Miami Dolphins: What does the "next step" look like?

CINCINNATI - OCTOBER 31: Brian Hartline #82 of the Miami Dolphins runs with the ball while defended by Leon Hall #29 of the Cincinnati Bengals during the NFL game at Paul Brown Stadium on October 31 2010 in Cincinnati Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

The Miami Dolphins have won another road game.  No matter how you look at it, going 4-0 on the road is a pretty impressive feat.

But the big question remains: Can the Miami Dolphins make the kind of improvements that would make them a serious contender in the playoff hunt this season?  Can they take the "next step", and what would that look like?

First of all, let's assess, as objectively as possible, where they are today.

The Dolphins can win in a hostile environment, and against a reasonably tough team.  None of their road wins were against "pushover" teams.  In this respect, you have to be proud of them for their mental toughness and spirit.  I recently read a quote in a Baltimore Ravens blog that actually complimented the Fins for their tough play and mindset.  It was in reference to the upcoming contest against Baltimore.

The Dolphins, offensively and defensively, have really been contenders in every contest so far.  I must specify the offensive and defensive sides of the game, because on Special Teams they have been over-matched a couple of times.  However, it seems like they may be getting this resolved, and I personally think Nolan Carroll is the answer at Kick Return.  Let's hope he gets back quickly, because Patrick Cobbs doesn't scare anyone.

But the Miami Dolphins still do not seem to be able to develop a mindset/ability to go out and WIN a game!  They seem to want to play tough all the way to the end, and win it in the 4th quarter of games.  And while this is a commendable attribute in a team... the mental toughness and fortitude... playing games close all the way down to the wire creates a very slim margin for error.  And the Miami Dolphins do not execute well enough yet to play, and consistently win, that type of game.

Not to mention the fact that they are responsible for causing a great number of stress related illnesses among die-hard Fin fans every week.

Hey, I am not ever one to criticize a win, but I honestly expect more from these Fins!  Let's face it - they could EASILY be 5-2 right now.  So what do they need to do differently?

Well, for one thing, as obvious as it sounds, they need to get the ball in the end zone more often.  I can't say the Field Goals won't win games, because that is exactly what they did to win against the Cincinnati Bengals - kicked field goals.  But it is fair to say that USUALLY settling for 5 field goals, rather than converting a few of those to touchdowns, won't get it done.  In my opinion, the Dolphins offense plays differently when they know they are in field goal range.  They get conservative and it almost seems like they become more concerned with preserving the potential field goal than aggressively pursuing the touchdown, by running the ball and throwing short passes.  I am a little concerned that the coaches are working so hard to ingrain the idea of not taking chances into Chad Henne, that he is afraid to take that shot, choosing the safe option instead of risking the interception.  But there is little reward without some risk, and Henne is going to have to learn to take his shots.

The other (and just as obvious) thing that the Dolphins need to do in order to get to the point of really being able to go out and win football games, instead of just trying to stay in them, is start getting the ball into the hands of their play makers - in situations where they can be effective!   Really, today we are mainly talking about Brandon Marshall, but I would also suggest that this might also include working on getting the ball to Ronnie Brown or Ricky Williams in space (screens, swing passes, wheel routes, etc.) rather than just trying to continue to pound the ball up the middle of the field when the run blocking has been struggling most of the year. 

Hopefully, having John Jerry back will help improve the ground game, regardless.  I saw some good things from him last week.

Marshall is, by far, the biggest enigma as far as the offensive play of the Fins.  If the Dolphins are going to scare opposing defenses, they have GOT to get the ball to Brandon Marshall more often, and closer to the end zone.  I can not begin to guess why, even if he is covered, you would not try to get the ball into Marshall's hands inside the red zone.

I would also be curious to get some of the younger guys involved, like Roberto Wallace, a bit more.  Let's see what they can bring to the table.

The Dolphins can play tough for 60 minutes.  And the defense is certainly playing good enough to win.  But for the Fins to take the "next step", and be able to go out and impose their will on the opponent; to really go out and take over a game and dominate a team, they will need to become more aggressive and confident on Offense.

I'm sure they CAN do it.... but WILL they?

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