Sunday, December 21, 2008

Thoughts on Chiefs Game

As many expected over the past few weeks, Miami's playoff hopes will finally come down to next week's game against the Jets. Win and we're in - it's that simple.

But to get in this position, the Dolphins had to beat the Chiefs, in the coldest game in Dolphins' history. So let's talk about this win and what kind of questions it raised about next week.

To start off, here's an email I received following the game:
The secondary did another great job this week. What do you attribute the better play from the secondary is from? Different players? How great of a concern is it that the Offense is having some problems with run blocking? Going into the Jets game what is the greatest problem the Dolphins have on defense?

Thanks for the email.

I'd say the secondary played well, but I wouldn't say they played a great game. Tony Gonzalez pretty much had his way against them throughout the game, they were caught out of position and got burned on a few big screens, and they gave up a few big plays over the top to taller guys like Devard Darling and Mark Bradley.

That being said, they clamped down when they absolutely had to, and Andre' Goodman had a huge game despite being targeted early and often.

I think the main reason the secondary is playing so much better this year than last is a simple matter of health. There was absolutely no continuity amongst the unit last year with all the safeties the team had to sift through and the shoulder injury that hampered Goodman. The players composing the group this year are hardly different than last year, save for some of the backups like Nathan Jones and Tyrone Culver.

Will Allen is and has been for the past few seasons one of the elite corners in the league, although he is rarely credited for it. But like Nnamdi Asomugha in Oakland, it often doesn't matter how good one corner is if the guy opposite him can't hold up under increased attention. And that was largely the case last year. Teams just figured it was easier to avoid Will Allen and target a significantly limited Goodman or an average Michael Lehan instead. This year, however, Goodman is back at full strength and it's showing. He's in the midst of a career year. Perhaps he's the kind of player who really turns it on in pressure situations. Up until this year, he's never played on a winning team, so this is really new territory for him. Whatever the case may be, he's proving to be equally dangerous opposite Will Allen.

Of course, Renaldo Hill's entrance into the starting lineup for Chris Crocker also made a world of difference as far as communication goes, and having Yeremiah Bell stay healthy for every game is a huge factor too.

As far as the run-blocking is concerned, Miami may not be successfully running out of conventional sets as much as I'd probably like them to, but that doesn't mean they aren't getting it done. Andy Alleman has filled in nicely for Justin Smiley at LG, although it's obvious that the coaching staff is still afraid of just pounding the ball up the middle. And that's to be expected since a middle three of Alleman, Satele, and Ndukwe is rarely going to get the huge push you'd like to see. But these interior lineman aren't bad at pulling and out in space, and that's why we've seen an increase in the number of sweeps and outside runs.

Against the Jets, the run-blocking could be an issue. Samson Satele will have to go up against NT Kris Jenkins. Even though Jenkins seems to be wearing down a bit as the season goes on, he still has the ability to dominate Satele much the same way that Vince Wilfork did. If that happens, Miami's running game could face some big problems. As it is, the Jets have a top ten defense against the run. Seattle was able to get some things going against them though, so perhaps Miami will find some weakness to exploit. If not, this game will rest on the arm of Chad Pennington - and that's not the worst thing in the world.

Heading into next week, I think Miami's biggest concern on defense is going to be how to deal with the Jets if they employ a spread-style offense like the Patriots did in their big win over Miami. Miami doesn't have the secondary depth to cover four and five receiver sets, and the Dolphins have not done well at pressuring the QB when the defense gets spread out like that. If Brett Favre is given ample time to throw, he'll find the open guy.

The Thomas Jones/Leon Washington combo also scares me a bit, and the defense had better know where Washington is at all times when he's on the field.

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