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The results of Sunday's game against Seattle is a matter of perspective.  Like the Green Bay game in 2014, Miami had a perennial title contender on the ropes in the 4th quarter only to watch the defense give up a devastating last second touchdown.  In Green Bay it was the Aaron Rodgers fumble that no one fell on, in Seattle it was the 4th Down collapse that completely swung momentum.  Prior to the game I stated that the results would not give us any idea of the team Miami will be in 2016.  They were going into the lion's den with a new head coach, new playbook and a rag tag cast of characters who needed to prove they belonged.  Please allow me to retract my shortsighted, pregame comment as I think we are getting a glimpse of things to come.

 

Let's start with head coach Adam Gase.  Yes, the play calling was less than desirable.  But in his Monday press conference he noted that quarterback Ryan Tannehill really pushed for the plays that were called on the comeback drive in the 4th quarter.  And guess what, Gase listened!  He also implied he is going to continue listening to his quarterback's suggestions.  When did Joe Philbin, Go/Go-Go Mike Sherman, Sit Down I'm in Charge Bill Lazor, or Dude Let's do Another Oklahoma Drill Dan Campbell ever show that open mindedness?  Gase addresses problems, even his own.  And he doesn't seem to wait three months to make a tough decision.  His first game as coach was as the league's biggest underdog.  He lost in heartbreaking fashion but I'm not so certain he failed.  This was a good learning experience for him.

 

The offense stunk for most of the game.  Whether it was Kenny Stills' drop heard 'round the world or the offensive line allowing pressure on nearly 50% of Tannehill's drop backs, it was a collective effort of yuck.  But even in that defeat they positioned themselves to score 23 points against one of the top defenses in the league.  Tannehill led a 4th quarter comeback that never would have happened last year.  We will dwell on the putrid numbers but against lesser defenses there is evidence that these guys have the ability to put 20+ points consistently.

 

The defense was perhaps the best surprise in the NFL.  They did collapse on the final drive and were not exactly facing the toughest offensive line, but give credit where it is due.  I said prior to the game that turnovers would give Miami a chance to win and that certainly proved true.  If the pass rush we witnessed continues throughout the year then the more immobile quarterbacks are going to suffer.  Thankfully Miami doesn't face a Russell Wilson type every week.  The secondary, while not perfect, held their own against Wilson and his talented receivers.  You can't help but feel more optimistic about newcomers Byron Maxwell, Xavien Howard and Isa Abdul-Quddus.

 

I think the results of this game are more than the headlines are telling you.  There are things to clean up and changes to be made, but this team showed you something.  Unlike last year, they were energized and didn't lay down at the first sign of adversity.  They have a brutal schedule this season, but if they handle quality opponents the way they carried themselves in Seattle then perhaps we are witnessing the long awaited culture change.  Two things that continue to really concern me are the running game and Andrew Franks.  The latter is still young and unpredictable.  One blocked kick doesn't define you, but as a fan I want a kicker that isn't a gamble, especially in clutch moments.  Arian Foster had some big plays but I'm not convinced he's a workhorse.  Gase will lean on him because he trusts him and there is a track record.  I hope I can write positively about both issues next week.  Up next is a really big game in New England.  Miami has not played well there in quite some time.  Maybe the hope we witnessed on Sunday grows to better results in Foxboro.

 

Go Fins!!!

This past weekend on September 11th, there was a great deal of interest in the days leading up to the game as to whether or not the Seattle Seahawks were going to stage a Colin Kaepernick inspired protest during the singing of the national anthem. When it became known what the team's plans were (standing arm-in-arm to show team solidarity,) the brightness of that spotlight seemed to dim somewhat. Then, four members of the Miami Dolphins generated a media storm by taking a knee during the anthem. Running back Arian Foster, defensive back Michael Thomas, wide receiver Kenny Stills and linebacker Jelani Jenkins joined Kaepernick in kneeling, as a statement intended to protest systemic racism in the United States. 

 

The response to this protest, as all across the nation, has been a mixed bag of emotionally charged outcries, some in favor and many condemning either the action itself or the choice to take this stand on September 11th. It seemed disrespectful to many to use this opportunity to make a political or social statement on a day which is the anniversary of a day of national grief; a day intended now to inspire unity among all segments of our society. There are so many voices shouting their opinions loudly and angrily, from all sides. The media response is predictable as well, greedily taking advantage of the opportunity to increase sales/clicks/name recognition by eagerly reporting anything that will feed the controversy. 

 

But there is something missing from all of this, as there has been with too many discussions of race relations.

 

Very few people seem to want to do the one thing that is needed for any substantial improvement to happen. 

 

Very few people seem to be willing to LISTEN.

 

I don't mean the kind of listening where you are just waiting for another opportunity to state your case. I mean the kind of listening that implies a genuine desire to hear and understand the other's position. Arian Foster, in his explanation to the media of why the players decided to do what they did, had this to say: "

“It’s more important to create a healthy dialogue. It’s easy for you to just sit here and say, ‘Shut up, you stupid (N-word)’ rather than saying, ‘Why do you feel like that? And if you do feel like that, tell me more about it.’ It’s just so easy to hate. If you really proclaim to be a true American, freedom runs in your bloodline, right? It’s supposed to. And so if somebody’s telling you they don’t feel like they’re free, then why wouldn’t you listen to them if you’re an American?”

