There were not many people who believed the Dolphins could go up to Minnesota and knock off a Vikings team that did not lose at home at all in nine games last year - especially not after this Dolphins team struggled to defeat the lowly Bills in week one. The game didn't begin very well for Miami, either. The Vikings converted two third downs on the opening possession and were driving well into Miami territory.
That's when the game changed. And that is where I'll start.
This defense deserves respect
Let's be honest for a minute. If not for the outstanding play by this new-look Dolphin defense, we're probably sitting here discussing what has gone wrong with this team and why they are currently 0-2. It's really that simple.
Brad Childress clearly didn't respect this defense to start the game. That's the only way to explain his decision to have his Vikings go for a 4th & 2 from Miami's 26 yard line. This play would also foreshadow what was to come in this game. Brett Favre dropped back and had his pass batted down at the line of scrimmage by Randy Starks - one of many huge defensive plays that the Dolphins would make.
After the game, Kendall Langford told the media that he "felt like that was disrespectful. They think they can just march the ball right down the field on us, but at the end of the day we had the smile on our faces when we stopped them."
They sure did.
You can talk about a number of outstanding individual performances. But there's one stat that sums up this entire game. The Vikings made five trips inside the red zone but scored only ten points. That's how you know you have a damn good defense.
Want one more fun stat? Considering Ricky's fumble gave Minnesota the ball at the one yard line (so I'm not holding that TD against the defense), the Dolphins' defense scored more points than they allowed, 7-3. That's just ridiculously impressive. It really is.
Miami's defense surrendered a ton of yards - 364 to be exact. But they made big play after big play - something Paul Pasqualoni's passive defensive schemes never did. Mike Nolan has this defense attacking. He's making offenses adjust to him instead of adjusting his defense to the opposing offense. He has these players believing they are great - resulting in great plays.
Want to talk individual performances? Fine. Jason Allen looked like an actual former first round pick - which is probably this coaching staff's greatest feat so far this year. I honestly don't even recognize him anymore. He's playing aggressive. He's disrupting the routes of the receivers. He's playing physical. Most importantly, he no longer looks lost. He's not thinking, he's just playing. His football instincts are taking over - and for the first time in his career, he looks comfortable on the field.
More thoughts on this defense:
- Karlos Dansby is proving to be every bit the player many - including myself - thought he would be. After all of the outstanding plays made by this defense on Sunday, it was Dansby who single-handedly (with a big assist from Vontae Davis) saved the game by filling the hole on that fourth and goal run by Adrian Peterson, making the stop shy of the goal line with just over two minutes left.
- Randy Starks is a star, plain and simple. He's never going to have the numbers that draw national attention. But he can play any spot along the defensive line and make an impact on the game. What a signing by this front office a couple of years back. It's the kind of move that will not ever get the attention it deserves. But signing players like Starks is what builds championship teams.
- Paul Soliai put together a very good game himself, starting at nose tackle while Starks slid over to end to replace the injured Jared Odrick. He was winning the battle with Minnesota's center far more often than he was losing. Not a bad number two option for Mike Nolan and company.
- Cameron Wake is going to have 15+ sacks this year. The guy can't be blocked by most tackles. And he beat a double-team to get to Favre and force that fumble that Koa Misi recovered for a touchdown. These two are going to quickly make us forget about Jason Taylor and Joey Porter - if they haven't already.
- Speaking of Misi, he didn't have a big game on the stat sheet. But he was still disruptive, collapsing the pocket a number of times. He officially had two quarterback hits on Sunday. But what is important to note is that it is Misi who works on the right side of the defense in most pass-rushing situations, meaning he goes up against the opposing team's left tackle - also known as their best pass protector. That allows Wake to rush from the left side, which he's obviously more comfortable doing, against the right tackle (and sometimes a tight end). Advantage Wake. So when evaluating Misi's impact on any game, just keep that fact in mind.
VD is a budding star
I'll admit it. I was one of those fans a little bit worried with how Vontae Davis was performing in the preseason. He had a tendency for allowing big plays a year ago. And he didn't look much better in the preseason.
I was wrong.
Davis is quickly becoming an outstanding football player. He stuck to his man like glue on Sunday. The one time Favre did test Davis deep, he was stride for stride with Percy Harvin - one of the fastest players in the league. But truth be told, we didn't see Brett attack Davis that much. Just as I thought (and mentioned during game thread), that wasn't just a coincidence.
After the game, Favre had this to say to the media:
"Twenty-one, I felt like is one of the best corners in this league, especially that nobody knows about. Twenty-one, I was less apt to challenge."
It's not just Vontae's coverage skills that deserve mentioning, though. He's a complete corner. He's active in run support - as Peterson found out on that fourth and goal play. The short passes that are completed against him don't result in big gains thanks to his tackling ability.
Now we just need to see consistency. For two weeks, Davis has been very good. But the season is still very young. Vontae has the makings of an elite corner - there's no question. But he has two tough tests these next two weeks against division opponents in the national, prime time spotlight. If he wants to get national recognition, these next two weeks present the perfect opportunity.
More quick thoughts on Sunday's win:
- The offense has to play better - nobody will argue that. But Chad Henne again did what he had to do to win. His pass to Brandon Marshall on their first play of the game was perfectly placed. His touchdown throw to Brian Hartline was a perfect throw. Would I have liked to see Henne take more shots beyond ten yards? Sure. But unless you were at the game and saw receivers running open (because it's virtually impossible to see on television), it's hard to say he missed opportunities.
- The two fumbles by Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams obviously could have cost this team the game. But the defense bailed him out. No need to harp on those two miscues. I trust both of them to learn from the mistake and move on. So we'll do the same and move on.
- Though the running game had some trouble at times, you have to be impressed with the performance of this offensive line. No team runs well against this Vikings front seven. For the Dolphins to run for 120 yards and average 4.1 yards per carry is a great sign. This offensive line is starting to gel. They improved from last week to this week despite playing against better competition. I expect this unit to continue to improve. Very encouraging performance by those big guys up front.
- Lousaka Polite is a monster - plain and simple. There aren't many - if any - better run-blocking fullbacks in the NFL.
- Brandon Fields had a hell of a day. Four of his six punts landed inside Minnesota's 20. One of the two that didn't traveled 59 yards. He's a weapon for this team right now and will likely continue to get better.
- What was with the back-to-back "12 men on the field" penalties by the Dolphins?
- I still think the Wildcat is a weapon, particularly inside the red zone. But it was a drive killer on the first possession of the second half. Is it time to abandon it?
- It seems like everyone is criticizing the Dolphins for putting the ball in the air on that final 3rd & 3 with just under two minutes to go. But I love the call. They tried to put the ball in the air and win the game without forcing their exhausted defense to take the field for one more stop. But protection broke down and caused Henne to rush his throw. Still - I like the call.
- Yes, there were some Quentin Moses sighting on Sunday. Besides applying the pressure on that third down play with 40 seconds left, he did a nice job setting the edge when he was out there.
It's only week two, but our Miami Dolphins are 2-0 and in sole possession of first place in the AFC East. You can't ask for much more than that right now.