The running game has stalled. There have been way too many penalties. Jay Fiedler has thrown too many interceptions, a lot of them at crucial times.<P>The Dolphins didn't play nearly as well in the first half of the 2001 season than they could — and than they will have to if they hope to reach the Super Bowl for the first time since the 1984 season.<P>

But for all their shortcomings, let's not forget that only one team in the entire league (the St. Louis Rams) have a better record than the Dolphins.

So obviously, the Dolphins have doing some things right.

It's amazing, though, that Dolphins fans constantly are criticizing this team.

It's not that the Dolphins have been above reproach. Even the team's players and coaches will tell you that there needs to be a lot of improvement.

But in today's NFL, there is no such thing as a perfect team. Even the Rams have their shortcomings, such as a nasty habit of turning the ball over.

For the Dolphins, the biggest culprit also has been turnovers, and the man most responsible is also the man responsible for a lot of the offensive success.

In his second season as the starting quarterback, Fiedler has made great strides since last season. Practically all of his statistics have improved over last year and he has taken advantage of a much-improved receiving corps.

Unfortunately, Fiedler's interceptions also have gone up, and that needs to stop if the Dolphins are to make a run at the Super Bowl.

But sometimes you've got to take the good with the bad, and if Fiedler becomes so afraid of making a mistake that he never throws the ball downfield, the Dolphins will be back at Square One.

The running game also is a concern right now, because Lamar Smith frankly doesn't look like the same running back he was last season. Yes, the offensive line has to take some of the blame for Smith's poor yards-per-carry average, but Smith also has looked tentative since those two fumbles in the loss at New York in mid-October.

Rookie Travis Minor provides a tremendous change of pace for the running game, and he figures to get more and more playing time if he continues to shine and Smith continues to struggle.

The passing game was very impressive in the first half of the season, thanks in large part to the emergence of free agent acquisition James McKnight and rookie Chris Chambers.

As opponents keep focusing on Lamar Smith, it wouldn't be surprising to see those two becoming bigger and bigger factors.

As for the defense, it remains very good, even if it's not Baltimore Ravens-like.

The pass rush has picked up in the last couple of weeks, which bodes very well for the second half of the season.

With increased pressure on the quarterback, you can look for the turnovers to increase.

Starting fast is nothing new for the Dolphins, whose 6-2 record includes only two victories with teams with a losing record. Maybe this is the year they finish fast as well.

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