Are the Miami Dolphins a Playoff contender? Are they an early draft pick team? Are they somewhere in the middle? At this point of the 2015 NFL regular season, no one really seems to know what Miami is, or where they are headed. The Dolphins are getting ready to play their eighth game of the year, marking the half-way point through their season, and we still do not know who they are.
The Dolphins started the season with a clawed-out win against the Washington Redskins, then lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars, and were blown out by the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets. A 1-3 start to the season resulted in the firing of head coach Joe Philbin and the installation of Dan Campbell as the interim head coach. After the bye week, Campbell led Miami to two blow-out wins, taking care of the Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans. Last week, with the fan base riding high, the Dolphins ran smack into the New England Patriots and looked more like the 1-3 Dolphins than the 2-0 Dolphins.
Which brings us to this week. This game is key for Miami. Not necessarily for the record, though getting back to .500 is important, especially in an AFC where the Wildcard teams are currently just one game over .500, rather, it is the personality of the team that will be determined by this team. Campbell came in as the top man and immediately began working to instill in the team a sense of pride, an aggressiveness, a fire that was not there under Philbin. He made practices more competitive. He made sure the Dolphins were a team that would attack, on offense and defense, and they came out firing in his first two games.
The third game changed things. The Patriots are the class of the AFC right now, one of three undefeated teams in the conference, and probably the most dangerous of that group. Tom Brady is out to send a message to the league, and they are not allowing anyone to slow them down. The Dolphins ran into that buzz saw and the Patriots decimated Miami. A short week, in New England, on Thursday Night Football - everything about that game screamed disaster for the Dolphins, and that is exactly what it became.
The question that this week will answer is how well can Miami take a punch to the mouth and will they get back up? The Patriots knocked Miami down. The Bills knocked Miami down in Week 3. Now, the Dolphins have a chance to answer the bell, both from last week's beatdown and from being embarrassed by the Bills in Miami.
"I would say it was more production than anything," Campbell said of the loss to the Patriots. "We did not produce on early downs like we did the two weeks prior and we just have to be able to do that. We cannot live in the world of third and long. And we can't live in the world of throwing it 45 times or 44 times."
The Dolphins have to prove themselves. They have to prove who they are, and what they will be. They have to prove it to the analysts, the fans, and themselves. And, after laying an egg against the Bills in Week 3 and last week against the Patriots, the Dolphins have to prove it this week.