There is one game that the Miami Dolphins have played against the San Diego Chargers that stands out to the world of football fans. The overtime thriller that Miami lost. It was the game that highlighted the “hook and lateral” play and the image of a worn out can’t walk Kellen Winslow being carried off the field, two arms wrapped around his team mates. Yes, that was some game. But for me, it’s not the one that stands out.
For me, that game goes to the playoff game in San Diego where Pete Stoyanovich missed the game winning field goal amid the hovering smoke from a fired firework canister that had been set off after a Charger lead change. I wasn’t home and couldn’t watch that game, I listened to it in a car. The image is still etched in my memory if for no other reason than the fact the only image I saw of the game was that failed attempt.
Why do I bring this up now? Why playoffs when the Dolphins are so far from being a contender this year that it is ridiculous? Simple. Tomorrow is Tony Sparano’s playoff game. Win and you keep going. Lose and you may not make it to New York in two weeks. Personally, I don’t think Sparano will lose his job until years end. Too many unknown variables in the mind of Stephen Ross and the fact that Ross has already flirted with the idea once already says another public image nightmare is not what he needs.
There are keys to any victory. They usually begin and end with execution and play calls. Sunday will be no different. Player match-up is also a key and for the Dolphins, that match-up ends with the play of the offensive line. Here are my five keys to a Miami win.
5: Defensive line: There has been no pressure from the Dolphins front this year. Cameron Wake has been owned by a rookie, a veteran, and second team tackle. He has owned no one. Well, maybe he has owned Marc Columbo in practices…but I can’t be certain. Right now, Wake’s value may be in the form of a trade if the Dolphins continue to lose. Send him to a contender. You build teams through drafts and that means you need draft picks. For now, and for the foreseeable future, Wake needs to step it up. Perhaps this is a sophomore slump. Maybe not. But tomorrow’s game will ride on him getting pressure on Phillip Rivers.
Up front Paul Soliai is not playing like a man who is making a guaranteed 12.4 million this year and he sure isn’t playing like the contract he was asking for, FROM ARMANDO SALGUERO in his interview with David “No Armando I have not talked to him but I’m glad he will tell you when I do” Canter. Soliai’s play is indicative of the line as a whole. In fact the only one playing at a level that was expected is Jared O’drick who actually looks like he could develop into a star down the road. Jason Taylor? Aside from his sack in the Houston game…pedestrian and old.
The Dolphins front line must make Rivers throw early and they must contain Ryan Mathews. If they don’t, then you can expect Norv Turner to roll out Mike Tolbert and wear the Dolphins line down. It starts up front and will end up front…on the other side of the ball.
4: There is no question that the Dolphins have talent on offense but that is not fully realized and is very underutilized. Forget the three dropped TD passes by Brandon Marshall. The issue with the Dolphins offense is what they don’t do. Use Reggie Bush. Bush is electric with the ball and yet the Dolphins prefer to use him more as a straight up off center/guard runner. Something that he is not. Perhaps the coaches feel an obligation to Bush to keep feeding him the rock in that capacity for all the after practice practice that Bush put in during training camp. Either way, it’s not working and is a gross injustice to the other members of the team and the fans. Bush is a seem threat receiver and a flat option. So where is it?
The Dolphins, specifically Brian Daboll and Tony Sparano need to stop playing games and get him in the game. The team has playmakers and yet we see no plays being made. It’s funny, Chad Henne spent two years being set up to fail under Dan Henning and is now starting to show signs of life under Brian Daboll. He has Brandon Marshall on one side, Davone Bess in the slot, and a budding star in Brian Hartline on the other side. Daniel Thomas looks to be a great addition and an improvement over Ronnie Brown and of course there is Bush. Yet the play calling doesn’t utilize the strength of all this talent. Having them all on the field creating mismatches. Of course, that could be the result of our number key as well.
3: The safety position was a question mark coming in to the 2011 season and four games in, it’s still a question mark. Chris Clemons is back from injury which has some fans and media excited that a change will do the team good. Great but as I recall before Clemons got hurt, he couldn’t decisively beat out Reshad Jones for the job in training camp. So what changed? The play of Jones? I will reserve my right to judge that until I see Clemons on the field. The good news is I think that Clemons is one of those guys who may play better than he practices. Let’s hope that is the case.
Simply put the safeties need to step up especially considering that the cornerback’s can’t cover an old woman with a blanket. Nolan Carroll has been absolutely atrocious and while he is supposed to be getting safety support he is so far off position that QB’s can exploit him repeatedly. Vontae’ Davis practiced with the first team this week so the Dolphins should see better play at the corners. Which is a good thing considering that once again the Dolphins will face an elite WR in Vincent Jackson.
2: Somehow the Dolphins need to find a way to cover the TE. No, Antonio Gates will not be playing this week but Randy McMichael will be. While Randy Mac is no Gates, neither was Evan Moore of Cleveland or Ben Watson or insert the name of a pee wee 7 year old here. Put in the simplest of terms, the opposing TE for any NFL team has to be licking their lips just seeing the Dolphins on their schedule. It’s like being told in advance that you will undoubtedly be a part of the ESPN and NFL Network highlight reel. I don’t have any answers. Maybe play a nickel package and assign the TE to the extra DB? Can you actually play man to man coverage with a dedicated back on the TE? I don’t know but I do know that nothing has worked for the Dolphins in what 10 years it seems?
I also know that if you play fantasy football, Randy Mac would be smart addition this week.
1: OFFENSIVE LINE PLAY has to improve and they need to improve without the addition of Nate Garner as an extra right tackle/TE. Sparano defended the play of Marc Columbo this week, perhaps that was because Garner was there to help him. The reality is that whatever Sparano is seeing isn’t drawing rave reviews from anyone else. Columbo may not be the entire issue but he is a big part of it. The Dolphins can’t get any rhythm going on offense when the QB is getting hit every play. Daniel Thomas will be on crutches by years end with pounding he is taking and the fact that the team is using Garner in this role is the reason why Thomas and Reggie Bush are not lining up together.
Forget “redzone” failures most of those issues can be tied to the personnel you have in the game. The Dolphins rarely have Bush and Thomas in the back-field when they are close to the goal line. I blame the coaches for not implementing better formations. How hard is it to line three wide with Bush on the outside and Marshall one on one on the other? Snap, Bush drops back two yards, quick hit to Bush, the other two WR’s hold their blocks for a second, Bush will make the other player miss. TD. Or sweep Bush to one side or the other. Stack one side and run to the weak side in a counter. There are so many options and so far we see, Lex Hilliard up the middle for half a yard, fade route to Marshall, quick cross to Marshall. Where is Hartline? Where is Fasano?
It all comes down to the play of the oline and frankly they haven’t played like a unit all year including pre-season. If they don’t play even halfway decent this week, the Dolphins will lose again.
Miami – 25 Chargers 17
Call it a gut feeling or maybe I ate too much pizza last night. While I don’t share the local media’s commenting that the Chargers are a beatable team or are not that good, I think that the Dolphins will simply find a way to win what will likely be an ugly game for both teams.