Saturday, August 18, 2007

Preseason Game Two Analysis

Nobody should have been expecting greatness out of Miami's offensive production in its second preseason game, but the players did manage to make some positive improvements over their horrendous first showing. And that small incremental progression is all I was looking for. Granted, for the most part the first team offense still looked below average in most respects, but the unit showed that it was developing in the major areas of concern - the offensive line and the quarterback position.

Here are the specific observations that I noted during the game.

Again, as a disclaimer, I realize this is only a preseason game. Nevertheless, it's all we have to work from in terms of live game action, and it can be useful to gauge a player's progression and physical talent.

The Bad
The Secondary - The secondary continued to show that it is the weakness of the defense, allowing several big plays throughout the game. As a whole, the Kansas City quarterbacks completed 65.4% (17/26) of their passes. The secondary often seemed out of position, allowing significant yardage after the catch resulting in passes of 20, 21, and 42 yards.

Drops - The receivers have to find a way to reign in the number of drops they are having. That has been a big problem over the past few seasons, and it was not encouraging to see the first-team offense open things up with three dropped passes. The drop that stands out the most to me was when TE David Martin dropped a pass that hit him directly in the hands and there was no one around him. It was a short pass, too. There's no excuse for that kind of play, and the whole receiving corps is going to have to step up their focus.

Ted Ginn Jr./Special Teams blocking - Ginn did not catch a pass in this game and he looked pretty bad when returning punts. The punt blocking unit did very little to help set up running lanes, so they deserve some of the blame in that regard. But otherwise, Ginn showed off some poor decision making skills when fielding punts. He caught one punt with a defender inches away from him and primed to make a big hit. In that situation, Ginn should definitely have called for a fair catch. Then, on two separate occasions, Ginn tried to run backwards in an arc before going forwards after catching the punt. Although he has elite speed, those moves will rarely, if ever, work in the NFL. The players are simply too fast and too disciplined to outrun in that fashion. The opposing gunners are committed to their lanes and like we saw in this game, they will be there to tackle Ginn for a loss. Even though the blocking in front of him was poor, Ginn needs to take off straight ahead and try to find a crease in the middle before trying to get fancy outside.

Cam Cameron/Kickoff Returners - Apparently, Cam Cameron has made the decision to pull Ted Ginn Jr. from kickoff return duties, and instead is opting to use Ronnie Brown and Jesse Chatman as the returners. I simply cannot fathom the logic and reasoning behind this move, and I think that it is an absurd and awful decision. The plan was for Ginn to contribute to this team with his explosive kick returning abilities from the very beginning while gradually growing as a receiver. Now, Cameron is saying that he wants Ginn to focus only on punt returns since he apparently thinks focusing on kick returns is too much in addition to Ginn's regular receiving duties. If Ginn was slated to start at receiver, I could stomach this move. But he's not. At best, he's going to be the team's third WR this season. Ginn could be a true weapon as a kick returner, but now he's being relegated to only punts. I just don't get it. What makes this decision even more half-baked is who Cameron has appointed as the replacement returners. No, I don't have a problem with Jesse Chatman lining up as one of the returners. But Ronnie Brown? Never mind that Brown hasn't returned kicks since high school. He's the team's primary running back in an offensive system that relies on a workhorse back to carry a large load. Without him, this offense will likely go nowhere. So, why put him at a greater injury risk by having him return kicks? Why sap the energy he'll need to effectively carry the ball through a complete game, let alone a complete season by exposing him to all those extra hits? Again, I have no answers. I hope Cameron can come up with one or at least prove me wrong on this matter. If the coach is absolutely set against having Ginn return kicks, I would still rather have someone like WR Az-Zahir Hakim or RB Lorenzo Booker do it rather than Ronnie Brown. I have generally agreed with most of what Cameron has done thus far, but I cannot get behind this move. Ted Ginn Jr. has the potential to be a stud return man - on kicks as well as punts. Now is not the time to hold him back.

The Good
The Offensive Line - This designation is obviously relative. The offensive line was more or less mediocre throughout the game. No one is mistaking this group of guys as world beaters, but they sure improved from their bottom-of-the-barrel showing from last week against the Jaguars. The first-team unit finally opened up some holes for Ronnie Brown to run through - a huge difference from the last game where Brown was stood up well behind the line on almost half of his carries. That defensive penetration still happened in this game, but far less frequently. Brown was able to average 4.4 yards per carry and RB Patrick Cobbs averaged 6.8 yards/carry. It's a lot easier for a RB to look good when he has some legitimate holes to work with.

Ronnie Brown - As I just mentioned, Brown finally had some holes to work with and he showed us what he can do with them. The most impressive thing about Brown's performance was his tenacity and unwillingness to give up on a play. As long as the whistle hadn't blown, Brown was still churning his legs looking to pick up extra yards in a pile or to burst through a new crease. He made some guys miss on tackles and showed good strength on his runs.

Michael Lehan - Even though the secondary was disappointing, Lehan managed to stand out with a very solid performance. Before training camp began, I predicted that Lehan would miss out on making the roster, but he's definitely going to prove me wrong. Lehan has locked up a spot on this roster as the third CB for now, and once Andre' Goodman fully recovers, Lehan will assume the fourth CB position. Whereas the other Dolphins defensive backs often looked out of position in this game, Lehan was on his man all night, breaking up passes and making good tackles.

Health - Once again, the Dolphins avoided a health scare when LB Abraham Wright went down with only 8 seconds remaining in the game. The injury looked serious when Wright was carted off the field, but luckily the reports were that he only had severe cramps in both legs - no breaks or tears. He was walking around the locker room normally after the game. It will be a huge plus if Miami can finish the preseason with no major injuries.


Play of the Game - With about 8:20 left in the first quarter, Ronnie Brown took a hand-off and found little room to work with. He continued to pound away at the pile. Some Chiefs defenders seemed to give up on the play as if it was over, but Brown never did. He bounced the run outside and was able to pick up another big chunk of yardage. It was great to see that kind of relentlessness and patience with Brown.

Player of the Game - Ronnie Brown. 13 carries for 57 yards and a long run of 22. He also added one catch for 10 yards. Very solid and encouraging showing for Brown.

The next preseason game will be the most interesting one, as the starters will likely play for the most extended period of time yet. It will be important to see the overall offensive progression evident between games one and two continue between this game and next.

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