Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Dolphins vs. Patriots Game Observations

I'm sick and feeling pretty awful with the flu, so I'm going to skip the long intro and recap. Here are my observations from the Miami Dolphins' 38-24 loss to the New England Patriots in Week 1.


  • There weren't many positives to take away from this game, but Chad Henne was absolutely one of him. I won't say he was perfect and he certainly missed on some throws in the red zone, but for the most part, I thought he played wonderfully and gave a performance that will win a game on most days. He made good decisions most of the game, hit open receivers, avoided mistakes, and commanded the offense like we hadn't seen in three years under Dan Henning. He has clearly taken to Brian Daboll's offense and the wider responsibilities clearly suit him, which makes you wonder why the staff didn't trust him before.
  • Henne even ran the ball well, setting a single-season career high in rushing yards after one game with 59 yards. While he'll never be mistaken for a scrambler, Henne showed impressive running ability and good decision-making when it came to throwing it versus tucking it away.
  • Reggie Bush ran hard in this one and took a number of hits as his line let him down often. You can tell he really wants to show everyone he can be a feature back. I still question whether or not he can because of his injury history, but smaller and less strong backs have done it, so one would think he should be capable. The Dolphins clearly think he should, as an active Larry Johnson was nowhere to be seen on short-yardage plays. Lex Hilliard did have one nice conversion from the fullback position, which is just further evidence that Lousaka Polite was indeed dispensable.
  • In general, I was pretty pleased with the way the Dolphins' receivers played. Brandon Marshall made some outstanding catches and really showcased his size and strength. Davone Bess overcame an early drop to make some nice catches and nearly scored a touchdown, while Brian Hartline found the end zone and had a few good grabs as well. Clyde Gates looks a little less comfortable right now, which is to be expect in a rookie.
  • Anthony Fasano had a detrimental holding penalty on the game's first drive, but he more than made up for it with some nice grabs over the middle and a beautiful one-hander near the end zone. Fasano tends to go up and down and isn't an elite tight end, but he did show that he can stretch the field and get open.
  • Jake Long didn't have his best game, but he was certainly the team's best lineman on an otherwise ugly day. Mike Pouncey predictably struggled with the Patriots' elite defensive tackles, Richie Incognito drew multiple holding penalties, and Vernon Carey and Marc Colombo were downright horrendous in all aspects. I swear, Colombo played so poorly I thought he was trying to let people by him. The Dolphins probably overestimated his ability when they installed him as a starter following a down season in Dallas, and I'd much rather see someone like Nate Garner given a shot. The line was simply horrendous and this kind of play will doom Henne, Bush and the Dolphins' season if it's not fixed in a hurry.

  • The Dolphins' defensive line was supposed to be a strength, but it certainly wasn't in this one. The unit got absolutely no pressure in this one and it really helped the Patriots' passing game. Losing Tony McDaniel to injury hurt, but the team is supposed to be four starters deep at end and they just didn't get it done. Aside from Jared Odrick's lucky interception and return, there isn't anything to highlight here.
  • Aside from one Cameron Wake sack in the second quarter, the Dolphins' pass rush was nonexistent. Obviously the secondary was bad on its own, but the lack of pressure on Brady certainly didn't help. Whether it was Wake or Jason Taylor or Koa Misi, no one could get a hand on Brady. I literally couldn't believe how well Nate Solder controlled Wake for most of the game, as I expected it to be a huge advantage for the Dolphins. You certainly have to tip your cap to the rookie and hop the hard-working Wake can figure things out.
  • In all my years watching Auburn games, the occasional Cardinals game, and every Dolphins game in 2010, I have never seen Karlos Dansby play so poorly. I counted at least four missed tackled in the first half a lone, and he was consistently failing to wrap up and make the play. His body of work is such that I'm not worried yet, but it was indeed a terrible performance and one that really hurt the Dolphins early on in this game.
  • Where to start with the Dolphins' secondary? The starters Vontae Davis and Sean Smith didn't play particularly well and they consistently were out of position. Then the injuries started happening which forced Benny Sapp, Nolan Carroll, and Jimmy Wilson into bigger roles, and things just got ugly. Sapp had a terrible game and was unable to cover Wes Welker or the Patriots' tight ends with any kind of ability. Carroll had as bad a game as I've seen from an NFL corner in a long time, and he clearly isn't ready for a defensive role. I'm not crying for Will Allen to be re-signed like some are and I think a pass rush will help significantly, but the corners just have to do a better job on their own. The cramps issue is also inexcusable, considering the team was playing in their home stadium and the Patriots didn't seem to have any issues.
  • Reshad Jones didn't stand out as he replaced Chris Clemons, so expect this situation to remain fluid. Jones has more upside of the two, but he is often out of position and his coverage skills aren't where they need to be.
  • Matching up Yeremiah Bell on the Patriots' tight ends is just a disaster waiting to happen, and it certainly was again when it happened last night. Bell is what he is at age 33, and I'm suspecting this will be his last year in Miami as he could be a cap casualty in the offseason.

Special Teams
  • Dan Carpenter made his only field goal attempt and all three extra points, so there's certainly nothing to complain about there. His kickoffs were a little disappointing considering the NFL rule change, and he failed to record a touchback in four attempts.
  • Speaking of kickoffs, I thought Clyde Gates looked a little unprepared and it was clear his speed alone wasn't going to be enough. He didn't get much help to work with aside from when his blockers committed penalties. Jason Trusnik alone was flagged twice, I believe. Davone Bess was wholly unsuccessful on punt returns, as usual.
  • Brandon Fields had another nice night and he's become extremely reliable and effective as a punter. I would have liked to have seen a little better coverage, as Julian Edelman averaged 11 yards on five returns.


I don't even know what to say after this one. On one hand, it was a bit of a bizarro game with the Dolphins' defense struggling and Chad Henne lighting up the box score. On the other, we saw some things we definitely expected, such as the offensive line being a problem.

I'm not all that concerned about the defense. As bad a performance as it was, they were playing an elite NFL offense and simply had a bad outing. But I trust Mike Nolan and I like the overall talent the unit has, so I expect them to use this came as motivation and I can't see a repeat performance happening.

I really liked what I saw from Henne, and even though it was just one game, it was nice to see him move the ball the way he did. There were certainly kinks that needed to be worked out, especially in the red zone. But considering how hard Henne has worked this offseason and the strides he's made in this offense to date, it at least seems possible can turn the corner this season.

The big issue is the offensive line. It's nice that Henne excelled in spite of the line's performance, but he can't be expected to do it every week and not having a running game (again due to the line) is going to make the quarterback's job much harder.

The line was supposed to be Tony Sparano's area of expertise when he arrived in Miami, but it's been a constant issue going on four seasons now. Unless he and line coach Dave DeGuglielmo can get this thing turned around in a hurry, the staff and Henne may all find themselves unemployed in January.

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