Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Dolphins-Eagles Game Observations

A day before the Miami Dolphins fired head coach Tony Sparano after nearly four seasons of work, the team suffered their first bad loss in over a month (Dallas was at least close) at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles.

So just how did the Dolphins do in Sparano's farewell performance? Not very well, at least on the offensive side of the ball. Details to follow...

  • Matt Moore came back down to earth in this one and made some bad decisions with the football before suffering what appeared to be a mild concussion and missing the rest of the game. He was certainly not the only culprit, however, as his pass protection was downright horrendous. J. P. Losman didn't fare any better than Moore, getting dropped five times and once for a safety.
  • One bright spot in this one was Reggie Bush, who surpassed 100 yards yet again with only 14 carries. He also caught five passes and had one bad drop on a dump-off. That being said, you really have to be impressed with Bush's effort lately. He runs hard and literally looks for contact rather than going down or out of bounds. I don't know if he can hold up long-term as a feature back, but he's certainly a nice part of a duo.
  • Brandon Marshall had a great touchdown catch, but also had a really bad drop that made me wonder if he thought it was September and Chad Henne had thrown him the ball. His inconsistency is still a bit of a problem. And as usual, one of the Dolphins' receivers this time was invisible and this week that honor belongs to Brian Hartline. It's not really his fault though, as the team simply didn't protect the quarterback well enough to spread the ball around.
  • It was an up-and-down game for Anthony Fasano, who did a nice job as a receiver and a run blocker but did completely miss on a block that resulted in a sack.
  • Without a true fullback, the Dolphins attempted to use John Jerry in that role and he failed miserably. He also whiffed on a block near the goal line and didn't have nearly as good of a performance as he did last week against Oakland.
  • The pass protection killed this game, plain and simple. Mike Pouncey did a nice job run-blocking but struggled against pressure in the middle, and he also talked a little too much trash for a guy on a team that was getting dominated. Marc Colombo and Nate Garner, who was filling it at left tackle when Jake Long suffered a back injury on the team's seventh snap of the game, got absolutely shredded by the Eagles' pass rush and allowed three sacks each. I've long been an advocate of starting Garner of Colombo at right tackle (and in reality, he couldn't be worse than Colombo) but he certainly showed why he's been on the bench up to this point. Aside from Long (when healthy) and Pouncey, this line needs a lot of work.

  • LeSean McCoy scored two touchdowns to make fantasy owners happy, but he was easily shut down by the Dolphins' defense for the entire day and amassed just 38 yards on 27 carries (1.4 yards per carry) which is easily one of his worst performances of the season. The defensive line, highlighted by Jared Odrick and Phillip Merling, really held up at the point of attack and completely shut down the Eagles' running game outside of a few goal-line carries. The defensive line also got good pressure on Michael Vick and held him to his lowest rushing total of the season.
  • Cameron Wake didn't do anything rushing the passer, but he certainly had a positive impact with good play against the run and in coverage. Jason Taylor was actually the big pass rusher in this one and showed he still has a nose for the football with two big third-down sacks. It'll be interesting to see if Taylor plays another season and where that will be, considering Sparano was a big reason he returned to Miami in 2011.
  • After an extremely sub-par first half of the season, the Dolphins' inside linebackers are playing like all-pros right now. Kevin Burnett is having great games week in and week out, while Karlos Dansby in particular really shined in this one with a team-high nine tackles and excellent play in coverage.
  • The Dolphins' secondary continues to improve as well, as Vontae Davis allowed only one catch and Sean Smith didn't allow any and hauled in a nice interception of Vick. Reshad Jones and Tyrone Culver both had nice games at safety, though it's still up in the air if the Dolphins have a long-term guy for the free safety spot. An aging Yeremiah Bell and cornerback Nolan Carroll (when he has to play) are still the weak links of the secondary, but the rest of he defense is good enough to get by without a stud at every spot.

Special Teams
  • Dan Carpenter missed a 56-yard attempt, but that can be excused as he's usually reliable. It's not as if it would have helped the Dolphins in this anyway with the way the offense was struggling.
  • Team MVP Brandon Fields had his usual great day, landing two punts inside the 20 and averaging 48.8 net yards per punt. He's simply a beast and is a top-three punter in the NFL right now.
  • As usual, Davone Bess was blah in the punt return game, while Clyde Gates took a kickoff a solid 27 yards in his only opportunity. The Dolphins used Reggie Bush on one punt return that went for eight yards, and I still wish he'd been in that role all season. It's not unthinkable that he could have won a game or two with a big return that Bess is not capable of doing.
  • Tyrone Culver and Chris Clemons had the biggest stat sheets on special teams with a combined five tackles, but it was rookie Jimmy Wilson that had the play of the day with a blocked punt early in the game that led to Miami's only touchdown. Wilson isn't a starter and may never be, but he's contributed in a handful of areas and has certainly been a quality player for a guy taken in the last round.


For me, this game highlighted two things—the continued great play of the Dolphins' defense, and the looming long-term concerns of the offensive line.

To start with the good first, the defense is playing really well right now and that's no surprise considering this unit has essentially all the same personnel that it did in 2010 when it ranked sixth in the NFL. The defensive line continues to be a strong point, the linebackers are playing very well right now, and the young guys in the secondary are showing promise. This unit has to be appealing to any prospective head coaches and only needs a few more additions (another pass rusher, an impact safety) to be truly elite.

As for the offensive line, it's a mess without Long and the right side is a serious problem. It's incomprehensible the Dolphins thought they could get away with Colombo as the starting right tackle in 2011 and he's been as bad (or worse) as everyone expected him to be. Carey can't stay healthy at right guard and his inadequacies are masked a bit inside, but the reality is there isn't much left in the tank and there is a reason the Dolphins voided the final three years of his deal. The team only has two of five starters settled long-term, and even Pouncey still has a lot to prove

Owner Stephen Ross highlighted as yesterday's press conference that firing Sparano does not mean this team is starting over, and he's absolutely right. This game was a perfect example of the foundation the team has built for the future, but it also highlighted what more work there is left to be done.

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