Dolphins vs. Cardinals: Is Miami Building in the Right Direction?
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The Miami Dolphins are 1-3. They are not a good team.
But judging by the outcomes of their games, they are not far off.
It's unfortunate that 57 minutes and nine seconds worth of a good performance turned in by Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill will be mired by the costly string of events to end the game, some of the circumstances of which (bad protection on both plays) were completely out of his hands anyway.
In fact, in each of their losses, it has come down to a five- to seven-minute stretch where the Dolphins didn't execute, didn't make plays or simply shot themselves in the foot.
The Dolphins were in it every step of the way with the Houston Texans and were winning 3-0 until a string of four turnovers on four possessions in a span of exactly seven minutes in the second quarter allowed the Texans to score 24 unanswered points.
They have lost in overtime each of the past two games and had an opportunity to win both times before the opposing team delivered a dagger with the final field goal.
They looked well on their way to putting together a complete game, and it looked like Tannehill had delivered his seminal rookie moment with an 80-yard catch-and-run touchdown pass to wide receiver Brian Hartline. The magic of that moment was undone with the voodoo of the final 2:51 of regulation and 6:26 of overtime.
The Dolphins are just a few plays away from managing games on offense.
With defensive performances like the one we saw from Miami today, managing games should be good enough.
Cameron Wake answered all questions about his lack of sack production with 4.5 of them—although anyone who was paying attention knew Wake was getting his fair share of pressure anyway. The Dolphins front seven combined for eight sacks on the day.
They held Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb to just 6.6 yards per pass attempt and a passer rating of 84. Sean Smith had two interceptions, including a beauty of a pick in the end zone.
While the defense made one play after another, the offense made one play and not another.
The late examples of them buckling under pressure will stand out, but they stood strong in the face of that pressure earlier in the game.
Joe Philbin elected to go for it on 4th-and-goal from the one-yard line just before the half, with a handoff to fullback Jorvorskie Lane up the middle picking up the score. To have that level of confidence in your offense against one of the best defenses in the league, and to have them come away with the score, is something to build on.
Are the Dolphins making progress?
And when they needed a big play to help put the game away, they got it in the form of the aforementioned 80-yard touchdown strike.
It's their ability to make those plays from the front to back of a game that will ultimately serve as the best barometer for the character of this team.
Philbin has praised that high-character aspect for months, and now, we will get to see it first hand. Now, they must begin to make the plays that have been the difference between a 53-minute game and a 60-minute game for each of their three losses.
And judging by the performance of Tannehill and the team as a whole this week, they will start making those plays at some point. This week, this month or this season? The time frame is unknown, but with the team going through a lot of transition, the important thing is progress. There was plenty of that to be had on Sunday against Arizona.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained firsthand.
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