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About the good defense and frustrating offense

CINCINNATI -- The calendar has flipped to November. Awesome! This means the weather is getting colder and the NFL is getting hotter.

And because we have reached to point in the season when we start to look at the potential playoff contenders, because this is the time of year teams begin to separate relevant from not, this is also the time of year standards have to rise if one's team is going to be part of the relevant contender crowd.

The Dolphins believe themselves to be in the contender crowd. So I am holding them to a higher standard now because I want them to make the playoffs and be relevant.

And that is why I wrote what could be described as a column with a critical view following Sunday's victory over the Bengals.

I didn't celebrate the wonderfulness of a fourth road victory in four outings because, frankly, with the exception of the Green Bay game, I don't think that record has a lot to do with being exceedingly great on the road. I believe the Dolphins have an 0-3 record at home because they've played their three toughest games -- New York, New England, Pittsburgh -- at home. I believe they have 4-0 record on the road because, other than Green Bay, the teams Miami has beaten are terrible -- wherever they find themselves playing.

Buffalo, Minnesota and Cincinnati are terrible. They have a combined record of 4-17. They are what their record says they are, as Bill Parcells once famously said.

So I dismiss the road warrior myth. If the Dolphins can go on the roard and win 2 of 3 against Baltimore, New York and New England, I will be the first applauding their prowess on the road. Until then ... we should take those victories, with the exception of the outstanding Green Bay win, with a grain of salt.

I am not too comfortable being critical of a team after a victory. It's a victory!

But as I write in the column, a victory over a collapsing Cincinnati team isn't the goal this year. The playoffs are the goal this year. And the production the Dolphins are getting from their offense this year is troubling. One of the most troubling aspects of that not-good-enough production is this team cannot find Brandon Marshall in the end zone.

Marshall has caught one touchdown pass this year. One.

The excuse, er, reason the Dolphins give for not getting him the ball enough in the end zone is that teams are bracketing him with double coverage. Whatever. I asked Marshall if this is any different than what happened in the past. Read the column to see his answer, please.

The last three years Marshall has scored 23 touchdowns. That's an average of nearly 8 TDs per year. He has one now. Something has to get corrected to increase that number. Something has to get corrected so that Miami's best offensive weapon is getting the ball when the Dolphins are in the red zone.

Now, I must tell you some members of the Dolphins knew where I was going with today's column before I wrote it. And one astute member of the organization asked that I at least balance it with the fact the defense is playing very well. My balance was probably not good enough. I mentioned that Miami's defense is playoff caliber. Anyone disagree with that?

But let me add some more here: Mike Nolan's unit spent all of last week practicing against the no-huddle because the Bengals showed it against Baltimore the week before. Practices actually ended early last week because of that work against the no-huddle, which is kind of a hurry-up attack. Well, the Bengals came out with the no-huddle and shredded Miami on the first drive.

Then Nolan adjusted. He benched Jason Allen. He didn't have Allen share time with Sean Smith as was the plan. He put Allen's hind quarters on the bench and let him go play special teams while he searched for a more effective player on that day.

Don't you wish the offensive approach was similar? How many times has Ronnie Brown or Ricky Williams been the hot running back, but offensive coaches stubbornly stick with their platoon plan and give an almost equal share of carries to the tepid as well as hot runner?

Nolan and his coaches basically discarded the plan to share snaps between Allen and Smith and went with Smith. It paid off as Smith had good coverage much of the day and even turned in his first career interception.

The Miami defense blitzed, which is why Benny Sapp was in the backfield so much. The defense mixed man and zone and matched up Vontae Davis against Chad Ochocinco. Davis basically erased Mr. 85 from the game.

"We knew one thing Carson [Palmer] does is read the fakes," said safety Yeremiah Bell. "Me and Chris [Clemons] tried to mix it up. In the first drive, [Palmer] was being patient and waited a little bit. He was trying to make us show our hand. But after that first drive, we started hanging in there and started getting him into some things we wanted to get him into."

Did the defense have moments of struggle? Sure, the Bengals running game had plays when it got wide of the edge and also did good work on cutback runs. But the cutbacks were basically eliminated in the second half.

Oh, that's called an adjustment. Good work gentlemen.

 

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