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Dolphins football czar Mike Tannenbaum: We like our team

The Miami Dolphins are 1-3 and that's ugly. Miami is the first NFL team to fire its coach this season and that's ugly. The Dolphins are in the cellar of the AFC East and everyone else in the division has a winning record and, yes, that's ugly too.

So think of the Dolphins as that ugly mutt you give your heart to despite his fleas and scraggily hair. Because that is figuratively how Dolphins football czar Mike Tannenbaum is looking at his team.

He likes them. Still.

"First and foremost it's four games in," Tannenbaum told The Miami Herald Thursday. "That's 25 percent of the season. So, again, let's see how the rest of the season plays out. We made a change, ultimately [owner] Steve [Ross] made the decision, and the decision was made early enough to see if we could get a spark -- To see if we could get more production out of a team that we like.

"And we haven't played good enough but we're trying to make changes to rectify that."

During a 20 minute conversation, Tannenbaum repeatedly defended moves that seem questionable at this juncture and players that haven't lived up to their billing or contracts so far.

"We're 1-3 and that means we're all 1-3," he said. "We have to do a better job of and be more consistent. If we can get one thing done immediately that would be getting off to better starts. That would go a long, long way toward helping us. We've been outscored 37-3 in the first quarter and it's impossible to win when that happens.

"So if we could possibly hold serve that first quarter, if we could just hang in there, that's going to do a number of things. It would give our pass rush a chance to rush the passer. It would give our run game more opportunities because now we're not behind every single week where we have to throw it every down. Getting off to a better start would be a real force multiplier for us."

But here's the thing, Dolphins have been doing this to themselves. They are not, as Curley of the Three Stooges would say, a victim of circumstances. They are indeed the ones sleepwalking early in games, not anyone else. They field the defense that's been unable to get off the field on third down. They are the offensive players dropping passes to start games -- as happened against the New York Jets when Jarvis Landry and Greg Jennings had early drops.

Tannenbaum gets that. But he's apparently not moved at this point.

So what does he think of Ndamukong Suh, the team's highest paid player, producing seven tackles, including three for a loss, and one quarterback hurry in four games? Does Tannenbaum think paying Suh $114 million, including $60 million guaranteed, is still the right call?

"Yeah, look, I'm really glad that he's here," Tannenbaum said. "He's four games in and we signed him to a six-year contract. He's played very, very well in the NFL. He's a good player. I'm glad he's here. I expect him and the entire defense to play better."

(By the way, Earl Mitchell has basically the exact same production so far as Suh. Mitchell has seven tackles, including three for a loss, and a quarterback hurry. The difference is Mitchell averages $4 million per year and Suh averages $19 million.)

The Dolphins big ticket defensive line was supposed to be a team strength. It might reach that promise if defensive end Cameron Wake, hobbled by a hamstring injury the past three games, gets healthy and produces as in the past.

But he's not producing so far. He has yet to make a solo tackle and has no sacks. He does have one quarterback hurry.

"When you look at Cam's production, a couple of things come to mind," Tannenbaum said. "We've had some sacks called back. We've had defensive penalties when we've had sacks. And two, I would attribute some of that to the 37-3 first quarter start because, again, when teams can run the ball against us they don't have to throw it. If teams didn't have those leads, we'd have more opportunities to rush the quarterback. But, I'm really glad Cam's a Dolphin. He's an all-time great player. He's an all-time great person. Great story. Great leader. Our expectation is [his play] is going to change here pretty soon."

Although the Dolphins do not agree with the grades on their guards -- particularly on Dallas Thomas -- both Thomas and Jamil Douglas are among the lowest graded guards in the NFL, per metrics site ProFootballFocus.

The Dolphins are seriously considering benching Douglas this coming game against Tennessee in favor of Billy Turner. But Tannenbaum should not be surprised by the play of the interior offensive line, particularly Miami's guards. He elected to not sign veteran Evan Mathis in the offseason and during camp even when pundits (me) were saying the Miami guards are a weak spot.

Tannenbaum acknowledges some of that may be true, even as he defends his players.

"Our guards have been inconsistent," he said. "The more we can keep our games balanced, the more we can run the ball into the second, third and fourth quarters, where teams have to honor the run, the better we'll be.

"I don't think we can put ourselves in situations where teams can tee off on us. We have young players there in Dallas Thomas, Billy Turner and Jamil Douglas and I think they're going to get better because they're young players and they're ascending. We think the guard play will improve as the year goes on."

The Dolphins expected their ascending quarterback, Ryan Tannehill, to be close to a finished product this season after having a very good year in 2014. But despite being in his second year in the same offense, Tannehill has been every bit part of the struggle for an offense that is 31st in the NFL in points per game.

Tannehill's 77.1 rating is near the bottom of the 2015 quarterback class and 15 points lower than it was in 2014. 

"As the quarterback you get more of the blame and credit," Tannenbaum said. "With him, it's a manifestation of teams have been able to blitz and we haven't made them pay. When that happens it's hard. We have to be more balanced on offense. I think that's going to open up plays in the passing game. We tried to add a lot of depth and talent to the playmakers. Hopefully over the next 12 games, they'll get more opportunities. If we make teams play the run that will open up the pass and that will play to Ryan's strengths."