Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Jets-Dolphins: Game Analysis

Jason Taylor was kind enough to provide journalists with their headline this week, thus saving myself, and writers everywhere, the work of turning this team's disastrously schizophrenic performance into a bite-sized statement.

So here's the headline courtesy of last season's Defensive Player of the Year, and it might as well have been bellowed by the defense collectively personified:

"I suck right now. It's as simple as that. So there -- there's your headline."

Very well said. Short and to the point.

While that help is much appreciated, Jason, every Dolphins fan sure would like to see you help this defense stop the run or pressure the quarterback from time to time rather than helping out the journalists sell paper.

In all seriousness, however, I am positive that Jason is taking this team's failure squarely on his shoulders. As a team captain, it's what he has to do. And quite frankly, it's justified. This defense has been generally bad and at times awful this year. It has been quite the precipitous fall from the fourth ranked defense of last season. And all of a sudden, I have been forced to think the unthinkable:

Has this defense finally grown old overnight?

For me that is a very scary thought. Even in the worst of recent times, this franchise has always had the ability to confidently rely on its defense to at least give the team a fighting chance. It hasn't always equaled overall winning success, but the defense has been able to keep the team respectful.

Until recently.

What is going on here? With the painful drop-off of the defense, this team has had absolutely no identity this year. At the risk of over-generalization, let's look at how the first three games have played out:
  1. Week 1 - The defense was solid for most of the game, until getting trampled on the ground in overtime. The offense looked inept.
  2. Week 2 - A "total team loss." The defense again could not stop the run and surrendered 37 total points. The offense, "led" by Trent Green, coughed the ball up 5 times.
  3. Week 3- The offense finally shows up and plays very admirably, but the defense completely breaks down in the second half, and for the third straight week is gouged by the opposing running game.
One week the offense is most to blame, the next week it's everybody who is screwing up, and then the following week the offense rights the ship while the defense continues to take on more water than it can bail out. This season has been schizophrenic to say the least. It's as if the team is trying to stop several leaks but they only have one wad of gum to use. When one leak is plugged up, another one springs open.

Suffice to say, the Miami Dolphins need more gum.

Here's a closer look at the good and the bad from this week's game:

The Bad
The defense - The pass defense played relatively well, but for the third straight week, Miami was absolutely torn asunder by the opponent's running attack. When one of a team's few perceived strengths consistently fails in such a miserable fashion, it is a legitimate cause for concern. The Dolphins are giving up a bloated 166 yards per game on the ground, good (bad?) enough for 29th in the NFL. They are also surrendering 28 points per game, putting them at 26th in the NFL in that category. The strong and supremely talented leaders of this vaunted defense simply have yet to show up and play this season (with the possible exception of Zach Thomas, but he was forced to sit out this week with a concussion). NT Keith Traylor is getting manhandled instead of doing the manhandling, and Jason Taylor is showing a complete inability to pressure the quarterback. Even when he's not being triple or double-teamed, he has still found no success. That is worrisome. More worrisome is the unit's propensity to collapse after halftime. Suddenly, two halves of football has become too much for these guys. I thought age would creep up slowly, but it might have delivered a quick TKO to this bunch. For the most part, the defense has been very good during the first half. While it's not fantastic, the defense has yielded 34 points in the first half this season, compared with 50 points in the second half. The important thing is that the team has always kept the game tight at halftime. After the half is another story. The defenders look like they've hit a brick wall. Guys like Clinton Portis and Thomas Jones take quick advantage of that and simply pound the ball down the throats of guys who were supposedly near-elite. High-priced free agent acquisition Joey Porter hasn't helped one bit.

Special teams - Other than Jay Feely's perfect mark on field goals (6/6 on the season), the special teams unit has been a huge disappointment, and is actually turning into a true weakness on this team. I can't say that I'm surprised. Losing special teams stalwarts like Sammy Morris, Travis Minor, Wes Welker, and David Bowens all in one offseason is hard to deal with. It's clear the team doesn't have replacements who can play up to their predecessors' abilities. Last year's first round draft pick, Jason Allen, hasn't even been an average special teams player (let alone defensive back, which is, you know, kinda what the team drafted him to be). This week, the coverage unit let the Jets' backup kick returner, Leon Washington, take a kickoff 98 yards to the house untouched. Thereafter, the team turned to the embarrassing, stupid, and ultimately costly decision to squib kick to Washington rather than let him try a return. Look, if it was Devin Hester lining up back there to return kicks, by all means, kick away from him. But this was a backup kick returner. The coaching staff essentially said "We have no trust or confidence in your ability to do your job." A runner is going to spring a big return every now and again, and while that is not excusable, it shouldn't mean completely abandoning regular deep kickoffs. With the way this defense has been playing, it's suicide to give them starting positions approaching midfield. What has the greater chance of happening - 1) the kickoff returner returns one for a TD or 2) the defense surrenders points after starting near midfield? At this point I believe it's number 2, but if the coaching staff thinks differently, this team is in shambles.

The Good
Ronnie Brown - Brown may have had the best game of his career. Cameron finally awakened to the facts and fed Brown early and often. For once, Brown started off hot right out of the gates and he ended up with 23 carries for 112 yards and 2 TDs. He also contributed greatly in the passing game with several beautifully designed screen plays. He caught 6 passes for 99 yards and a TD. To top it all off, he scored a two-point conversion on a Statue of Liberty play (and we thought we'd never see that again after the preseason). It was nice to see Cameron stick with the running game even when the team was behind. Of course, this brilliant effort was wasted by the poor play of the defense. And not to be too pessimistic, but we have to remember that Brown is historically very good against the Jets. Let's wait and see if he can keep this kind of play up against other opponents before we declare him a breakout player. Nevertheless, for once, we have a glimpse of what a Cam Cameron running back is supposed to look like - and it looks marvelous.

Chris Chambers - Chambers continued his fine play this week, picking up another 100-yard game. He also didn't drop any passes which is very encouraging. He's shown good chemistry with Trent Green, particularly in the middle of the field.


Play of the Game - Leon Washington's kick return was an absolute momentum-killer, pure and simple.

Player of the Game - I'm inclined to say Ronnie Brown, but his efforts were for naught. Chad Pennington did a great job returning from an injury, and he played smart, efficient football. He may have only passed for 124 yards but he threw 2 TD passes and he even ran for a TD. Going into the game, it looked like Miami would be able to tee off on him with blitzes and pressure, but he deftly avoided everything Miami could throw his way.

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