Saturday, August 28, 2010

Dolphins-Falcons Game Observations

Coming of an impressive offensive performance and victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars last week, the Miami Dolphins fell flat against the Atlanta Falcons yesterday in a 16-6 preseason loss.

In what is widely considered the "dress rehearsal" game in preparation for the regular season, the Dolphins' offense sputtered and failed to find the end zone once.

While the preseason only means so much, the Dolphins having their worst showing with the first team playing nearly three quarters is a bit concerning at this point.

The Dolphins have quite a few things they need to correct, and the regular season is just two weeks away.

Here are my observations from the Dolphins' loss to the Falcons:


Offense
  • Chad Henne had a rough day, but I don't place much of the blame on him. His teammates failed to give him much help in pass protection, and the running game was nonexistent. I thought Henne did a good job putting touch on some passes to the running backs, which was a problem area for him in 2009. He also did a great job hooking up with Brandon Marshall on numerous occasions.
  • Chad Pennington had a better day than Henne and made some nice throws, but a few of them were simply the result of some very bad coverage. Pennington's ball sure does take a long time to get there, and that doesn't work if the defense does its job.
  • Pat White surprisingly got some playing time last night while Tyler Thigpen did not. It's hard to know what to make of this, as the team hadn't shown any interest in getting White playing time before this. He completed all four of his passing attempts but the play-calling played it safe, so there isn't much to get excited about. I still think he's likely to be cut, although it's possible the Dolphins have been showcasing Thigpen for trade and didn't play him last night so he wouldn't get injured and kill a deal.
  • The Dolphins' running backs weren't able to get anything going on the ground as Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams combined for 14 yards on 12 carries. When your biggest rush of the night is a 12-yard gain by a wide receiver on an end-around play, you know your line isn't doing its job.
  • Fullback Lousaka Polite failed to convert a 4th-and-short opportunity, and he's usually money in those types of situations. I don't put it all on him though, as the play developed a little slowly and I thought the Dolphins gave him the handoff way too far behind the line for him to make a good effort.
  • Brandon Marshall began the night with a negative on a dropped pass that was initially ruled a fumble before review (replays clearly showed it was a catch and fumble, the referee blew the review call), but he made some very nice catches and runs later on. Watching him play, it's very obvious what kind of difference having a true No. 1 receiver makes.
  • Brian Hartline came up with some good grabs, but looked to hurt his knee or leg after taking a hard hit sliding for a bad throw from Henne. If he's healthy, he's a solid No. 2 receiver.
  • Patrick Turner was nowhere to be found in the passing game tonight, while Marlon Moore had a nice 12-yard run on a little trick play and popped right up after taking a big hit from Falcons safety William Moore. Actually, I think the best lower-tier receiver of the night was fellow undrafted rookie Roberto Wallace, who caught three passes for 28 yards and showed nice "escapability" and run-after-catch skills. It'll be interesting to see who sticks around on the active roster here.
  • The Dolphins' tight ends didn't have a great game, and usually-reliable Anthony Fasano whiffed on a few blocks. Joey Haynos seemed to injure himself coming out of his stance at the snap and fell to the ground untouched. It seemed like a possible Achilles' injury, which could end his season in the worst-case scenario.
  • Jake Long and the rest of the line definitely didn't have their best game, but Long was flagged for a ridiculous holding penalty after making a great pancake block on Abraham. Andrew Gardner was beaten badly at right tackle and appears to be on his way out.
  • John Jerry was flagged for holding once and the Dolphins' interior line got handled by Atlanta's defensive front for much of the game. They have to do a better job of pushing the defensive line or the running game is going nowhere.
  • Donald Thomas was once again relegated to work with the third-team in the fourth quarter of the game, while Cory Procter got some snaps with the one's and two's in the third. I still say Thomas is not on the team come Sept. 12.
  • It appears Jake Grove has emerged as the favorite to start at center after playing nearly twice as many series as Joe Berger, although he did get dinged up as per usual with him and he wasn't that effective anyway.

Defense
  • I thought the Dolphins' defensive line did a pretty good job against the run, with Kendall Langford making one particularly great stop on Michael Turner in the backfield. Rookie Jared Odrick got some good pressure up the middle at times (playing defensive tackle in a four-man line) but he got exposed a few times against the run by letting the backs outside instead of forcing them back inside.
  • Paul Soliai had another good game at nose tackle with five totals tackles (three solo) and is firmly entrenched as the primary backup to Randy Starks.
  • Despite a solid all-around showing from the defensive line, I still think they need to get more pressure as a unit.
  • Rookie Koa Misi has gotten some good push as a pass rusher, but he's not getting to the quarterback enough which can also be said for every other outside linebacker on the team. Ikaika Alama-Francis made some nice plays against the run though, which is his strong suit.
  • Quentin Moses continues to be a ghost and has been hurt much of the preseason, so I fully expect him to be gone at this point. Rookie Chris McCoy hasn't shown enough to make the roster at this point either, which is why I think Erik Walden could stick around due to his special-teams play.
  • I thought it was interesting how Charlie Anderson saw quite a bit of time at inside linebacker next to Tim Dobbins. Anderson has gotten some practice time there before in the past few years and has always been a top emergency option on the inside, although it's unclear if the team views him as a potential No. 4 man. Such an occurrence may shake things up in the battle between J. D. Folsom, Micah Johnson, and Austin Spitler.
  • Speaking of those three, the No. 4 inside linebacker job continues to be one of the hardest ones to predict in my view. Spitler remains the least impressive of the group, while Johnson has continued to rack up the tackles with four more last night. I still think he may end up on the practice squad though.
  • Karlos Dansby showed what makes him better than the average linebackers of the world (such as Channing Crowder), recovering a fumble and showing great ability in coverage. It was impressive to see Dansby routinely stick with a Hall of Fame tight end like Tony Gonzalez, and it's what makes Dansby the complete package.
  • Getting the bad cornerback news out of the way first: Jason Allen struggled against Roddy White, as did Sean Smith. Allen had good coverage a few times but got owned on White's scoring grab, while Smith was burned badly by White on a deep ball only to have Ryan overthrow it. Smith was also benched from the start of the game after showing up late to a team meeting beforehand, so he's not helping himself get out of the doghouse. Regardless, he's still the best option to start right now.
  • On the other end of the spectrum, Vontae Davis was the star of the night on defense. He made a handful of deflections, routinely had great coverage on an elite receiver like White, and also forced a fumble that Dansby recovered. It was an excellent and encouraging game for Miami's No. 1 corner.
  • Nobody stood out at safety other than Yeremiah Bell, who came up with a gift-wrapped interception from Matt Ryan. Chris Clemons looks to be unchallenged for the free safety job, but he's only been average thus far.

Special Teams
  • Dan Carpenter converted both of his field goal attempts, including a 53-yarder that cleared the crossbar by a good 15 feet. He also made a great touchdown-saving tackle on a kickoff.
  • Brandon Fields had another strong effort, with a long punt of 59 yards and another downed inside the Falcons' 20 yard line (downed by cornerback Kevin Hobbs).
  • Nolan Carroll was upended a few times on kickoffs and limped off the field once, but he appeared to be okay. He has some good burst on his returns and is going to run away with the kick returner job. He was flagged for voluntarily running out of bounds as a gunner on a punt, but that's a rookie mistake.
  • Marlon Moore was given the opportunity to return a punt but didn't do anything with it. One of the most boring punt returners in the NFL, Davone Bess unfortunately appears to have won the job by default.


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