Monday, September 13, 2010

Dolphins-Bills Game Observations

After an uninspiring performance in the preseason, the Miami Dolphins showed surprising improvement in their 2010 regular season opener against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.

While they obviously were not playing the toughest opponent, performances by the offensive line, pass rush, and secondary were quite encouraging.

After getting on the board first with a Dan Carpenter field goal, the Dolphins added seven points on a Ronnie Brown rushing touchdown late in the second quarter. Bills' kicker Rian Lindell scored the Bills' first points with a 51-yard field goal four minutes before the half.

Following a scoreless third period, blown coverage by the Dolphins' secondary allowed Trent Edwards to find Roscoe Parrish for a 31-yard touchdown on fourth and 11.

Down 13-10 late in the game, the Bills were pinned back at their own one-yard line after a great punt by the Dolphins' Brandon Fields. After three incompletions, the Bills opted for a safety rather than attempting the fourth-down conversion.

With the 15-10 victory, the Dolphins earned their first win of the 2010 season and moved into a first-place tie in the AFC East with the New England Patriots at 1-0. Buffalo fell to 0-1, while the Jets play Monday night against the Ravens.

The Dolphins will head up to Minnesota to face Brett Favre and the Vikings in Week Two, but here are my observations from the Dolphins' Week One victory over the Bills.


Offense
  • Chad Henne didn't light the world on fire, but overall I was happy with his performance. He completed most of the high-percentage passes and did a good job not turning the ball over, especially a few times when he was pressured.
  • Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams both ran hard, combining for 127 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Splitting time clearly saves each from wearing down as much during the game, and it came in handy when the Dolphins needed to control the clock and secure a victory.
  • Brandon Marshall displayed good receiving ability overall and did well running after the catch. He also had a crushing block on Donte Whitner, which is exactly what makes him the complete package at receiver. He had a few drops, including one on an under-thrown bomb by Henne. I'm not concerned about the drops right now and I think the connection between Henne and Marshall will get better as they play together.
  • Brian Hartline failed to stand out much and had a drop on a ball he really should have caught. Davone Bess, on the other hand, came up with some big catches and got more yards than he should have due to some poor tackling by the Bills.
  • Both Anthony Fasano and John Nalbone did a good job blocking at tight end. While we saw nothing from Nalbone as a receiver, it's nice to see him playing and doing something well.
  • Jake Long handled the Bills' pass rush pretty easily and showed no ill effects from the tweaked knee he suffered in the preseason finale. Vernon Carey played well enough, but was beaten badly on one play and would have contributed to a turnover if Henne hadn't miraculously held onto the ball.
  • I thought rookie John Jerry had an up-and-down debut, as he struggled badly at times but overall was a solid run blocker. I like his potential and he's going to get better over time. Richie Incognito did a good job pulling at guard, and anyone that missed Donald Thomas (who is still a free agent, by the way) is ridiculous.
  • Joe Berger continued his good play from last season and appears to be a reliable starting center. With Jake Grove gone, the Dolphins will sink or swim with Berger, so he needs to keep it up.

Defense
  • The Dolphins' defensive line man-handled the Bills' offensive line almost all day. The Bills couldn't get anything going on the ground and made C. J. Spiller look foolish time after time. Rookie first-rounder Jared Odrick had an exceptional first half and is supposedly going to be okay after suffering a deep bone bruise in his leg.
  • After failing to get to the passer much at all during the preseason, the Dolphins' rush came alive against the Bills. Koa Misi had an excellent debut in full-time duty with Ikaika Alama-Francis out due to illness. The real star was Cameron Wake, who came away with only one sack but constantly harassed Trent Edwards and forced plenty of bad decisions and errant throws. There have been a lot of questions about whether or not Wake can translate his CFL dominance and situational pass-rushing success with the Dolphins in 2009 into becoming a quality NFL starter, and there is reason for optimism after Sunday.
  • Dolphins' prized defensive acquisition Karlos Dansby set the tone with a sack on the Bills' first possession of the game. (For those keeping score at home, that's one sack in one game for Dansby, and 2.5 sacks in 71 games for Channing Crowder.) Dansby also totaled eight tackles and did an excellent job in coverage.
  • Surprisingly, newly-signed Bobby Carpenter saw extensive playing time on defense in place of Crowder. Tim Dobbins was expected to start for Crowder, but was dinged up on the kickoff. Things actually worked out fine for the Dolphins, as the Bills went with a pass-heavy attack most of the game and Carpenter's best work is in coverage. He still shouldn't be a long-term starting candidate, but he's a nice guy to have on the bench.
  • Vontae Davis wasn't tested much, but came up with a huge pass break-up on the Bills' final possession. He had a fantastic preseason and is a legitimate No. 1 corner.
  • On the other end of the spectrum, second-year corner Sean Smith was one of only two active players to not appear in the game for Miami (the other being backup quarterback Chad Pennington). Smith lost his starting job to 2006 first-round pick Jason Allen, who played very well against Buffalo. I'm still not sold on Allen as a starter after he's been so bad for so long, but you have to give the guy credit for a job well done. It'll be interesting to see how he plays when tested by a better quarterback and offense.
  • Chris Clemons and Yeremiah Bell both had nice games and delivered their share of big hits. They didn't allow any big plays, although Tyrone Culver was beaten badly on a 31-yard touchdown by Roscoe Parrish on fourth and 11. That kind of thing just cannot happen.
Special Teams
  • Dan Carpenter missed one of his three attempts, although I can attest to the wind being troublesome at times having been at the game. He drilled two other kicks and should be fine.
  • Being forced to punt into the wind really affected Brandon Fields. He had a handful of wobbly, low line-drive punts that gave Roscoe Parrish the chance for some big returns. The coverage team did its job well though and didn't allow any big plays.
  • Clifton Smith didn't get many opportunities to do much on returns, but we should see more of him in better weather conditions. I don't have to see him return to know he's the team's best option, anyway.

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