A lot of people will likely want to focus on the negatives in the Dolphins 27-17 loss to the Patriots on Sunday. And I'll obviously highlight some of the more glaring ones myself. But let's not sell this team short. The Dolphins went up to New England and stood toe-to-toe with a team with superior talent. And despite everything that went down, the Dolphins had the football with three and a half minutes left in the game, needing only a touchdown to tie. That's not too shabby.
Of course, there are no m oral victories in the National Football League. And I think head coach Tony Sparano said it best:
"Close in this game just doesn't get it. That's why these guys have a lot of banners out there right now. They figure out a way to win those close games. From our end, we understand where we are right now."
"We're a good football team. We're really close to being a really good football team. But we've got to get it to turn.''
Let's talk about some of the story lines from Sunday's game.
Can we get a little pressure, people?
You will look at the box score from this game and see that the Dolphins registered two sacks. But even that figure is misleading. Personally, here's the important question to ask: did the Dolphins make Tom Brady uncomfortable at all in the pocket? The answer, obviously, is a resounding "no."
How many times did we have to sit and watch Brady sit in the pocket for three or four seconds? How many times did we see Brady have the time to stand tall in the pocket and pat the football two or three times before firing a completion to one of his receivers? Far too many times, folks. Far too many.
After the game, Sparano himself acknowledged that a lack of pressure on Brady was a huge problem. But he also explained why the Dolphins couldn't just continually blitz left and right like some were probably hoping to see.
"We need to have more pressure on the quarterback," Sparano said. "Against a guy like Tom Brady, you can't come out there and just blitz the guy. This ain't his first rodeo. You've got to be able to win some of these [one-on-one] deals. You've got to win some of these five-man rush situations. We've got to do a better job of getting pressure on the passer, period."
Randy Starks was among those who echoed Sparano's sentiments.
"He had far too much time sitting back there," said Starks. "When you have the one-on-one, you've got to win."
Reggie Torbor was another Dolphin who believes that a lack of pressure on Brady was a big problem. In fact, even Brady himself said after the game that he really didn't feel any pressure, telling the media:
"There weren't too many pressures or hits, or anything like that. I had a lot of time to sit back there and make the throws."
But for some reason, Joey Porter - whose mouth I might be beginning to grow tired of - doesn't think that anything was wrong with Miami's pass rush:
"As a team we got pressure on them. But not enough. We could have made more plays out there. But it wasn't the lack of pass rush why we lost the game."
Ugh! Of course the lack of a consistent pass rush wasn't the one reason why the Dolphins lost. But it's among the biggest reasons. If Joey honestly thinks that the Dolphins got enough pressure on Brady, then I think he needs to take some time off or something because he's delusional. His head coach, teammates, and even the opposing quarterback all agree that the Dolphins really didn't do a good job at all pressuring the passer. And in my humble opinion, the lack of consistent pressure was the single biggest defensive problem on Sunday.
The 'Wildcat' and 'WildPat'
You know, maybe this Pat White experiment has some hope after all? That's what many Dolphin fans - those who have doubted White - were left saying following Sunday's game in which we saw some extensive Pat White snaps.
While White is still yet to complete a pass, we saw the kind of play-making ability White has and the new wrinkle - the spread option - that White introduces into this offense. White had a dazzling 33 yard run on Miami's first touchdown drive. And that drive was capped by a Ricky Williams 15 yard touchdown run in which White took the snap and ran the option to the right side, executing a perfectly timed pitch to Ricky, who then did the rest by powering his way into the endzone to tie the game at 10.
If nothing else, this is just another wrinkle now that opposing defensive coordinators must prepare for when facing the Dolphins. But at its best, this new wrinkle has the potential to gain some of that elusive "chunk yardage" that this offense seems to have so much trouble gaining.
White actually looked comfortable running the ball, too. He showed good vision, terrific acceleration, and even some toughness when running between the tackles. It's enough to get me excited about what this new wrinkle could become as White progresses.
All told, White took eight snaps at quarterback. On those plays, the Dolphins gained 60 yards of offense - including 52 of the 80 yards gained on that first Miami touchdown drive. Not too shabby.
On the flip side, the 'Wildcat' wasn't very effective at all. The Dolphins gained just 11 yards on 10 'Wildcat' plays. But they did lose 11 on the attempted reverse pass in which Henne was sacked. So if you take that away - which is a high risk, high reward, kind of play - the 'Cat gained 18 yards on 9 snaps. It did score a touchdown, though, when Ronnie Brown threw a 1 yard pass to Joey Haynos. And I really like the potential of more 'Wildcat' snaps inside the red zone because of Ronnie's ability to accurately throw. But the 'Wildcat' was bottled up effectively for the third week in a row.
To be fair, though, the entire running game was bottled up due to the lack of any real passing attack. Ronnie and Ricky combined for just 81 yards and averaged only 3.68 yards per carry. So it's not so much that the 'Wildcat' is dead as it is Miami's inability to run the football right now due to defenses making it a priority to shut down the ground attack.
