The Dolphins, fresh off an 11-5 record and AFC East title in 2008, suffered a sophomore slump under Bill Parcells and Tony Sparano.
Facing a much tougher schedule and having tougher luck with injuries, the Dolphins struggled to a 7-9 record and third-place finish in the division.
The Dolphins will have quite a bit of work to do in 2010 to improve as a franchise, and I'll be offering constant information and analysis throughout the league's offseason.
Until then, here are my observations from the Dolphins' 30-24 loss to the Steelers in the 2009 regular season finale:
- Chad Henne played well in the first half, competing 16-of-20 passes and tearing apart the Steelers' secondary for 140 yards and a score with one interception. I like almost everything I've seen from the guy, and anxiously await his second year as Dolphins' starter.
- Pat White failed to impress in the third quarter after Henne went out with an eye injury, and I still fail to see what this guy has to offer as a pro quarterback. I hope the guy is all right after the scary concussion he suffered from an Ike Taylor hit, but that's just another reason a guy his size can't survive as a running quarterback in this league.
- Tyler Thigpen started off nicely in relief, but struggled and threw two tough interceptions. He had a beautiful touchdown to Davone Bess and showed good agility in the pocket, but he needed to take care of the ball better. Down three and already in field-goal range, Thigpen forced a throw to a double-teamed Ted Ginn, Jr. that was intercepted. You just have to be smarter in that situation, but a big comeback is a lot to expect from a relatively new player who hasn't seen the field much since 2008.
- The Dolphins didn't run the ball much and weren't successful early on, so that coupled with a big deficit didn't allow for much productivity on the ground. Lex Hilliard also struggled mightily in the running game, and I've yet to see anything to show me he can be "the man" in the backfield.
- Davone Bess was the Dolphins' "receiver du jour" and led the team with five catches for 85 yards, including a long touchdown grab from Thigpen. Brian Hartline, Greg Camarillo and Ginn made a few nice catches each, and Hartline scored on a nicely drawn-up and executed end-around run.
- Anthony Fasano finished his up-and-down year with just a two-catch game, though one catch-and-run was particularly nice. One thing I'd say about him is that his blocking has been superb this season, but Fasano and Hilliard both struggled trying to double-team LaMarr Woodley.
- The offensive line did a good job for the most part, though Jake Long and the rest of the game all struggled more in the running game. One particularly good block came on Hartline's end-around touchdown, where Donald Thomas did a great job sealing the edge and stopping James Harrison in his tracks.
Defense & Special Teams
- Randy Starks recorded his seventh sack of the season—a fantastic total for a 3-4 lineman. Starks ended his career year nicely and is clearly one of the biggest snubs from the 2010 Pro Bowl.
- The Dolphins' defense did a fairly good job against the run early, but ended up giving too much at the end. A lot of the second- and third-level defenders on the Dolphins did a bit too much attempted arm-tackling on Rashard Mendenhall.
- The Dolphins' pass-rush wasn't a factor for much of the game, although Joey Porter came up with a big sack late in the game. Akin Ayodele also did a good job rushing the passer late and was a big reason for a Ben Roethlisberger turnover.
- Reggie Torbor was mediocre in his replacement of Channing Crowder, and it's obvious to me that all three of the team's top inside linebackers aren't long-term solutions.
- Roethlisberger had his strong moments with three touchdown passes, but I liked some of the individual plays the Dolphins' young defensive backs made. Sean Smith was flagged for a questionable pass interference call on which he made a great deflection, and Jason Allen actually had a solid showing in place of an injured Vontae Davis. Allen also had some great special teams tackles, and that's certainly been one area where he's consistently been productive.
- Nathan Jones notched a sack and big forced fumble, but it took him long enough as he totally whiffed on Roethlisberger a few times. He also struggled in coverage a bit.
- Gibril Wilson ended what is hopefully his last career game as a Dolphin by allowing some big plays just like always. That being said, rookie Chris Clemons didn't fare much better, trying and failing to make some arm tackles and getting beat deep on Mike Wallace's touchdown (though there was arguably a pick by the Steelers on the play).
- Yeremiah Bell made a nice play on a long interception by Santonio Holmes, waiting under the ball and timing his leap just right. He's similar in style to Wilson but better overall, and he's a suitable starter as long as the team has a guy who truly complements him at free safety.
- Dan Carpenter made his lone field-goal attempt to finish his sophomore season with a fine 89.3 percentage, and Brandon Fields had a very nice day as well with two of four punts downed inside the 20 and a beautiful 58-yard boot. At least the Dolphins don't have to worry about those positions this offseason.
- Despite being a reliable possession receiver, Davone Bess is an extremely poor punt returner and needs to be replaced. If Ted Ginn, Jr. isn't the answer there or on kicks, the Dolphins sorely need a strong return specialist.