The Miami Dolphins finally grabbed their first win at home more than halfway through the 2010 season, but it didn't come without a cost.
Newly anointed starting quarterback Chad Pennington was knocked out of the game in two plays with a season-ending shoulder injury, while former starter Chad Henne suffered a knee injury late in the third quarter.
In addition, franchise left tackle Jake Long suffered a torn labrum in his shoulder that may require surgery. Long is expected to gut it out and play with a harness, although it remains to be seen how effective he will be in this condition and how long he can keep doing it.
Things are certainly going to be interesting in the final two months of the season, as third-stringer Tyler Thigpen seems likely to start for the Dolphins at quarterback while Henne tries to get healthy.
The Dolphins have a short week with a Thursday night game against the Chicago Bears, but until then, here are my observations from the Dolphins' win over the Titans in Week 9.
- We all know I didn't agree with the benching of Chad Henne, so I'm not too disappointed with Chad Pennington's injury. I feel bad for the guy and I know he was the safest quarterback option, but he just did not offer much upside this year and beyond. With his sub-par arm strength and this many shoulder problems at his age, it's quite possible his playing career will be over soon. He'll make a hell of a coach one day, though.
- I thought Henne played well in the three quarters of action he saw before his injury. He missed on a few plays and couldn't get on the same page with Brandon Marshall, but he also made some beautiful throws across the middle to Anthony Fasano, had a nice touchdown to Patrick Cobbs and hit Brian Hartline deep on a well-executed flea flicker. It's a shame he got hurt, but it seems his injury may not be as severe as originally thought and it appears he is going to try to return this season. A lot of that depends on the speed of his recovery and the way Tyler Thigpen plays.
- Thigpen played well after replacing Henne, although he only threw six passes. He showed off the good mobility he's known for and can certainly make things happen outside the pocket, and he used that athleticism to pick up a first and secure the victory.
- Ronnie Brown scored for the second straight week, but he accumulated a dismal 11 yards on 12 carries. Ricky Williams fared much better with 64 yards on 11 carries, although a few big wildcat plays inflated his total. There isn't anything wrong with either back, but the interior line continues to be a problem in the running game. Miami also got extremely lucky they weren't stopped on 3rd and 10 when Ricky converted from a wildcat hand-off, since the quarterback-less Dolphins were obviously going to run.
- It was nice to see Patrick Cobbs more involved in the offense, as he seems fully recovered from the torn ACL than prematurely ended his 2009 season. Cobbs isn't feature-back material, but he's a nice, hard-working player to have on offense and does have something to offer.
- Brandon Marshall was visibly frustrated for a good part of the game, and even drew a delay of game penalty for throwing the ball after a first-down catch. Cortland Finnegan had great coverage on him for a lot of the game though, and Marshall would be better suited controlling his emotions and being more of a team player. That's obviously not going to happen, though.
- Brian Hartline had the biggest day for the receivers, catching five balls for 98 yards, including a 54-yarder on a flea flicker. Anthony Fasano had a career day with five catches for 107 yards and a score, taking advantage of terrible coverage by the Titans' linebackers. Fasano isn't always this consistent though, which is why he's better suited for a prominent No. 2 role.
- Jake Long did a nice job in protection once again, and it wasn't even apparent he suffered a serious shoulder injury in the game. The Dolphins can ill-afford to lose Long, which would probably result in Pat McQuistan starting and Vernon Carey moving over to Long's spot.
- Richie Incognito was absolutely abused by ex-Dolphin Tony Brown on a sack and continues to be a liability in the running game as well. The Dolphins were right to cut the big salaries of injury-prone linemen Jake Grove and Justin Smiley, but it's obvious that Incognito and center Joe Berger are not long-term starting solutions.
- Chris Johnson had few problems running through the Dolphins' line, but every layer of the defense was pretty much unable to tackle the dynamic running back. I will give the Dolphins' line credit for keeping the Titans' offense limited to just Johnson and getting good pressure on the quarterbacks from the inside. Randy Starks also did a great job jumping on a Vince Young fumble.
- Cameron Wake had his least productive game of the season with just one tackle and no sacks, but he did miss time with a hip injury and the Titans' pass protection has been good for a while now. Koa Misi got some great penetration on running backs, but was made foolish by Chris Johnson's moves.
- Karlos Dansby was all over the field, racking up eight tackles and forcing a Bo Scaife fumble on the opening drive. He, too, was beaten by Johnson a time or two, but for the most part he played very well.
- Vontae Davis and the rest of the secondary had a fantastic game, although Davis did look pretty bad on a Nate Washington touchdown grab. The corners still limited the Titans' receivers to just 80 total yards, including just 26 by Randy Moss. Sean Smith, Benny Sapp and even Al Harris all made some nice plays.
- Chris Clemons had a nice game too, but rookie Reshad Jones definitely made the most of his chance when Clemons went down with an injury. Jones nearly picked off one Vince Young pass, had good coverage deep in the end zone on the next, then recorded his first career sack, then ended the Titans' drive with his first career interception. Jones was always a good value in the fifth round and could challenge a dinged-up Clemons for the starting free safety job if he keeps it up.
- Yeremiah Bell tied for the team lead with eight tackles, and also had a sack and forced fumble on Young that was recovered by Randy Starks. Bell still looks pretty weak in coverage though and definitely is not the same player he was in previous years.
- Dan Carpenter got back on track with three converted field goals in as many tries, while Brandon Fields struggled a bit with a 28-yard average in three punts.
- Nolan Carroll only got two return opportunities, but looked good on one and took it back 38 yards. Davone Bess didn't get a chance to return with most of the Titans' punts either through the end zone or out of bounds. Not like he would have had much of an impact anyway.
I can hardly remember a win coming at such a price, but the injuries suffered in this game could feasibly hurt the Dolphins the rest of the way.
I don't dislike Thigpen, but he was dangled by Kansas City for months with no takers and was Miami's third-stringer for a reason. He can move and make plays with his feet, but he's not all that accurate and probably has limited upside.
It will be interesting to see if Chad Henne can return this season, and if he can get his job back from Thigpen. Unless Thigpen plays lights out the rest of the season, I'd expect a full competition between Henne and Thigpen in 2011, while the Dolphins also add a quarterback in the draft.
The Dolphins' struggle in the running game continue to be problematic, because it really hurts how productive the team can be passing the ball. Unfortunately, I'm not sure this will be fixed any time soon, with the injury to Long not helping things and not much talent on the bench.
I'm excited for the Bears game despite the injuries, because I think Chicago is a bit of a pretender at their 6-3 record. The Dolphins are coming off a great performance in pass defense and Cameron Wake has been a beast this year, so it'll be interesting to see how they match up against Jay Cutler and a shaky offensive line.
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Chris J. Nelson majored in journalism at Georgia State University and is currently a programming coordinator for Turner Sports in Atlanta. He operates his own Miami Dolphins website, The Miami Dolphins Spotlight, and he can be followed on Twitter here.
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