ball bad And the Texans, four days later, also ran the ball with former Dolphin Lamar Miller gaining 133 yards on 18 carries..
So it was a complete defensive meltdown.
Offensively wasn’t quite so bad. But that is only in comparison to the defense.
This offensive effort has to be put in the perspective that Osweiler had a stinker. No, that’s not what Gase said — which is curious.
That’s what the statistics and an understanding of the situation said.
Consider that Osweiler had a 65.3 quarterback rating. And he threw an interception.
And he didn’t throw any scoring passes because Miami’s lone touchdown pass came from receiver Danny Amendola on a trick play.
The really frustrating thing about Osweiler’s performance is that it came against a defense that started the game lacking cornerbacks and then lost Jonathan Joseph in the first quarter.
So Osweiler was throwing against two cornerbacks that are a safety and reserve safety by trade.
And against that kind of patchwork secondary the Dolphins had 254 passing yards on a night they really needed closer to 354 passing yards.
“For the most part he did a good job getting the ball out,” Gase said of Osweiler. “We were trying to make sure J.J. [Watt] and [Jadaveon] Clowney didn’t have a field day on us. Thought we had a good plan with the protection.
“The run game was, we had some good plays and we had probably too many zero or negative plays … We have to do a better job as a whole just to make sure we can sustain drives and do things right.”
So where does this go from here?
The last three weeks suggests the rest of the season is going to be a slog.
If Burke doesn’t set this defense right before the bye week, fans will want his head. I don’t think Gase will bail on him that easily. Gase truly does appreciate Burke and actually groomed Burke to be his defensive coordinator at the same time he hired Vance Joseph for that job in 2016.
But after this season, if the Denver Broncos don’t get their house in order — they’re 3-4 today — it would not be surprising if Joseph is fired there. And if he is, it would not be surprising if he is re-hired in Miami.
That, obviously, is not a right-now issue.
Well, the coaching staff workings is not. The on-field performance is very much a right now problem.
One supposes Tannehill will be throwing pretty soon to test his injured throwing shoulder. And the Dolphins still hope he can play against New York two weekends from now.
That’s all hope. There’s no actual science to this. Doctors don’t actually know Tannehill will be ready to play against the Jets.
And what if he can’t?
After this game Gase referred to the 10 days his team will have between now and their next game as a mini-bye. This weekend players will be off but coaches will be working.
What will they be working on? Well, the assignment will be simply.
“We got to get better fast,” Gase said.
Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero