The Indianapolis Colts dismantled the Miami Dolphins yesterday, with Andrew Luck surgically dissecting the Miami secondary at will. The 23-20 scoreline was in no way indicative of what the Colts were able to do to the Dolphins on the day. But, the question will be, can the Dolphins find a way to fix what the Colts did, or does the league now have a blueprint to make the rest of 2012 a very long year to be a Miami fan?
The Miami secondary was nearly non-existent on the day. Even when Sean Smith was able to get his hands on a ball, or be in the right position to stop a play, nothing would happen. The best the Dolphins could hope for throughout the day were dropped passes by the Colts receivers. Luck was able to place the ball exactly where he wanted, and he could do it with little fear of any sort of defense by the Dolphins.
It got even worse on third down. The Dolphins came into the game as the best defense in the league on third down. They left with their tails between their legs after Luck engineered a 13-for-19 third down conversion rate against Miami. It was so bad that the Dolphins could literally knock the Colts back to 3rd-and-20, wrap up Luck for the sack, and yet he would still get off a first down pass. Miami's defense was horrible - and ever that might be an understatement - on third down Sunday. If they want to win again this season, this should be the number one thing they target.
But, it was not even all on the secondary. The Dolphins pass rush, which had been stout throughout October, suddenly disappeared today. Do not get me wrong, Miami was not going to set a sack record this year, but they were able to at least hurry and hit opposing quarterbacks fairly regularly. Today, not so much.
Cameron Wake was able to get to Luck and sack him once. (I actually think that should be twice. I think Wake got Luck's knee on the ground on one of the third down plays when he was wrapped around Luck's feet, but the refs said Luck got the pass off and the Dolphins did not challenge. It is one of the things I want to see when I get a chance to watch the game again - but it would not change the outcome of the game, just the stats.) Other than that, Luck simply slid away from pressure.
It was not even a scramble out to the side most of the time - though Luck did that plenty - it was a Dan Marino style side step that would make the pass rusher miss and let Luck have time to make a good throw. We have all said it this season, the secondary is the weakest part of the defense for Miami. If the team cannot get pressure on a quarterback, especially one as talented as Luck, the secondary has no chance. Cameron Wake, Randy Starks, Paul Soliai, Jared Odrick, Olivier Vernon, and Derrick Shelby have to cover up the weakness of the secondary by getting to the quarterback. Yesterday, they did not accomplish that.
The offense was not much better. Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill was awesome yesterday. He threw for 290 yards on 22 for 38 passing, with a touchdown and a passer rating of 90.9. His right arm, and receiver Brian Hartline who caught eight passes for 107 yards, kept the Dolphins in the game. But, this team cannot rely on that. Hartline should not be the only weapon on offense, and forcing a rookie quarterback to carry the team is dangerous. While both Luck and Tannehill played great on Sunday, that will not happen every week. If Miami has to rely on Tannehill to carry the team, there are going to be times where he plays like a rookie, and it will not be pretty for the Dolphins.
Instead, the Dolphins need a running game. They need Reggie Bush to play like the player who scored on a gorgeous 18 yard run. Bush started left behind Jake Long, the cut-jump-cut in one move that should not have been physically possible. As he came back to the center of the field, Bush's video game highlight was not yet done, as he simply shook the last defender before stumbling into the endzone.
That is the Bush the Dolphins need. Not the player who averaged 2.6 yards per carry the rest of the game. The Dolphins need Daniel Thomas to continue to be a bruising back, able to make players regret trying to tackle him. They need him to continue to be able to break runs for 20 yards, as he did yesterday.
The Dolphins need the run game to take some of the pressure off of Tannehill. If they cannot get the rushing attack going, Miami will have a long season the rest of the way.
And, before we get to the end of this, the Dolphins need to send out a search party to find Jake Long, because whomever that was playing left tackle yesterday, it was not Long.
The Dolphins are a rebuilding team. We all know that, even if the Dolphins themselves will not say it. This is the first season with a rookie head coach and a rookie quarterback. Being .500 heading into Week 10 of the season should be a good thing. And, really, when it really comes down to it, most of us will be happy to see this team go .500 over the remainder of the year. But, we all also saw what this team can do. We all now have expectations of this team executing well. And, when they cannot do it, it hurts.
But, is that not a good thing? Should we not be expecting the Dolphins to win, and being upset when they lose? Going into a game with the expectation - not a hope, but an expectation - that Miami will be competitive and should come away with the win really is a step in the right direction.
It does not change that it sucks when the Dolphins lose, however.
Now the questions becomes, can the Dolphins fix their issues and bring that expectation back? The team will play two more games in the next eleven days. The team hosts the Tennessee Titans next Sunday, then travels to face the Buffalo Bills on Thursday, November 15. That means the Dolphins have to find solutions to the problems exploited by Luck and the Colts, and they have to find them fast.
One step could be the return of cornerback Richard Marshall, who would bolster the secondary that was torched by Luck. Of course, there is no telling when Marshall will be back, or if he will be an improvement over Nolan Carroll and Jimmy Wilson. Marshall was not exactly dominating before his back injury sidelined five weeks ago.
This week will be a long one for the Dolphins - and for the Dolphins' fans - as they get ready for the Titans. Hopefully they will get the problems figured out and get back to playing winning football. Because if they cannot get it right against the Titans and the Bills, games against the Seattle Seahawks, New England Patriots, and at the San Francisco 49ers in Weeks 12, 13, and 14 could be really ugly.