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Defense lets down Dolphins in 27-23 loss to Colts

It had the makings of what could have been a great night for the Miami Dolphins.  The offense ran the football for over 230 yards.  They converted 15 of 21 3rd downs (71%).  They had the ball for over 45 minutes.  But in the end, it was the defense that just couldn't get the job done.  And now the Dolphins will have to come off of a heart-breaking Monday night loss and travel to San Diego to avoid going to 0-3 in this young season.

Let's talk about some of the headlines.

Want to play the blame game? Then blame the defense
There's no way around this.  You can point to a couple examples of how the offense might have cost the Dolphins the game.  But most of the blame goes squarely on the play of the defense.  Peyton Manning just had a field day - throwing for 303 yards on just 14 completions.  That's a whopping 21.6 yards per completion for Manning.  All total, the Colts ran 35 plays in the entire game and averaged over 10 yards per play.  That's just ridiculous.

Most of the blame for the defensive struggles has to go to the Dolphins' safeties.  Gibril Wilson missed tackle after tackle.  There's no excuse for missing the tackle on Dallas Clark on the first play of the game and turning a 35 yard pass completion into an 80 yard touchdown.  Wilson was also trucked by rookie RB Donald Brown as he steam-rolled into the endzone for his touchdown in the fourth quarter.

The linebackers get some blame as well.  Basically anyone that even attempted to cover Dallas Clark shares some responsibility.  Clark caught 7 passes for 183 yards and a touchdown.  And to a certain extent, you have to blame the coaches.  There were a couple of plays where Channing Crowder was matched up on Clark - which is a total mismatch.  Most linebackers wouldn't be able to cover Clark one-on-one - let alone Crowder, who isn't exactly speedy.  Crowder was also asked to cover Donald Brown on his big 24 yard reception to help set up that field goal attempt right before halftime.  You can't put Akin Ayodele and Channing Crowder in those kinds of situations - especially asking them to cover Clark, who is essentially a bigger wide receiver more so than a tight end.

On the plus side, the Dolphins actually limited Reggie Wayne to just 3 catches for 37 yards.  But this is why we talked so much about the tight end than the receivers this week.  I'm no worried about the cornerbacks.  They played pretty well.  But this team simply can't cover athletic tight ends at all - which is going to be a season-long problem.  The Dolphins still have to face Antonio Gates, Dustin Keller (twice), Ben Watson (twice), and Jeremy Shockey to just name a few.

The pass rush was also non-existent, which was a major problem.  Peyton Manning was never rushed at all - even when the Dolphins did try to blitz.  And then on the biggest play of the game, the Dolphins showed blitz way too early, let Manning read it and change the play, and the result was a WR screen to Pierre Garcon for a 48 yard touchdown.  There's no reason why the Dolphins didn't change their defense when Manning changed the play - or at least try to disguise the blitz a little bit better.  That's basic football.  If I was playing the Madden video game, I would have done exactly what Manning did.  Once the ball was snapped, there was nothing the secondary could do - they were beat before the snap ever took place.

Defensively, all I can say is that at least Sean Smith and Will Allen had pretty solid games.

Don't blame the offense
I can't believe the people out there who want to sit here and blame the offense for this loss.  The Dolphins held the ball for over 45 minutes and piled up over 400 yards of total offense.  They converted 71% of their 3rd downs and did almost everything they were asked.

The running game was outstanding.  Ronnie Brown showed how good he can be when he gets a little blocking out there.  He shows patience for the hole to open, then can explode, runs hard through tackles, and gets extra yardage.  Ricky Williams showed that he's still got it.  And the offensive line was outstanding - both in the running game and in pass protection.  They dominated in the trenches.

And that brings me to Ted Ginn - who, for some reason, is getting the blame for the loss.  So let's talk about those two touchdown catches he almost made.  Yes - the first one he probably should have had.  It seemed like he slowed down at the end of the play because he thought he had less room in the back of the endzone than he really had.  And yes, he "alligator-armed" it.  But it certainly wasn't an easy catch.  And perhaps the ball could have been thrown a little better.

