Miami Dolphins Go 2-0: Ten Things We Know About the Fins
There is absolutely nothing you can say to a Dolphins fan this Monday morning that could possibly ruin the high of a second consecutive road win to open up the 2010 season.
Dolphins Nation is virtually ablaze with a reinvigorated fervor following an upset over 2009's third-best team on Sunday, completely fulfilling the prediction that it was going to be a smash-mouth, ground-and-pound sort of contest.
While it is a near-certainty that the Dolphins will still not be given the proper respect by opposing teams' fans, or mainstream media, who have already alluded to the fact that the victory is more a result of a Vikings meltdown than a memorable performance by Miami, Fins faithfuls can hold their heads high for another week.
So, after one-eighth of a regular season, what questions have been answered about the new-look Dolphins? Here's what we know for sure:
Chad Henne Needs Work
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With so many positive things to mention, I thought I'd start out with something of a negative to balance the scales; Chad Henne and the seemingly long way he has to go before becoming an effective leader.
I am a huge Henne supporter, and he has avoided giving any games away thus far, but deep down I know that the kid needs a lot of work. The potential is there, and either he is not getting the calls he needs to expand his game, or he somehow is having difficulty channeling his skill.
The Dolphins offense is treading water, being rescued by the defense for the second straight week, and raising more concerns than eyebrows; something that should have Dolphins fans a bit uneasy, despite the desired fast start to the season.
How long of a leash will Ireland and Sparano give the young quarterback, who is certainly to be held accountable for the offense's frightful lack of cohesion? One would imagine that continued failure to produce on offense through the next two critical home games against the Jets and Patriots would be enough to put Henne under the lens of a very large microscope.
Chad's trouble areas as I see them:
Mobility: While I did see an improvement over Week 1, sometimes Chad doesn't know best when to cut-and-run, either escaping the pocket to avoid the sack, or recognizing where pressure is coming from and adjusting accordingly. The mark of a great quarterback is ability to be comfortable whether inside or out of the pocket.
Risk/Reward Assessment: Again, I don't know if a lot of this is game plan, and the coaching staff purposely calling low-profile plays from a QB standpoint to help Chad, but I don't think it is a help, if that is the case. There have been few instances where he's been able to take those calculable risks in the passing game when they need to be taken. He got Marshall in a one-on-one on the opening play vs. the Vikes, but that was about it for the remainder of the game. That sort of play should be happening all day long.
Passion: Most Dolphins fans can tell you, it is a rare thing to see Chad show any real emotion, often to the point where one questions whether he is even happy to be the Dolphins' starting QB. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, I think Chad could let just a little enthusiasm shine through, if nothing else but for the potential benefit of boosting his teammates' morale just a bit. I'd like to see him get slightly more excited, as I believe that such a small spark can create a winning rhythm.
Mike Nolan-Style Defense Is Electrifying
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One can sum up the Dolphins new defensive dynamic in one word—stifling.
No one was overly impressed as Miami held the Buffalo Bills to ten points in the season opener, but to accomplish the same feat in Minnesota against last year's NFC Championship runner-up is no small task. The Fins swarm-style defense simply suffocated Adrian Peterson and the Vikings.
There are disguised coverages, exotic blitz packages, and most of all good, old-fashioned grit and determination from the defensive front that is creating confusion and mayhem for the opposition. If I were a member of the Jets coaching staff (aside from not being able to look at myself in the mirror) I would be terrified at the task of creating a game plan for this D' around Mark Sanchez.
When Childress had Favre take to the air to try to exploit what many view as a weak secondary, he was answered by three picks that will likely haunt his dreams for the rest of the season. When they attempted to stick to the run, the man that many consider to be the best backs in the league, Adrian Peterson, was held to a mediocre performance.
This defense has the tenacity, and the talent to be one of the best in the league this year and I, for one, cannot wait to see more. They have all of the tools to take this team deep into the playoffs, and will be turning more than a few heads if they continue to play at an elite level.
Successful goal line stands on 4th & one with just seconds left to seal games also do not hurt.
