Dolphins knock off Saints to complete unbeaten preseason

We all know that it's only the preseason.  And we saw the Saints decide to sit most of their starters for Thursday night's game.  But Tony Sparano believes in winning every game that you play.  With the Dolphins 10-7 win over the Saints in New Orleans on Thursday night, his team accomplished that very feat - finishing the 2009 preseason with a 4-0 record.

As always, though, there were good things and not so good things to take out of this game.  Below I will touch on some of these things.  Be sure to give us your thoughts as well.

SEAN SMITH IS A MONSTER
He may only be a rookie and will surely have his "rookie moments" at times this season when he makes a mistake leading to a big play for the opposition.  But we saw just how special Sean Smith can be in this league tonight when he made that truly remarkable one-handed interception in the endzone - his second interception in three games.  What I saw on this one play - which you can see right here - was a rookie in perfect position to make a play and a cornerback who clearly has spent time playing receiver.  As you all know, Smith actually began his college career at Utah as a receiver.  Yeah - it showed tonight.

But just because he's a rookie - and 2nd round pick, in fact - doesn't mean that we should not have high expectations for Smith in his first year.  He's possesses a rare combination of size, speed, and hands that makes him this secondary's biggest playmaker already.  Like I said, he has two interceptions in just three games this preseason - and both came on throws into the endzone.  The Dolphins haven't had a playmaker like this in the secondary in a long time - and he's only going to get better as he gets more experience.  Yes - permission to get overly excited about how very good Smith might become has officially been granted to all of us.

FIRST-TEAM DEFENSE HAS UPS AND DOWNS
Miami's starting defense played together for just about a quarter and a half tonight.  And while they didn't surrender any points to a mixture of Saints' backups, they weren't great, either.  I was satisfied with their performance against the run.  The starters held New Orleans running backs to just 19 yards rushing on 7 carries.  And five of their seven carries went for two yards or less.

But the secondary still has to tighten up.  No team's reserves should put up 89 yards passing against a first-team defense in a little over a quarter.  Of course, 43 of those 89 yards came on a well-timed screen pass that was called against a blitz from the Dolphins.  But even still, Mark Brunell and Joey Harrington have no right combining to go 5/8 passing for 89 yards against Miami's starting defense.

With that said, however, you do need to look at just who was making those receptions.  Here's a key stat for you.  The starting defense, when playing as a whole, did not allow a completion to a wide receiver.  Of the five passes completed against them, three were to New Orleans' tight ends and two were to Lynell Hamilton - the team's running back.  So don't go blaming the corners.  It's the safeties and linebackers who will have the finger pointed at them.  You can't let backup tight ends like Billy Miller and Buck Ortega catch 3 passes for 33 yards against your starters.  That's not acceptable.

But I'll chalk this up to either the safeties, Yeremiah Bell and Gibril Wilson, still getting comfortable with each other or the coaching staff not wanting to show too much in terms of defensive schemes because these two teams meet in the regular season.  At least, that's what I'm hoping.

HENNE LOOKS MUCH BETTER
After a very poor outing last week, many eyes were on Chad Henne's performance tonight.  How would the young quarterback bounce back?  Clearly, he has both a lot of confidence in himself and a short memory because he had a solid night on Thursday.

His final line of 11/16 for 89 yards isn't overly impressive.  But in the first half, getting to play with many of the starters, Henne connected on 8 of 10 for 68 yards and led a touchdown drive.  More importantly, he looked more decisive with the football, more confident in his reads, and more accurate with his throws.  No, it wasn't against New Orleans' starters.  But that doesn't diminish the fact that he just looked more comfortable and was on the money with his throws.  Oh, and I love how Henne chewed out Brandon London after London failed to make the proper read on a quick throw from Henne.  He saw the blitz and, clearly, London was the "hot" receiver.  But Brandon didn't make the necessary adjustments and the quick pass fell incomplete.  As they walked to the sidelines, you saw Henne act like the leader a QB should be by letting Brandon know what he did wrong.

A solid bounce-back effort for the young gun.

HARTLINE NO LOCK ANYMORE TO START
This time last week, many fans were ready to lock in rookie Brian Hartline as the opening day starting receiver opposite of Ted Ginn.  But Greg Camarillo and Davone Bess stated their cases on Thursday night.  Camarillo made a brilliant catch on a perfect pass from Chad Pennington early in this game that went for 17 yards along the right sideline.  Not to be out-done, Bess made a beautiful diving grab along the left sideline on a 3rd and 4 play that went for seven yards and a 1st down.  Again, a perfect pass from Pennington.  For Bess, though, that was one of 5 catches on the night - as he showcased just what the term "QB friendly" means.  He doesn't go deep, but he finds openings, runs good routes, and makes plays when he's asked to.  Ideally, though, I will continue to believe that Bess is an ideal slot receiver more so than an "X" or "Z" receiver.

Hartline, on the other hand, was shut out on the night.  He only saw one pass thrown his way and he dropped it.  Did he also "drop" his shot at starting in Atlanta next Sunday?  It's just a guess, but I'd say he certainly did.

QUICK HITS
Here are many of my "quick" thoughts on tonight's game:

  • Charlie Anderson locked up his roster spot tonight.  Entering the night, I wouldn't have been shocked to see Charlie given a pink slip this weekend.  But he was flying off the edge all night, picking up two sacks.  Now if he can just refrain from holding on returns.
  • The Dolphins did a great job all night of getting pressure on the Saints, resulting in eight sacks for Miami.  Tony McDaniel showed off his pass-rushing skills from the defensive end spot, picking up two on the night.  William Kershaw continued to quietly have a solid preseason, sacking the QB once and pressuring him at least one other time.  I just don't know if there is room for four inside linebackers.  And the other three - Channing Crowder, Akin Ayodele, and Reggie Torbor - are all locks.  Tough decision to be made here.
  • Glad to see Rod Wright pick up a sack.  That'll be his parting gift - as he's likely on his way out come Saturday when the cuts are announced.
  • Erik Walden looked good, too - both in the base defense and on special teams.  But can the Dolphins keep Cameron Wake, Quentin Moses, Charlie Anderson, and Erik Walden?  Maybe - but that's a lot of outside linebackers.
  • I hate artificial turf.  I don't care if it's astroturf or "field turf."  Vontae Davis is lucky to escape with what is likely a minor injury.  He downplayed the injury after the game - which is good news.  But damn, let's just find a way to get natural grass on every field.  Sound good?
  • Paul Soliai looks like a different player out there.  He seems much quicker and more agile but is still getting a good push up the middle despite dropping weight.  That's a good sign.
  • My boy, John Nalbone, dropped a pass he should have hauled in.  But Joey Haynos didn't do anything to separate himself.  So I'm remaining squarely on the "John Nalbone bandwagon" - straight from West Long Branch, NJ all the way to South Florida, baby!
  • Punt coverage remains a big problem.  The Dolphins were doing a decent job for most of the game.  But it only takes one big play to change the outcome of a game.  I'm sick and tired of seeing poor coverage on kicks and punts.
  • I'm glad the preseason is over and the Dolphins avoided any serious injuries.  Now let's get to some REAL football!!!!
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