Monday, September 20, 2010

Dolphins-Vikings Game Observations

On the road for the second straight game to open the 2010 season, the Miami Dolphins left Minnesota with their second win after beating the Vikings by a score of 14-10.

After stopping the Vikings on 4th-and-2 in Dolphins territory on the game's first possession, Chad Henne hit Brandon Marshall for a 46-yard gain on the team's first offensive play.

Methodically driving down the field, Henne punctuated the possession with a five-yard touchdown pass to receiver Brian Hartline.

Vontae Davis made a spectacular interception at his team's own one-yard line, which was followed by a 51-yard run by Ronnie Brown to get the Dolphins out of the shadow of their own end zone.

Midway through the third quarter, Cameron Wake beat Vikings right tackle Phil Loadholt for a sack and forced fumble in the end zone, recovered by rookie linebacker Koa Misi for a Dolphins touchdown.

A Jason Allen interception on the following series was negated by offsetting penalties, but Allen was able to come away with a pick six plays later on a pass intended for Bernard Berrian in the end zone.

Despite the turnover, Ricky Williams fumble on the next play at his team's own goal line led to an Adrian Peterson touchdown, bringing the score to 14-7.

With the Vikings marching down the field in a drive that lasted nearly seven minutes in the fourth quarter, a Kendall Langford sack on 3rd-and-6 the Miami eight-yard line held the Vikings to a field goal, making it 14-10.

The Vikings and Dolphins swapped one-play possessions late in the fourth quarter, with Jason Allen's second interception of Favre directly followed by a lost fumble by Ronnie Brown.

With the Vikings down four points and having a first-and-goal from Miami's 10-yard line, the Dolphins stuffed Adrian Peterson four times to for a turnover on downs and prevent the Vikings from taking the league.

A final Vikings possession saw them fail to convert a 4th-and-6 from the Dolphins' 27-yard line, ensuring the Dolphins' victory and 2-0 record.

The Dolphins will face the 1-1 New York Jets in a big Sunday Night Football game in Week Three, but until then, here are my observations from the win over the Vikings.


Offense
  • It's hard to say Chad Henne played badly, considering he completed 60 percent of his mere 15 pass attempts, threw a touchdown pass, and didn't turn the ball over. He connected with Brandon Marshall on a beautiful deep pass on the team's first play from scrimmage and was generally accurate all day, benefiting from a strong running game in the first half and playing with a lead all game. Still, it was a pretty bland offense and Henne did have his share of moments where he held onto the ball too long or checked down too quickly. It'd be nice to see the Dolphins open things up a bit more with just two offensive touchdowns in two games.
  • It was certainly a tail of two halves for the Dolphins' running backs, as Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams ran all over the Vikings in the first half only to each lose a critical fumble in the second half. That kind of thing is going to be pretty rare though, and overall it was a good job against one of the NFL's toughest run defenses. Lousaka Polite also contributed greatly as a blocker after being a few blocks against Buffalo.
  • There weren't many receptions to be had for the Dolphins' receivers, as the team ran the ball well in the first half and Henne wound up attempting only 15 passes. Given that, Brandon Marshall's numbers were strong and he made a few excellent grabs, including one on a 46-yard bomb.
  • Brian Hartline made a few nice catches and scored a touchdown, which was much needed after some of the criticism he'd received last week for lack of development. Davone Bess, meanwhile, was nowhere to be found most of the game, although that was more just a fluke circumstance.
  • Anthony Fasano didn't factor into the passing game either with so few balls to go around, but he did block well, as per usual.
  • In an epic battle between Jake Long and Jared Allen, Long was the clear victor, keeping the Pro Bowl pass-rusher in check all game. Allen did have a sack as a result of Henne holding onto the ball too long and stepping up into the rush, but he was otherwise neutralized in what was a great performance by Long. There were a handful of plays where Long just kept Allen completely in place and taking him out of the play.
  • Guards Richie Incognito and John Jerry both had their rough moments, with Incognito tripping up Brown after being pushed to the ground and Jerry being flagged for holding. Incognito also really botched the play where Kevin Williams sacked Henne, letting Williams in untouched while giving a late, half-hearted block on Long's man. Overall though, they blocked well considering the opponent.

