If you were up last night searching for coverage of the Dolphins big win in Minneapolis, chances are you wasted your time. Unless you’re down in Miami the national story-lines tend to center around a poor day for the future Hall of Famer Brett Favre and all that ails the woe-begotten Vikings. Little attention, if any has been paid to the fact that the Dolphins are quietly off to their best start since 2002. But as this team takes on the characteristics of its fiery yet unassuming head coach, the lack of notoriety may suit these 2010 Dolphins just fine.
We’ll get to some analysis in a moment, but let’s start with some facts that are flying beneath the radar of the national media.
The Dolphins are Yet to trail a Game so Far this Season
Since the game last weekend at Buffalo the Fins are yet to trail in a game this season. In both performances the team has scored first and then kept the lead throughout the entire duration of the game. While the offense is yet to truly fire on all cylinders they have done enough to give the lead to the Dolphins defense early on, and from there Mike Nolan’s unit has not relinquished a lead. In fact, yesterday the Vikings trailed the Dolphins for longer in their home opener than they had trailed all their opponents collectively in their games at home last season.
The Dolphins, Not the Jets or Patriots, are Unbeaten and Atop the AFC East
This one gets lost in the shuffle, but who in the media had this scenario pegged going into the season? Not too many of the experts can claim they had this baby picked correctly, but as everyone knows you play the games for a reason. Plenty of attention has and will continue to be paid to the Jets big win over the Patriots yesterday afternoon. But one thing nobody will say during any of the coverage is that it was a matchup between two second place teams. That may be the only time this season Dolphins fans will be able to say that of their division-mates, but for now, it feels pretty good.
Cameron Wake is on Pace for 20 Sacks
If anyone thought maybe Cameron Wake was a bit of a fluke, he is quickly proving them wrong. Wake registered a sack and a half to bring his total to 2.5 for the season. More significant than just his ability to get to the quarterback yesterday though was his ability to strip the quarterback. Wake made arguably the play of the game in beating a double-team to get to Brett Favre in the endzone and strip him of the ball so Koa Misi could pounce on it for the Dolphins first defensive score of the season.
The Defense Shines
This defensive performance was not necessarily one that you look in the stat books and circle. The Dolphins gave up a lot of yardage, but very little in the way of points. It was truly bend but don’t break. Between the 20′s there was yardage to be had. But as the Vikings quickly found out, the Dolphins defense gets hulk-strong near either goal-line. If one had to sum the defense up in a single word I think it would have to be “opportunistic.” At the right time, someone always stepped up to make the stop or the interception or a sack, the defense was never found wanting for someone to step up and make a play.
The star, as has been said and will be repeated is Jason Allen. After four years of inconsistent play and living with the title of “bust,” Jason Allen is finally proving that there was a good reason Miami selected him in the first round. If you had told me J. Allen was going to have a big defensive performance before the game I’d have immediately pictured Jared Allen standing over Chad Henne after his second sack of the afternoon. Instead, Jason Allen stood tall when Brett Favre tried to pick on him and took away not one but two interceptions.
After the game Favre was extremely deferential to Vontae Davis, calling him one of the best corners in football that no one knows about yet. Unfortunately for Favre he missed the memo that the other guy was a first rounder too. And yesterday, for the second time this season Jason Allen played like it.
The rest of the defense chipped in nicely too. Randy Starks was extremely active, deflecting passes and picking up a half a sack. Karlos Dansby was all over the field. Koa Misi had a couple of hurries and a big fumble recovery. Vontae Davis may have had his best game as a pro and actually managed to get out-shined by the other member of his corner tandem. And quietly, as he typically does, the always steady Yeremiah Bell led the team in tackles.
The Offense Struggles
After starting the game with an opening touchdown drive the offense returned to a very conservative gameplan and never really got churning much after that. They also contributed two costly fumbles, one of which allowed Adrian Peterson to hop over the goal line for a very easy score just a couple of plays later.
But you also have to look at the offense situationally and you can see that all is not lost. Miami faced a long field on most of their drives, even starting inside their own five several times. In most of those situations the offense was successful in reversing field position and giving the game back to their defense with a long field facing the Vikings. That’s not sexy, but with the brand of football the Dolphins are playing early in the season it’s not a bad thing either. This reminds me a little bit of the 2008 version of the team.
That being said, this offense feels like it is right on the cusp, it just can’t stop shooting itself in its own foot. I also wonder how much of the conservative gameplan emanated from the setting and what a hostile environment that dome can become. It seemed like Miami was happy to nurse the lead, shorten the game and get the hell out of dodge. They were very successful in that too, you notice that the Dolphins were practically going to the 4th quarter before the Lions and Eagles went into the half?
All in all, Brandon Marshall probably could have been a little bit more involved and I think Chad Henne threw the ball well enough today to warrant a few more than 15 attempts, but it was also a tough road game in a loud dome so I’m giving Dan Henning one more week to open things up a bit before I start to wonder if this offense is going to be too conservative for its own good.
The offensive game-ball easily goes to Jake Long who systematically dismantled Jared Allen. Allen should thank his lucky stars that Jake Long isn’t a divisional foe because unless Chad Henne was scrambling to within arm’s length, Jared Allen may as well have not been at the stadium yesterday. Allen did end up with a sack, but he did it on the other side of the line, away from Jake Long. It’s always interesting to see a Pro Bowl left tackle face an elite end or outside linebacker, especially when your guy comes out on top. Today was especially fun because Long demonstrated his value by reducing one of the most frightening pass-rushers in the NFL to a non-factor for most of the game.
The Bottom Line
Here’s why Miami isn’t going to get any respect for this win: too many people in the mainstream media didn’t watch the game. If you go off of the box score and the story-lines that came from the AP report, you’ll see the Dolphins gave up 364 yards including 145 to Adrian Peterson who also scored a touchdown. The Fins were outgained 364-226, but Brett Favre turned it over four times and the Vikings managed to lose. That’s how it’s going to be interpreted. Favre beat the Vikings, not the Dolphins.
That’s fine though, this team seems to thrive under the radar. I’m sure Miami is happy to let you believe Brett Favre and the Vikings tripped over themselves and handed away a win, it makes it easier for the Dolphins to sneak up and sock you in the mouth. The facts though, if you actually watched the game, Chad Henne and the Dolphins offense handed the defense a 7-0 lead with a little less than five minutes left in the first quarter and the defense never gave the lead back.