Jason Allen Has Finally Arrived
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Say what you will about Jason Allen, but for all of the times that he has disappointed this team, I consider him fully redeemed by virtue of making two picks on Brett Favre that likely saved the Dolphins from a tough loss in Minneapolis.
The eagle has finally landed! Most had given Jason up as a major bust, and cringed when they heard he would be replacing Sean Smith as starting corner, but they are breathing a bit easier now. On Sunday versus the Vikes, Jason looked more like the cornerstone of the defense as opposed to one of its weaker links.
The hope is, that he realizes the opportunity that lay before him. If he continues to play at a high level this year, he can all but count on a reversal of fortune that could lead to his being considered among the league's top corners.
One of the things that will aid the process, is the fact that Vontae Davis has also looked so impressive that offenses are leaning more toward gunning for Jason; a mistake that they will need to correct. The brass tax of it, is that right now the Dolphins defense is starting to resemble the 2008 squad more so than last year's disappointing unit.
Of all the ways to garner respect in the NFL, making big plays will get it done the most quickly. If Jason Allen continues to prove his doubters wrong, it is only a matter of time before Brett Favre addresses him by name, instead of conceding a loss to "Thirty-Two".
The Running Game Is a Sleeping Giant
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The Ricky and Ronnie Show has yet to "wow" us this year, apart from a nice bit of Tony Sparano's famed "chunk yardage" by Ronnie as the Dolphins were backed up to their own goal in Minnesota.
I wouldn't expect this laid back trend to continue. Each of Miami's rushing golden geese stumbled a bit on Sunday recording a lost fumble, and at critical moments to boot, but it will serve as fuel for the fire more so than a setback.
Don't trouble yourself with questions about Ronnie's durability, or Ricky's age. These two men are not the sort to be continually denied, and it is a virtual certainty that they will be gracing the highlight reels with their presence quite a bit in 2010. I don't believe either man will go over 1000 yards, but at the same time, I don't believe they will have to do so.
What I do expect is an unfolding of a larger passing game that will inevitably open up the lanes for Ricky and Ronnie to do what they do best—make grown men look foolish as they miss tackles and ultimately get run over by a force greater than themselves.
Let us not forget that Patrick Cobbs and Lex Hilliard are also two talented individuals whose mouths are no doubt watering for a chance to prove their own value.
Fins Fans Will Continue To Risk Heart Failure Weekly
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One thing that any Dolphins fan can tell you is that this team does not play blowout football. This is a team whose play stays commensurate with the play of the opposing team. Thus, the Dolphins are doomed to winning or losing by a small margin nearly every time.
That is both a good and bad thing, it is just a matter of being able to swing those close games in your favor when it counts. The problem is that the Dolphins seem to live for putting themselves in situations where every play is critical, so those nail-biting moments often last entire games, down to the last whistle.
From a practical standpoint, this means that you should consult with a doctor to ensure that your cardiac health is sufficient for Dolphins fandom, as this season, like so many others before, is likely to be a heart-stopping good time.
Just once this year I'd like to see a game where the Dolphins basically put it away before the half. If at all possible, this week against the Jets would be nice, but history suggests that it could well be a fight to the finish.
Koa Misi Turned Out to Be the Top Draft Pick
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Like so many other players across the league, Jared Odrick succumbed to injury in Week 1, leaving plenty of room for Koa Misi to emerge as the Dolphins top prospect from this year's draft class.
He is playing like a veteran out there, and I expect he will only improve as the season wears on. Already recording his first NFL touchdown, an honor yet to be achieved by many rookies on either side of the ball, his consistent pressure and playmaking ability has had an immediate impact on this team.
Koa is a quiet kid, a hard worker, he gives 100 percent all the time, and is unafraid to go helmet-to-helmet with the biggest and baddest the NFL has to offer. He also does not strike me as the sort of player to get into off-the-field troubles. He is a well rounded young man with enormous upside potential that would be an asset to any team.
He is Joey Porter's polar opposite, and has already made more of an impact in two games as a rookie than did the veteran Porter all of last year—and he did it with his mouth closed.