Defense
  • The defensive line held up very well in Jared Odrick's absence. In a somewhat surprising move, Randy Starks moved back to his old defensive end spot and Paul Soliai started at nose tackle. This was probably the right move, as Tony McDaniel isn't as productive as Soliai and the way the Dolphins did it gave them the most overall talented line possible. McDaniel and Ryan Baker still played significantly though and held their own. Adrian Peterson got his yards and the Dolphins didn't always tackle well, but it was still a nice performance. They disrupted the Vikings' offensive line plenty and held up very nicely on the 4th-and-goal stuff of Peterson.
  • Cameron Wake was at it again with 1.5 sacks, as well as the biggest play of the game as he forced a Brett Favre fumble in the end zone that was recovered by Koa Misi for the touchdown. Wake is a constant force rushing the passer even when he's not recording sacks, and it won't be long before he starts to garner some national attention.
  • On the other end of the outside linebacker spectrum, Quentin Moses saw some significant time on defense and was painful to watch for the most part. He got good pressure on Favre on one play late in the game, but was asked to drop into coverage quite a bit and was just terrible at it. I don't really understand why he's around, as he offers nothing on special teams and has clearly peaked as a defender, in my view.
  • Karlos Dansby came up big with the initial hit on Adrian Peterson to stop him at the goal line on fourth down. He finished the day with nine tackles and was excellent again in coverage.
  • There is nothing special about Tim Dobbins or Bobby Carpenter, but I've grown tired of Matt Roth-esque injury of Channing Crowder. At this point, I'd prefer to just place Crowder on injured reserve and let those two guys platoon the thing.
  • There simply isn't enough time to say all the guy things you could about Vontae Davis. He had an absolutely fantastic game against the Vikings, making a spectacular interception on the Dolphins' goal line and sticking to the opposing receivers like glue all day. Another thing I love about him is his tackling ability, which is extremely good for a cornerback. When he comes up to make the tackle, he almost always gets his man and minimizes the gain. If Davis keeps playing at this level, he absolutely deserves a spot on the Pro Bowl roster.
  • Jason Allen came up big with two interceptions and overall excellent play against the Vikings, continuing his career resurrection. While I'd place a lot of the blame of Allen's picks on bad decision-making by Favre and lack of effort by Bernard Berrian, Allen certainly deserves his share of the credit too.
  • While Allen is playing far too well to lose his job, I was glad to see Sean Smith have a good game too and hope to see more of him on defense as the season goes on. Smith had a great third-down tackle on Percy Harvin early in the game and was right with Visanthe Shiancoe on the Vikings' final fourth-down attempt.
  • Yeremiah Bell had his embarrassing moment when he was leap-frogged by Peterson, but otherwise he did a good job of being the last line of defense and preventing Peterson from busting a huge run. Ideally, your safety won't have to make that many tackles against the run if the from seven game wrap up.

Special Teams
  • While he didn't get a chance to kick a field goal, Dan Carpenter was a huge part of the special teams game with a few excellent kickoffs, including one touchback. He already has three this season after totaling seven all of last season, so whatever he's doing is working.
  • Brandon Fields was his usual self, booting at least one huge punt (59 yards) while dropping another inside the opponent's five-yard line. I swear, if someone kidnapped Shane Lechler, Fields could be a Pro Bowler.
  • Clifton Smith didn't show a whole lot in kickoffs, and will need to do more in the return game if he's going to have a long stay in Miami. Special teams blocking has never been one of Miami's strengths, though.
  • In addition to playing a significant role on defense, Bobby Carpenter also had a great day on special teams, tackling Bernard Berrian after a muffed punt that was nearly the Dolphins' ball and also downing one of Fields' punts at the Minnesota five-yard line.

Conclusion

It wasn't always pretty, as the Dolphins' backs practically tried to give the game away with two huge fumbles. Chad Henne and the offense didn't get a whole long going, and Adrian Peterson racked up a sizable amount of yards in the ground.

Nevertheless, the Dolphins came through when it counted and left Minnesota with a victory. I simply can't get over how well the defense played late in the game, when they had to be physically and emotionally drained after a physical game and some huge turnovers by the Dolphins' offense.

The Vikings possessed the ball for nearly 12 minutes in the fourth quarter, and came away with only three points. The Dolphins forced two turnovers via interceptions and two turnovers on downs in the final period, including a phenomenal goal-line stand stuffing Adrian Peterson at the one-yard line.

There are certainly things to be concerned about, including an offense that really needs to get going. Still, at 2-0 without even having played a home game yet, things are looking good for the Dolphins right now.

A win over the banged-up Jets would have things looking even better.


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