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Tale of two halves as Dolphins collapse in loss to Saints

With less than two minutes to go in the first half, it seemed like the Miami Dolphins were on their way to one of their best wins in years, holding a 24-3 lead over the undefeated New Orleans Saints.  Unfortunately, football games require a full 60 minutes.  The Dolphins put together an outstanding 28 minutes - followed by about 32 minutes of complete disaster - which is what makes this game so hard to swallow.

Defensive breakdowns in second half
Even after that disappointing end to the first half - which we'll get to in a little - the Dolphins still held a 14 point lead at halftime.  But Miami's defense collapsed in the second half, allowing the Saints to just march up and down the field on seemingly every possession.

There are a number of places you can lay some blame for this loss.  But the defense certainly has to get a lot of blame.  They played so well in the first half only to allow 23 points and 317 yards on just 38 plays.  Worse yet, the Dolphins surrendered 285 yards of offense and 9.83 yards per play over the final 20 minutes of the game.  So while a lot of you will point the finger at others - who do deserve some blame as well - don't let an outstanding defensive first half taint your view of how this defense performed.  The final quarter and a half was just disgusting.

What exactly was the problem?  Some of it was probably execution and players not being where they were supposed to.  That could explain why Saint receivers were running wide open down the field for much of the second half.  Missed tackles were also a problem - such as Gibril Wilson's whiff on Reggie Bush on a key 3rd down.  There was a lack of pressure on Drew Brees in the fourth quarter as well, which is not good.  We saw in the first half how much consistent pressure on Brees makes him uncomfortable.

But the biggest issue might be what we don't know and likely will never know: did the Dolphins coaching staff go into halftime anticipating the adjustment New Orleans would make in the second half?  During our live game thread, somebody said at halftime how it would be important to see how the Dolphins react to the halftime adjustments the Saints make on offense.  That's hitting the nail right on the head.  We won't ever know for sure - especially without being able to see the film.  But there were clearly issues in the second half.  We didn't see nearly the amount of receivers running wide open - especially over the middle - in the first half as we saw in the second.

Questionable play-calling a factor
I generally try not to harp too much on in-game play-calling because we simply don't know as much as the guys on the sidelines making the decisions.  But it's impossible to not question a number of decisions regarding play-calling on Sunday.

Some will point to the play-calling on Miami's final possession of the first half as bad.  Some will say Miami's decision to try passing on a 1st & 10 at NO's 40 yard line with 1:51 left was a bad decision - made worse by the screen pass to Davone Bess on the next play that resulted in a fumble.  But let's be fair.  If the Dolphins run the ball three times and then try a long field goal, many fans would be complaining about how conservative the Dolphins were playing it.  Instead, the Dolphins were clearly going for seven before the half - the right move when you're facing a potent offense like the one the Dolphins faced on Sunday.  Hindsight is always 20/20, though, and that's why some will probably complain about Miami's decision not to just run the ball and get into position for a long field goal.

However, a couple of possessions certainly deserve some criticism.  The Dolphins' second possession of the 3rd quarter - the one following the Darren Sharper pick six - was terrible.  If you have the top rushing offense in the league, it might be a good idea to run the football after your young quarterback, making only his 3rd career start, threw a pick six to cut your lead from 14 to 7.  He might be a bit gun-shy.  It might be a good idea to use your best offensive players - Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams.  But no - the Dolphins come out and go with three passes, resulting in a sack, a short completion, and an incompletion - a lovely little three and out.

The other possession that really bothers me was the one following Reggie Bush's touchdown to cut Miami's lead to 34-31.  Again, the Dolphins should have attempted to get back to what they do best and run the football.  Instead, the Dolphins go with three passes - all incompletions - and punt the football away.  And they would never again have a possession where they weren't trailing.

