Dave Hyde: Dolphins can’t let injuries define their good chance this season

Bill Parcells, whose ideas still run deep in the Miami Dolphins, had a line he’d use whenever someone explained away a year’s shortfalls in a manner you hope isn’t lurking this season: “You can always pick out excuses, one for every year if you want.”

The Dolphins’ fan-picked excuse is the best team won’t win this season.

The healthiest will.

The understood idea is the Dolphins (11-5) aren’t the healthiest after a rough stretch of injuries, and that adds to why this coming stretch of the season will be as fun as a foreclosure for Mike McDaniel or his defining feat.

This isn’t the same team without its injured pass rushers in Jaelan Phillips and Bradley Chubb plus possibly cornerback Xavien Howard on defense to go with playmakers Raheem Mostert, Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill on offense.

That’s fair and honest. It’s just not really a legitimate excuse — not in in the NFL. It’s why heading into this next showdown against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday night McDaniel should pull a page from his friend and fan, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who no matter how many injuries pile up says, “We have enough.”

Enough talent. Enough games. Enough heart, if that’s what it takes.

There’s a myopic tendency to think it’s only your team that suffers bad breaks. But look around. Baltimore was without its top receiving target and nearly its full secondary on last Sunday. That didn’t come into play in its 56-19 beatdown of the Dolphins.

Or take this week’s opponent: Buffalo (10-6) lost its top three defensive players early this season in defensive tackle DaQuan Jones, linebacker Matt Milano and cornerback Tre’davious White. The Bills season didn’t just survive. The defense has given up the fourth-fewest points in the league. It had five interceptions against New England to save Buffalo and set up Sunday’s game for the AFC East title and No. 2 AFC playoff seed.

See, this is the moment well-built or especially creative teams separate from the pack. They find competent third-stringers or plug in young players who rise to the role. New England won its last AFC East title in 2019 using a tight end at right tackle and center at left tackle near the end that regular season.

Part of the Dolphins recent problems are bum sports luck, but the others part tell another story. The Dolphins need linebacker help. Wasn’t that why 2022 third-round pick Channing Tindall was selected? Or they’re down a cornerback? Rookie second-round pick Cam Smith hasn’t been able to get on the field for defensive snaps.

Even that’s not the full story. The Dolphins’ big-picture plan switched from having the most draft capital for two years by trading proven players for picks to having the least draft capital in NFL history the past two years by trading picks for proven players.

They had few swings in the most recent draft to fill in the occasional hole. That’s not to level blame. It’s simply to point out the calculated risk this five-year rebuild took.

Focusing too much on the health of players creates a blind spot to other issues, too. The difference in the Ravens loss was temperamental more than physical, as McDaniel smartly pointed. Baltimore trailed a couple of times early but played like a team accustomed to working in important games. No pressing. No panic.

Compare that to the Dolphins, who McDaniel said didn’t, “stay true to team football and letting the plays come to you.” The obvious example was Tua Tagovailoa’s second interception when he tried to force a pass where it didn’t belong. An expensive learning moment.

“It’s the orchestration of a game like that against a good opponent, that you’re frustrated that the score isn’t the way you feel like it should be, and then you try to make a play to wish that into existence that’s independent to that game,’’ McDaniel said. “But the biggest thing is you can’t run from it.”

The Dolphins went from the high of a defining win one week against Dallas to the depths of a defining loss to Baltimore last Sunday. Now all the outside talk is about injuries, of bad luck and woe-is-us lamenting.

It’s true to a point. But the full truth is good teams overcome bad injuries. That can be the Dolphins’ story — or it will be the Bills’ story. Sunday will decide that.