It was hardly what Dolphins fans wanted from their first game in Miami this season, but a defeat to AFC rivals, the New York Jets, could serve as a wake-up call for the team.
Going 2-0 for the first time since 2002, upsetting the odds by defeating the Vikings in Minnesota, a defense ranked No. 1 in the NFL. Things were looking up in Miami. However, the Green Gang came to town, and ended Miami’s hopes of a third straight win, leaving the division finely balanced as we enter the fourth week of the season.
The Dolphins offense, which disappointed in the first two weeks, picked apart the Jets defense. Unfortunately, the Dolphins defense, which garnered so much praise after two excellent performances to start the season, was torn apart by a resurgent Jets offense.
The disappointment was clear in Miami, but the loss has served primarily as a reality check to temporarily halt the over-excitement that was gathering pace in south Florida.
Two wins and Miami had become Super Bowl contenders. It may be a little too early for that. However, there has been enough evidence to suggest the Dolphins could reach the playoffs, and over the next few years, this relatively young team could push for Super Bowl appearances if they develop well enough.
Henne and Marshall Start Chalking Up the Air Miles
Chad Henne finally let rip on Sunday night. He tore up the Jets secondary (albeit minus Darrelle Revis) and connected with Brandon Marshall seemingly at will.
Davone Bess again showed his reliability, with six receptions for 86 yards, and he deserves much more credit than he often receives. Bess had become the Dolphins version of Wes Welker and he is fast becoming Henne’s favourite target on third downs. Brian Hartline contributed too, with 84 yards from five catches.
Henne found his range against the Jets, completing 26-of-44 attempts for 363 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. Marshall hauled in 10 passes for 166 yards and a touchdown. It is worth noting that Henne’s interception was on the penultimate play of the game, and came under pressure from the Jets pass-rush.
Henne also connected with Antony Fasano for a touchdown and dispelled complaints that he was little more than a game manager. Sure, he struggled against Buffalo and Minnesota, but once he develops an understanding with Marshall—and it appears he is starting to do just this—Henne will start to shine.
It’s easy to forget that it’s his first full season as the Dolphins starting quarterback too, so perhaps fans should be careful not to expect too much too soon. Give the lad a chance; he certainly showed what he is capable of this weekend, and there may be more to come.
From Wildcat to Pussycat
Remember when Miami unleashed the Wildcat and Ronnie Brown tore the Patriots defense apart in New England?
The emergence of Miami’s Wildcat offense struck fear into their rivals, and left defensive coordinators desperately searching for a way to stop the Dolphins.
Now it doesn’t quite carry the same bravado. Sunday saw eight yards from seven plays in the package. Opponents are not scared of the formation, and Henne must be frustrated when he is pulled from a successful drive to make way for a package that has been very unsuccessful this year. Previous successes aside, it has hampered Miami’s offense thus far.
Sparano defended it following the loss on Sunday night, but it looks like a good time to reduce its role, and revert to a conventional form of offense. This season, the Wildcat has only served to stop momentum and end drives.
This is not to say the Wildcat doesn't work. It did last year, and Brandon Marshall can add to the package with his speed, size, and blocking ability. Furthermore, the Jets showed it can work on Sunday, when Brad Smith managed it well against Miami.
Miami can keep the package—Brown runs the formation as efficiently as anyone—but bringing it into play after Henne has a completion is inexplicable. Save it for stalling drives. Using it sparingly could be key to its revival. Sometimes, less is more.
Very Little for This Wolf to Feed on
The Dolphins defense was dominated. There is no way around it. No turnovers. No sacks. No fun.
Mark Sanchez completed 15-of-28 passes for 256 yards and three touchdowns. He was hardly touched by the Dolphins defense. In the locker-room he must have been in good enough shape to ask Ines Saez out for the evening—providing the rest of the team didn’t beat him to it, of course.
If the Dolphins were planning to “Feed the Wolf” on Sunday, he must have gone hungry.
Jason Allen had a night to forget. He was outstanding in Minnesota, picking off Favre twice (with a third cancelled out by penalties), but he struggled to deal with the much maligned Braylon Edwards. One pass interference penalty in the end zone, some awful coverage that gifted Edwards an easy catch and a big gain, and a slip which let his man in for a touchdown; Allen knows he must do better if he wants to shutdown Randy Moss or Wes Welker on Monday.
In addition, the chaos caused by tight ends continued. Last week it was Visante Shiancoe, this time it was Dustin Keller. Shiancoe picked up 86 yards, while Keller recorded 98 yards and two touchdowns. The Dolphins simply have to find a way to stop this.
Sean Smith appeared to be the solution after he took on Shiancoe in Minneapolis. This week it didn’t go quite so well. Keller’s simple cut move and turn of pace torched Smith for another Jets completion, and it highlighted the second-round pick’s offseason issues. Against big tight ends, Smith may be the answer. Against a faster, more elusive tight end? Perhaps not.
Somehow Miami has to solve the issue. The front office was reportedly high on Nolan Carroll after the draft; he has legit 4.4 speed. Would Carroll match up better against the faster tight ends, while Smith takes on the larger targets?
