Miami Dolphins: 7 Keys From Their 33-17 Win Over the Oakland Raiders
Well, it wasn't always pretty, but the Miami Dolphins clearly dominated the Raiders in Oakland on Sunday.
Two of the most telling game statistics were:
Miami held the ball for an astonishing 41:38.
They compiled 471 yards of offense without Brandon Marshall.
The win gives Miami some hope for the playoffs. At 6-5, they are three games back of both the New England Patriots and the New York Jets, but the Dolphins still have games against both teams.
Furthermore, New England and New York (both teams have 9-2 records) will play each other next Monday night.
Miami trails eight-win teams in Pittsburgh and Baltimore by two games. But their deficit is essentially three games because Miami lost to both opponents.
More on Miami's playoff prospects in another article. For now, let's just take a look at seven key observations from Miami's 33-17 win.
These observations will focus on the outstanding performances, the forgettable ones and the reasons why the Dolphins are now over the .500 mark and will play a meaningful game in December.
1. Chad Henne
The "Henne Haters" are pretty quiet this Monday.
There wasn't much not to like about the much-maligned quarterback's performance on Sunday.
In the last couple of weeks, Henne has been benched and then injured. But he looked calm, confident and collected in completing 17-of-30 passes for 307 yards and two touchdowns.
Critics will probably point to his one interception, in which he admittedly should have thrown the ball out of bounds.
That would be shortsighted, especially considering a plethora of big throws, including a game-defining strike to Davone Bess for a 29-yard completion on the sideline that set up Dan Carpenter's 25-yard field goal to put the game essentially out of reach.
Regardless of whether you are a Henne supporter or not, he has been, is and will be Miami's best chance for success out of the quarterback position.
2. Davone Bess
The best receiver on Miami's roster right now is not Brandon Marshall. It's clearly Davone Bess.
You can argue about talent all you want, but when Miami needs a big play they go to #15. It's not so much that Bess caught six passes for 111 yards or had a 47-yard kick return; it's that three of those completions came on third-and-long.
The third year product has caught 55 passes for 600 yards this season and while he is unlikely to haul in the dramatic 50-yard plus bomb, his value to the Dolphins can't be understated.
3. Brandon Marshall
No one is saying that Brandon Marshall isn't extremely talented, and it's only one game, but it's still worth mentioning that arguably Miami's most successful passing attack of the season came without Marshall, even with a banged up Henne.
Will Davone Bess have 100-yards receiving every game he substitutes for Marshall as a starter? Of course not, but did you notice that Brian Hartline also had a pretty nice game with four catches for 75 yards or that the one catch of undrafted free agent Marlon Moore went for a 59-yard touchdown?
I am NOT advocating giving up on Marshall, but it might be interesting to see what Miami can produce if Marshall's hamstring needs another week to heal.
4. Cameron Wake
Cameron Wake is second in the NFL with 10.5 sacks (The Green Bay Packers' Clay Matthews has 11.5), but you really need to watch game film to get a true sense of how special Wake is becoming.
On virtually every play that he rushes, Wake is grabbed, held, pushed down, clawed, twisted, thrown, or put in a headlock in an attempt to prevent him from getting to the quarterback. He is doubled-teamed on a regular basis and Miami has no other consistent pass-rushing force, which makes his production all the more remarkable.
Wake also never quits on a play and ironically a big gain by the Raiders was the perfect example of how good the former Penn Stater has become.
Jacoby Ford, the Raiders' speedster who nearly kept Oakland in the game ran an end around for 13 yards. The amazing thing was that Wake nearly caught him from behind and might have actually had a hand in on the tackle by Sean Smith.
5. Miami's Rushing Defense and Darren McFadden
How dominant was Miami's run defense? Ford's one end around for 13 yards was longer than every other Raider's total yards rushing combined.
Quietly (and that's pretty tough for a guy who likely pushes the scales at 370 pounds), Paul Soliai is developing into a stout nose tackle.
Consider this eye-opener. The Raider's highly touted Darren McFadden has rushed for 773 yards and almost five yards a carry with four touchdowns this season. On Sunday, he carried the ball eight times for TWO yards.
Next Sunday, the Dolphins face McFadden's old Arkansas backfield mate, Peyton Hillis. This Razorbacks' 2010 stats are even more impressive with 905 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns.
I wonder how Miami will contain Hillis -who no one would have ever pegged to be the best to come out of that college backfield (remember Dallas' Felix Jones was the other tailback and Hillis was the fullback).
6. Jake Long
What more can you say about Jake Long? Well, I am going to try a bit more. A week after struggling at times with Julius Pepper -because Long is essentially playing with one arm, the ironman did a much better job in both pass protection and run-blocking.
Yes, the Raiders had three sacks, but two I believe were by blitzing defensive backs where Miami did not account for the maximum pressure. Translation: They weren't Long's fault by any means.
7. Questionable Play Calling Remains an Issue For Miami
Dan Henning has taken a lot of abuse for his play calling this season and it seems that some columnists are interested in defending him after yesterday's 33 point outburst.
Some of Miami's play calls continue to boggle even the casual observer, such as the following:
Two plays after Henne completes a 26-yard pass to Brian Hartline, and the play after Ronnie Brown only gets three yards on first down, the Wildcat is called and Brown is brought down for no gain.
Henne, who is brought back onto the field for just one play in the series of downs (a recurring theme here) throws an incomplete pass and the Dolphins are forced to settle for a field goal.
One drive after Henne completes three out of three passes for 48 yards and a touchdown, Miami inexplicably runs on eight out of the next nine plays. The one pass is a 23-yard completion from Henne to Bess.
With a 23-14 lead and Davone Bess returning the Raider's punt 47 yards to the Oakland 30, and with Henne having thrown for around 250 yards, Tyler Thigpen is inserted into the game for a couple of plays to add a running dimension. The ploy along with several other runs on the drive fails and Miami actually loses yardage leading to a missed 49-yard field goal attempt by Dan Carpenter.
I could go on, but this last example is paramount to the ultra-conservative philosophy that gets Miami into trouble. If Bruce Gradkowski doesn't see Jacoby Ford on the next drive until it's too late, the Dolphins only have a two-point lead. As is, the Raiders did cut the score to 23-17 before Miami finally pulled away for good.