Like many of you, I'm still fired up! And it's not that the Dolphins have won back-to-back games for the first time since November of '06. It's who they beat. Can anyone tell me the last time a team defeated the previous season's conference championship teams in back-to-back games? It might have never even been done before; I honestly don't know. But this Miami Dolphins team did it. They did it despite all the doubt that people still had about the Fins as they come off of a 25-point victory over the Patriots in New England. People wanted to say that the Dolphins needed a "gimmick" play to pull off that win.
Now we can all just sit back and enjoy the praise that will be showered on the Dolphins over the next few days. Damn it feels good!
Let's get to the headlines from Sunday's 17-10 victory over the Chargers:
THE 'WILDCAT' RETURNS
Two week after running this "gimmick" formation 6 times against the Patriots for 119 yards, the Dolphins broke out the 'Wildcat' 10 more times. Sure, they only gained 48 yards - 4.8 yards per play. But they did prove that it isn't a gimmick. The Chargers definitely prepared for it - and it showed. But 5 out of 10 times, the play resulted in a 4+ yard gain. And one of the times that it went for 0 yards, it was because Ricky Williams was looking to throw the ball but didn't have the time needed.
One thing that gets overlooked in this formation - mainly because our super-stud RB is taking the snap out of a shotgun formation - is that the offensive line is unbalanced to the right. Therefore, even if the opposing defense knows that the play is coming and has prepared for it, solid execution of the play will still result in positive yards. If the offensive line handles each of their assignments, then whoever the ball carrier is should be able to at least get to the second level of the defense - as Ronnie Brown did multiple times.
There's just one more interesting thing to note about this formation to close out the 'Wildcat' talk for this post. On Football Night in America, Peter King said that he spoke to Tony Sparano sometime after today's win and that Sparano said there's still more that can be done out of this formation. So no, it's no "gimmick." But if opposing teams want to think it is, then that's fine with me.
THE RUNNING GAME ON A ROLL
What a terrific performance by this offensive line today.
Sure, you probably thought I'd start this section of the post talking about the beast - Ronnie Brown. But the guys up front have to be given their credit. It's amazing when you think about it. When our backs are getting hit behind the line, we all scream about how poor our offensive line is playing. But when they are opening up running lanes for Ronnie & Ricky, we don't give those guys up front the credit they deserve.
Well they deserve a boatload of credit for their performance yesterday. The front 5 simply dominated, at times, the 13th ranked run defense heading into this game. Jake Long continues to improve week in and week out. Is it any coincidence that on Miami's final, game-sealing drive, the offense gave the ball to Ronnie on two 3rd-and-2 situations and ran behind Long to pick up critical 1st downs? Probably not.
Samson Satele also really impressed me. He's continuing to prove that he can handle big nose tackles on a consistent basis. And Ike Ndukwe, who we all thought would be benched in favor of Evan Mathis, is showing us that he is capable of being this team's starting right guard.
And now to our absolute beast: Ronnie Brown. Are there any more doubters out there? Or is his 4.9 ypc season average finally silencing the critics?
Seriously, what can I say about Ronnie? He's everything you'd want out of a running back. He continues to show great vision and terrific patience. I simply love his fire and intensity. He absolutely leveled Antonio Cromartie on that one run. And how about that wide grin on his face at the line of scrimmage BEFORE he took the snap and scored his touchdown? His confidence and swagger amazes me sometimes - considering he's coming back from a torn ACL. But you sure couldn't tell from his play these past 2 weeks.
Oh, and to those critics who are out there (there's probably still some), please don't come here and tell me that it's the "gimmick" formation that's the cause of Ronnie's outburst. Brown took 19 conventional hand-offs and tallied 93 yards yesterday - a 4.9 ypc average. Enough said.
DEFENSE MAKES A STATEMENT
There's no doubt in my mind that the drubbing that this defense went through against the Cardinals a few weeks ago is acting as motivation. This is a young defense - but one that's filled with a lot of pride thanks to the key veterans. And even after their performance last game, critics didn't want to give them credit. After all, the Pats were "Brady-less."
But what about now? What about after holding an offense that averaged 34.5 points over their first 4 games to just 10 points? Somebody had the stat in an earlier post - the Dolphins held San Diego to their fewest point total in a game since 2005. That's damn impressive.
