It's taken me a while to get this article up, because I was actually on vacation in Miami, going to the game and getting engaged!
It's a little difficult to evaluate a game as well from the stands, because you don't have the advantages of replay or different camera angles.
I did pick up some insights from my time at Sun Life Stadium this past weekend though, so here they are:
- There really aren't two ways about it—Chad Henne was terrible Sunday. His first two turnovers were extremely costly and he just did not make good decisions. He had Brian Hartline wide open for a touchdown deep, but threw way late and way short for an interception. He also had a pick into triple coverage on Davone Bess was just never should have been thrown. I'm certainly not off the Henne bandwagon for a bad game, but he's definitely not there yet.
- The Dolphins had one of their better rushing performances of the season with Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams combining for 98 yards on 26 carries. Not impressive, I know, but that's how bad things have been this year.
- Davone Bess had a nice game, though he had a curious unsportsmanlike penalty when he threw the ball at a Browns player who was twisting his leg. Brian Hartline was actually held without a catch and left with a hand injury suffered while blocking, but he could have had a touchdown on one play if Henne throws it right. Hartline put a great move on the corner and had him burned by a good margin.
- Roberto Wallace and Marlon Moore didn't really do much, and Moore showed he isn't quite ready for a big role on offense with a few drops. The Dolphins would be in serious trouble if Hartline and Marshall are out of action.
- Anthony Fasano was another bright spot in the passing game, hauling in four passes and a touchdown. The backup tight end was nowhere to be found, as usual.
- For the most part, the pass protection was excellent. The Browns' rushers really never to Henne and he usually had time to throw (making his struggles are the more perplexing). The lone sack came when nose tackle Shaun Rogers just abused center Joe Berger, who is looking more and more like a backup.
- The interior line was pretty bad once again, as Berger and Richie Incognito were their usual selves and John Jerry actually got benched. I like Jerry's potential, but the other two need to go.
- The Dolphins' defensive line did an excellent job shutting down Peyton Hillis after he'd been dominating the league for weeks. Kendall Langford, Randy Starks and Paul Soliai all played terrifically and allowed the linebackers to make plays against the run. Phillip Merling surprisingly got some game action just six months after his Achilles' tear, despite recent reports he was overweight and not in game shape. If he can play anything close to how he has in recent years, he'll certainly add depth.
- I thought both Cameron Wake and Koa Misi did well against the run, while Wake picked up another 1.5 sacks. Karlos Dansby and Tim Dobbins also played the run well, but significantly struggled in coverage against Benjamin Watson, who was Cleveland's only highly-productive player on offense.
- I was pretty pleased with the way the secondary played. The only Browns receiver that did anything was Mohamed Massaquoi, who caught four passes for 81 yards. Chris Clemons allowed one of the big gains, and Sean Smith allowed the other after slipping on the field. Smith did have a great hit on Massaquoi's three-yard gain that totally upended the receiver. The other Browns' wideouts combined for 14 yards on three catches, so it was certainly a successful day for the Dolphins' corners.
- Nolan Carroll saw extended playing time with Al Harris out, and played well. Unfortunately, he also dropped what could have been the game-winning interception on Cleveland's final drive. It's hard to fault a young guy for a positive play, but it could have been so much bigger if caught. The Dolphins' secondary must lead the NFL in dropped interceptions.
- Dan Carpenter missed a 41-yard field goal attempt, although it was the result of Shaun Rogers' barreling through the long snapper. Carpenter later hit a 60-yarder, shattering his old personal best of 54 yards set earlier this year. I was amazed he made the kick with the wind blowing so hard right to left, and I'm honestly surprised Tony Sparano even attempted it. Most NFL kickers have a range of about 60 yards at best, but it was a seriously impressive conversion.
- Brandon Fields also had a fantastic day, averaging 42.1 yards on seven punts with a long of 61 yards and four punts downed inside the 20. The coverage team also did their job shutting down Joshua Cribbs, which was good progress to see.
- Davone Bess had a 15-yard punt return, but was shut down on most others. Nolan Carroll had a solid 31-yard return, but only had two returns total.
This is a loss that really hurts, because it's one the Dolphins should have won. Their defense played great and they had plenty of chances on offense, but turnovers killed them. The Dolphins were the more talented football team in this one, and lost because of their own lack of execution.
And that really is the problem with the Dolphins, isn't it? A week after dominating the Raiders in an impressive win, the Dolphins fall flat on their face against an inferior opponent. They struggle with consistency and constantly fail to play at a high level week to week. Just when you think they are ready to join the playoff contenders, they take two steps back.
There are certainly encouraging signs from this game and this season, and I love the way the defense is playing under Mike Nolan. But this team does not play at a high level all the time, and that's why they are average in the end.
The Jets are coming off an embarrassing loss to the Patriots, but I don't think that means much for the Dolphins' chances. The Jets are the superior team and will have home field advantage in cold weather. The Dolphins might not get blown out, but I don't see them coming out on top.
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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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