Monday, September 27, 2010

Dolphins-Jets Game Observations

Riding high on a 2-0 start heading into their home opener against the New York Jets in Week Three, the Miami Dolphins fell just a bit short with a 31-23 loss on Sunday night.

Chad Henne and Miami's passing attack excelled against the Jets in prime time once again, but questionable play-calling on all sides of the ball and a few big plays did more damage than the Dolphins could cover from.

Brandon Marshall caught 10 passes for 166 yards and a touchdown in the loss.
While there were certainly positives to take away from the game for Miami, there were also a flew glaring problems that need to be fixed quickly.

Things won't get any easier in Week Four, as the Dolphin have another big divisional match-up in prime time, facing the New England Patriots on Monday Night Football.

Until then, here are my observations from the Dolphins' loss to the Jets in Week Three:


Offense
  • The Dolphins opened it up against the Jets on offense, if only because a sustainable, productive rushing game didn't seem like it was going to happen. Chad Henne did have some off throws, but for the most part, I felt he did a fantastic job. He got good protection from the line and did a good job of reading the field and finding the open receivers. I loved his poise and arm strength and I was really impressed with some of his big third-down throws. I'd really like to see the Dolphins let Henne loose like this more often.
  • Ronnie Brown looked fine considering the tough defense he was facing and had a few nice runs. If anything, I felt his linemen didn't quite do well enough to allow him to be more productive. Ricky Williams' ball security continues to be a bit concerning, and it's an issue dates back to last season. Williams is a talented back and his presence helps Brown remain fresh deep into games, but the Dolphins can't afford to have him splitting time if he's going to allow turnovers.
  • The Dolphins' receivers all had their best games of the season yesterday, with Brandon Marshall leading the way. He made some spectacular grabs and really got the offense moving after an early deficit. I really wish the Dolphins had gone to him at least once on that final set of downs, even if the defense was shading his direction.
  • Davone Bess and Brian Hartline also played very well. They caught everything they should have and both did a good job of running after the catch. Bess was a reliable third-down target as always. If these two continue to play like they did against the Jets, the Dolphins' receiving corps will be more than adequate behind Marshall.
  • Anthony Fasano had his good and bad moments in the passing game, boxing out the defender on a touchdown, but failing to come through with the grab on the final play of the game. The latter throw was a little late on Henne's part and the play-call was questionable, so I don't really put it on Fasano. He also did a great job blocking in the passing game and delivered a crushing block to spring Marshall for a big game on the final drive.
  • The offensive line, led by left tackle Jake Long, did a great job in pass protection all night. Henne was sacked twice, but Shaun Ellis' was the result of coverage and Henne trying to run up the middle, and Jason Taylor's was from a one-on-one matchup against Lousaka Polite. For the most part, Henne had all day to throw and was untouched most of the game.
  • The running game was far less productive as a result of poor blocking up front, in particular the interior linemen. I think all three starters inside missed at least one crucial block, and this seems to be a recurring theme for Richie Incognito. Backup Pat McQuistan, replacing an ill John Jerry at right guard, had his rough moments and was replaced by Cory Procter on a few occasions.

