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Miami Dolphins at Dallas Cowboys: Welcome Back to Red Zone Yuckiness

It's one thing to come slamming back down to Earth after a nice three-game win streak; it's another to completely revert back to old habits in the process ... habits that many people assumed wouldn't be an issue during the rest of the Miami Dolphins' 2011 season.

On Thursday, those old, ugly habits reared their heads in one fell swoop and spoiled what could've been a signature win for this young, eager and increasingly tenacious Miami squad. Instead, the Dolphins left Dallas with a 20-19 loss. Such is life when a young team is beginning to develop an identity on both sides of the ball, but this loss is going to sting for a while.

Forget about the offensive line false starts; the missed opportunities on defense in the fourth quarter and Mike Pouncey's nervous, cannon-like shotgun snaps in the first half. Forget about all of that. Yesterday's game was lost because of one very simple principal: the Dolphins absolutely could not convert in the red zone against the Cowboys. In their three victories this season, the Dolphins' were 11-for-14 in the red zone. Yesterday, they were 0-4. That, right there, is how you lose football games on the road. Jake Long's four penalties didn't help Miami's cause during the game, nor did Pouncey's maybe-too-quick shotgun snap that bounced off Matt Moore's hands and was recovered by DeMarcus Ware. But that kind of stuff is going to happen when young players are in a very loud, hostile road environment. 

So ... This Matt Moore isn't too bad ...

Moore, savvy veteran that he is, went through bouts yesterdays where he looked ruffled while going to work at the line of scrimmage. To his credit, though, he displayed good touch on several downfield passes and finished the day 19-of-32 for 263 yards.

No one is going to confuse this guy with Dan Marino, but Moore is a smart, semi-decisive signal caller with an adequate arm and decent grasp of position nuances--pump fakes, off looks, efficient footwork, etc. Moore's real value at this point, however, is the fact we can start him with some confidence next season while grooming a rookie quarterback. Honestly, we could really do so much worse at this point.

Vontae Davis and Sean Smith: doing work

The Dolphins' secondary pretty much feasted on Tony Romo for most of the first half, with Vontae Davis and Sean Smith each collecting a pretty nifty interception off of the Dallas quarterback. Smith's pick was particularly impressive, especially since he looked like he was playing without hands throughout most of last season. But the main thing to take away here is that Miami's secondary over the last month has considerably upped its ability to create turnovers. Granted, Rex Grossman, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Romo have been turnover machines at times in 2011, but the Dolphins' secondary is currently hauling in seemingly any throw they can get their hands on, and that's a full 180-degree turn from where they were throughout the first half of this season.

Give credit where credit is due

Speaking of Romo, he was absolutely locked in during the fourth quarter, and completed pass after pass (usually to Jason Witten) while Dolphins defenders were actively trying to rip his limbs off. Sometimes you just have to tip your cap; however, Cowboys receivers were getting way too much separation from defenders over the middle. And thumbs down to Dolphins defensive coordinator Mike Nolan for staying with a zone scheme long after Romo demonstrated he was able and willing to destroy that coverage all afternoon. Of course, one could make the assumption that Nolan's strategy was perhaps influenced by the Dolphins' lack of a pure cover corner.

Doing that lightning round thing ...

-Brandon Marshall's 35-yard touchdown in the third quarter embodied everything that he brings to the table as an elite receiver. After creating separation from Terrence Newman with a subtle double move (given, a feat that won't exactly land you in an exclusive club these days), Marshall flashed downfield, adjusted in the end zone to an underthrown ball and made the grab while Newman had him locked in a WWE-worthy sleeper hold. It takes plenty of speed and strength to pull off that kind of reception, and Marshall, save his one-catch performance against the Bills, is playing some great football right now.

-Word on the street is that Dallas cornerback Orlando Scandrick said Davone Bess is a better slot receiver than Wes Welker. After witnessing Bess' jaw-dropping, one-handed grab yesterday, I can see why he feels that way.

-Brian Hartline was a quality safety valve for Moore yesterday, no?

-Cameron Wake was a factor early and often against Dallas, and really should have collected more than just one sack and two QB hits. Meanwhile, despite the fact Jake Long racked up three false starts, he held DeMarcus Ware to no sacks or QB hits (he held Ware to protect the quarterback on one play, though). I will gladly take those numbers against a guy who is arguably the two most-feared pass rusher in the game right now.

-Mike Pouncey finally looked like a rookie yesterday with some of those nerve-y snaps in the first half, but he helped make amends by doing some serious road grading for Reggie Bush in the second half. Pouncey was also likened to former Steelers great Dermontti Dawson by CBS commentator Phil Simms. For those of you who are too young to know who Dawson is, that is a ridiculous compliment.

-Welcome back to the hot seat, Tony Sparano.