I didn’t have the opportunity to comment much yesterday about the game. I spent the better part of the previous night trying to get the Seminoles’ woeful performance out of my mind when the Dolphins came and left a big steaming pile of suck on my doorstep. Last night I was considering giving up on the sport altogether and moving to a monastery to study with Monks somewhere in Asia where football is non-existent.
But, then I realized I was going to have to stay stateside at least long enough to talk Brian off the ledge. The title of this article is a bit satirical, for as bad as the Dolphins looked, yesterday wasn’t the end of the world. It may not even have been indicative of something larger. It was a bad game. Teams are prone to have them and with the exception of the Baltimore playoff game last year, we in Miami have been pretty lucky of late.
There’s a lot to cover, but let’s look at the Dolphins through a slightly less cynical lens and try to get a little bit of perspective on the collective egg Miami laid yesterday…
Offense: The offense did not look good. That is a tremendous understatement, but it’s a starting point. What disappointed the most was the offensive line. For as much as the team has invested in that unit the pass blocking was atrocious and the run blocking never really developed. I understand it takes a line a while to gel but what does concern me is the fact that with the exception of Jake Grove the majority of this line has a had a year to play together. Yes, Donald Thomas and Justin Smiley missed time, but I would still like to see the unit come out in first game looking a bit further along in their development.
I’m not as worried about Jake Long. John Abraham is no slouch (I can’t even give an ex-Jet his due) and for as embarrassing as points of that game were, it’s also going serve as an incredible learning tool that I’m sure Tony Sparano (and his roots as an OL Coach) will take advantage of. Down the line this is the type of game that will make Jake Long better.
What really sank the team though were penalties and turnovers. In a way this felt like watching the Dolphins of two years ago. The team shot itself in the foot repeatedly and in the NFL against a good team you do not win that way. Anthony Fasano and Chad Pennington each had two turnovers apiece and when you put all of that down on paper, it’s actually impressive the Fins only lost by 12 points.
But everyone chill out. Scoot back from the ledge, put down the drain-o and listen. This isn’t that big of a deal. The offense looked poor, so what? They looked bad last year until the third week of the season. This is a tough football team with a good coaching staff. They came out in the first week and got beat. But the team is not absent of talent as it once was and the pragmatism the coaches showed last year in game-planning gives me faith that there may be hope after all.
For as badly as everyone is saying Chad Pennington played, there were bright spots. He went 21-29, so for as many balls as Brian saw go into the ground and miss targets, he saw almost a 3:1 ratio of Pennington completing his passes. The problem really isn’t Chad Pennington and frankly I hope I don’t start hearing cries for Chad Henne yet, if Chad Henne makes it in with any regularity say goodbye to the season. So everyone who’s beginning to call for him, ask if you’re ready to give up on the season after one week of football?
Pennington’s problem is he plays too timidly at times. He really only tried to force one ball the whole game and it got picked off, but at many other points he made the smart play. The problem with the smart play is it’s not usually sexy. Throwing the ball into the ground on a screen pass that doesn’t materialize is smart. Yes, there’s a chance whichever back or receiver Pennington is targeting will catch it, make the yardage and move the chains. But in the NFL there’s a better chance the ball gets batted and/or pick or the player attempting to catch it gets blown up and fumbles. What gave the Dolphins a chance to win almost every game last year was that the offense could be patient, play the field position game and not put the defense anywhere compromising.
Incidentally, that’s why the Dolphins didn’t win this game. But as much as I can find fault with the offense, I refuse to begrudge smart play that protects the ball and makes sure at the very least the defense is in a good spot to make a stop.
Defensively: I may be the only guy in Miami that was fairly encouraged by the play of the Dolphins defense. Fire away, but I’m not really concerned about the direction this unit is headed in. The problem Miami faced was in the passing game yesterday, that’s not a surprise. Frankly though the most disconcerting part of the unit was Will Allen. He’s supposed to be the consistent veteran on the unit. Sean Smith and Vontae Davis will take their lumps, Smith almost got torched a couple of times but I’m not discouraged by either of them at this point.
Really when I look at what made the difference in the passing game it was Tony Gonzalez. Miami had no real answer for Gonzalez last year when he caught seven passes and a TD playing for KC in week 16. This game was no different, clearly Miami’s defense struggles to cover the more prolific tight ends in the league. That being said Tony Gonzalez deserves a lot of credit for being one hell of a tight end. Some of the catches he made yesterday I didn’t feel he had a lot of business making, but that’s the sign of a great player.
Other than that though, the defense found itself the victim of some horrible starting field position as a result of turnovers and managed to hold Atlanta to just 19 points. They held Michael Turner to 3 yards a carry and the front-seven pressured Matt Ryan for most of the day. As the secondary matures a little and gels that front seven is going to cause a lot more problems.
The secondary will be able to glean quite a few lessons from this game. Sean Smith, for instance, made a fairly correctable mistake when get got turned around on a pass that Matt Ryan ultimately overthrew. When Will Allen makes that mistake it’s ok to worry a little, when Sean Smith makes it it’s ok to assume that the coaches will help to iron that out. The benefit of having young athletic players all over the field is even the worst mistakes serve as excellent learning opportunities.
Special Teams: When I think about Cam Cameron telling us all a few years ago that we were going to enjoy watching Teddy Ginn take kicks back for a long time it’s comparable to the feeling I get when I sit on my own nuts. Which is incidentally the feeling I get every time I see Ted lackadaisically trot out to take back a kick. My point in all of this is I think the Ginn experiment at kick returner ought to be over and I’m going sterile.
I think Ginn is actually improving at receiver, I’m ok with him. Even if he isn’t, he’s kind of like a relative through marriage, he isn’t going anywhere so just get over it and try to get along. But I don’t want to see Ginn taking back kicks when there are actually players on the roster that run the ball back a little bit mean. And when I say a little bit mean, I mean the way Devone Bess returns a kick, like he’s trying to make an NFL roster. Not like he’s trying to avoid making it on a defensive highlight reel.
Ginn repeatedly looks timid taking back kick returns and yesterday, with the Dolphins offense sputtering as it was, they didn’t need their average starting position to be around their own 15.
I’d like to be able to comment on Dan Carpenter, especially considering my time-honored tradition of drafting the Dolphins kicker in all of my fantasy leagues. Normally this is a good proposition because Miami kicks a lot of field goals and I don’t like throwing other Dolphins into the love/hate fervor of fantasy football. But he kicked one extra point yesterday, which was a damn good extra point, but that’s not much to report on.
Final Thoughts: One word, relax. This is a long season and frankly Miami had a lot of success down the line last year. The offense looked bad in week one. They looked off. Maybe it won’t get better next week and if you get your kicks being a pessimist God bless you. But they played a good team in Altanta with a very good offense. It’s not like Atlanta had its way with Miami. Miami could have been in position to win that game with better ball control. Whose to say any of the many drives interrupted by penalties or turnovers couldn’t have gotten the offense in rhythm. How many games last year did we watch that it took the Fins well into the third quarter to get any offensive rhythm?
There’s certainly plenty of things to dwell on that were bad yesterday. But shrug it off like you know the coaches are telling the Dolphins to do. There was a lot more to build on in that game than it may initially seem like. There are plenty of mental mistakes that can be fixed as well as a number of physical ones. This is a young team that will be prone to growing pains. Players who make great strides are also going to have setbacks. The team is playing a brutal schedule. I, for one, think they’re still going to have a good degree of success this season. Teams slip up. How about parlaying all of the good feelings and hope from last year into the benefit of the doubt. Let’s file this under “slip up” before we go all Chicken Little.