The second "near-catch" is the one most are talking about - the one in the endzone with under a minute left.  Did Teddy get both hands on the ball?  Yes.  But he also had a corner draped all over him - to the point where it was borderline pass interference.  But more importantly - here's the question you ask yourself.  If Ginn makes that catch, do we all go nuts about how amazing of a catch it is?  If you answered "yes" then I don't see how you can get on him for not making it.  You can't have it both ways and say that while it would have been an amazing catch if he caught it, it's a terrible drop of a bass he should have caught since he didn't.

In reality, I expect Randy Moss or Andre Johnson to make that catch.  And I'd be disappointed if one of those two were on my team and they didn't make the catch.  But I don't expect that from Ted Ginn because he isn't as good as those two.  So let's be real here for a second.  I'm disappointed he dropped it, of course.  But Ginn is what he is - a 5'11 quality #2 receiver.  Just because he's forced to be our #1 receiver due to lack of talent doesn't mean he'll actually play like one.  He dropped the pass - deal with it.  The offense shouldn't have even been in that position to begin with.

Terrible time management.
So you have 3 minutes to go 82 yards to win the game with 2 timeouts in your pocket.  So you run the ball on first down, take a timeout because the play clock is winding down, and then run it again on second down?  Seriously?  Suddenly you go from 3:13 left at your own 18 yard line with 2 timeouts remaining to the two minute warning at your 24 yard line an only 1 timeout.  Terrible.  That might be the worst 1:13 seconds I've ever seen in terms of play-calling and clock management.

Speaking of play-calling, you also have to wonder about the QB sneak with 50 seconds left on 3rd & 1 from Indy's 46.  That seems like the perfect time to take a shot down the field and then worry about the 1 yard on 4th down if it gets to that point.  No matter whose decision it was to do that - Chad Pennington's on the field or the coaching staff's on the sidelines - it was a poor decision.

It would be easy to declare Garcon's touchdown as the turning point of the game.  But I don't think it was.  I think the turning point was the Colts' drive following Ronnie Brown's 3 yard touchdown to put the Dolphins ahead 20-13.  The crowd was into it as the Dolphins held a 7 point fourth quarter lead.  And then the Colts march right down the field and go 71 yards in 6 plays for a touchdown to tie the game back up.  That drive - highlighted by a 49 yard completion to Dallas Clark, was the turning point of the game.

This week the honor could go to a lot of people.  But I'm going to highlight just one player - and one play - because it seems like it's the most obvious bad decision of the game.  Following the last Colts touchdown, what in the world was Patrick Cobbs thinking taking the kickoff out of the endzone?  It was six or seven yards deep into the endzone and Cobbs isn't exactly known for his speed?  Not surprisingly, he doesn't even get back to the 20.  Just a bad decision and a risk not worth taking.

Some other quick thoughts from this disappointing loss:

  • One play-call that had me up in arms was the decision by Dan Henning to run the football on that 3rd & 6 play from Indy's 30 with just over 4 minutes left.  Field goals don't beat Peyton Manning.  Why play the game scared?  Chad Pennington was on fire on 3rd down tonight.  Let him put it in the air and try to pick up the six yards.  Don't get conservative after calling a great game all game long.
  • Enough with the Pat White package for now.  All it's doing is killing momentum.
  • Here's something to think about - the Dolphins only punted one time in the entire game.
  • I thought Gibril Wilson could at least tackle.  I guess not.  How did he lead all safeties in tackles last year when he misses tackles all over the place?
  • For all of his faults, 7 of Ted Ginn's 11 receptions resulted in 3rd or 4th down conversions.  That's impressive.
  • Much improved kick coverage on Monday night headed by Lex Hilliard and Erik Walden.  The Colts averaged just 18 yards per kick return.
  • If you want to play the "what might have been" game - what might have been if Dan Carpenter doesn't miss that one FG and Adam Vinatieri misses his FG that hit the crossbar?  Or - for that matter - what if Tony McDaniel doesn't ge called for encroachment and give Indy five extra yards during the final first half drive?  Or what if Gibril Wilson does something right and makes the interception in the final moments of the first half rather than let the ball slip out when he comes to the ground?  Yes - lots of "what if" moments.
  • I do love the 'Wildcat' - it went for 107 yards on 12 plays.  Happy Birthday to the 'Cat!