Is it a good thing or a bad thing to not be able to single out any one player or any one unit and blame them for this loss today?
I'm not sure. But I will tell you that this game wasn't won or lost on any one play - or one drive. No - it was a collection of drives. And it's a tough loss because of how winnable this game was...if the Dolphins had brought their "A" game.
But right from the beginning, things didn't seem right. The Dolphins didn't come out with the same kind of intensity that the Ravens did. And the Ravens simply came out, hit the Dolphins right in the mouth, and the Fins didn't respond.
Let's talk about some of the headlines.
MISSED OPPORTUNITIES AGAIN A THEME
For the second game in a row, the theme of the day was missed opportunities. The Dolphins left too many points out there on the field while failing to capitalize on some opportunities defensively to make a big play and prevent the Ravens from putting up some points.
The very first drive, to me, set the tone. The Dolphins were able to drive down the field, converting two 3rd downs in the process, to get inside Baltimore's 10 yard line. But the Dolphins were unable to to get into the endzone despite having 2 plays from inside the 5 yard line. Miami settles for the FG and the Dolphins leave 4 points on the field.
Then, following the terrible interception return for a TD by Terrell Suggs, the Dolphins had a chance to bounce right back and tie the game up. In just 4 plays, the Dolphins were suddenly at Baltimore's 11 yard line. But following an incomplete pass on first down, the Dolphins got conservative and ran the ball on 2nd & 10 and 3rd & 11 - settling for a FG rather than being aggressive and going for the endzone through the air. Obviously some questionable play-calling - and 4 more points left on the field.
Defensively, the Dolphins missed opportunities as well. The biggest was on Baltimore's final possession of the 1st half. The Ravens had the ball at Miami's 11 yard line on a 2nd & 9. Joe Flacco stared down his receiver and Will Allen jumped the route. But he failed to make the interception - not an "easy" catch but one that good cornerbacks make to change the game. On the next play, Flacco found Derek Mason wide open underneath and Mason got into the endzone. That's 7 more points left on the field.
The Dolphins lost by 14. I just highlighted a net of 15 points that might have changed the game. Missed opportunities indeed.
It's amazing how Miami's defense ends up making good offenses look bad (see: San Diego game) but bad offenses look good. You simply cannot surrender 357 yards of total offense to the 25th ranked offense in the league - which features a rookie starting quarterback and 3 running backs who all didn't even average 4 yards per carry heading into the game. On Sunday, those 3 backs averaged 4.2 ypc.
Yes, you can say that the loss of Jason Ferguson badly hurt the defense's ability to stop the run - especially since backup NT Paul Soliai was suspended for the game. But I don't like making excuses. The Dolphins were simply out-played physically. Too many missed tackles. Too many bad angles taken. This defense simply couldn't stop the run - even when everyone in the stadium knew it was coming.
And should we even get started with the pass defense. The only player who played well was Joey Porter. The rest were pathetic. Too many times, there was no pressure being applied to Flacco - allowing the rookie to pick apart Miami's secondary. Receivers were seemingly wide open all game. How can a defense let a rookie complete 74% of their passes and average over 10 yards per attempt? and to think - this game would have been even worse if Flacco didn't miss a wide open Todd Heap in the endzone, causing the Ravens to settle for a FG.
Honestly, this secondary is a joke. The only two players worth keeping are Yeremiah Bell and Will Allen - but as a #2 corner, not a #1.
PENNINGTON NOT VERY 'PENNINGTON-LIKE'
Sure, you're going to look at the numbers and say that Chad Pennington didn't play that poorly. But that's why this game takes place on a field - not on a stat sheet.
I won't even talk about the interception that Suggs ran back for the TD. We all know he shouldn't have thrown the pass - even Chad himself. But Pennington was inaccurate at times today. He missed an open Anthony Fasano for a would-be touchdown. He threw wide of Ted Ginn once or twice.
But worse yet were the passes he didn't throw. There were a few times that Pennington could have went 20+ yards down the field to a receiver who had separation. But he didn't - instead choosing shorter routes. Did he honestly not see these guys? Or was he holding back because of his lack of arm strength? Only Chad knows for sure.
But now this opens up the classic Chad Henne debate. Is it time to start letting Henne get some drives each game - or even to start? I still say no. And I have my reasons - of which I won't go on about. I know some feel Henne should absolutely start getting playing time. And I can understand why those feel that way. In fact, I'll be honest and say I'm not opposed to Henne starting later on in the season - though I'm talking December some time - not within the next month or so. And the sole reason for my change of heart is because of how the offensive line has done a fairly decent job of keeping the QB upright. But this is a debate for another time.
JAKE LONG IMPRESSES
I thought that Jake played well today. Running room was tough to come by - but against this defense, it always is. What impressed me about Jake was how he played well in pass protection against this dynamic front 7. And even Terrell Suggs was impressed. Suggs said after the game:
"Jake Long is very impressive. By far one of the best tackles in the game right now."
"He did a really good job. I've never struggled against anybody like I struggled against him today. He definitely impressed us. He's going to be a nice professional in this league."
Not bad. There's something to get excited about.
-Joey Porter is definitely on his way to the Pro Bowl. Two more sacks today gives him 8.5 - tying him with James Harrison for 1st in the AFC. And he's now just 2 away from his career high of 10.5. I guess his back injury isn't ending his career afterall, huh Armando?
-Congrats to Davone Bess on his 1st career TD. It was a nice little route, too. Hope to see many more in his career.
-Speaking of wide receivers, Greg Camarillo continues to impress me. I never thought he could be more than a 4th receiver. I was wrong.
-David Martin: I apologize. You don't suck. When you have an accurate QB throwing catchable balls to you, you're actually a rather good receiving tight end. I'm sorry.
-Ted Ginn returning kickoffs. The way it was meant to be. You can just sense an extra buzz in the air when he receives the kick. Hopefully, he'll be back there for the rest of the season.
-If Jason Ferguson's injury is serious, that would be a major problem. He's the reason that this 3-4 defense works - personnel-wise.
-It's amazing how much of a difference it makes when you fall behind early rather than taking the lead early. The Dolphins never really recovered from that 10-3 deficit early in the 2nd quarter.
-Did anyone else notice that 3 of Flacco's 6 incompletions were on deep passes that were basically thrown up for grabs despite Dolphin defenders being in position? You think part of the scouting report against the Dolphins says that their defensive backs simply can't play the ball well and will give up big plays even when receivers are covered?
-For all the knocks on Ted Ginn, he sure does catch the ball nicely, doesn't he? I believe he only dropped one ball last season and doesn't have any this year. And he makes some tough catches. If only he could get open more...or our QB wasn't scared to throw it over 20 yards when he is open. (oops...cue up the "pro-Henne" people)
This is why I wasn't ready to start using the "P" word yet when the team was 2-2. This team just is not that good yet. But the building blocks are there. That's what is important. Jake Long is going to be a great left tackle. I'm convinced of that. Ronnie Brown is a great running back - when he has some openings to run through. The defensive line is filled with young talent (Merling, Langford, Starks). And if Chad Henne is the QB that this regime thinks he will be, then things are looking up.
I get pissed, though, when I see Dolphin fans (or people who claim to be) bash the entire team after a loss like today. Yes, they were out-played. But calm down, everyone. This team was never meant to win now. I still see a 6 to 7 win season - which will be impressive considering where they are coming from just a year ago.
So let's all take a deep breath and relax. Just like how things have gotten better from last year to now, things will get better from here on out. Tony Sparano promises. And people like him don't break their promises.