Defense
  • The Dolphins' defensive line had its moments yesterday, and Paul Soliai in particular blew up some plays. However, then didn't get a ton of push and tackling wasn't very good. LaDainian Tomlinson racked up too many yards on the ground and Brad Smith never should have been as productive as he was out of the wildcat.
  • Cameron Wake made a few nice plays away from pass-rushing duties, including a few good tackles against the run and a nice batted ball after getting cut by Damien Woody. He was, however, exposed badly on one running play, falling for the fake handoff and letting Brad Smith get outside for a big gain. It's going to take time for Wake to become a complete player and I think he'll get there, but he has to be better about sealing the outside.
  • Koa Misi was nonexistent in this game after two strong showings, while Quentin Moses was his usual useless self. The Dolphins' weren't able to get any kind of real pass rush on Sanchez, which made the young quarterback's day much easier. When you get all the time in the world, there isn't a quarterback in the league that won't pick you apart.
  • While the defense didn't play well as a unit, I was once again very impressed with the play of Karlos Dansby. He's got great instincts and is so good at getting to the ball. One of the most impressive plays was a dump-off pass to a running back late in the game. Despite three Jets blockers in front of the ball-carrier in open space, Dansby broke through and made the stop. The guy can simply do it all.
  • Tim Dobbins and Bobby Carpenter, on the other hand, both struggled. Carpenter took a bad angle initially and was beaten on a touchdown by Dustin Keller, even though coverage is supposed to be his strength. I've said before that I'd be comfortable with the two in place of Channing Crowder, who returned to practice but was inactive last night, but I think his return would give the defense a minor boost.
  • After two fantastic games, Vontae Davis went practically this entire game unchallenged by the Jets' offense. Davis got very few opportunities to make plays on a receiver, which is a testament to his play thus far and how little teams want to throw his direction. He did miss a few tackles in keeping with the rest of his teammates, which was surprising to see because he's usually so physical and such a sound tackler.
  • Riding high on some great play thus far, Jason Allen plummeted back to earth against the Jets with some costly errors. He took a bad angle and slipped on Braylon Edwards' long touchdown and allowed another big play when he was caught behind the receiver despite safety help over the top. He was thrown to all game as the Jets avoided Vontae Davis, but he's going to have to play better to remain a starter.
  • One has to wonder if Sean Smith will move closer to possibly regaining his starting job after Allen's rough night. Smith didn't see a whole lot of action, although I did notice him early on at safety with Yeremiah Bell playing right on the line of scrimmage. I think the Dolphins will give Allen at least a few games to right himself, but I like Smith's upside and hope he can still develop as a starter.
  • Chris Clemons had a nice game, and was absolutely robbed on a personal foul call early in the game. Clemons encountered the receiver immediately after the ball got there, hit the receiver with his arms, and clearly let up on the play when he realized it was incomplete. Despite the idiotic ravings of Cris Collinsworth, it was absolutely not a penalty. This was a huge play on 2nd-and-20 that eventually led to a touchdown.
  • Yeremiah Bell certainly didn't have his best game, as he was involved in the coverage on both of Dustin Keller's touchdowns. Bell is obviously a run-stopper more than anything, and although he's better than people know in coverage, he doesn't have the physical tools to constantly match up with an athletic tight end like Keller.

Special Teams
  • Dan Carpenter did an excellent job, booting a few long field goals and going a perfect 3-for-3 on the night. He did have another kickoff out of bounds, which was his second in three games this season. He had only two in his first two seasons with the Dolphins, so this is something he really needs to fix.
  • Brandon Fields was excellent as usual, and the big blocked punt by the Jets was absolutely not his fault. Erik Walden botched his assignment, taking Tyrone Culver's man on the outside of the Jets' rushing line and allowing a man to run through untouched. Walden offers nothing on defense, so it's possible that play could cost him his job.
  • Despite his defensive struggles on the day, credit Yeremiah Bell for blocking Nick Folk's long field goal attempt at the end of the first half. It's easier to block those long kicks because they need to be line drives, but it was still a good play.
  • Roberto Wallace was active as the No. 4 receiver over Marlon Moore, perhaps because the Dolphins wanted to see what he could do on special teams. He did well in my view, making a nice tackle on a kickoff and downing a Fields punt on the Jets' five-yard line.


Conclusion

I was really happy to see the Dolphins open it up for Henne, especially amid all the nonsense about Henne being in danger of losing his job. Henne has a ton of upside and has done very little wrong since he became the starter. If the Dolphins put more faith in Henne's arm and decision-making, the offense will improve.

Despite Henne's performance, the Dolphins lost in large part because of Dan Henning's play-calling. He went to the wildcat well far too often when it was clear it wasn't going to work, and he called odd trick plays like the Ronnie Brown pass and the reverse to Patrick Cobbs when he needs to just let Henne do his thing. With the way the offense plays aside from that, I honestly believe a better job from Henning could have changed the outcome of the game.

The Dolphins absolutely have to get more pressure on the quarterback. When a quarterback has all day to throw like Sanchez did and is never getting hit, it's almost impossible to stop the opposing offense.

Despite the loss, I'm encouraged by a lot of how the Dolphins played against the Jets. I believe the team can run with the Jets and Patriots this season if they fix their mistakes. No game in the fourth week of the season is a "must-win," but beating the Patriots and owning a 3-1 record heading into their bye is absolutely vital if they are going to contend for a division title this season.


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