Dan Carpenter: 8-10 FG's, Long 53
Brandon Fields: 41.0 average, 11 IN20, Long 68, 2 punts blocked
Davone Bess: 5 returns, 12.8 yard average, Long 18
Nolan Carroll: 7 returns, 26.3 yard average, Long 37
Patrick Cobbs: 7 returns, 21.9 yard average, Long 30
Punt Coverage: 11 returns, 5.4 yard average, Long 19
Kickoff Coverage: 15 returns, 30.5 yard average, Long 103, 1 TD
Jeff Reed: 8-12 FG's, Long 52
Daniel Sepulveda: 46.7 yard average, 6 IN20, Long 62
Antwaan Randle El: 9 returns, 3.4 yard average, Long 8
Antonio Brown: 7 returns, 31.3 yard average, Long 89, 1 TD
Emmanuel Sanders: 3 returns, 20.3 yard average, Long 23
Punt Coverage: 9 returns, 9.1 yard average, Long 38
Kickoff Coverage: 21 returns, 21.3 yard average, Long 37
Sunday was a great bounce back performance from this now Darren Rizi led unit. The solid returns from Carroll, the great coverage by the kickoff team, and the composure of Dan Carpenter to nail a 53-yard field goal before half and later kick the game-winner in overtime highlighted an encouraging first day on the job for the Dolphins' new special-teams coach.
Still though, there was plenty to work on. The recently booted Bobby Carpenter missed a blocking assignment which almost cost the Dolphins big, as the punt was merely deflected but could have easily been blocked. Also, bad call or not, the holding penalty near the end of the half on Dan Carpenter's 43-yard field goal try probably would have cost the Dolphins 3 points if they didn't have a Pro Bowl kicker.
Against an elite team like the Steelers, you must play mistake free football to pull of an upset. Things like missed blocking assignments, missed tackles, and poor angles on special-teams would surely cost the Dolphins any chance of picking up their first home win of the year.
Unlike last week, the Dolphins will have to kick to a dangerous return man. Antonio Brown is boasting a scary 31.3 yards per kickoff return and has already taken one back to the house this season.
On the other side, I have a feeling Nolan Carroll is due for a big return any week now. He appeared inches away from breaking off a big return last week, but the Steelers have been pretty stout in kickoff coverage so far.
One thing is for sure, though, because it figures to be tough sleeding moving the ball on the Steelers' dominate defense, the Dolphins could sure use a big play from their special-teams. Whether it be a big return or a blocked punt/kick, anything that helps in the field position battle or produces a score could make the difference in a game like this.
Tough blow for this defense, which will likely have to go the rest of the season with Paul Soliai at nose tackle and Randy Starks at defensive end. I'm not overly concerned with the front three with that lineup, but Odrick was flashing an awful lot of potential early on and Starks looked the part of a true nose tackle in the middle.
Dolphins running game: 115.6 rush ypg (14th)
Steelers running game: 131.0 rush ypg (9th)
Dolphins run defense: 109.4 rush ypg (16th)
Steelers run defense: 63.8 rush ypg (1st)
Dolphins leading rushers
Ronnie Brown: 67 att. 299 yds, 4.5 ypc, 1 TD
Ricky Williams: 56 att. 240 yds, 4.3 ypc
Steelers leading rushers
Rashard Mendenhall: 116 att. 495 yds, 4.3 ypc, 5 TD's
Isaac Redman: 21 att. 89 yds, 4.2 ypc
Doesn't the week go by so much more smoothly after a Dolphins win? I will admit, previewing the next week's game is always more fun and exciting after a W. After a loss, you just want to get away from football until the second the ball is kicked off the next game. But we have an awful lot to look forward to this Sunday.
Check power rankings all over the web, the Steelers are widely considered to be the best team in football right now. That's because they are. Their defense is simply dominating, and their offense just got a two time Super Bowl winning quarterback back. We have all week to talk about Big Ben, though, now it's time to preview the running game.