Passing continues to be an issue with mediocre receivers
Chad Henne's stat line wasn't terrible. Of course, 42 of those yards were garbage time passing yards. But even still, I like what I have seen out of Henne thus far.
Henne continues to impress with his arm strength. There's no question that he has a cannon. His accuracy is still off at times - but I see the number of inaccurate throws going down each week it seems, which is a positive sign. But most of all, I have been impressed with his poise and toughness in tight situations.
Take that final drive with the score 24-17, for example. In a hostile environment with the game on the line, all Henne did was put the ball right on the money on to two of his receivers. But, yet again, Miami's receivers failed to make the plays that must be made to knock off good football teams. Brian Hartline dropped what was a catchable ball and would have resulted in a first down. Then two plays later, it was Ted Ginn dropped a catchable ball that would have also resulted in a first down and extended that potential game-tying drive.
Was either catch an easy catch to make? No. But Henne put the football right where it had to be each time to give only his receiver a chance to make the catch. Both passes hit the receivers in their hands. Both catches have to be made.
But more than anything else, those two plays just emphasize what the Dolphins must address in the offseason. They need that true "go-to" receiver that good NFL teams have. They need to give their young (potential franchise) quarterback some help out there. All he can do is stand tough in the pocket and put the football right where it needs to be. He did that twice on a potential game-tying drive and his receivers failed him. It's that simple.
With all that said, Henne still has issues to iron out himself. For example, he can't run backwards when under immense pressure. He needs to learn to either throw the ball away or at least reduce the negative yardage by going down rather than backwards. Obviously, his use of that "fourth timeout" was costly in a crucial moment of the game - resulting in a five yard penalty. But even still, he showed the mental toughness to put that mistake behind him and make a throw to Ginn that a good receiver has to make.
The fact of the matter remains that the Dolphins simply don't have the receivers to get the job done. And until they do, this offense will struggle. Teams will key on the run - as we've seen these past three or four weeks - and will force Chad Henne to beat them. I think he has the talent to do so. But he needs his supporting cast to make some plays.
TURNING POINT OF THE GAME
The Dolphins had just put together a 16 play, 66 yard, 10 minute touchdown drive to take a 17-16 lead. Leave it to this defense to give the lead right back.
On the ensuing New England possession, on the third play of the drive, Tom Brady connected with Randy Moss on a crossing route - in which Brady had a ton of time throw - and Moss stiffed-armed Vontae Davis and was off to the races for a 71 yard touchdown. The Dolphins never recovered. Without question, that play was Sunday's turning point of the game.
Some more quick hit thoughts on Sunday's game:
- I know the secondary didn't perform well today. But I'm very excited about the futures of Sean Smith and Vontae Davis. Vontae's interception was a spectacular play. And he even impressed Randy Moss, who said after the game about Vontae, "Look, I'm heading out of this league. You're coming in. You're going to be a good player. Keep working."
- So why was Moss single-covered so much? Tony Sparano said after the game that "you can't double them all." And that's exactly it. When the Patriots have 5 guys going out in routes, the Dolphins don't have too many options. Should they have had a deep safety more often? Probably. But a deep safety doesn't help on Randy's 70 yard touchdown off of a crossing route. And Vontae was step for step with Randy on his first big reception. He just didn't get his head around quick enough and Randy made a terrific one-handed catch. What can you do?
- The Dolphins converted 52% of their 3rd downs (9/17). That's pretty damn good.
- Dan Carpenter continues to earn his "DC$" nickname. Anyone want to argue about it at this point?
- Joey Haynos? Ain't nothing wrong with that. I want to see some more of him in the coming weeks.
- I'm still not a fan of Ricky Williams taking the 'Wildcat' snap. I think I've seen enough of it. Ronnie just has a knack for it - let's stick to him as the 'Wildcat' orchestrator.
- Did the Dolphins miss Jason Ferguson and Channing Crowder or were the Dolphins just too concerned about the pass? Either way, the Pats averaged 4.5 yards per carry on the ground. Not acceptable.
- Still some questionable play-calling. But the thing is - if those play-calls work, nobody would be calling for Dan Henning's head like some were during the game. He's a genius if a play works; an idiot if it doesn't. Is that fair?
- With that said, I HATED the quick screen to Davone Bess on a 3rd & 19. At least take a shot deep. In fact, why didn't we see at least one deep pass attempted during the game?
- Last word about the "clock" controversy before halftime: it's not a controversy. When the football hit the ground on the incomplete pass, there was still one second left on the clock. Period. Sure, if it's in Miami, the operator would run that second off. But props to Gillette Stadium's clock operator for being alert and stopping the clock as soon as the ball hit the ground. That's a benefit of home field advantage. If the roles were reversed and we were at home, I'd hope our clock operator would be as alert.