Although the Miami Dolphins lost on Monday night to a hated New England Patriots team, the heart and soul of the Dolfan was not crushed. Chad Henne had seemingly the best game of his respected career throwing for over 400 yards with 2 touchdowns and rushing for 59 yards with 1 touchdown. The Dolphins scored a solid 24 points against a perennial Super Bowl contending team, however, the foundation of this team, which lies in the defense, showed no signs of brilliance. Tom Brady literally hurt this Miami defense in an excruciating fashion by throwing for over 500 yards and exploiting the weaknesses of the D by running a 2-minute drill, which had players cramping. The only question is "Why are we not extremely mad?" The answer to that questions lies with Chad Henne finally giving Miami a sense of hope by having the kind of game fans have been expecting for him to have since 2009. Dolfans are also optimistic about this defense, and believe it was only a fluke. So with the "first day jitters" out of they way, Miami will face off a against an up-in-coming Houston Texans team that hasn't lost to Miami to this day. The Dolphins now have the pressure mounted on their backs as this game may ultimately determine the way we see the season unfold.
Chad Henne: 30-49. 416 passing yards. 59 rushing yards, 3 touchdowns. Henne displayed solid accuracy throughout the night, putting passes in places where his receivers could make plays (ask Marshall and Fasano). Henne did make a few mistakes, including a near interception in the end zone in the third quarter, but there is very little to be upset about when it comes to Henne's season-opening performance. The 59 yards on the ground is the most ever by a Dolphins quarterback. Henne spread the ball out with ease throwing it to all of his starters multiple times ( Marshall: 7 times for 139 yards, Bess 5 times for 92 yards, Fasano 5 times for 82 yards, Bush 9 times for 56 yards, and Hartline 4 times for 47 yards) and looks to carryon his performance from Monday into Sunday.
Brandon Marshall: 7 catches for 139 yards. Marshall was targeted early and often, coming up with a fantastic grab to open the game, then continuing his assault on the Patriots secondary. This offense suits him much better than Henning's final performance. It seems as if the Henne-Marshall combination was not only a fluke during the pre-season, and I have a strong feeling it will only get better as the season progresses.
Anthony Fasano: The veteran tight end's 5 receptions for 82 yards were hard-earned. A one-handed catch on the opening drive, a magnificent grab while getting blasted in the 3rd. Both were breath-taking. Fasano is slowly trying to improve himself to become Henne’s security blanket
Reggie Bush: Bush had already made an impact on Miami fans when Carolina came for a visit in week 2 of the pre-season, and Reggie didn’t disappoint…on the receiving end of the ball. Bush caught the ball 9 times for 56 yards and a touchdown. However, his running ability was not captured as he carried the ball 11 times for a measly 39 yards
The Patriots turned Cameron Wake into a virtual no-show on Monday night. The Pro Bowler registered just 3 tackles and a coverage sack. Other than that, he was nowhere to be seen as the rookie, Nate Solder sat on him the entire game. Brady picked on both Benny Sapp and Nolan Carroll mercilessly on Monday. Carroll was giving unnecessary cushion a good portion of the night, while Sapp consistently had receivers behind him. Sapp was the one man-handled on the Brady-Welker 99-yard touchdown. Sap’s performance ended up being bad enough to cost him his job. Hopefully, the veteran presence of Will Allen back on the team will boost the morale of the team and sway them into playing like the top 5 defense they are. The only shining point of the defense was second year DE Jared Odrick who picked off Brady and took the ball to the 4-yard line. Overall, the defense played bad at best with players cramping up, linebackers getting stranded, and nickel backs getting beat by TE’s.
Matt Schaub: Schaub had a typical day at work going 17/24 for 220 yards and a Touchdown. However, Schaub did throw two interceptions to a seemingly mediocre Indianapolis defense. Although Schaub is no Tom Brady, his play on the field is nothing to scoff at and will have a big day on Sunday if the defense doesn’t sort out these "cramps."
Ben Tate: No Foster, no problem. Tate ran for 116 yards on 24 carries including a touchdown, and may become a big factor against Miami.
Andre Johnson: Johnson once again showed his remarkable receiving skills going over 90 yards with 7 receptions (13.6 AVG) and a touchdown.
