For the second week running, Mike Nolan’s new-look defence was enough to lead Miami Dolphins to victory, as they began the season with back-to-back wins for the first time since 2002. The Dolphins forced four turnovers from Brett Favre, as they upset the Vikings with a 14-10 win in Minnesota.
Having conceded just 20 points in two matches, the Dolphins defence has performed brilliantly, and it was a defensive touchdown which proved the difference in the Metrodome, followed by a defensive stand that thwarted Adrian Peterson at the one-yard line.
Having stopped the Vikings on a fourth and short halfway into Dolphins’ territory, an opening drive touchdown was the perfect way for Miami to bounce back from a questionable offensive display against Buffalo last Sunday. Chad Henne connected with Brandon Marshall for a 46-yard gain on his first play of the afternoon, and after some strong running from Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams, Henne found Brian Hartline in the end-zone from five yards to record his first touchdown of the season.
The Dolphins stifled the next Vikings’ drive and forced a punt, thanks to a sack from Cameron Wake and Randy Starks. The latter was moved to defensive end in Jared Odrick’s absence, and broke through the offensive line with ease. Wake was, unsurprisingly, also on the scene, and the pair delivered a big hit to Favre to leave Minnesota with no choice but to punt.
Cameron Wake’s emergence looks certain to fill the void left by Joey Porter’s off-season departure. The pass-rush specialist recorded a sack in Buffalo, and looks like a candidate to eventually lead to league in sacks. The CFL-import is improving every game, and already appears to be the perfect replacement for Porter, giving the Dolphins productivity without the attitude.
The Vikings following drive proved Viscante Shiancoe’s value to Minnesota, as he hauled in three passes for 55 yards. This, alongside some bruising running from Peterson and rookie Toby Gerhart, resulted in a first red-zone trip for the Vikings. Favre then looked for Percy Harvin, but the receiver failed to pull in the pass, eventually kicking it in the air, allowing Vontae Davis to make the interception on the one-yard line.
Ronnie Brown followed this up with a 51-yard run, alleviating the pressure on Miami, but Henne failed to get anything going for the second successive drive. The resulting punt pinned Minnesota in their own territory, and the defence did the rest, stopping the Vikings again. Another punt signalled a score-less first half for the Vikings, who saw their four drives end with two punts, one interception, and a turnover on downs.
Miami struggled to get anything going on two of their three drives, but Hartline’s touchdown was enough to give them the lead at the break.
The Vikings’ defence remained resolute, but the Dolphins’ offensive line was proving difficult to break down. While Minnesota registered two sacks, one of them was for no loss as Henne looked to run the football after good coverage. Jared Allen made that stop, but it was very notable how Jake Long manhandled Allen throughout the half, and he showed no fear up against one of the most revered defensive ends in the league – even continuing to push him around after the Dolphins touchdown play.
The Dolphins’ defence had issues in hand too, with constant pressure on Favre from Wake and rookie Koa Misi, good tackling all over the field, and excellent coverage from cornerbacks Jason Allen and Davis. Miami were confident, and looked comfortable.
If the NFL hadn’t taken note of Miami’s resurgence after the Buffalo game, this half made people take note.
The second half began in familiar fashion for the Dolphins. Henne completed three of five passes (two to Marshall), and Brown and Williams’ running put Miami in Vikings’ territory before the drive stalled again, resulting in an excellent punt from Brandon Fields that was downed on the five-yard line.
A big hit from Vontae Davis on Shiancoe left the Vikings with six yards to go on third down. Curiously, Davis seemed to injure himself celebrating the hit, but a false start by the offense meant he didn’t miss any game time. On the Vikings’ five-yard line, with ten yards to go for the first down, the Dolphins’ defence again made their mark.
Wake ghosted past two blockers to reach Favre before he threw, and recorded a strip-sack in the Vikings’ end zone. The ball popped out, and Wake was again first to it. He couldn’t hold on to complete the play, but Koa Misi was on hand. Misi was in and around the ball all day, and he recovered the fumble to score his first professional touchdown in only his second game in the NFL.
It was an excellent reward for the two outside linebackers, who performed so well in Buffalo too, but it was another terrific play-call from Mike Nolan. Wake again looked unstoppable on the play, and he and Misi are fast becoming fan-favourites in Miami.
There was no let up for Favre either. The following play he was picked off by Jason Allen, who is finally fulfilling the potential that convinced Miami to invest a first-round pick in him in 2006. Fortunately for the veteran quarterback, offsetting penalties meant the play never happened. Former-Viking Benny Sapp was the guilty Dolphin, carelessly wandering offside to the fury of Tony Sparano.
