Monday, August 17, 2009

Fins-Jags Pre Season Game Recap

Monday is not usually the most anticipated day of the week, but when your NFL home team is playing football you can't be anymore anxious for it to come around. Land Shark Stadium made an overnight transformation from a Marlins double-header to an NFL pre season match-up between the Dolphins and Jaguars. Posters, banners and signage of the Fins decorated Land Shark Stadium and fans got that once-a-year feeling: Football season is here.

The Dolphins-Jaguars face off was an interesting game to follow, from analyzing the revamped secondary and offensive line units to seeing how the starters and backup players performed in game situations. We kept tabs of the game on a quarter by quarter basis and posted key points in the game - here's our take.

First Quarter

Jacksonville rolled out in their new 2009 uniforms for the first time and won the coin toss, but were stunted by Miami's defense on the first drive. As the Fins offense came out, Chad Pennington started off sloppy, throwing two incomplete passes, both of which were low. After they punted away the ball, the Fins came out on defense and displayed great poise and aggressiveness in their first stint - forcing a fumble, sacking the QB and pressuring David Garrard into throwing an incomplete pass. A decent start for Miami overall.

With their second drive, the Dolphins got the ball back and received good pass coverage by the offensive line, leading to back-to-back receptions from Ted Ginn (26 yds total). The running game was lacking on the first and second drives, but Ricky Williams executed a nice sweep run for an 11-yard gain. All rushes down the middle were being stopped by the Jaguars' stellar rush defenders. The Fins got away with a field goal, which put them up 3-0. Miami's offense showed signs of light and Ginn revealed more poise as a receiver.

In the ensuing Jaguars drive, the Fins D continued its dominance by stuffing the run and forcing another fumble, courtesy of Jason Taylor (he's back!). That gave Miami's offense another chance, but they could not capitalize on the opportunity. A play action reverse to Ted Ginn was the highlight of the drive (14-yard gain). The "lowlight" came on the punt when Vontae Davis committed his first rookie mistake - interfering with the punt returner on a fair catch. Overall, fans had something to cheer about after one quarter of Miami Dolphins football.

Second Quarter

The Dolphins' run stuffing continued in the second quarter, but the secondary struggled with Jags QB Todd Bouman. The secondary allowed three completed passes for a total of 45 yards. The result was a Jaguars field goal, tying the game 3-3. By then the Fins were tapping into reserve players in the secondary, but the defensive backs didn't blow the crowd away in the first quarter anyway. It will be a learning experience for the secondary unit as they will try to bond and create cohesion throughout the season.

The Fins offense came out in their fourth drive of the game with some impressive plays from Chad Henne (38 passing yards) and Ricky Williams (19 rushing yards). They drove down the field in commanding fashion, but were stunted once a Henne-to-Williams pass was incomplete on 3rd down. The Fins scored another field goal and regained the lead at 6-3. At least the crowd had some excitement from the offense's second unit.

Before the half, the Jags continued their success in the passing game, but made mistakes in key situations - forcing them to settle for another field goal. Cameron Wake made a huge play in that series as he rushed the Jags QB, leading to an important incomplete pass. Fans are still waiting to see him play well in passing situations, not just rushing scenarios.

Third Quarter

The Dolphins received the ball first in the second half, but were not able to mount a good drive. The first sack against the Fins came in this drive as Chad Henne was pummeled by DT Derek Landri. The offensive line showed signs of weakness in that sequence, but had performed well until then. Luckily Miami didn't allow Jacksonville to respond with a scoring drive, forcing a three and out.

Unfortunately, the rain began to pour down on Land Shark Stadium with Miami's second chance on offense. Chad Henne followed up with an interception and things got a bit gloomy. It was expected for missteps to occur and what mattered was that Henne was on the field gaining experience.

The Jags offense came in and pushed their way down the field in what seemed to be a TD-bound drive. A pass interference call on Vontae Davis didn't help the cause as the Fins' 1st round pick committed his second mistake of the night. The upside was in Miami's continued pressure on the Jags running game and the silly mistakes drawn by false starts and holding calls on the offense. Jacksonville came away with their first lead of the game after a field goal that put them up 9-6, but Miami wasn't about to lay down.

A 41-yard kick return by Chris Williams and a 15-yard penalty by the Jags put Miami in prime scoring position. Then, two rushes for 13 yards by RB Lex Hilliard placed Miami within striking distance. What followed was the best action of the day as Chad Henne connected with Ernest Wilford ("The Lost One") for a 33-yard touch down, regaining the lead at 12-9.

Momentum was back on Miami's side and it kept coming late in the 3rd quarter with a Sean Smith interception. Smith was winning the battle between the rookie DBs as he recorded his first INT and Davis struggled with three penalties in the night. After the Fins robbed Jacksonville of a pass, Pat White took the field for the first time and fans got to see their third string QB in action.

White started off well with a completion to Patrick Turner on his first drive. He also scrambled for an 8-yard rushing gain, but was cut short after a deflected pass that converted into an INT.

Fourth Quarter

The favor was repaid with a Miami interception by their 7th round draft pick, LB J.D. Folsom. That made two consecutive defensive drives that resulted in INTs for Miami - impressive for a third-string unit. That was short lived as the Fins offense could not get on the same page and build on the score.

Miami's secondary continued to struggle, and at a greater level, with third-string QB Paul Smith tossing passes for the Jags. The Fins gave up 68 yards on 7 pass completions and were close to giving up the lead. But the team was resilient and held off the Jaguars to achieve their first win of the pre season.

The secondary buckled up late in the 4th quarter and made two important pass deflections to force Jacksonville into a turnover on downs just a few yards away from Jacksonville's endzone. Pat White came in and gave everyone a glimpse of the Wild Cat by running an option play that led to a 10-yard gain. That put Miami clear of the opponent's endzone and the risk of a safety. A few more scramble plays from White and Miami clinched victory on their home turf. Fans left home happy and with something positive to look forward to come regular season.

Key Points in the Game
  • Miami's rush defense was impressive all night and the linebacking core seemed solid throughout the game - Joey Porter and Jason Taylor in the backfield could is a scary thought for opponents.
  • The secondary was not as on point as the rest of the defensive unit, but did not allow any big plays for TDs.
  • The ofensive line was solid all game long, only allowing one sack and giving the QBs plenty of time in the pocket, particularly Chad Pennington.
  • Ted Ginn Jr. is showing signs of progress as a more mature receiver and could emerge as a legit #1 WR if he continues to impress and perform at a high level.
  • Ricky Williams looked strong and in shape in his stint on the field - he pushed some defenders around like in the dreadlock days.
  • Vontae Davis will need to learn about avoiding rookie mistakes the hard way, a speech from Parcells or Sparano will help change that (not to mention the nagging he'll receive from veterans on the team).
  • Chris Williams had an impressive showing at the kick returner spot as the game progressed - 4 kick returns for 127 yards.
  • Only one Wild Cat play all night, but you don't expect Miami to reveal their playbook this early in the season - expect more in the 4th pre season game as they'll need some in-game practice to execute it properly during the regular season.
  • Dolphins looking good at the QB position - Pennington will be his old self as long as he stays healthy, Henne has a strong arm and valuable experience in college and White will be useful in the Wild Cat schemes.
  • A lookout team is still searching for Matt Roth as he's disappeared off the face of the earth with his "illness/injury." When will he be back? We may never know.

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