The Dolphins are now 0-11. Even worse, 6 of their losses were by 3 points, including last night's. That's a franchise record. Who do I blame for this loss? Unlike most of you, I'm not putting the blame on Cam Cameron. But we'll talk about that in a second. If there is blame to be placed for this loss, I'd say a little falls on the offensive line (and tight ends and backs) for not being able to protect John Beck better despite having 7 or 8 guys in to block. The offensive line also got no push at all when Miami tried running the ball. I would also put a little bit of blame on the receivers and tight ends for not making some plays that needed to be made, though they did improve in the 2nd half. But still, John needs all the help he can get as he grows and these guys let him down, especially in the first half. And lastly, I'd put a little of the blame on the fact that the Dolphins had to use their 4th feature running back of the season after Ricky Williams and Jesse Chatman got hurt. What kind of offensive production did you expect with Patrick Cobbs in the backfield?
Now onto Cam and the two decisions that people will question. First off, we got the decision to not try to drive down the field with under 2 minutes left in the 1st half. Following a 20 yard pass play to David Martin, Miami had it at their own 35 with about 1:40 to play. Some people think the Dolphins should have tried to move the ball into field goal range. That would have meant driving it about 40 more yards in those conditions just to get around a 43 yard attempt. But in a 0-0 game and with your offense not really moving the ball at all, and in those rainy, slippery conditions, why try to force the issue? The offense had barely moved the ball at all in the entire first half. This isn't "Madden" for PS3. You can't just go out there and throw the ball all around the field with under 2 minutes left. I have no problem with what Cam did. In those conditions and with a rookie QB making his 2nd career start, that's the right decision in my book.
The other, certainly more heated, debate will be if Cam made the right decision by not kicking a 43 yard field goal on a 4th and 11 play from Pittsburgh 25. Of course, hindsight is always 20/20. Considering the Dolphins lost by 3, many will say Cam should have kicked it. But Jay Feely just missed a field goal (that was waived off) from 5 yards closer. So why should Cam think he could make it from 5 yards back? And that's not to mention the fact that Steelers kicker Jeff Reed had just missed a field goal of basically the same length very, very badly on Pittsburgh's previous possession. And if memory serves me right, that kick by Reed was from the same side of the field that Feely's would have been because Reed's miss was the 2nd to last play of the 3rd quarter. So that would mean Feely would have had to make the kick from almost the very exact spot Reed just missed from, which was on the "open" side of the field (making it hard enough to make to begin with). So no, I don't think we should have kicked a field goal.
With all that said, I didn't like the conservative game plan that Cam used and I am starting to get tired of the conservative play calling. I really thought we'd see some more aggressive play calling in the 2nd half, but we really didn't. Too many running plays or wide receiver screens on 1st down. And I really wonder about running it on 3rd and 5 near mid-field. That would be the play Ricky fumbles and get hurt. I thought a quick throw should have been called. However, I did really like the screen pass that was called prior to the debated fiel goal non-attempt on 3rd and 6 from Pitt's 20. It was there, too, if Beck could have had about a second more to throw. But that's the way this season has gone. I'm getting used to disappointment and missed opportunities.
When you look at John's numbers, they aren't going to really impress you (14/23, 132). But I was very impressed with what I saw out of our young quarterback. Completing nearly 61% of your passes on the road against that top ranked defense in those conditions is certainly nothing to sneeze at. He also remains without na interception. Sure he did lose a fumble once, but that was on a 4th down play where John stayed in the pocket to try and make a play rather than simply bail on the play, which is something I was impressed by.
John also showed good decision making all game long, not really making any throws I really would question. I loved the decision by John to scramble for 7 yards only after he stood in the pocket for enough time and made sure he had gone through his progressions. This kid's poise is quite impressive. He also again showed the ability to feel pressure coming and effectively move around the pocket, all the while keeping his head downfield and going through his reads. And boy was I impressed with how Beck would stand in the pocket and deliver a pass when he knew he was going to take an absolute shot. He's got guts and it really seemed to me tonight like he was growing into a leadership role.
As for his passes, many were very accurate and, like I said before, he was the victim of 3 dropped passes (one each by Hagan, Martin, and Booker). The one to Hagan was really a big one, as it would have been good for a gain of 15-20 and a first down on a 3rd and 4. But Beck, like any rookie in those conditions did make 1 or 2 inaccurate throws. One was on a WR screen to Ted Ginn that floated a bit too high. The other one that really stood out was the first play of the 4th quarter when John, on a 2nd and 6, missed an open Marty Booker down the middle of the field that would have been good for 15 or so. The ball was just a bit behind Marty. However, what really impressed me was the very next play. On 3rd and 6, John threw a dart to Marty down the middle of the field for a 20 yard gain and another MIAMI DOLPHIN...FIRST DOWN!! Those are the kind of bounce-back plays that good quarterbacks make and young quarterbacks sometimes do not. Luckily for us, John seems to have a short-term memory.
Like I said above, John's really impressed me through his first 2 starts. But next week is when the production has to go up, not just from John but from the entire offense. And I think Beck is up to the challenge. After these last 2 games in Philly and in Pittsburgh, playing the Jets in Miami will be a good opportunity for John and the offense to really take some steps forward.
For the 4th straight week, this defensive unit has stepped up their game and have really been outstanding. Holding Willie Parker to just 3.4 ypc is something to be proud of. But even more impressive was the defense holding Pitt to just a 33% 3rd down conversion rate (4/12). That has been one of their biggest problems all season long. But tonight they excelled. This is a defense playing inspired football, swarming all over the field and making big plays. Is it enough to save Dom Capers' job? We'll discuss that after we see how the final 5 games play out.
One thing I've been really impressed with is how Dom has been calling more cornerback blitzes. When you have a corner as fast and as physical as Will Allen, it's great to be aggressive. And Allen can really get to the quarterback in a hurry. And speaking of Allen, he's quietly having a very good season. Teams are completing less than 50% of their passes thrown his way and he's making plays in run support. That early 4th and 1 stop by Allen and Vonnie Holliday comes to mind off the top of my head. Now if only he had an even better teammate on the other side. We'll work on that in the offseason I hope.
And speaking of Holliday, is it any coincidence that the defense has played much better since he's come back from injury? He's been very good since returning, and had his best game tonight. He consistently caused havoc when Pittsburgh ran to his side and he was able to even get a little pressure on Roethlisberger. Kudos to Vonnie for playing at this high level since his return.
And speaking of playing at a high level, doesn't it seem like Joey Porter and Channing Crowder have greatly improved their play over the last 2 or 3 weeks? Joey was all over the field tonight, making stops for losses in the run game and picking off or deflecting passes on coverage. He looks, now more than ever, like the player we thought we were getting in the offseason. And Channing seems to have grown by leaps and bounds since the bye week. In those 3 games, he has accumulated 32 tackles and a half of a sack (coming tonight). He just looks more relaxed now playing the middle. It's as if he has gotten accustomed to playing that position now and is doing less thinking on the field and letting his instincts and physical ability take over. Despite early and mid season struggles, I'm back to being excited to see what the future holds for Crowder.
THIS & THAT
-Congrats to Quentin Moses for picking up his first career (full) sack.
-Jason Allen again played well. I didn't notice any poor coverage by him and he made a couple plays in run support. Hope to see him continue to improve.
-Miami's tight ends and running backs need to learn how to pass block better. We really don't need our potential franchise QB getting killed when he drops back to pass despite having 7 or 8 guys in to protect him.
-One problem with the defense still is the lack of pressure the defensive line gets on the QB when the Dolphins don't blitz. That needs to improve.
Your thoughts below...