Monday, October 27, 2008

Buffalo Game Notes; Reader Mailbag

That was a really satisfying win. We had great performances on each side of the ball, some expected (Porter), some not so much (Ginn). This team really seems to step up its level of play against tougher competition. Of course, that's both a blessing and a curse. It's why they've been able to pull out amazing victories over teams like New England and Buffalo, while falling to teams like Baltimore and Houston.

Before I get into some individual notes about this game, let me open up the reader mailbag to answer a question. (If you have any questions you'd like to see me answer here, just send me an email.)
Finally, the Dolphins beat the Bills. The Phins really stepped things up in the second half especially on defense. Joey Porter once again did a great job and looks like he did with the Steelers. The secondary had some big plays in the second half. The passing game was improved from the last couple of games. At this point in the season, how do you rate the Dolphins passing game? Do you think the WR position is still a huge need for the Phins in the 2009 draft? It seems that the coaching staff is still making adjustments and finding out what player works best at a given position. What are your thoughts?
Thanks for the question, as always.

You're right, the defense certainly came to play in the second half - particularly the fourth quarter, the same spot in which they collapsed against Houston. So that was a good sign. And, given some of the positions they were put in in the first half, the defense wasn't horrible then either. I'm thinking specifically of the goal line stand they made on Buffalo's first drive, holding the Bills to only a field goal. That's the second goal line stand this defense has made so far this season, and that's a huge testament to improved defensive line play. It sure was good to have Jason Ferguson back.

As far as Joey Porter, well I don't think even the most optimistic observer could have predicted this kind of play. He's simply a man on a mission - and that mission is to restore this Dolphins defense and team to respectability. He's certainly doing more than his fair share. Now it's time to see some other guys helping out. The pass rush simply cannot continue to be a one man show. Phillip Merling was the only other player besides Porter to register a quarterback hit on Trent Edwards. Pressure needs to come from somewhere else, whether its Vonnie Holliday, Matt Roth, or Channing Crowder. Teams will start to give Porter the Jason Taylor triple-team treatment soon if no one else materializes as a significant threat opposite him.

On to the secondary. Is it any coincidence this unit played better with the insertion of Jason Allen? It very well may be. After all, this was only one game, so let's not get ahead of ourselves here. Still, Jason played above average in his first significant action this season, and that's all you could have hoped for. He wasn't perfect, but he was solid. If he can keep up that kind of play and continue to improve, this secondary may be in for a bit of an improvement over the second half.

And Will Allen held on to an interception! Nice play, sir.

The passing game was, as always, brutally efficient. Chad Pennington is completing a ridiculous percentage of his passes, and that is keeping this offense in rhythm and on the field.

Today, however, Pennington also opened up the passing game downfield (well, as far downfield as he can reliably get the ball). Before this game, the offense had been almost entirely relegated to a confined 20-yard box. This game saw Pennington take several shots downfield, primarily to Ted Ginn - who just so happened to have the best game of his young career. That should be no surprise, Ginn's biggest strength is on deep throws, and that was on full display against Buffalo.

But again, this is only one game. Will this type of play-calling and success become a trend or a one-game blip on the radar? The more the receivers can get involved downfield, the more the opposing secondary will have to back up out of the box, in turn opening up some running lanes for Ronnie and Ricky. That's important, because the running game has been getting stifled lately.

At this point in the season, I rate the passing game as highly efficient and effective, but still not threatening. Ginn has had one great game. Greg Camarillo is the most consistently effective WR. Beyond those two, there are still huge questions. The tight ends have been fantastic, and I want to give a special mention to David Martin. I can't believe this is the same guy who played here last year. I was hard on him a lot last year, because he was pretty awful and being outplayed by Justin Peelle. But this year, he's looked totally different, and he deserves credit for turning things around.

That said, yes, the WR position is still a huge area of need in next year's draft and free agency. I don't know if Miami needs to spend a first round pick on one (it depends where they are picking and who is available), but they will want to consider using one of their two second round picks on one. At this point, the only WRs currently on the roster that I would consider locks for next season are Ginn and Camarillo. Anthony Armstrong, Davone Bess and Brandon London will certainly be in the equation if they keep improving and I like what I've seen from Bess and London so far. Derek Hagan and Ernest Wilford might as well start looking for employment elsewhere.

Hope that answers your questions.

Now here are a couple other thoughts I had about the game:
  • Brandon London - congrats on your first NFL catch! Hopefully, he'll get more involved in the offense in the second half.
  • Ted Ginn not only had a great day receiving, he also had a great downfield block on Ricky's long screen pass, as did Samson Satele.
  • What is with Dan Carpenter's short kickoffs? He said after the game that he was not intentionally pooching. Well that's good to hear, but that makes it even more of a head-scratcher that he had kickoffs land at the 14 and 20-yard lines. That is simply unacceptable. They set the defense up in terrible field positions and sap away much of the momentum gained from scoring drives. If Carpenter has a big leg as we were told, I want to see it.
  • It was good to see the Wildcat gain some first downs today.
  • Brandon Fields showed off some directional punt ability that we didn't know was there. He was huge in the field position game today.
Enjoy this win, everyone, but just keep this in mind: Miami is still just 3-4 and in last place in the AFC East. No sub-.500 team is playoff bound. So let's temper those kind of expectations for now. Just take this season one game at a time, and victories like these will be all the sweeter. Just be thankful that Miami is a good enough team this year that they'll still be playing meaningful football in November. That in itself is a meteoric rise from last year.

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