Monday, October 18, 2010

Dolphins-Packers Game Observations

Coming off two tough losses to division rivals and a long bye week to let it sink in, the Miami Dolphins went on the road to face one of the NFC's best and came away with a victory.

Against a talented, albeit banged-up Green Bay Packers team, the Dolphins controlled the clock, protected Chad Henne, destroyed Aaron Rodgers, and played good special teams (for the most part) to earn the 23-20 win in overtime.

The Dolphins will head home for a very tough contest against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 7, but for now, here are my observations from Miami's win over the Packers:

Offense
  • Chad Henne was certainly much better than he had been last week, which was good to see. He did have his share of negatives, including a really late throw to Brandon Marshall that got jumped for an interception. He also stared down receivers a bit too much (which has become a habit of his) and overthrew a handful. Still, I was encouraged by his overall performance and like how he put the Dolphins in position to win.
  • I don't know if it's a reflection of talent, luck, or inconsistent blocking by the offensive line, but Ricky Williams seems to be running better than Ronnie Brown right now. Williams has always had better instincts than Brown, but he just seems to be gaining more yardage on average and the holes look bigger when he's carrying the ball.
  • Lousaka Polite failed to convert a short-yardage carry for the first time in 20 attempts. The impressive feat had to end sometime, but he's still money in that spot. I'm more concerned about the number of blocking miscues he's had this season, which already seem to outnumber his 2010 total.
  • Brandon Marshall put his size and talent on display once again, completely dominating the Packers' one-on-one coverage in the first half. He's so good that you can just throw it up to him, and he'll come down with it more often than not. He almost made a terrific touchdown catch in the back of the end zone on a pass that looked like it was going to be in the stands when it was released.
  • Anthony Fasano wasn't a huge contributor in the passing game and hasn't been in a while, but he did have a very nice touchdown on a perfectly drawn up misdirection play. The Dolphins' are pretty much playing with one tight end, which could also be hurting the running game.
  • Jake Long was stellar as always, as was the rest of the line in pass protection. The Packers were down some of their best pass rushers against a unit that is one of the league's best at keeping the quarterback upright, so Chad Henne predictably went untouched.
  • Conversely, the run blocking continues to struggle a bit and the ground game is suffering as a result. The interior offensive line just isn't getting the push upfront that Miami had the past few years, which could be the result of personnel changes like cutting Jake Grove. Overall though, the offensive line is not a very troublesome spot for Miami.

Defense
  • The defensive line did a fairly good job, with Kendall Langford stuffing things as always and Randy Starks recording a sack from the nose tackle position. They did give up a bit more on the ground than I would have preferred, but fortunately Green Bay doesn't have much confidence in their running game.
  • Cameron Wake was, in a word, a beast. The Packers' offensive line has been shaky for years, and rookie first-rounder Bryan Bulaga was no match for Wake at right tackle. A constant force rushing the passer, Wake notched three sacks, six quarterback hits, and drew a crucial holding penalty late in the game. Wake is going to start getting much more attention from offenses with play like this, but right now, he seems bound for the Pro Bowl if he can keep playing well.
  • Koa Misi also recorded a sack, giving him a solid three for the season. He doesn't have near the pure ability that Wake does, but he's got a great motor.
  • The Dolphins dodged a huge bullet when Karlos Dansby came away unharmed from what looked to be a serious knee injury. Dansby is the centerpiece of the defense and is someone the Dolphins cannot afford to lose.
  • I was initially content with Tim Dobbins and Bobby Carpenter splitting time at inside linebacker, but Channing Crowder's return showed just how much better the defense is with him in it. While Crowder himself is just a solid linebacker, he's much better than Dobbins or Carpenter. Not only that, but Crowder provides great football intelligence, energy, and leadership to the defense. Alongside Dansby, Crowder and the Dolphins' defense are much better.
  • Vontae Davis was seriously burned on a touchdown by a double-move by Greg Jennings, which played into his aggressiveness as a corner perfectly. Davis recorded well, however, and put together a solid effort aside from that mistake. Davis tackled well as usual, and you have to love his physicality.
  • Jason Allen grabbed another interception, while Sean Smith almost pulled in his first career pick himself. Smith's near interception was really the result of pressure, however, and he didn't have a great game. He whiffed about as badly as possible trying to tackle Donald Driver, and isn't going to earn his starting job back by doing that.
  • I was pretty disappointed with the safety play overall. Both Chris Clemons and Yeremiah Bell missed some tackles, and they were both two of the biggest culprits in Aaron Rodgers' quick-snap touchdown that sent the game into overtime. Bell wasn't even facing the Packers on the play, which is just inexcusable.

Special Teams
  • Dan Carpenter came through big in this game, drilling a 53-yarder in the first half after a penalty backed Miami up on his first attempt, and eventually kicking the game-winner in overtime. Carpenter has only missed one kick that wasn't blocked this season and is continuing his very consistent play from 2009.
  • Brandon Fields had a very nice game, averaging 40 yards a punt with one dropped inside the 20 and another boomed for 50 yards. The long punt came in overtime that really helped swing the field position in Miami's favor, directly leading to the win.
  • I really like what Nolan Carroll did as a kick returner, as he averaged 26 yards and posted a long return of 37 yards. He may never be an elite returner, but he's got some explosion and I'm anxious to see him get more chances.
  • I'd like to single out Patrick Cobbs and Tim Dobbins for some nice tackles on special teams, but the Dolphins also had their usual suspects make mistakes that could have been critical. Bobby Carpenter allowed a deflected punt two weeks against the Packers after contributing to the Patriots' blocked punt and kick return touchdown, while Lydon Murtha got a holding call that backed up Dan Carpenter's field goal attempt in the first half. Carpenter has since been released, while Murtha may not be close behind.

Conclusion

The Dolphins did a good job winning a game they probably should have, considering how banged up the Packers were. They pass protected well and only made one real mistake, which let them hang on for the victory.

The running game is still lacking a bit, and while offensive coordinator Dan Henning had his moments (see Fasano's touchdown) he really bothers me sometimes. I don't like his decision to open overtime with three straight passes (that eventually led to a punt). It might be sudden death (for the most part) but there isn't a ton of urgency right then, and I'd like to see them put a normal offense together in that situation.

The Dolphins had some individual standouts, but this certainly wasn't a dominating performance. They'll need to be 10 times better to beat the Steelers in Week 7.


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