I think it's safe to say that Miami has found its new No. 55.
Miami Is Capable of Playing Nearly Mistake-Free Football
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An NFL team can deal with all sorts of problems that can and do arise, but one of the toughest battles all year long is keeping penalties and other mental errors to a minimum.
A large part of the Dolphins regular season success in 2008 is owed to the Fins being the least penalized team in the league, and one who forced many more turnovers than they allowed.
We got a renewed taste of that for the first time yesterday, as the Dolphins topped the Vikings on both points. They recorded just two penalties for 15 yards to the Vikings' seven infractions for 44 yards, and also won the turnover battle two to four, subsequently winning the day.
While we would like to erase the two fumbles lost, one cannot help but be excited about this defense's seemingly electric ability to steal possessions, and from a playoff team like the Vikings, no less. If the Fins continue to force turnovers (there were six in all on Sunday, turnovers-on-down are still turnovers!) in this fashion, they are going to be an absolute nightmare for each and every foe in 2010.
I'm sure that the percentage of winning teams that draw just two flags, and force four turnovers in the same game are just staggering.
The Dolphins Do Not Receive the Credit Due to Them
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There are few instances in the mainstream media where you will hear any great praise for the Miami Dolphins, but to be honest, that suits me just fine.
I'm not the sort of fan that needs outside validation. I know my team is great, and if they were not, I would be able to admit it. This does not change the fact that even after a win in Minnesota, the Dolphins are highly unlikely to cause too many people to take notice—not just yet.
I suspect it will take wins in the next two games, both division contests, to convince the NFL world that Miami is truly a legitimate contender. I am forecasting these wins now, as I don't see either the Jets or the Patriots walking away from Sun Life Stadium with a victory in 2010.
Either way, what you will be hearing all week, is how Brett Favre and the Vikings are in trouble, not being able to dispose of the Dolphins, and how Miami should look at the victory as a gift, as opposed to something well-earned.
It will occur to few that the Fins just played harder, smarter, and flat-out were the better team that day.
The Dolphins Have Regained Control Of The AFC East
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Most analysts have the Dolphins coming in at second or even third in the AFC East in 2010, so it will be interesting to see how many wins the Fins have to bag before the "pros" start changing their tune.
With a win over the Vikes and an unlikely Pats loss to the Jets, Miami assumed.a one game command of first place in the division, and will look to defend that ground early against the Jets this week.
Whether this team takes advantage of this incredible 2-0 start remains to be seen, although the odds of disposing of both the Jets and the Patriots at Sun Life Stadium seem to be riding pretty high, provided the defense holds at this level of play, and that Chad Henne plays as well as he did vs. these two teams at home last year.
Of course, there is going to be a big battle for the AFC East this year as always, however, the Dolphins are currently able to write their own ticket with regard to how hard of a fight it will be for them. If they can keep the total in their loss column at three or less at the passage of this season's halfway point, they are going to be hard to challenge for a playoff berth, as the second half of the schedule is somewhat relaxed.
That was why so much emphasis was put on a "fast start," and why the achievement of a perfect start thus far is such a big deal; it sets a proper tone for what could very well be a season that makes the year of every Dolphins fan out there, and it puts the real pressure on division rivals.
No One Misses the Vacated Veterans
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Joey who? Jason who?
No one from Dolphins Nation is sweating over the departure of JP and JT, and there seems to be no shortage of pressure sources for Mike Nolan to call upon in order to hurry QBs into bad decisions.
Randy Starks is handling his new role nicely, Karlos Dansby started the season right with one of Week 1's most monstrous sacks, and Cameron Wake's edge-rushing ability is a thing of beauty. I doubt very highly that there is an offensive line in the league that could hold this group at bay for an entire 60 minutes.
The offseason talk began early on, after the team parted ways with its two previous sack leaders, about how the Dolphins were going to lose a step or two without the veteran pair when it came to creating pressure, but as I see it, there is not a single reason to miss either man.
Dolphins fans have recently been given every reason in the world to believe that this defense will be just fine, and by "just fine," I mean a nightmare for the remaining teams on the schedule.