Talk of plagues, sporadic storms, fallen heroes, and muffed punts made tonight's game a most apocalyptic affair. Thankfully, the second coming of the Wildcat staved off the locusts. Overall, it was a pretty decent showing for the Dolphins. Both the first team offense and defense looked solid. Even their understudies looked sharp. However, the special teams unit appeared to be the antithesis of its name.
The Second Coming
The wildcat is back to its old tricks. A year later, and the same old "gimmick" plays still appear to be as effective as ever - during preseason at least. As Bob Griese pointed out, the Dolphins reenacted a highlight reel of last year's most successful wildcat plays. There are sure to be some new 'Cat plays in the bag just waiting to be released once the games count for real. Now, can they gain more than -2 yards against a fast, heavy pressure defense like the Ravens? That's the real question.
The Fall of Return Man
Chris Williams went from hero to zero. When your only gig on the team is to catch kicks and run with them; it doesn't bode well for your job prospects when you try to catch the ball with your face mask. Williams muffed, Sparano got miffed, and for that, he may get whacked.
I think Williams has some talent as a returner. He definitely has the quickness and moves to weave his way through the chaos, but the most important aspect of the position is to ensure that the ball never ends up in the opponent's hands. Unfortunately for Williams, he failed on that count. Williams has muffed the ball in each of his preseason auditions. He might be receiving the Eric Green treatment soon to send yet another message to the team.
I'm not sure if quarterbacks get to listen to music through the fancy radio equipment in their helmets, but tonight the Carolina Panthers' QBs could hear Freddie Mercury blaring through their head set loud in clear: UNDER PRESSURE! While there may not have been any sacks listed on the stat sheet, the dolphins were applying heavy pressure throughout the game causing the Panthers to make errant throws on several occasions. Jason Taylor, Channing Crowder, Joey Porter, Cameron Wake, Phillip Merling, Quentin Moses, Jason Ferguson, and others were constantly in the backfield.
Looks like Vontae Davis and Chris Williams having been playing on the preseason see-saw. Gravity was kinder to Davis on this night. Davis recovered from a mistake-prone showing last Monday to redeem himself and show the promise that everyone expected of him. He made several solid one-on-one tackles on receivers in the flat and he covered his man well, not giving up any large gains that I recall. In Sean Smith's absence, Davis was able to possibly gain some ground on the competition for the starting spot. However, at this juncture, Smith still has the edge in the competition in my opinion.
BTW, Mr. Griese, with all due respect, let the kid celebrate his success. Griese was beginning to sound like Dennis the Menace's neighbor out there. As long as Davis isn't starting a Conga line and hiding Landshark beers in his pants to chug after each play, I am cool with a little bit of enthusiasm from the rookie.
Wide Receivers Immune to Swine Flu?
The cornerbacks should hang out with the wide receivers more often... Because they can't catch a cold! Ba Dum Dum! Ok, my jokes suck. But so did the receivers tonight. Almost every receiver had a drop— even the sure-handed Davone Bess. In fact, the running backs were the best pass catchers on the field. This unit has a lot of work to do this week.
Ronnie Brown Getting in Gear
Ronnie Brown looked in mid-season form. He was carving up the Panthers defense out of traditional formations and got some good work in orchestrating his patented wildcat offense. He also made a beauty of a reception and punched it in for the only touchdown of the Chad Pennington-led Dolphins. I am excited to see what Ronnie can do in his second year of this system. I just hope the front office locks him up for a few more years.
Like the giant reptiles that once roamed in his home of Montana, Lex Hilliard was a force to be reckoned with. The former Montana Grizzly showed a surprising combination of grit, power and speed that could make it difficult for the Dolphins to stash him on the practice squad for the second year in a row. There will be some tough decisions to make in a few weeks. If Hilliard continues to impress, the Dolphins may opt to keep four running backs on the roster. Considering the fact that the Dolphins are a run-heavy team, especially with their wildcat packages, it may be in their best interests to keep the young back on the squad in favor of a fifth or sixth wide receiver.
Chad Henne Passed the Test
Coach Sparano swapped Pat White and Chad Henne to see if Henne could close out a game. Henne not only secured the victory, he did it in a precise and efficient manner that would make Chad Pennington proud. He wasn't perfect, putting two balls on the ground (which were thankfully recovered by the Dolphins), but he lead the team down the field for several scoring drives throughout the second half. He picked apart the field in the same surgical manner that Dr. Pennington often does. There is still definitely some work to do, especially that quarterback/center exchange, but Henne looks very comfortable in the offense and should function efficiently should the Dolphins need his services at any point this season.
Next Week: @ Tampa Bay