Monday, January 2, 2012

Dolphins-Jets Game Observations

The Dolphins' 19-17 victory over the New York Jets was a bittersweet one for me. On one hand, it's always nice to beat a division rival, it's great seeing "franchise" quarterback Mark Sanchez continue to struggle, and I'm glad retiring Dolphins great Jason Taylor gets to end his career with this win. On the other hand, I'm disappointed the Dolphins' draft slot fall any farther.

Fortunately, the win didn't cause a drastic change, as a 5-11 record would only have netted the Dolphins' the eighth overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. As things stand now, the team could still get that pick depending on their coin flip with the Carolina Panthers, which should take place at some point in the offseason.

In all, the Dolphins did finish the season on a high note with a 6-10 record and six victories in nine games after a horrendous 0-7 start that eventually led to Tony Sparano being fired after Week 14.

Before we move on to the offseason activities, here are my observations from the Dolphins' regular season finale win over the Jets...


Offense
  • Matt Moore was pretty two-faced in this one, struggling with his accuracy early and throwing two really bad picks. The ball wasn't coming out of his hand well and he wasn't making good decisions. He pulled it together in the second half though and played much more efficiently, leading a franchise record-setting drive in terms of plays and time of possession capped off by a nice touchdown throw to Charles Clay. Unless the team somehow decides to find a long-term starter that's a veteran, Moore seems like the obvious guy to begin the 2012 season atop the depth chart.
  • The running backs struggled today in Reggie Bush's absence, although I don't totally put it all on them as the offensive line didn't do much to help. Steve Slaton saw his first action since Week 8 and inflated his numbers with a nice 28-yard run, but otherwise average 2.7 yards per carry. Daniel Thomas was a little better overall and had a really impressive effort for a first-down reception, but he got stuffed at the goal line twice.
  • I'd say Brandon Marshall had a fairly solid day with five catches for 50 yards, considering he was up against Darrelle Revis for much of the afternoon. He did have another drop, but also had his good moments where he showcased his size and incredible balance. Davone Bess also came through with some nice plays but left the game with a knee injury, which is something to keep an eye on as a severe injury could impact his availability to start next season.
  • It wasn't Anthony Fasano's best day, as he had a couple drops on balls that should have been caught. I'm still a fan of his overall and the rookie Clay looks to be a nice weapon on offense as well, but he's not a true tight end and isn't going to threaten Fasano's job.
  • The offensive line held up very well in pass protection despite Jake Long's absence and Moore did a good job of evading pressure and stepping up in the pocket at the right times. John Jerry was solid at left tackle, and though I still think his future is at guard, it's encouraging to see him have a couple of good starts after his disastrous rookie season. I wouldn't hand him a starting job in 2012, but he at least has looked capable of filling that role recently.

Defense
  • It was a ridiculous day on the stat sheet for Randy Starks, who had Mark Sanchez run into him for an easy sack and also made two great plays on interceptions while nearly picking off a third pass. (Unfortunately, the one he was able to return for a good amount of yardage, he ended up falling down all on his own!) Starks is a stellar player and an elite talent at his position. I'm a bit worried Starks could only be a year or two long for Miami if the team extends Kendall Langford and has Jared Odrick in the mix, but I really hope the team can find a way to keep him for years to come.
  • Unfortunately on one of Starks' interceptions, Sanchez just got rid of the ball in what otherwise would have been a Jason Taylor sack in the final game of his career. As it was, Taylor finished the day with just one solo tackle and also had a heart-breaking play that looked like Taylor was going to score his seventh career touchdown on a fumble recovery. The refs made the right call in ruling the ball carrier down by contact, but it would have been an amazing way for JT to go out. Regardless, Taylor is one of the Dolphins' all-time great and is certainly bound for Canton.
  • I thought Marvin Mitchell played well when Karlos Dansby went out early with an injury and he even had a big interception return. In all though, the Dolphins' run defense wasn't that great as LT and Shonn Greene combined for 111 yards on 25 carries. Kevin Burnett had 14 tackles (11 solo) on the stat sheet, but he also had a couple terrible whiffs. I think he plays better when Dansby is in there making plays as well, but fortunately he's not making ridiculous money.
  • Vontae Davis completely shut Santonio Holmes out of the game, but Sean Smith wasn't nearly as good and did allow a handful of catches to Plaxico Burress. Smith was seemingly in position to make plays at times but always lets the receiver catch the ball more often than they should. I still believe both should return as uncontested starters in 2012, however.
  • The safeties weren't tested all that much thanks to Sanchez's struggles, but I think we could be in for some changes with Yeremiah Bell's age, salary, and decreasing coverage skills. I'm not sure what to do at free safety, as both Reshad Jones and Chris Clemons seem serviceable but really do not stand out at all.

Special Teams
  • I was at the game for Dan Carpenter's 60-yarder in against the Browns in 2010, but I still never really considered him to be one of the most powerful legs in the NFL. He definitely made his case in this one, however, drilling a 58-yarder that hit the net and would have been good from at least 65 yards. He finished the day 4-for-4 and converted 85.3 percent of attempts on the season.
  • The Almighty Brandon Fields booted for punts for an average of 41.5 yards with a long of 64 and one landed inside the opponent's 20. The ball just sounds different off the guy's foot and he's truly one of the elite punters in the NFL. If Shane Lechler decides he's tired of spending his vacation in Honolulu, Fields should be his Pro Bowl replacement.
  • Edmond Gates didn't show much on returns, but he was taking kicks from deep on the end zone and only had two opportunities. He certainly has the speed to warrant a longer look in the role, but it will be interesting to see if he develops as a receiver and ends up becoming too valuable for special teams. It'd certainly be a worthy trade-off.

Conclusion

Well the season is finally over, and we certainly can't say it was a success. The 0-7 start was fluky based on this team's talent. Unfortunately, it meant that it both killed our season in 2011 but wasn't going to give us the kind of record we would need to pick at the top of the draft for a chance at Andrew Luck. This team was just too talented on paper and lost too many close games to ever realistically finish with zero to two wins.

I think this win over the Jets highlighted a lot of the Dolphins strengths and weaknesses heading into the offseason. We caw good play-calling from Brian Daboll and (mostly) strong play from Matt Moore, who seem like good candidates to remain in their roles in 2012. We saw young players like Charles Clay, John Jerry, and Jared Odrick step up and show promise for the future.

On the other hand, we also saw some of the Dolphins' biggest holes to fill in 2012. Moore still doesn't seem like he can be the long-term starter. The offense line is far from settled and needs a serious injection of youth and talent. The defensive line is strong, but free agents Kendall Langford and Paul Soliai have to be made priorities. The lack of a pass rush is a serious issue, especially now that Taylor is gone for good. There is nothing special at safety and Yeremiah Bell may be nearing the end of the line.

The Dolphins have a talented from seven on defense and one of the best units in football despite its flaws. They have talent on offense and are only a few pieces (albeit big ones) away from being consistently competitive.

With a new head coach, a top-10 draft pick that could be dealt for a top-three one, a few big name free agents that need new deals and a handful of holes to fill, it's certainly going to be one interesting offseason for the Miami Dolphins...


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