Whatever Tony Sparano decides, let’s hope it works quickly. New England’s rookie tight ends—Aaron Hernandez (13 receptions for 211 yards) and Rob Gronkowski (two touchdowns in as many games)—are coming to town. The latter is a big target with good hands. The former is quicker and more elusive; his performance against the Jets showcased his potential. Miami should take note, or the secondary could be in for a long night.
Mark Sanchez was largely untouched as the Dolphins failed to register a sack. After two games of devastating pass-rushing, it was disappointing to see so little pressure on a man who registered 20 interceptions last year. Cameron Wake was stopped in his tracks and Koa Misi was invisible.
Miami will need to pressurize Brady like they did Brett Favre. We all know how much Brady likes a hit; maybe the Dolphins can deliver a few? With such a vast array of receiving talent, it was be difficult to beat the Patriots without turning up the heat on the famous No. 12.
They didn’t fare much better against the run either, giving up nearly 150 yards and a touchdown on the ground. LaDanian Tomlinson should have been shut down quicker. Brad Smith should have been shut down, full stop. Every time he ran the ball Miami looked vulnerable, with the Dolphins seemingly unwilling to touch him.
Following their struggles with the run in Minnesota, there must be some concerns in the front office. The return of Channing Crowder cannot come quick enough. Often criticized in Miami, Crowder will help to stuff the run, and playing alongside new-signing Karlos Dansby could bring out the best in him. Either way, it’s an upgrade over Bobby Carpenter or Tim Dobbins; his likely return against the Patriots could make a difference.
To beat New England, Moss and Welker must be covered close and hit hard; Brady has to be acquainted with the Miami turf early and often. The Patriots prefer aerial bombardment to ground and pound, but the run defense must improve from the last two weeks. If the Dolphins fail to do this, then they will struggle to avoid a second divisional loss.
Again, Miami struggled with special teams. A blocked punt from Brandon Fields left the Jets with great field position in the red zone, while they struggled to bring down Brad Smith on kick returns, as his special teams work included returns of 54 and 38 yards.
Dan Carpenter kicked two field goals, including one from 50 yards, but also sent a kickoff out of bounds. Fields delivered a booming punt 68 yards downfield, but saw one punt blocked (albeit down to an excellent move by the Jets’ punt blockers). However, inconsistency clearly remains an issue.
The Dolphins also struggled again in the return game. The longest return saw Cobbs take a kickoff back 30 yards, but it is clear Miami is struggling to find a return man since trading Ted Ginn Jr. Cobbs and Bess don’t have the speed to really threaten on returns, while neither has the ability to make a man miss. Nolan Carroll has the former, but not the latter. Clifton Smith was not the answer, so the Dolphins still need a return man.
Perhaps the revolving door at the Sun Life Stadium is having more of an impact on the field than expected. Could the constant turnaround of backup personnel be unsettling the special teams?
For the Love of God, Finish the Marlins Ballpark!
The Miami press was delighted Sunday night when they discovered that grass would be used to cover the baseball infield. Unfortunately for the Dolphins, it was this turf that gave way under Jason Allen, allowing Braylon Edwards to romp home for a 67-yard touchdown.
It was highly unfortunate that Allen slipped. It was even more unfortunate that he was in single coverage at the time. Clearly this is one of the few hazards of a dual football/baseball stadium, but with so much at stake, it was something the Dolphins could have done without.
The Dolphins had just managed a touchdown of their own, taking the lead for the first time in the process. The first play of New York’s following drive went for six due to the slip; talk about a momentum changer.
Surely the Dolphins front office is dreaming of a day with turf unspoiled by an infield; one turf for all! As it stands, the Marlins Ballpark is two years from completion now.
Bring on 2012.
Can Miami Beat the Brady Bunch?
Yes, but everyone needs to shine. There can be no missed assignments on special teams. The running game must improve. Henne must maintain his level of performance from this week. There needs to be more pressure on Tom Brady than there was on Mark Sanchez. The Koa Misi we saw in Week 1 and Week 2 needs to reappear—the same applies to Jason Allen.
It is a game Miami can win. The Jets were tough opposition, and played a good game. They just had the edge on Sunday, but they also beat the Patriots more comfortably in Week 2.
After leading his side into a 14-0 lead, Tom Brady failed to produce thereafter, and the Jets scored 28 unanswered points. Miami should watch the game tape and see where the Jets succeed. The idea of copying Rex Ryan might leave you feeling dirty, but if it gets the win, who can argue?
Meanwhile, the Patriots gave up 30 points against Buffalo this weekend. Surely if the Dolphins offense is on form, then it should be party-time. If Ryan Fitzpatrick can go 20-for-28, with 247 yards, and two touchdowns, and Roscoe Parrish gets 83 receiving yards, then Chad Henne and Brandon Marshall could tear New England apart. The Patriots secondary is struggling, and Miami should take advantage of this.
The Dolphins have a good chance of bouncing back from this weekend’s disappointing loss. The defense is better than it showed against New York, we all saw that in Minnesota. The wolf went hungry this week; Miami should feed it Monday night. The Patriots aren’t playing their best football either, and if things come together for the Dolphins, and the running game works, then New England are in for a rough ride in Florida.
If all goes to plan, then Miami could be 3-1 on Tuesday morning.