Too many miscues
From missed tackles to blown coverages to penalties to dropped passes, the Dolphins made mistake after mistake to help aid the epic collapse on Sunday.  You can't commit eight penalties - especially dumb penalties like personal fouls.  Channing Crowder and Joey Porter each had one of those on Sunday.  Porter, meanwhile, who is supposed to be a leader, left the locker room on Sunday without speaking with the media.  Good leadership.

As far as drops go, there were a ton of them.  Some of the bigger ones include Ted Ginn's drop on a beautifully placed ball on the first possession of the second half as well as Anthony Fasano's drop on a pass by Ronnie Brown.  Ginn's drop resulted in an interception as Darren Sharper plucked the bobbled ball from the air and took it into the endzone.  Fasano's drop would have been a 20+ yard gain and would have helped swing the momentum back a little.

But even after all those mistakes, the Dolphins still found themselves with the ball, needing a touchdown to win, and having 3:23 to accomplish that.  But that drive had even more mistakes.  On 2nd & 3, Ginn again dropped a pass - this time with nobody even bothering him.  It would have been a first down plus a little extra.  Luckily, Chad Henne connected with Greg Camarillo on the next play for a first down.  But on the next play, Camarillo made the mistake of attempting to fumble the football out of bounds after a 7 yard reception.  He was trying to get to the sideline to stop the clock, couldn't make it, and then then basically flung the ball towards the sideline as he fell - which is illegal and resulted in a penalty.  After the game, Camarillo admitted that he was trying to do that and wouldn't do it differently now if he could.  On the ensuing play, Ricky Williams dropped a pass in the flat that would have sent for a likely first down.  And then on the very next play, Jake Grove was called for a false start - making a 3rd & 8 now a 3rd & 13.

That's not how you execute the two minute drill.  And miscues like these cost the Dolphins a potential win over an unbeaten team on Sunday.

The turning point of the game is pretty easy.  The Dolphins had a 24-3 lead with less than two minutes to play in the 2nd quarter.  That's when Brees and the Saints' offense got going, driving down the field and getting down to the one yard line in about a minute and a half - converting two third downs along the way.  Then, following an official review, the Saints had the ball inside the one but were seemingly going to settle for a field goal before the half.  That is, until Tony Sparano called an ill-advised timeout.  That gave the Saints the time they needed to change their mind and go for the touchdown.  The end result was Brees taking a QB sneak over the top and into the endzone for a touchdown.

Whether you want to call the turning point of the game the Davone Bess fumble that led to this possession, either of the 3rd down conversions by the Saints, or the timeout by Sparano - most probably agree that this possession was the turning point - and the beginning of a disgusting collapse.

Some more quick thoughts on this game:

  • Will Allen was lost for the season with a torn ACL.  This is a big loss, but gives Vontae Davis and Sean Smith a great opportunity to both start and learn as much as possible on the fly.
  • Say what you want about Ted Ginn, the bottom line is we can't just get rid of him this year.  Yes - he's far too inconsistent.  But he's also the only deep threat this team has.  Without him, opposing defenses have no reason to be worry about the long ball.  If nothing else, he's still a necessary decoy until the Dolphins can find another deep threat.  Also - wasn't it just last week many raved about him after making a huge play against the Jets?
  • I was disappointed with the offensive line today.  They didn't play as well as they have in the run game and had issues protecting Chad Henne in the second half.  Let's hope this was just a one-game issue.
  • Related the the OL problems, the Wildcat only gained 30 yards on 14 carries on Sunday.
  • I don't have a problem with Chad Henne's performance on Sunday.  He hung tough in the pocket and did make some nice throws.  But he also had his receivers drop at least five passes.  He'll also learn a lot from this game once he goes back and watches the film.  Now I'm anxious to see how he does in his first career road start next week against the Jets.
  • Jason Taylor - you still got it.  I apologize.
  • I do love the safety blitz.  Both Yeremiah Bell and Gibril Wilson seem to be very good blitzers.  I hope to see more of that in the coming weeks.
  • Nathan Jones - who knew?  He had his best game as a Dolphin.  And now he will see even more snaps with the injury to Will Allen.