No, that wasn’t Joe Philbin once again explaining how he would get things right after yet another dismal loss by the Miami Dolphins. It was Thunder Dan Campbell. As stated previously in this space, it wasn’t too soon to fire Good Guy Joe, it was 20 games late. All the naysayers who said the Dolphins couldn’t get a quality coach in mid-season ignored one powerful, and overriding fact: they didn’t have a quality coach in place. Any change was likely to pay off with an improved effort. Who cares if the new head coach was never even a coordinator? Who cares if the new defensive coordinator last held the position with the Merchant Marine Academy? Philbin and Coyle had repeatedly proven they were at their apex, mediocre, and at their nadir – well, just look at the final two games of 2013.
Dan Campbell was known mainly for three things going into this game in Nashville – at 39, there are a few players older than he in the league; he’s an emotional, rah-rah type; and he still looks like he could throw on some pads and get it done on the field. His physical presence and old-school coach-speak (“I’m going to challenge these players”) lent a few talking heads in the South Florida area to proclaim Campbell a meathead and a caveman.
My question then, and now, is who were the Dolphins going to get after week four of the season? And why publicly doubt the guy before there was any basis for judgment? Especially when the same talking heads derided the terrible Joe Philbin? A change had to be made, and the Dolphins organization went with what they saw as the best possible choice. (By the way, is it just me, or is Campbell Aaron Eckhart’s much bigger double? Although if anything, he should be playing Thor, not Two-Face.)
After today’s win over the Titans, Campbell proved he’s anything but witless. The Dolphins responded terrifically to the new attitude instilled by Campbell during their two weeks of practice following their bye. The same defensive front that only mustered one sack in four games had six against the Titans. Lamar Miller “rushed” for 131 yards combined in those Philbin-helmed games; against Tennessee, he slashed for 113. This is the team Miami fans expected to see at the beginning of the season.
Sadly, this team still won’t make the playoffs, thanks to the 1-3 hole the Good Guy dug for the team. I have no idea if Dan Campbell will prove over the long run to be a good coach, let alone a permanent one. I do know he isn’t a useless fool like his former boss. The Jaguars are terrible, the Bills and Jets average. With a coaching staff that didn’t get in the way of their own players, the Dolphins could have easily been 4-0.
Case in point of scheme stopping the player: Lamar Miller. Until Campbell took over, the most carries for Miller were 13, in the win over Washington. Good Guy Joe apparently didn’t like winning, so he held Miller to 10, 7, and 7 carries in the next three losses. In the win against the Titans, Miller nearly equaled the three previous games’ touches, with 19 carries. I’ve been hard on Miller in the past; I’m still not sold on him as a top-flight back, but hell, Barry Sanders would have a hard time picking up yards if you only gave him the ball seven times. Campbell knows another old-school football value – you gotta pound that rock.
And pounding the rock will go a long way to keeping the Dolphins in the win column Those three losses put them too far back, even though I expect them to win seven of their remaining eleven games. The way the Patriots are playing, the Fins won’t have enough to keep up. The Giants and Chargers are both good; the Bills and Jets, while average, are both on the road. This team will do well to win nine games. Hang that one on the slow, slow trigger finger of Steven Ross.
Previously, I said the only two guys on the Dolphins that played with passion on every play were Brent Grimes and Jarvis Landry. Today, I saw everyone play with passion. Every guy played all out in Nashville, and I hadn’t seen that before. And let’s face it, when things aren’t working at your job, and the boss constantly rubs his forehead and says he’ll work on getting this fixed, but does nothing at all to change things, you’d get a little demotivated too. New boss, new attitude. In his post-game locker room speech, Campbell pointed out the contributions of the third-stringers, and the practice squad players toward the victory, saying they push the starters every day in practice, challenge them, and help them make the plays on game day. An hour later, Cam Wake made the same observation. Think this team has bought into Campbell’s philosophy? Their stars are repeating his mantra, almost word for word. Practice hard, play hard. That’s buy-in. So here’s to you, Chris McCain, Sam Brenner, Mike Hull, to name a few. Thanks for showing this team what it takes to win.
I know, I know; they only beat the Titans. I’m aware of that; I’m aware they aren’t a Super Bowl team. Tanneyhill is still a little too erratic; the defense still allowed too many completions over the middle. But the Dolphins are now a good team, a team that plays with fire. A team whose play caused their coach to say after the game, “It makes somebody like me want to fucking bleed for you.” That, friends, is definitely not Philbin-talk. And after the long South Florida nightmare of Good Guy Joe, it’s long overdue.