The defensive front will face better offensive lines and have tougher times. But the group, newly shaped into a 3-4, was dominant. It hit Kerry Collins seven times, sacked him three times, forced three fumbles (one was a dropped snap), recovered two and generally allowed Collins very few comfortable snaps. Antonio Smith and Mario Williams were especially active and drew praise from the defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.
Jake Long vs. Mario Williams: Williams is still learning the linebacker position in Phillips' 3-4 scheme but looked pretty impressive, in spurts, on Sunday. However, it should be hard for Williams to get passes the best LT in the game. This matchup may turn out to be very interesting.
Sean Smith vs. Andre Johnson: Johnson started off the 2011 season in typical fashion, catching 11 passes for 95 yards against the Colts along with one touchdown reception. Smith is one of the few cornerbacks that has the size and speed to match up with the likes of Johnson. This promises to be a very physical night for both of these players.
Keys to The Game:
Feed the Beast: Brandon Marshall racked up a superb 139 yards on Monday on a Pro Bowl CB in Devin McCourty. This week, Marshall will face off against slightly less talented CB in Jonathan Joseph. In the past, Marshall has succeeded when faced against Joseph and I don’t see it stopping on Sunday. Marshall has the speed and strength to beat Joseph 1-on-1 this week and go for another big game. However, Joseph has spent a lot of time covering Andre Johnson for the past month so he might be accustomed to the size and strength of Marshall.
Stay Warm: For the last 3 games (Including pre-season) Chad Henne has thrown for 785 yards. His critics are slowly diminishing and his fans are cautiously appreciating. Week after week Henne’s relationship on the field with Brandon Marshall has seemed to increase and the distribution of the ball to all receivers has helped Miami matriculate the ball down the field in a hurry. Once again Miami will faced off in Red-Zone situations and surely Chad will be able to execute after watching film against the Pats.
Run, Run, Run: Without a running game, there is no game. Reggie Bush was stopped almost immediately after every handoff and the threat of the play action disappeared. With Daniel Thomas back in the lineup, the game plan has shifted; DT33 will most likely carry the load on the short-yard-situations that the Fins desperately needed on Monday, and Reggie will take more outsides handoffs to show his elusiveness in the open field. With Charles Clay back in the lineup as well, look for more open holes. Everything will not be a cakewalk however. The Texans have organized a defense that is capable of getting in the back field with ease, so it is the job of Richie Incognito, Vernon Carey, and Marc Colombo to bounce back from their mediocre play on Monday, step up to the plate and play with enough power and energy to make holes for our speedy backs.
Pressure: There were two plays in particular during the Monday Night game in which Tom Brady had more than 6.5 seconds to throw the ball, 6.5! Cameron Wake was supposed to introduce Nate Solder to the NFL, however Nate had a different plan in mind as he just sat on Wake the entire game. Not once did Brady flush out of the pocket or simply throw the ball away, which is unacceptable considering the tremendous job the D-Line did last year. It won’t be easy to pressure Houston considering all O-Linemen for the Texans have between 4-8 years of experience on them, but the presence of Paul Soliai, Cameron Wake, Karlos Dansby, Jason Taylor, and Jared Odrick should be enough to bounce back from the horrific outing a few days ago.
Get Your Man: "Benny Sapp, you are the weakest link, goodbye" were Tony Sparano’s last words to the 8 year vet before cutting him after an extremely weak performance on Monday. Surely, all Defensive Backs are disgusted in the way they played, but many have claimed it all to be a fluke (including me). These DB’s are young enough and athletic enough to keep up with any offense in the league, but were greatly fatigued and flustered when faced off against the New England offense; the Tight Ends were not covered, receivers flew by, and missed tackles seemed to be the norm for the whole game. This week, look for Sean Smith and Vonate Davis to leave their cramping issues behind them and play with the focus we are used to seeing them at, also, Will Allen’s veteran presence will surely have an impact on the players morale, which hopefully leads to better performances.
New England was the kind of game in which a win would have been spectacular but a loss would have been believable. The effects of the loss were short-term sadness and a squint of hope, but nothing tragic. However, this week is where the real fun starts. For the last 5 years Miami has lost to this Texans team who is yet to reach the playoffs. The outcome of Sunday afternoon will give the Miami fan base a taste of how the season will turn out. With a win, Miami will prove itself to be a serious contender for the Wild Card and give the fans a reason to buy tickets, but with a loss, Dolfans will start to lose hope one by one, and all we can do is sit and wait.