New Regime, Same Old Dolphins.
The 2012 NFL season kicked off for the Miami Dolphins with a trip to Houston to play the Texans. Fresh off of HBO’s series “Hard Knocks”, Miami was looking to make some noise with a new regime and rookie starting quarterback. Unfortunately, Miami fell to Houston by the score of 30-10 in the first game of the Joe Philbin Era. The score indicates a blowout but the Dolphins didn’t necessarily play all that bad. They made some mistakes on the road against an elite team in the NFL and ultimately paid the price for it. Both positives and negatives can be taken from this game.
First, the negatives. Miami turned the ball over four times. Turnovers are killers, even for the best teams in the league. Rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw three interceptions on the day, two of which were balls deflected at the line of scrimmage. The other was a quick slant route to Legedu Naanee that Texan cornerback Jonathan Joseph jumped all over. Tannehill probably should have gone somewhere else with the ball but his receiver didn’t do anything to help him. Naanee failed to even attempt a play on the ball. This exact play is a perfect example of what the lack of weapons on the outside means for the Dolphins all season long. The Phins have no deep threat and opposing teams know it so just like Houston, they will key on quick short routes that are designed for Tannehill to get rid of the ball quickly. The sad truth is that the Dolphins offense is going to suffer heavily due to a glaring need for playmakers. The Dolphins offensive line also didn’t do much to help the rookie quarterback either. The Texans were in Tannehill’s face all game long and brought him to the turf three times. When they weren’t in his face either hurrying him or sacking him, the Texans defensive linemen were getting their hands up and deflecting passes. Defensive end J.J. Watt was an absolute nightmare as he was the one that deflected the two balls off the line that resulted in turnovers for the Phins. Responsibility for the batted balls can be shared by both the offensive line and the quarterback. The line needs to do a better job at keeping the defender engaged and not let him sit back watching the quarterback waiting for him to release the ball. As for the quarterback, Tannehill needs to do a much better job at knowing exactly where his throwing lanes are and perhaps changing his delivery slightly to take full advantage of that 6’4 frame of his. Another negative for Miami doesn’t fall so much on the team as the front office. Third round pick TE Michael Egnew and fourth round RB Lamar Miller were both inactive for the game. Both players were selected in this draft yet were on the sidelines as mere spectators. The Dolphins desperately need players that come in and make an immediate impact. The front office traded the best wide receiver the Dolphins had in Brandon Marshall for off the field issues which is fine, but then didn’t address the obvious need for a receiver. With nine selections in this past NFL draft the Dolphins waited until the 6th and 7th round to finally grab a receiver and only one of them is still on the team. They need a guy they can count on; those are not guys sitting around in the 6th or 7th rounds of the draft.
There are plenty of positives to take away from this game. First and foremost, the Dolphins came out with intensity and were not intimidated in a hostile environment by one of the best teams in the league. It wasn’t until the six-minute mark in the 2nd quarter that the Dolphins started to deteriorate. Running back Reggie Bush looked very good. He was quick, agile, and decisive when running the football. Bush carried the ball only 14 times for 69 yards and also hauled in all 6 of the passes he was targeted on for 46 yards. The offense seemed to be clicking early while the run game was effective, but as the Dolphins deficit grew, they were forced to abandon it. Aside from the three interceptions, Tannehill didn’t look half bad. It has come out that batted balls are a weakness of his game even going back to his days at Texas A&M. Fortunately for Miami; this is a problem that is very fixable. Tannehill made some really nice throws showing off his capabilities and skill set. He ended his rookie debut completing 20 of 36 passes for 219 yards. This is the first time since the Dan Marino Era that Dolphin fans can legitimately be excited about a player at the quarterback position in Miami. On the defensive side of the ball, the Dolphins played much better than expected. The general consensus was that the Houston offense was going to murder the Miami defense. Houston did put up 30 points but it wasn’t because of an overpowering offensive attack. The 30 points mostly came because the Texans had a short field to travel after turnovers. Miami’s defensive line play was very good stopping one of the top rushing attack in the league as well as getting pressure on quarterback Matt Schaub. Randy Starks registered two sacks on the day. Behind the D-line, the linebackers played exceptionally well. Koa Misi was all over the place racking up 11 total tackles. Kevin Burnett and Karlos Dansby also had good games. The defensive backs were average for Miami making a couple good plays here and there. They did make a big mistake in letting stud wide receiver and former University of Miami standout Andre Johnson roam free through their zone occasionally. All in all the defense played solid, had it not been for the four turnovers and a short field for Houston most of the day, the score would have been more indicative of how well the Dolphins actually played. Special teams were also a strong suit in this game for the Phins. Reserve running back Marcus Thigpen recorded Miami’s lone touchdown when he took a punt back 72 yards for the score. Punter Brandon Fields and Kicker Dan Carpenter were reliable as usual.
Moving forward, the Dolphins have several issues to address but it is likely that they will have to wait until the offseason to address them. Regrettably, Dolphin fans might be in for a long year. Though it’s only week 1 and thinking as far ahead as the offseason seems downright irresponsible, the Dolphins are in a good position for 2013. They will have considerable salary cap space as well as 5 selections in the first three rounds of the draft. There is light at the end of the tunnel, but something’s got to give. If Miami has any hope of taking advantage of their picks as well as their cap space, GM Jeff Ireland must be gone. Evaluating talent is an extreme deficiency for this team right now and that is solely on the General Manager. Five years into the Jeff Ireland experiment and we have nothing to show for it but frustration and busts. For the sake of the franchise, certain moves must be made.
The Miami Dolphins take on the Oakland Raiders Sunday in Miami. Oakland is much more beatable than Houston. Tannehill will be under far less duress than he was against the Texans which should give him a better opportunity to make some plays. One the defensive side of the ball, Miami needs to keep tabs on running back Darren McFadden as well as seize the opportunity for turnovers. Raider quarterback Carson Palmer is well-known for throwing interceptions so the Dolphins must be ready when those situations present themselves. This is a very winnable game for Miami, especially at home. Kickoff is set for 1pm from SunLife Stadium.