Monday, December 10, 2012

Observations from the Dolphins-49ers game

The Miami Dolphins' Week 14 loss to the San Francisco 49ers was disappointing, if not unexpected. Things went in a fairly predictable fashion. The offense struggled against an elite defense. The Dolphins' defense was on the field too long but held up fairly well, only to bend too much at the end.

The Dolphins are now 5-8 on the season and are assured their fourth consecutive season without a winning record, which hasn't happened since 1966-69 when they were an expansion franchise. Calls for Jeff Ireland's head are as loud ever and frustration with not only the lack of wins but noticeable improvement is growing by the day.

Amid all the turmoil, the Dolphins actually have a very winnable home game with the Jaguars in Week 15, which will also mark the intriguing return of quarterback Chad Henne to Miami. Until then, here are some observations from the Dolphins' loss to the 49ers...

  • It was another so-so game for Ryan Tannehill. He didn't get any help from his receivers and I tend to think he trusts them too much. He made throws for big plays but Bess, Matthews and Moore really couldn't come through. I thought he showed great pocket presence and made some nice throws, including a beautiful fade to Anthony Fasano. It's so hard to tell right now what we have in Tannehill and we really won't know until he gets a lot more experience and some help around him.
  • The Dolphins did a much better job of using Reggie Bush yesterday and it made a lot of difference. Bush also ran as hard as I've ever seen him so I have to give him credit for that. It's curious that Daniel Thomas saw his lowest snap total (13) of the season after spending the whole last month essentially splitting time with Bush. It's really difficult right now to get a clear picture of the Dolphins' backfield in 2013.
  • As mentioned earlier, the Dolphins' receivers didn't give Tannehill much help in this one and it really showed yesterday how much the team lacks a true No. 1 receiver. I love Brian Hartline and Davone Bess as second and third options, but the team needs a playmaker in the worst way and that would open up more opportunities for the others. I also don't see any future for Matthews and Moore in the team's offense.
  • Fasano's one-handed grab in the end zone on a fade route was probably his best catch as a Dolphin and showed that he is a capable receiver, even if he's not a playmaker like Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski. I'd love for the Dolphins to explore getting one of those types, but I'll take Fasano as my No. 2 tight end any day because he's so well-rounded.
  • The Dolphins' pass protection, minus Jake Long and plus a new rookie left tackle, held up about as well (or not well) as you'd expect. The team allowed eight hurries, half of which were from Jonathan Martin on Tannehill's blind side. Martin was dominated by NFL sack leader Aldon Smith at times and the Dolphins' offense was hindered because it couldn't open up the playbook. Surprisingly, Nate Garner held up extremely well (or picking on Martin was just easy enough) and the run-blocking was quite good for Miami.
  • This was one of those games (and it seems like we have them every week) where Cameron Wake looks better than the other 10 guys on the defense combined. Wake was good against the run while getting a ton of pressure (including two sacks) on Kaepernick. He's having a career year and is a lock for the Pro Bowl on what looks like a steal of a contract extension by Jeff Ireland.
  • I will admit that Karlos Dansby made some good plays yesterday, but he also whiffed a few times and continues to be average at best. I have to believe he'll be a roster casualty in the offseason. Koa Misi continues to play well, and losing him to an ankle injury hurt he defense as Jason Trusnik was pretty exposed. Trusnik's rough day was highlighted by failing to seal the edge on Kaepernick's 50-yard touchdown run at the end of the game, and it's clear he doesn't belong on defense too much.
  • Sean Smith seemingly allowed every pass thrown his way to be completed, although he was unfairly flagged for pass inteference in a third down slant. Still, it's an ugly trend for Smith and he really hasn't had a good game since the first half of the season. He's not playing well in a contract year and I don't know if he's losing confidence or what.
  • Brandon Fields had another great day, with two punts landed inside the 5. Jonathan Freeny botched one of those by carrying it into the end zone for a touchback, and unfortunately that is the rule. While Freeny should have known the rule and been more careful, it certainly is a rule that doesn't make sense. The punting team can't catch a ball well away from the end zone and then run it down to the goal line for their own benefit, so why does it not work that way here? Additionally, Freeny wasn't; diving into the end zone but caught it cleanly at the three, so the logical thing is to spot the ball there. And finally, the whistle blew before Freeny stepped into the end zone, meaning the rule should not apply in this case as a player's actions after the whistle should not be considered.
  • The Dolphins have typically used Davone Bess on punt returns near their own end zone, but perhaps on a day when the offense wasn't going to put up many points, the team understandably tried to get more spark from Marcus Thigpen. Unfortunately, Thigpen muffed a punt deep in his own territory and gave the Niners the ball in excellent field position for a score. He did redeem himself with a kickoff return across midfield, however.