Culture change, culture change, culture change. In the last eight and a half months, we’ve heard it a million times over. We’ve heard it from the coaches, we’ve heard it from the players, we’ve heard it from the beat writers, we’ve heard it from the national reporters. But what does that culture change REALLY mean? More importantly, will it translate to on-field success? Will the loss of talents like Landry, Pouncey, and Suh prove to be, “addition by subtraction”? Let’s take a good look at the facts and then we, as fans, can be the judge(s).

Let’s start by reflecting on the culture in the locker room and the attitude of the team that we’ve seen since Adam Gase took over as our head coach in 2016. Allot of the internal issues were masked by winning in 2016 but were conversely on full display last year. For one, since Adam Gase became the head coach of the Miami Dolphins, this team has consistently been one of the three most penalized teams in the NFL. Pre-snap penalties, stupid penalties, penalties at the worst possible times, penalties that have ultimately cost this team a couple of wins, and just plain bone-headed behavior at times. What was being done about that in the first two years of Gase? From where I’m sitting, it doesn’t look like guys really got much backlash for their mistakes in 2016 and 2017. It really culminated in the week 17 game at home against the Bills last New Year’s Eve. That whole game, particularly the fight that got Jarvis Landry ejected spotlighted a lack of discipline with this team. Rather or not 2018 is the year this particular problem gets cleaned up remains to be seen, but the Dolphins HAVE to be more disciplined if they’re going to have any kind of success in 2018 or beyond. But last New Year’s Eve also really put other issues on display.

Another of Coach Gase’s biggest problems in his first two years in South Florida has been some of the bigger name guys who were also some of the leaders in the locker room. Granted, he did inherit most of the “problematic personalities” (problematic to the kind of locker room he wants), but it also seems that he didn’t or couldn’t do much to fix that in his first two years.  As much as I hate to keep harping on the “big three”, I’m going to. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that Landry, Pouncey, and Suh didn’t play hard and didn’t work their collective tails off on game day, because they did. Watch almost any Jarvis Landry third down catch, see the way he fought for those extra yards, and you’ll see the effort. The issue with these guys was the way they handled themselves off the field and in the locker room. From some of the stories the beat writers had to tell about these guys, they kind of strike me as, “Me first, team second” players in the grand scheme of things. They just came across like getting paid was more important to them than anything else towards the end of 2017 and into the off-season.  And oh ya, it is worth pointing out that paying a defensive tackle quarterback money like we did Suh (who was only looking for the highest bidder) in 2015 is pretty stupid. But, I also blame that deal on management and Gase wasn’t in the picture yet.

And then there was the, “Jay Cutler Effect” last year. I know Dolphins fans everywhere are trying to forget that Jay Cutler experiment ever happened (myself included), but it does still bear mentioning. We all knew what Jay Cutler was when the team signed him last year, what he was in Chicago and Denver, and what kind of personality we were getting with him. But, the reason that I bring up Jay Cutler is that his typical, “I don’t care” attitude was (to steal a line from Jarvis) CONTAGIOUS. I watched every game last year and as the weeks went on, it was looking more and more like that attitude was spreading to the entire team. It was just a cancerous situation, plain and simple. And did anybody else notice how every time Cutler threw a pick, he would make this face that looked like somebody should bring him a cigarette?

But, that’s old hat and this is 2018. The sample size is small right now, as we’re only one week into the season, but I liked what I saw against Tennessee. In what was one of the weirdest games I’ve ever watched, where the weather delay time eclipsed the actual game time, I absolutely have to commend this team for the way they stayed focused through it all. I do need point out that the play did get a little sloppy (for both teams) after that first delay and we still had seven penalties in that game. Four of those were pre-snap penalties and that’s something that HAS to be cleaned up. You can’t get six or more penalties against a good team in this league and expect to win, you just can’t. In the past, I wouldn’t have had any faith that this kind of stuff could be cleaned up. Now, in 2018, I’m singing a different tune and I’m singing it because two people in particular have taken ownership of this team and have their finger prints all over it.

While Adam Gase continues to put his stamp on this team and mold it in his image, another very important person to whatever success this franchise is going to have has been taking the reins himself; Ryan Tannehill. With what I’ve been seeing from Tannehill over the last month, from kicking rookies out of the huddle when they mess up, to helping the team keep their eye on the ball through the delays on Sunday and taking it upon himself to organize an impromptu film study on Monday, Tannehill has finally matured into the leader that this franchise has been needing him to be. We don’t need defensive tackles and wide receivers being THE voice of this team, we need the quarterback to be that voice. It seems like he finally is.

So, here’s the six-million-dollar question; what kind of team are the 2018 Miami Dolphins going to be? This week’s game in New York against the Jets is going to go a long way in telling us if we’ve got a contender, or yet another pretender on our hands this year. If they lose, it’s the same old Dolphins. If they win, all of the sudden, they’ve won back to back games that they should win, the kind of games we’re so used to seeing them lose. We’ve got another game against an opponent we should beat coming up next week against the Raiders too. If the Dolphins win these next two games, they’re sitting at 3-0, and we as a fan base can start feeling better about this team, this season, and the future. The divisional games are the most important ones, not just for this season, but for every season. To be successful in the NFL, you have to beat the teams in your division, that’s the way it is. So, think about this; if we sweep the Bills and Jets and we split with the Patriots, like we have four of the last five years, there’s five wins. Add the win against Tennessee, there’s six. Beat the Raiders next week, there’s seven wins, and we’d already be past the line in Vegas for Dolphins wins this year (the over/under was at five and a half the last time I checked). THAT is what we as a fan base need to see in order to believe in this culture change, either this year or in the future. I’m going to keep buying into it until this team gives me a reason not to. As much as Dolphins fans have been burned in the past by doing just this very thing, I believe. Do you?