And what a tough matchup this will be for the Dolphins. Rashard Mendenhall is quickly establishing himself as one of the best backs in football, currently standing at sixth in the entire league in rushing yards. And the Steelers' defense has been busy eating alive any offense that tries to get a running game going.
Dolphins running game vs. Steelers run defense
What would you do if you were Dan Henning? That's a difficult seat to be in right now. We know the Dolphins have been opening things up a bit the last few games, having thrown the ball more than they have ran in each of the last three contest, but against the Packers Henning kept things pretty balanced. Henne had a nice rhythm and Ronnie and Ricky finally returned to form. That's when this offense will be at it's best, when they stay balanced.
Yes, they only put up 23 points against an injury riddled Packers' defense, but it wasn't because they were having trouble moving the ball. They turned the ball over a couple times in Packer territory, and settled for two field goals (not counting the game-winning kick in OT). Is it even possible to employ a similarly balanced attack against the brick wall that is the Steelers' defense, though?
It sure won't be easy, but they at least need to keep the Steelers honest by giving them a moderate dose of Ronnie and Ricky. If not, guys like James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley are going to pin their ears back and get after Henne.
But the bottom line is, the Dolphins won't be able to run the ball on the Steelers if the interior offensive line blocks like they have all season. They were much better Sunday, but they need to come together in a hurry and each individual on that line needs to have a career best performance if the Dolphins are going to go toe to toe with the Steelers front seven.
A realistic benchmark would be about 80 yards. If Ronnie and Ricky can pick up about 40 yards a piece, and manage to stay in the mid to upper 3.0's for yards per carry, that could be enough production from the running game to open things up a bit for Henne and the passing game to make plays down field.
Steelers running game vs. Dolphins run defense
Unlike on the other side of the ball, I think there is a little more hope here. Don't get me wrong, the Steelers are one of the better running teams in football, they usually always are, but they're not impossible to stop.
Of course, in the Dolphins' case, it once again will come down to their ability to set the edge. I think they're solid up the middle, and with Channing Crowder now back in the lineup, teams shouldn't be able to pound the ball down the Dolphins' throats.
Getting Jared Odrick back would also go along way in stiffening the Dolphins front seven, because Randy Starks could then move back to nose tackle where he impressed early on. But when the Steelers turn on the game film of the Dolphins' game in Minnesota and their home games against the Jets and Pats, they are going to see an open gate on the edge of the defense.
The Dolphins stopped the bleading against the run a bit last week. But lets be honest, the Packers don't have a very good run game, and didn't test Cameron Wake and Koa Misi like they probably should have.
Just like the Patriots did a couple weeks ago, I expect the Steelers to run Reshard Mendenhall right at Wake all game long. Not only will that test what has been his biggest weakness thus far, but that could also ware him down and make him a less lethal pass rusher as the game goes on.
Wake has the tools to excel as an edge setter, and has done so quite effectively on a few plays this season, but he's going to have to establish some consistency in a hurry. Also, the backside pursuit needs to be ready to fill cutback lanes.
Against New England, there were times the Dolphins were able to take away the edge and forced the ball-carrier back into the teeth of the defense. The only problem was, Green-Ellis and Woodhead found all kinds of room to operate once they cut it back to the middle.
That means Miami can't get caught overpursing, which puts even more pressure on Wake and Misi to shed blocks and get after Mendenhall.
Stopping the Steelers' ground attack will be a difficult task to say the least, but it may be the key to a huge Miami victory. Take away Pittsburgh's running game, you take away their play-action passing game, which could lead to shutting down their offense completely.
With news of Bill Parcells packing up and leaving the team facility yesterday, this football team is now officially, if it wasn't already, in the hands of Jeff Ireland. A man who hasn't exactly earned the trust of this franchise's fan base yet. The fact that he was molded by the hands of Parcells for three full offseasons, though, suggest the Dolphins are in very capable hands.
Besides, the foundation of this team is already in place. Sure, there are still holes. You would hard pressed to find another team in this league that doesn't have places where improvement needs to be made, but the pieces are in place for this football team to be successful, both now and in the future.
