Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Redskins-Dolphins Game Analysis

What a way to start off the season.

While this game flashed a few precious moments of hope for a Miami team in desperate need of some, overall it was the same unnerving story Dolphins fans have had to live through for years. If you've never heard this tale, it goes a little something like this: Miami's defense plays well enough to limit the opposing offense to a very manageable amount of points (in this case, 13 in regulation) and then a characteristically inefficient offense continually shoots itself in the foot until there's just a bloody stump where that foot used to be, thereby leading to yet another low-scoring game where the Dolphins get edged out by the slimmest of margins.

I feel like that's the story I've been treated to every Sunday for the past half-decade. It's almost akin to watching Groundhog Day mixed with Saw - repetitive and frightening. Throw in some intense frustration for good measure and that's the Miami Dolphins in a nutshell.

Overall, this game played out pretty much as I had surmised it would. Neither quarterback made the glaring mistakes that would lead to a loss, and in fact, both Trent Green and Jason Campbell performed admirably. I thought that whichever QB was able to avoid the big mistakes would win, but they both managed to accomplish that more or less.

Having removed the QBs from the equation, this game came down to the running attacks. To put it simply, Miami's offensive line did a terrible job run-blocking and the Miami backs didn't help out by creating yardage on their own (no easy task, obviously, but it's something the elite RBs are able to do). On the other hand, Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts trampled over the Miami front seven, gaining a combined 157 yards rushing. Portis alone averaged 5.8 yards per carry. This strong running game eventually wore down the Dolphins defense, and that stout unit ultimately collapsed in the OT period, allowing the Redskins to march down the field and into field goal range with ease.

All this brings me to another question I had before the game:
"Will Miami's defense be able to carry the team right out of the gates?" Well, it's hard to answer that question. For almost any other team, holding the opponent to a mere 13 points in regulation would be more than enough to achieve victory. But that's not the case for Miami. Although I expect the offense to improve as the year goes on, at this point they require the type of super-human effort that even Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas cannot consistently provide on a weekly basis. The defense is doing its damnedest to hoist the struggling offense onto its shoulders and carry the team to victory, but unless the defense is able to put up a touchdown or two of its own every week, it will continue to collapse under the incredibly disproportionate burden that it has been given.

Here's a closer look at what Miami can feel good about and what they'll need to improve:

The Bad
Run-blocking - As I mentioned above, the offensive line was atrocious on run plays, constantly getting pushed back and generally manhandled. Ronnie Brown and Jesse Chatman should get some of the blame for the poor running attack, but it's hard to have success on the ground when running lanes are few and far between.

Penalties - Miami finished with 8 penalties for 61 yards, most of which came on the offensive side of the ball at the most inopportune moments. On more than one occasion, a drive was stalled and eventually failed due to careless lapses in judgment. For a unit that struggles to move the chains even without penalties, adding those extra mistakes is like putting the nail in the coffin.

Dropped passes - Everyone thought that cutting ties with TE Randy McMichael along with another year of development would cure the team's problem with dropped passes. Not so. Miami receivers dropped at least 5 passes on Sunday. Chris Chambers, despite a solid statistical output, is showing everyone once again that he does not have reliable hands, particularly on the relatively easy catches. Marty Booker, usually the most sure-handed receiver of the bunch, dropped an easy pass himself. And then new TE David Martin made sure to do his best McMichael impersonation, dropping a pass that hit him square between the numbers on a play that would have resulted in a critical first down. Even Randy would have made that catch.

David Martin - Not only did he drop an easy pass, Martin was invisible all game long. He caught only one pass for 7 yards - and this is coming in a very TE-friendly offense with a QB who is known for targeting the TEs early and often. Maybe it was just the fact that he was facing a great secondary, but I'm not in the business of making excuses. He has to step up his game and find a way to contribute.

Game Management - The score was tied in the fourth quarter with less than two minutes remaining and Miami had the ball with timeouts to spare. Why didn't they try to move the ball into field goal range instead of playing for overtime? This was an away game with a jarringly loud crowd and the Miami defense had already been worked to exhaustion. Cam Cameron needed to trust his players in that situation not to make a game-ending mistake and try to win the game. Instead, they played for the tie and it ended up costing the team the game.

Bell's Injury - To top all this off, SS Yeremiah Bell tore his Achille's tendon and will miss the rest of the season. Bell was cause for much optimism over the offseason, as he was finally getting his opportunity to start from Week One. He was expected to bring a play-making ability to the secondary. Now the team may have to replace him with the guy he replaced midway through last season - Travares Tillman. If that is the case, Miami will be in trouble.

The Good
Trent Green - Green looked much better than he did in the preseason. He showed poise, leadership, and good decision-making - all qualities that the Miami QB position has been sorely lacking for some time. Although he almost coughed up the game by throwing a near interception to Fred Smoot, for the most part he was efficient and smart with the ball. A lot of his passes were dump offs to the RBs and that strategy became a substitute for a failing running game. He was let down on several occasions by his receivers as they failed to hold onto well-placed balls. I would have liked to see the offense air it out a bit more, but I don't think the receivers were showing an ability to get open deep down the field. In the absence of a deep threat, the Redskins could focus on shutting down the run and they did just that.

3rd and goal from the 1 - With only 4 seconds left in the first half and Miami down 0-3, Cameron had to decide whether to kick the chip-shot field goal or try for the touchdown. It's easy to say he made the right call by going for the TD since it ended up working, but even if it hadn't, the decision was still right. The team was struggling to move the ball and they were only a yard away from the endzone. It's an away game and you want to be aggressive and play to win rather than tie. The move also shows confidence in the offense. It was a gutsy call, and quite frankly I don't remember the last gutsy call I've seen from the Dolphins offense. After that play, it felt like something had finally changed, like the new Dolphins era had just been ushered in. Unfortunately, the team failed to carry that momentum into the second half and the defense allowed the Redskins to march down the field in 6 plays and score a TD on the opening drive of the second half.


Play of the Game - Shaun Suisham's game-winning field goal in overtime.

Player of the Game - Clinton Portis grinded out 98 yards on 17 carries and scored a TD. His work in the running game helped to establish a rhythm in the Redskins' offense and he wore down the Dolphins defense.

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