The Vikings looked to have made the most of the reprieve. A 19-yard pass to the ever-reliable Shiancoe was followed by two successive 20-yard completions, putting Minnesota in the red-zone again. However, just like their first visit, it ended in a turnover. This time Jason Allen’s interception did register, when poor decision-making from Favre allowed Allen to make the pick at the two-yard line.
Miami then gifted the Vikings a way back into the match. EJ Henderson forced a Ricky Williams fumble on the three-yard line, and EJ’s namesake Erin recovered the lost ball. From there, Peterson bulldozed his way into the end-zone, and gave Minnesota a chance in the ball-game.
The Dolphins had to hold firm for another quarter of football, and were being put under a lot of pressure, but they refused to buckle. A Kendall Langford sack stalled the Vikings’ next drive into the red-zone, resulting in a field goal, and the Dolphins continued to make defensive plays, with Jason Allen again picking off Favre on a long pass to Bernard Berrian.
Ronnie Brown had a chance to run down the clock, and Miami would have hoped to close out the game. However, for the second time, a Jason Allen interception was followed immediately by a Dolphins’ fumble. Brown, usually so reliable protecting the football, lost the ball on Miami’s 25-yard line, and EJ Henderson recovered the football.
Minnesota had a lifeline, and their pressure looked certain to pay off when Peterson bullied his way to the ten for a first down. A six yard gain put the Vikings within touching distance, but Karlos Dansby showed why the Dolphins made him the highest paid linebacker in the NFL with two crucial tackles; first assisting Quentin Moses at the four, and then stopping Peterson on a fourth down with just one yard to the end-zone.
Dansby wrapped up Peterson, and his tackle was backed up with another good hit by Vontae Davis.
Miami had the ball back, but just like in Buffalo, the offense failed to close out the game and Minnesota fielded a punt five yards into their own territory. Favre galvanised the Vikings, and they made their way to the Miami 27, before three incompletions finally handed the Dolphins their hard-earned victory.
An outstanding defensive display was the basis for the win, and Mike Nolan’s new-look defence again showed how a defensive performance can win games. Karlos Dansby was exceptional, leading the line brilliantly, while both safeties were again reliable. Former fifth-round pick, Chris Clemons, looks to have made the position his own, and Miami should be relieved they did not acquire a big-money safety like Ryan Clark or Antrel Rolle, with Clemons already on the roster.
Jason Allen was exceptional, picking off Favre three times in total, although one interception was pulled back for a penalty. Vontae Davis was all over the field, and had a day to remember. He looks set to become an elite corner, and is only entering his second season in the NFL; battles against Braylon Edwards and Randy Moss are next up, and Davis will savour the challenge.
The outside linebacker tandem of Wake and Misi look strong too. Both pressured Favre throughout the game, and both were rewarded when Wake forced the fumble that led to Misi’s touchdown. The days of Joey Porter and Jason Taylor in Miami are already a distant memory.
The defence was again stellar. The offense, however, will still be called into question. Henne again avoided any turnovers, but he failed to cause the Vikings too many problems, except on the opening drive. His understanding with Brandon Marshall will develop, but fans will hope for more shots downfield; perhaps conservative play-calling is holding Henne back. Davone Bess will also play a greater role in future, having enjoyed limited game time in Minneapolis following an excellent outing in Buffalo.
Fumbles are unlikely to be a common occurrence for Brown and Williams, but concentration is key to success, and their lapses almost cost the Dolphins the game. Miami need to move the football when they are under pressure to do so, and then they will close out the wins. The last two weeks there have been ample opportunities to win the game, and Miami haven’t moved the football to seal victory – instead, the game-winning play has fallen to the defence too.
The offensive line held up against one of the sternest tests they will face all year. They created room for gains on the ground, and these are hard to come by against a team who were ranked first against the run for the last three seasons. The sight of Jake Long dominating Jared Allen was a treat for Miami fans, and one they will take great heart from.
Overall, Miami’s did extremely well, visiting a difficult opponent, in an atmosphere which can be intimidating. The performance did enough to silence the Dome for the majority, and the goal-line stand against Adrian Peterson was exceptional.
A lot has already been said about Brett Favre’s performance, and this has taken away from the defensive accomplishments. However, those who watched the game will be in no doubt that it was a defensive display to savour. Brett Favre conceded four turnovers; two more than he managed in the entire season at the Metrodome last year, and that was down to Miami.
The Dolphins’ defence was in charge. Forget about Favre, Miami deserves the accolades. They earned them.
There is a lot more to come from this Miami offense, but for now, the defence is doing their job well enough to win the Dolphins games. Once both areas are performing, Miami could evolve into real contenders. The side is still young, and they have plenty of years ahead to deliver, but, dependant on Chad Henne’s evolution, this team could be the one to bring home a Super Bowl.
Miami Dolphins top the AFC East with a 2-0 record. Next up? Just the small case of a visit from the New York Jets, and a certain Jason Taylor.