That's why this news doesn't bother me one bit. But before we look ahead to the next era of leadership, let's look back at what truly was a remarkable remodeling job.
I'm not going to go as far as to say it was all Parcells, as I think the Dolphins got some very lucky breaks, like Pennington becoming available a few weeks before the 2008 season for example. But there's no doubt that this team wouldn't have turned around so quickly and be in the position to do great things like they are today, without the guiding hand of the Big Tuna.
After hitting rock bottom in 2007 by becoming the laughing stock of the entire league in an embarrassing 1-15 season, Parcells instantly changed the culture the minute he walked in the door. The first step in turning around a once proud franchise.
The next step is obviously building the team from the ground up with sound personnel decisions. Parcells wasn't always a genius, mistakenly signing players like Ernest Wilford and Gibril Wilson and drafting guys like Phillip Merling, Pat White, and Patrick Turner who look the part of bust early on in their careers.
But the positives far outweigh the negatives, and any fan that criticizes the work Parcells has done needs to step back and look at what this team has accomplished and how far they have come in three short years. I know I'm not alone in extending a big thank you to Bill Parcells, who played a large role in restoring hope to a franchise in the lowest of lows.
Here's a list of my top five personnel moves made by Parcells in the last three years. I'm keeping this closed to players here, but the decision to hire Tony Sparano as head coach deserves some serious recognition as well. Also drafting Chad Henne in the second round of the 2008 draft obviously will go a long way in defining Parcells' tenure here in Miami, and although he's flashed plenty of potential, the jury is still very much out on if he will emerge as a franchise quarterback or not.
Top 5 personnel moves in Parcells era
5. March 5th 2010: Dolphins sign ILB Karlos Dansby
Even if the Dolphins overpaid Dansby by making him the highest paid non-rush linebacker in history, it was a necessary move and the Dolphins probably aren't 3-2 without his presence in the middle of the defense. He's proved to be a tackling machine and has the speed to stretch the field with the play-making ability that impacts the outcome of games.
4. 2008 offseason: Dolphins upgrade defensive line by signing DE Randy Starks and drafting DE Kendall Langford
Okay, so I cheated a little bit on this one, but both played a huge role in helping the Dolphins transition to the 3-4 defense, and both are now Pro Bowl caliber players in the Dolphins' front seven. Both were pretty big steals too. Starks wasn't thought to be a marquee free agent and Langford lasted all the way until the third round. Starks moved over to nose tackle this offseason, but has been forced back to defensive end with Jared Odrick's injury. Langford, meanwhile, may be establishing himself as one of the better 3-4 ends in the game.
3. 2009 NFL Draft: Dolphins select CB Vontae Davis 25th overall
The rookie corner hit his fair share of bumps in the road last year, but, despite getting roasted by Greg Jennings this Sunday, is quickly establishing himself as an elite cover corner in only his second season. We need to see a little more consistency before we know if he's that good for sure, but all indications are pointing towards the Dolphins having something special here.
2. April 14th 2010: Dolphins trade two second-round picks for WR Brandon Marshall
There is no doubt this offense is now capable of great things with a playmaking receiver like Brandon Marshall causing defense all kinds of havoc. Chad Henne desperately needed a go-to threat like Marshall to emerge as a franchise quarterback. Now, it all comes back to how far Henne can take them, but with Marshall, the sky is the limit for this offense.
1. 2008 NFL Draft: Dolphins select Jake Long 1st overall
Just like Bill Parcells, Jake Long symbolizes the Dolphins turnaround. He was the first building block that started the transformation. Some still argue that they should have went with Matt Ryan with that 1st pick, and judging by how well he's played in Atlanta that may have been the right move. I tend to think the circumstances in Miami would have buried any rookie quarterback. There was no offensive line and the receivers were sub par to be generous. That's why Jake Long was the safe pick; the right pick. Now, the Dolphins should have their O-line anchor for well into the foreseeable future, as Long has unanimously established himself as one of the top two or three tackles in the game.