I am a middle class white American man. I served in the United States Army, as did both of my brothers, my father, and his father before him. That grandfather served faithfully in World War I and is buried in Arlington cemetary. I love our country. I love the principles that it was founded on, even as I acknowledge that the reality for some American citizens has not always reflected those principles of equal opportunity and treatment regardless of race, religion or social status.

Here's the thing. I think I've been too quick to dismiss the message. Oh, I've heard the complaints. Heck, I've spoken some of them aloud. "These guys are among the top of our society in terms of income, social status and public adoration. When an athlete gets into legal trouble, they are able to afford such legal representation that puts them at a huge advantage over any of us "commoners." They are the elite, and here they are taking a stand against oppression that they do not from our perspective seem to experience much." I get it. Spoiled rich athletes whining about how bad they have it. But I've got to tell you, if we believe that's all there is to this, we are missing the point. We're not listening.

I don't know that I agree with the tactics of Foster and the others. But he's no dummy. He's not a guy you can just dismiss as attention-seeking. He is a deep thinker, and a philosopher. He insists that they mean no disrespect. And he's absolutely right about this. Part of what I served in the military for was to defend the rights of people like him... like you and me... to speak out for what they believe in. It's a complicated issue and I don't want to make premature judgments without listening first. Kenny Stills added this to the discussion: 

“We want people to understand where we’re coming from and we want to understand where other people are coming from,” Stills said. “It’s no disrespect. There’s no hard feelings. There’s no hatred. There’s none of that. And that’s why I feel like as adults we should all be able to do that. And the people that can’t do that — it hurts. It stinks. You should be able to have tough conversations. Why can’t we? Why can’t you disagree with what I’m saying and us still have a relationship?”

So my point is this. Maybe you don't agree with their tactics. Maybe you question the validity of their cause. Maybe you're even right, if such a thing is possible in this kind of situation. BUT. Before we decide to disagree, or worse yet to be disagreeable in our disagreement; before we respond with hate, condemnation and draw a line in the sand, before we dig our heels in and defend with clenched fists our position, let's try doing the one thing that might actually help.

Let's try to listen. 

Maybe we won't change our position at all, but... maybe, just maybe, we will understand why those we disagree with feel the way they do. 

 

The Good

 

Rich Rodriguez, PhinfeverThe Dolphins defense played well enough to win. The defensive line pressured Russell Wilson almost the entire day, getting three sacks and holding the Seahawks ground game to 3.5 yards per carry. Reshad Jones led the defense with 12 tackles and 1 pass defensed. His partner in the deep secondary, Isa Abdul-Quddus, chipped in 8 tackles, 2 passes defensed and an interception. Koa Misi (10 tackles) and Kiko Alonso (11 tackles) both had productive games. Ndamukong Suh (1 sack), Mario Williams (1 sack), Jordan Phillips (0.5 sack) and Jason Jones (0.5) were all part of a ferocious pass rush that kept coming consistently. Cam Wake also looked like his old self, bringing pressure as well. The defense forced two turnovers. The only reason they gave up 352 total yards on offense is because the offense was rarely able to put a drive together to give the defense a rest.

 

The Bad

 

The Dolphins offensive gained 222 total yards and were 3 of 13 on third down. But the most painful part of the game was probably some of the plays left on the field. Of note is a deep ball from Ryan Tannehill to Kenny Stills that would have been a sure 71 yard touchdown. It was a perfectly thrown pass that was dropped by the wide open Stills.

 

The offensive line did not resemble the unit from the preseason. There were few lanes in the running game and while the line was able to hold up against 3 and 4 man rushes, blitzes typically ended in disaster for the Dolphins. When it was all said and done, the most sacked QB in the NFL the past 4 years added 4 more sacks to his resume, not to mention numerous other pressures.

 

The Ugly

 

Tannehill played an ugly game. A lot of it had to do with the offensive line and some bad drops by his receivers. Some of it had to do with playcalling that continues to call for passes thrown behind the line of scrimmage. But with more freedom to change plays at the line, more of a focus will be on Tannehill this season. Tannehill did not throw any interceptions and he did lead the team to a 4th quarter comeback, but this offense needs to put up more points.

 

Adam Gase's playcalling seemed much like Bill Lazor's. Passes behind the line of scrimmage, very little in the way of misdirection. It seemed like a very bland gameplan. Here's hoping we see more of an open playbook the rest of the year.

 

Overall

 

The Dolphins were huge underdogs, going against a championship contender in a very hostile environment. The Dolphins hung tough in an ugly game. But, as usual, they failed to make the necessary plays when it mattered most. A defense that played well all day seemed to soften up on the last drive. An offense that left too many plays on the field put the team in that position in the first place. We can call this a "moral victory" if we want, but Dolphins fans are tired of them. We want to see tough wins. A few points separates a culture of losing from a culture of winning. The Dolphins need to turn that corner.

 

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