DAVIE, Fla. (AP) – Miami Dolphins guard Damion McIntosh says it’s counterproductive to become angry, because for an offensive lineman, fiery emotions only make blocking more difficult.

And the Dolphins are having enough trouble already.

Breakdowns up front helped sabotage Miami’s bid for a fast start this season. Instead the Dolphins are 1-3 going into Sunday’s game at AFC East leader New England, and quarterback Daunte Culpepper is on pace to set an NFL record for most times sacked.

Beleaguered by blitzers on Sunday and by critics all week, the five men up front must keep cool, McIntosh said.

“It’s best to stay focused and stay as a tight-knit group,” he said Wednesday. “What we do affects everybody else. If we’re focused on what we need to do and not being rah-rah type of people, we’re able to go out and execute better.”

Unless they improve, New England’s formidable front four is in for a feast. As Culpepper slowly regains his mobility following knee surgery last November, he has been sacked 21 times already – a pace of 84 for the year. David Carr of Houston is the record holder with 76 in 2002.

A month into the season, more than just Culpepper’s knee hurt.

“You can definitely feel it, because you’re getting hit a lot,” he said. “But it doesn’t worry me at all. I know we’re going to get it right.”

Poor pass protection isn’t the lone reason Miami has managed only five touchdowns in four games. Culpepper has been indecisive and hesitant, although he seems to be shaking off the rust. Dropped passes, wrong routes and a feeble ground game – with blocking again partly at fault – all contribute to Miami’s penchant for punts.

Coach Nick Saban blames mental errors rather than a lack of ability.

“We can’t have every guy make two or three mistakes,” he said. “The cumulative effect of that is lots of bad plays.”

Sacks rank among the worst plays, repeatedly saddling Miami with daunting down-and-distance situations. Houston blitzed often last week, but Tennessee and Buffalo often harassed Culpepper with only four rushers.

That means blockers are losing one-on-one matchups.

“The blitzes haven’t really been able to get to us,” Culpepper said. “It’s the base stuff that teams are getting to us with. When teams blitz us, I get rid of the ball quick and we’re on the go.”

Miami hasn’t been able to take advantage of the blitzes very often. Ronnie Brown, Randy McMichael and Pro Bowl receiver Chris Chambers have combined for 45 receptions, but their longest gain is 26 yards.

The line has been Miami’s most glaring offensive weakness since the 4-12 season of 2004, when snapping the ball without an illegal procedure penalty sometimes seems an insurmountable challenge.

Saban joined the Dolphins last year and hired offensive line coach Hudson Houck, who ranks among the NFL’s most respected assistants. Houck’s unit made dramatic improvement over the course of last season, helping the Dolphins win their final six games.

But Saban has yet to devote a high draft pick to an offensive lineman, and shuffling journeymen up front has produced mixed results.

“We’ve got lots of things we’ve tried to fix,” Saban said. “I believe we can play a lot better than we’re playing.”

The biggest problem this year is that injuries turned right guard into a revolving door – not a term that lends itself to good pass protection. The latest starting guard is McIntosh, a seven-year veteran who played the position for the first time last week at Houston after being moved over from tackle.

McIntosh performed better as the game progressed, but Miami totaled only 133 yards in the first 50 minutes against a weak defense before mounting a rally that fell short.

Now the Dolphins must try to block the Patriots. The goal will be to allow no sacks and strike an effective balance between running and passing, McIntosh said.

“Right now it looks bad,” he said. “We’re still learning each other. It will get there. We’ll get it right, trust me. We don’t have a bunch of losers here.”


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