Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Familiar Territory for 0-2 Dolphins

Two games in, two games done and still no "W" in the standings. Seems like last season is repeating itself for the Miami Dolphins. Instead of going into New England for week three, the Fins head to Sand Diego for another difficult match-up - one that could make or break their season.

But with their backs against the wall Miami came out victorious in 2008 against a formidable Patriots team. Sure they unveiled the Wild Cat for the first time and now it's out in the public, but this is familiar territory for the Dolphins.

These two weeks have exposed a few flaws and answered a few questions. What can we take from these two losses and expect from the West side duel between the Fins and Chargers? Let's take a closer look at the pros and cons of Monday's game.

Con: Secondary Troubles = Primary Problem

The Dolphins have allowed a combined 508 passing yards in their first two games, 213 yds from Atlanta and 295 yds from Indianapolis. Beyond that, the average yards per pass play allowed is near the 10-yard mark. In essence, the secondary is allowing plenty of big plays off completions.

A major point of struggle is at the tight end position. Tony Gonzalez and Dallas Clark may be two of the best TEs in the league, but so is Antonio Gates - Miami's next challenge. Gonzalez (73 yds, 1 TD) and Clark (183 yds, 1 TD) have combined for 256 yds and 2 TDs against the Fins.

Let's put that in perspective. That makes up just over 50% of the total passing yards Miami has allowed this season alone. Not to mention, that's 2 out of the 4 TDs Miami has allowed in their first two starts.

If it isn't more obvious, Miami needs to find a way to stop TEs or else opposing QBs will begin to pick apart the D with a steady flow of passes to their big men. Sparano will surely need to bring them back to the fundamentals of making clean tackles, since broken tackles were a huge part of those allowed yards.

Pro: Offensive Line Pays Off

After all the talk about the $155 million that has been invested in the offensive line and their poor performance in Atlanta, the O-Line came out and redeemed themselves at home. Dwight Freeney was not much of an easier case than John Abraham, but Jake Long seemed to contain him throughout most of the game, with extra help from some TEs and fellow linemen.

Miami allowed 2 sacks against the Colts, which is an improvement over the 4 sacks they allowed versus the Falcons. Chad Pennington had plenty of time to throw the ball on most snaps and was able to execute with accuracy throughout most of the game. The O-Line as a unit accomplished what it had set out to do.

Con: To Receive or Not to Receive

The receiving core did a decent job of converting on third downs and making solid catches, but it was the big plays that they didn't make (and the ones that counted the most). The infamous Ted Ginn drop in the endzone was crucial for Miami's chances along with Fasano's leaping drop.

Miami is clearly not a big play offense, but must be able to execute on the few long yardage passes that they attempt. Ginn did an excellent job of keeping Miami in the game, but only proved the skeptics right by dropping a few endzone tosses. With a primetime matchup at home and the game on the line, Ginn has to make that grab. Had he done so there would be less questions raised about whether Miami should had drafted him in the first place.

Pro: On the Run & Stop the Run

The Dolphins have done one thing consistently successful thus far. That is running the ball and stopping the rush.

The Wild Cat dominated all game long, even while ESPN news analysts were calling it a fad before and during the game. Whether it is or isn't, the Colts could not stop what they knew was coming at them.

Miami ran the ball for 239 yds with a large portion of those yards coming out of the Wild Cat formation. It was what kept the drives going, tired the Colts defense out and kept Manning & Co. on the bench. Despite the stellar rush attack, Miami's defense could not hold up on their end and virtually made it irrelevant.

On the run stopping side of things, Indy only mustered 61 yds on the ground (similar to Atlanta's running performance last week of 68 yds). The front line is not allowing opposing tail backs to get significant yardahe on a consistent basis. Unfortunately, the secondary is still in the balance and has yet to string together a solid performance to supplement to D-Line.

Con: Questionable Game Management

There's two ways to look at Monday's game and the time of possession: either 45 minutes of T.O.P. does not guarantee a win or 15 minutes is all Peyton Manning needs to win a ball game. It's difficult to fathom how a team can dominate the clock, tire out the defense and keep the offense on the sidelines without coming out victorious.

Making things worse, when the Colts went ahead late in the game Miami had approximately three minutes to come back and the clock was poorly managed. The blame game does not make much of a difference at this point, but it was unacceptable to allow precious seconds to tick off the clock in a careless manner.

Don't expect that to happen again because this coaching staff prides itself on no-nonsense. Just looking back at the game tape will be enough to stop such things from ever happening again.

Pro: Special Teams Steps Up

After Coach Sparano announced changes to the special teams personnel the team made improvements on kickoff and punt returns last game. Lex Hilliard came up big with 3 tackles on kick/punt returns, which was much needed by a struggling special teams unit.

The team was successful in coverage throughout the game, only allowing an average of 18 yds per kick/punt return. It's safe to say that those changes made a difference.

Outlook Towards Next Week

In the NFL, almost every game counts in a 17-game season. The Fins showed that losing their first two games last year was not their doom, but do not want to make it 0-3 this time around - a hole too deep for most teams to dig themselves out of.

In order for Miami to win they will need to follow through on a few game plans:
  • Make better open-field tackles on tight ends and receivers
  • Get better penetration from their linebacking core (i.e. Porter, Taylor, Crowder, etc.)
  • Force turnovers on defense - fumbles and interceptions
  • Continue to get creative with the offense
  • Attempt 25+ yard passes to speedy receivers (i.e. Ginn, Bess, Hartline, etc.)
  • Contain the running game and capitalize on a one-dimension offense - prevent big plays
  • Prove that they can overcome adversity once again

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