If there's one thing we've come to expect as Dolphin fans, it's to understand that nothing ever comes easy in this league for this team. There have been times over the past two and a half years that the Dolphins have had opportunities to really take control of football games early on - but have failed to capitalize.
Yesterday was no different. With a 7-3 lead and on the cusp of another scoring drive, Chad Henne threw an interception that likely led to one thought in the collective minds of Dolphin fans - here we go again. To the Dolphins credit, though, the team battled for four quarter and for five extra minutes in overtime. And when all was said and done, the Dolphins found themselves walking out of Lambeau Field with a 23-20 overtime win over the Packers - the team's first overtime win since the infamous Greg Camarillo game-winner back in 2007.
Let's discuss some of the story lines from Sunday's win:
Pass rush comes up big time and time again
The Packers may be banged up. I won't dispute how bad they've been bitten by the injury bug. But with Aaron Rodgers and those talented receivers all healthy, this Green Bay offense - and their passing attack in particular - is very dangerous. The easiest way to contain an explosive passing attack? By disrupting the quarterback with pressure, of course.
That's exactly what the Dolphins were able to do on Sunday - and is a big reason why Rodgers only completed 55% of his pass attempts. Taking the stat a little further, Rodgers only completed 18 passes on 41 drop-backs - after factoring in three scrambles and five sacks.
The Dolphins were constantly pressuring Aaron Rodgers on Sunday. The team tallied five sacks and ten quarterback hits. Rookie Koa Misi picked p his third sack of the season, adding a QB it as well. Randy Starks picked up his second sack of 2010 while adding two quarterback hits.
But it was Cameron Wake, of course, who was the defensive star of the game for the Dolphins. Wake terrorized Aaron Rodgers all game long, abusing rookie Bryan Bulaga - Green Bay's 2010 first round pick - the entire day. Wake ended the game with three sacks, giving him six on the season (4th most in the league), to go with six quarterback hits.
The timing of Wake's sacks couldn't have been any better, either. The first sack knocked the Packers out of field goal range in the second quarter. His second came on a key third down in the fourth quarter of a tie game. Wake's final sack of the afternoon came on a third down in overtime to end Green Bay's only OT possession.
Cameron has quickly become the star we all thought he would be when we saw him flash in a number of game last year. On Sunday, Wake was unquestionably the player of the game for the Dolphins. I'm 100% sure of this comment: the Dolphins do not win this football without Wake. Period.
Offensive balance and efficiency
Outside of one poor throw by Chad Henne - and I'll touch on this more in a bit - the Dolphins were efficient on offense. We all knew that the Dolphins would look to run the football more and they did just that. Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams combined for 137 yards rushing on 32 carries (4.28 ypc) and helped keep the Dolphins balanced on offense.
The Dolphins ran 78 offensive plays and had a near even 50/50 split - 41 pass plays and 37 run plays. That kind of balance resulted in 381 yards of total offense. Yes, the Dolphins again failed to score more than two touchdowns for the fifth time in five games. But this was the best all-around offensive effort of the season.
You also have to give credit to offensive coordinator Dan Henning for this kind of offensive balance. Did he make some dumb decisions? A few. I especially did not like how the Dolphins decided to run three pass plays to open overtime, resulting in a three and out. How do you not let Ronnie Brown or Ricky Williams take a handoff on that opening possession of OT?
Still, head coach Tony Sparano had positive thoughts to share about Henning, saying after the game, "I thought Dan really did a good job this entire day. There were some situations where he needed to be a little bit more unconventional, and he did that, that throw to Fasano being one of those situations."
That "unconventional" play Sparano is referring to is a perfect example of why it's hard to criticize play-calling often. We're talking about the well designed and executed play in the fourth quarter when Chad Henne rolled right and then threw back to the left, connecting with Anthony Fasano - who used a great Jake Long block to help find the endzone and give the Dolphins a fourth quarter lead. The timing of the call was absolutely perfect, coming against a Green Bay blitz and leaving few defenders for Fasano to dodge en route to pay dirt.
We sit here today and praise the call because it worked. But what if it didn't? We all know fans would be killing Henning if that play fails. But I guess that's just the nature of the business.
Looking at the game as a whole, though, you have to admit Henning had a strong day - effectively mixing runs with passes en route to a 380 yard, 23 point effort in a hostile environment.
Special teams units bounce back
When Brandon Fields had his first punt of the afternoon tipped, Dolphin fans everywhere were probably expecting more of the same out of Miami's special teams units. But Darren Rizzi's units bounced back and put together a very good day - highlighted, of course, by Dan Carpenter's field goals of 53, 41, and 43 yards (including the game winner in overtime).
Carpenter wasn't the only bright spot of special teams. Rookie Nolan Carroll had his best day as the team's return man, averaging 26 yards per kickoff return - including returns of 36 and 37 yards. He's now locked into that return job and should only get better as he gains experience. On the flip side, coverage on kickoffs was much improved as well, holding GB to under 20 yards per kickoff return. What do those numbers mean in terms of field position? On kickoffs alone, the Dolphins average starting field position was the 31 yard line while Green Bay's was the 24 yard line.
More quick thoughts on Sunday's win:
- Chad Henne had a decent day. Did he miss on some passes? Yes. But he also made some excellent throws. He admitted after the game that the interception was on a pass that he needed to throw more to the outside. I also thought he was late in getting the ball out - perhaps a problem with anticipating throws. Even still, I saw more positives than negatives out of Henne this week.
- Brandon Marshall. Enough said.
- What a job done by Miami's offensive line in protecting Chad Henne. Henne was only hit a handful of times and was given all day to throw on a number of occasions. That was simply A+ pass protection.
- Yes, that was one of the worst spots ever on that 4th & 1 run by Ronnie Brown. I really have to question what Ed Hochuli was looking at when he reviewed the spot. But the refs redeemed themselves when they called (correctly, I might add) the huge penalty on GB for lining up over the long snapper. If that penalty isn't called, I'm not sure how this game unfolds.
- Regardless of if there should have been safety help, Vontae Davis bit badly on that double move by Greg Jennings that resulted in an 80+ yard touchdown. He also got victimized on GB's game-tying drive late in the fourth quarter on that fourth down completion to Jennings. Big deal? Not really. Vontae's still getting better and better. The amazing thing here is how surprised we all were that he gave up those two big completions. That says a lot about how far he's come since last year.
- Dolphins on third down: 6/14 (42%). Packers on third and fourth down: 5/15 (33%).
- I 100% disagree with Sparano's decision not to try a bomb into the endzone to close out the fourth quarter. Pass protection was dominant all day long so that's a non-issue. Why not try one long heave? You never know - Marshall could make the catch. The Dolphins could draw a flag. There's no reason not to make the attempt. Bad decision there.
- I realized today how much this defense missed Channing Crowder. He wasn't all over the field by any means. But he has an obvious role with this team as a solid run defender and vocal leader. As the number one ILB, Crowder is a disappointment. As a compliment to Karlos Dansby, he's just what this defense needs.
- Speaking of Dansby, he gave us all a scare in overtime when he left with a knee injury. But he's going to be just fine. Multiple reports said that Dansby was riding the bike on the sideline while the Dolphins were putting together their game-winning drive in OT and was seen walking without a limp in the locker room. Big sigh of relief right there.
The Dolphins sit at 3-2 now but remain in third place in the AFC East - perhaps the league's best division. Still lots of football to come, though, and a big game with the Steelers looms next weekend. This team is proving to be very resilient. But are they ready to take that next step?