Now that we've had some time to digest what happened on Sunday afternoon in Atlanta, let's talk a little bit about what we "learned" from this game. And keep in mind that you can't really "learn" anything from just one game. But you can start to form some thoughts. Please feel free to tell us all what you think you learned as well.
We learned that Miami's offensive line is nowhere near as good as we thought it would be. Chad Pennington dropped back 33 times - and was sacked four times, hit four times, and hurried 13 more times. That's 21 of 33 drop backs in which CP was under immense pressure. So even if the Dolphins wanted to take some shots deep, there wouldn't have been time on most plays.
We learned that the secret is out on Jake Long. John Abraham said after the game that he watched a lot of film on Jake Long and figured out how to beat him. "It's going to be a bull rush and inside move," said Abraham. "It seemed to work today." And things aren't going to get any easier for Jake. He'll go up against Dwight Freeney next week and then face San Diego's pass-rushing linebackers off the edge in week three. Long better get back to work this week and sure up his technique.
We learned that Bill Parcells and company might not be as smart as we all want to believe. This is a regime that selected Jake Long over Matt Ryan in 2008 - and while it's far too early to put that decision in the "loss column," Sunday's game was certainly discouraging. They also handed big paydays to Justin Smiley, Jake Grove, and Vernon Carey. And all three were pretty bad on Sunday.
We learned that there will always be Dolphin fans who are calling for Chad Pennington to be benched in favor of Chad Henne even though Henne was far from impressive in the preseason. I expect that after every loss this season, we'll have fans posting that we need to bench CP - even if the loss wasn't his fault. But that's fine with me. Truth be told, I'm also inching closer and closer to calling for Penningtin's benching. However, I still remember what Pennington means to this football team. He is the leader of this offense - both on the field and in the locker room. I'm not ready to give up on him yet. And remember - the grass isn't always greener on the other side. What happens if Henne comes in to start the final eight games of 2009 and he just stinks it up each and every game? Just something to think about, that's all.
We learned that both Ronnie Brown and Anthony Fasano need to step it up if they want contract extensions from this front office. Brown did run hard, though, and I'm not sure we can blame him for the lack of the running game. It's impossible to run the ball when there are no running lanes. Fasano, though, was probably one of the biggest culprits to Sunday's loss. I don't want to hate on him too much because it was very uncharacteristic of him, but Fasano's first fumble really turned around this entire game. If he doesn't cough it up, who knows how the game plays out.
We learned that the Dolphins can struggle on the road against one of the NFC's best teams and still be in the game well into the second half. For all of their struggles, the Dolphins had the football in Atlanta territory trailing by 10 with 3 minutes left in the 3rd quarter. Sure, a loss is a loss. But just think about that fact for a minute. The Dolphins had already turned the ball over twice, including once in the redzone, and were still only trailing the Falcons by 10 points, had possession inside Atlanta's 40, and had over a quarter to win this game.
We learned that the Dolphins should be able to stop the run pretty darn well in 2009. This defense held Michael Turner, a guy who ran fo 1700 yards and averaged 4.5 yards per carry in 2008, to just 65 yards rushing and less than 3 yards per carry. That's impressive work - especially from the outside linebackers who had to set the edge. It was believed that teams would try to run right at Joey Porter and Jason Taylor because neither was particularly effective stopping the run. But both held their ground at the point of attack and each even made a tackle in the backfield. That's certainly a good sign.
We learned that Phillip Merling is indeed a "gamer." For all the talk about how he doesn't practice well, this guy just seems to make play after play on gamedays. He was a force last season as a reserve and again was a dominant force on Sunday as a reserve. Now you just have to wonder for how long he remains a reserve. Randy Starks should be on notice.
We learned that effectively covering opposing tight ends is going to be a problem. It was a problem all preseason long and it continued to be a problem on Sunday in Atlanta. Yes, Tony Gonzalez is an all-time great. But it's not like it's going to get much easier in the coming weeks. On Monday night, Dallas Clark comes to town. Six days later, the Dolphins will head to San Diego to face Antonio Gates.
General NFL Thoughts
We learned that while Adrian Peterson is really good, his offensive line is even better. There were a number of runs where AP wasn't even touched for 5 to 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Could you imagine how great it would be if Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams could get close to that kind of blocking?
We learned that strong arms mean little a a quarterback when you make bad decisions and inaccurate throws. Just ask Bears fans who had to watch Jay Cutler throw interception after interception.
We learned that Rex Ryan, at least for now, was able to back up his words. His defense dominated the Texans offense on Sunday. It makes you wonder why the Dolphins can't get the same kind of pressure on the quarterback that the Jets did on Sunday. Joey Porter, Jason Taylor, and company are every bit as good - if not better - than the pass-rushers the Jets were throwing at the Texans. Remember - they were without Shaun Ellis and Calvin Pace.
We learned that it's sometimes better to be lucky than good. My example - the Broncos. Could some of that New England luck have followed Josh McDaniels to Denver?
We learned that Tony Romo continues to be a great September through November quarterback. But we all know he'll crumble in December - as usual.