Miami Dolphins: 6 Veterans Who Must Step Up in Week 2
The national media is still lingering on the historical shootout that transpired between the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots on Monday night. Each redundant highlight is a painful blow to Dolphins fans, whose high aspirations for this defense were annihilated by Tom Brady's 517 passing yards.
But there is good news, Miami.
That game is in the past.
Week 1 is in the books, and the Dolphins, like 16 other NFL teams, are 0-1. The 'Fins still have 15 games remaining on their 2011 slate to turn the tide and compete for a playoff spot. However, that will not happen if these six veterans do not elevate their respective games in the coming weeks of the season.
The Dolphins' decision to start Reshad Jones over Chris Clemons came with a major and well-publicized caveat: His aggressive nature often becomes a liability—and this is exactly what transpired on Monday night. Jones was torched countless times and was largely responsible for Wes Welker's 99-yard touchdown grab.
In fact, it's easy to argue that Jones had a worse game than recently-released Benny Sapp, but somebody's head had to roll after the secondary's quagmire of a night.
Anyway, despite Jones' abhorrent performance, he is still practicing with the first-team defense. Chris Clemons is still rehabbing a hamstring injury, and it does not look like he will be ready for Sunday's game versus the Texans. This leaves Jones in the starting spot, and needless to say, he must elevate his game.
Replacing Channing Crowder with Kevin Burnett was supposed to alleviate Miami's struggles with opposing tight ends. Instead, things not only got worse, they got historically bad.
Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski combined to catch 13 passes for 189 yards and two touchdowns.
Burnett is far more athletic than Crowder, but his pass-coverage skills were clearly overstated. Hopefully Burnett is merely experiencing typical team-change speed bumps, but if he doesn't improve his play, opposing teams will target him all year long.
Karlos Dansby is one of the highest paid defensive players in the NFL, but he simply did not play up to his contract on Monday night. Dansby racked up a very marginal five tackles (third most on the team), and he has to be held partially responsible for New England's success with their tight ends.
Dansby is lauded for his run stuffing abilities, but a guy making $43 million should be able to step back and shut down a tight end and help in pass coverage.
It's very difficult—and maybe unfair—to criticize Cameron Wake's Week 1 performance.
Miami's ferocious sack-artist registered a sack, three tackles and a pass deflection on Monday night, but he was also manhandled by rookie tackle Nate Solder for much of the game. Wake figured to dominate Solder, but we clearly underestimated the rookie's abilities—or maybe we overestimated Wake's.
It's safe to assume the former, but Wake needs to generate a more consistent pass rush..
Vontae Davis and Sean Smith donned themselves the best cornerback duo in the NFL a few weeks ago.
Smith might have lived up to that billing on Monday night, but Davis did not.
This isn't to say Davis had a bad game; he played fairly well. However, he was torched a few times, most notably by anonymous Patriots receiver Jackie Slater.
There's little reason to worry about Davis, but because the Dolphins' free safety situation is so horrid right now, there's more pressure on him to lockdown his matchups. More importantly, Davis cannot afford to yield big plays to guys like Jackie Slater.
Spotty play landed second-year cornerback Nolan Carroll on the roster bubble this summer, but the Dolphins chose to hold onto him, perhaps in anticipation that he will soon develop into a serviceable player.
But once Carroll got onto the field on Monday night, Bill Belichick went after him, and that anticipation was severely undermined.
Deion Branch and Aaron Hernandez both dominated Carroll, who simply looked overwhelmed. A fourth-string cornerback rarely draws and serious attention, but considering the Dolphins face passing-oriented teams like the Patriots, Chargers, Texans, Eagles and Cowboys, they need a deep secondary stocked with quality corners.