When you talk about Sunday's performance by this unit, you have to immediately start by talking about the goalline stand. Think about the situation. It would have been the perfect situation for the Dolphins to crumble in. The Chargers had just scored a TD following a missed FG by Dan Carpenter. Davone Bess then fumbles on the ensuing kick return. The Chargers take over at Miami's 25 and instantly get into a "goal to go" situation.
Then, on 4th and goal from the 1, the Dolphins are able to stuff arguably the best running back of the millennium. This was, by far, the biggest play of the game and you have to give the defense credit. Past Dolphin teams fold in that situations. Instead, Yeremiah Bell, Vonnie Holliday, and Channing Crowder (among others) step up and make a play. I'll be honest - it was at that point that I knew this team was totally different than the most recent teams of seasons' past.
Speaking of Yeremiah Bell, this man is a play-maker. He really stepped up in key situations on Sunday - making crucial pass deflections as well as getting involved in some crucial plays in run support. San Diego's final possession is really a great example of how valuable Bell is. First, on 2nd-and-10, Bell stops Darren Sproles after just a gain of 3. Then, on 3rd-and-7, Bell breaks up a pass intended for Manumaleuna. Right now, Bell is playing at a pro-bowl level.
Speaking of playing at a high level, I do have a confession to make. I was dead wrong about Matt Roth. He's really developed into a solid outside linebacker. He makes plays in run support. And he always seems to be pressuring the QB. He even was out in the flat once or twice in coverage - which impressed me considering his size. Credit Paul Pasqualoni and his defensive staff for coming up with the idea and then working with Roth throughout camp to prepare him. He's getting better and better every time I see him out there.
You have to be impressed with how this offense, as a whole, is performing. Remember how I was wondering which players not named Ronnie or Ricky would make plays for this offense? It seems like, at different times, everyone wants to step up. Greg Camarillo is proving that he can be a solid, reliable receiver in this league - in the Wes Welker kind of mold. I actually saw a Chargers fan post that he wished they still had Greg. Not a bad signing by the previous regime. On his TD, he ran a terrific route, and made a tough catch on a perfectly placed pass from Chad Pennington.
Ted Ginn is alive and well. Sure, his yardage totals aren't where we'd like. But 7 catches is nice to see. And his final one was most impressive - picking up 14 on 3rd-and-4 on the final drive of the game.
Speaking of that final drive, you have to love the killer instinct that this offense showed. To seal the game, the Dolphins had to convert 4 3rd downs. And they converted each one, chewing up the final 6 minutes of the game and keeping SD's offense on the sideline.
And you can't say enough about Chad Pennington's performance. The offensive line did a great job keeping Chad upright. And Pennington took advantage, throwing for 228 yards and averaging 7.86 ypa. Most importantly, he doesn't make any mistakes. He's only thrown 1 interception through 4 games - and that was a lob into the endzone trying to pull off an impressive comeback victory over the Jets. Since then, Pennington has gone 69 attempts without a turnover. He's just what this offense needed and I feel like an idiot for ever doubting his acquisition!
-Great kickoff coverage by Miami, limiting Darren Sproles - who entered 2nd in the NFL in average yards per kick return - to just 23 yards per return.
-I love Tony Sparano's decision to go for it on 4th-and-1 from SD's 22 yard line during the 2nd quarter. It was 3-3 and he could have easily decided to let Dan Carpenter kick the FG. But he showed "fortitude" - if you know what I mean - and gave it to the beast (Ronnie) who picked up 3. Two plays later, it was 10-3 Fins.
-What a block by Ricky on Ronnie's TD run. Quentin Jammer wanted no part of Ricky and immediately changed his direction in pursuit - and Ricky still got shot in.
-The defense getting SD's offense to go 3-and-out after Miami's first TD was HUGE - an allowed enough time for Miami to drive down the field for their 2nd TD before the half. What a day by the "D."
-Anyone see Sparano's celebration on the sidelines as the Fins were kneeling the ball? You think he wanted this game in a bad way? He was fired up - I love it!!
I've rambled on for far too long. So I'll just end this by saying that I honestly don't know what this season might amount to. But this is the first time in a long time that I can confidently say that the Miami Dolphins can realistically defeat any team in the NFL.
What an amazing feeling this is!!