Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Dolphins-Steelers Game Observations

In what very well could go down as the turning point of the season, the Miami Dolphins fell to 3-3 with a narrow and controversial 23-22 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 7.

The Dolphins totaled only six points from two early Steelers turnovers, but hung with Pittsburgh for the entire game thanks to five Dan Capenter field goals and quality quarterback play by Chad Henne.

A highly-controversial call at the end of the game sealed a loss for the Dolphins, but that has already been discussed ad nauseum, including in my video from yesterday.

That being the case, here are my other observations from the Dolphins' "loss" to the Steelers.


Offense
  • I was very pleased with how Chad Henne played, especially considering he was going up against the NFL's best defense. He really settled in as the game went on, throwing the ball with good accuracy and zip almost all day. People have talked about his inability to read the field and a supposed tendency to lock onto his receivers, but this game was the best example yet of how that really doesn't describe Henne at all. He went through his progressions perfectly and almost always made the good decision. And, he did all this with some pretty bad play-calling by Dan Henning and pass protection by Vernon Carey—both of which killed the team's final drive.
  • The Dolphins weren't able to get a whole lot going on the ground, though Ricky Williams ran much better than Ronnie Brown on the day. Struggles are to be expected against the NFL's top run defense, and Brown's carry total is too small of a sample size against a good team to cause any concern. The offensive line has been the bigger culprit through the season, anyway.
  • Brandon Marshall put forth a solid effort, but the Steelers focused heavily on preventing Marshall from doing a lot of damage, forcing many of Henne's throws to go the ways of Davone Bess and Brian Hartline. Bess was extremely impressive once again and showed spectacular run-after-catch ability, while Hartline bounced back from a bad fumble to haul in all five of his targets on some nice grabs.
  • Anthony Fasano made a few nice grabs, but also had a key drop on the final drive. I'm also a bit troubled that neither of the other tight ends (Mickey Schuler or Jeron Mastrud) is ready to play some offense in two-tight end sets. The lack of that is really hurting Miami's running game, and if the Dolphins don't have the players to do it now, why don't they get one? (Or better yet, why did they let go of David Martin?)
  • Jake Long was flagged with a rare holding call against James Harrison, but it was pretty weak and was good technique by Long in my opinion. He did well all day too, and once again didn't allow a sack. Vernon Carey was a whole other story though, as he did allow a sack on a terrible effort against Larry Foote. Carey also allowed the pressure that forced Henne outside on the Dolphins' final play, then Carey allowed his man to turn around and hit Henne from behind to mess up the pass. It was definitely not his best day.
  • The Dolphins' interior line was not very impressive, getting dominated by the Steelers' defensive line in the running game. They didn't allow a whole lot of pressure in the pass rush though, giving Henne plenty of time to throw. This has been a pretty consistent theme for the line this season—great pass protection, but sub-par run-blocking.

Defense
  • I was very pleased with how the defensive line did, with Kendall Langford and Paul Soliai both getting some great push and Tony McDaniel having a nice game as well and recording a sack. Though the pass defense was sorely lacking, the Dolphins' run defense was exceptional most of the day, as Rashard Mendenhall was limited to just 37 yards on 15 carries.
  • Koa Misi added another half-sack to his resume, while Cameron Wake was held quiet in that department after his three-sack performance last week. Wake did get good pressure at times though and played the run better than he ever has. The overall pressure just wasn't consistent enough though, especially on third downs.
  • Karlos Dansby and Channing Crowder also did a nice job against the run, although Dansby struggled a bit in coverage. Most of this can be blamed on the play-calling though, as Dansby was matched up on Hines Ward far too much in the game.
  • Vontae Davis was only targeted a few times and didn't give up many yards, as the Steelers shied away from him in the passing game most of the time. Benny Sapp was exposed a handful of times, and Jason Allen was flat-out burned by Mike Wallace on a long touchdown. It's hard to fault Allen as he simply lacked the speed to keep up with Wallace.
  • Sean Smith seemed to recapture his starting role at cornerback, but we'll see how permanent it is. He has more upside that Allen, but seemed to lose confidence before the season. He didn't make any mistakes against Pittsburgh though, so it'll be interesting to see if he can keep it up.
  • Chris Clemons had a very up-and-down day, making a terrible tackle effort on a Steelers touchdown and contributing to a few long third-down conversions. He did have a sack though and made a great clutch play to force a Ben Roethlisberger fumble at the end of the game.

Special Teams
  • Dan Carpenter continued his excellent play by drilling all five of his field-goal attempts through the uprights. He's easily one of the most reliable kickers in the game.
  • Brandon Fields was great too, placing two of his three punts inside the 20 and averaging 47.7 yards per punt. It's more of the same from the strong-legged punt.
  • The Dolphins kickoff coverage was a really sore spot and allowed the Steelers to get way too many yards before their offensive possessions. Lex Hilliard did force a fumble on the opening kickoff and made a few touchdown-saving tackles, but there is no excuse for letting guys get to midfield or beyond.

Conclusions

I'm not here to say the Dolphins should've done more than they did, because then it wouldn't have come down to a bad call by the referee. The Dolphins, regardless of what they didn't do, earned the ball with a 22-20 lead and under three minutes remaining.

However, there were a few things from the Dolphins' performance that do need to be remedied. Dan Henning's play-calling continues to be questionable, while the Dolphins' defense gave up way too many long third-down conversions.

Special teams also continues to be an issue, though it doesn't appear to be something the Dolphins can fix this season now that they've already fired one coach, and can't reasonably cut every bad special-teams player on the team and find a handful of quality ones on the market in the middle of the season.

The Dolphins could have really used a win against Pittsburgh, and at 3-3, they are rapidly approaching an average season in a division with two quality opponents in the Jets and Patriots.

A winning streak is a must if the Dolphins want to salvage their season, and it needs to begin yesterday.


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