Dreadful performances like last night can't go without consequence. John Bonamego learned that first hand this morning. The Dolphins didn't waste anytime firing him today, and promoting Darren Rizzi to special-teams coach. Will it change anything? Who knows. But a message needed to be sent that this franchise isn't going to tolerate something as awful as whatever it was we just saw.
In what started as a great opportunity, has turned to utter disaster. The Dolphins headed into to their two most important games of the season atop the AFC East at 2-0 with a chance to make back-to-back statements on prime time television against the Jets and Patriots.
And while the Dolphins at least lost in a respectable manner to the Jets, the wheels completely fell off last night. Losing 41-14 is just as bad as the score says, no matter how it happened. Legitament contenders, or even half-way decent teams for that matter, don't allow a blocked punt, kick, and kickoff return in the same game. They just don't.
Some may preach that it's still early, and that the Dolphins are only a game back in the division, but those people need to come down to reality with the rest of us. You can't make up for losing both of your home games to the other two contenders in the division. The magic of the 2008 season isn't here anymore. The upcoming schedule is far from forgiving, and will likely bury this team if they don't make some massive adjustments in the bye week.
So many questions need to be answered, and in a hurry. The run defense is looking like one of the league's worst. New England ran right at the edge at will last night, and when the outside linebackers were able to contain it a little bit, the backside pursuit was way out of place, and cutback lanes were allowing Green-Ellis and Woodhead to pick up 4 and 5 yards a pop.
The running game is still a long way from where it was last year, and Chad Henne reminded us all why he isn't ready, and maybe never will be, to emerge as a legitimate franchise quarterback. He was staring down his receivers far too often, and folded under the pressure in a game this team desperately needed. Not the kind of qualities you want to see from a guy you've invested so much in.
That brings me to the special-teams. I don't think there's anything I can really say to sum up just how horrible they were last night. I'm talking one of the worst special-teams performances of all-time, and probably hands down the worst this once proud franchise has ever seen.
If it was me, I would fire John Bonamego immediately. There's simply no excuse for what happened. I'm not going to say special-teams have cost the Dolphins the last two games, because they still deserved to lose with the way they played defensively against the Jets, and the way Chad Henne and the run defense played last night.
But that blocked punt against the Jets certainly didn't help their cause. And last night, the kickoff return, the blocked punt deep in Miami territory, and the blocked field goal that was returned for a touchdown, made winning last night impossible. Throw in Chad Henne's pick-six, and the Dolphins conceded four touchdowns to New England with Tom Brady on the sidelines. How sickening is that?
Still though, I think Jeff Ireland and the front office have to be blamed for some of the special-teams woes. It's been a weekly ritual to overhaul the last few players on the roster, who usually have a big role on special-teams, and bring in guys from the waiver wire, only to waive them a week or two later. That's obviously means the Dolphins have seen new players manning key special-teams positions just about every week.
Perhaps what made waking up this morning the hardest, is how the Dolphins just squandered away any respect they may have earned over the past couple years. They've worked so hard, and come so far after that miserable 1-15 season. You think anyone is going to be taking them seriously, though, after back-to-back loses on national television, especially with the Monday night massacre we saw last night?
I think for the first time since that 2007 season, that rock bottom feeling is back. Sure, they are a much better team now, but they've fallen a long way from that 2-0 start that had everybody, including myself, thinking this team's time had finally come. Well, it hasn't. The Dolphins aren't who we hoped they would be, that I can guarantee.
This team flourished in 2008 with no expectations, and were a solid team up until the last three weeks last year when expectations weren't considerably higher. But now that expectations have come, it's evident who this Dolphins team truly is. Great teams let expectations fuel their efforts. Pretenders fold under the pressure that comes with them.
And that's where this Dolphins team falls. I'm not even sure how much longer they can keep up their act. They probably won't even be pretenders that much longer if they don't right this ship in a hurry. The schedule after the bye week is sure to expose them that much more.
How does 2-6 feel? Or 2-8? Don't kid yourself, it's possible after what we saw these past two weeks.
Now, though, is when we will find out what kind of character this team has. Their backs are against the wall. A knockout blow awaits them after the week off. Will they give in, or fight their way back into relevancy?
Bum bum bum bum....That's the sound of Monday ladies and gentleman. Monday's are usually the worst day of the week, but not tonight. It's almost time for Monday Night Football, with the Dolphins and Patriots being center stage for the whole country. Sunday Night Football was great last week, but there's really nothing like Monday Night Football.
The Dolphins have historically provided some instant classics on MNF, and tonight figures to be no different. A week after losing in the final seconds to the hated Jets, they have to get all revved up again to go toe-to-toe with their second most hated rival- the New England Patriots.
I've said it before, tonight is absolutely a must win for the Dolphins. Yes, it's early in the year, and a loss would only drop them to .500, but they can't afford to lose their home games to the Jets and Patriots and expect to keep up in this heated division. With Green Bay and Pittsburgh looming after the bye week, the possibility of dropping to 2-4 on the year will surely kill those good feelings fans had after opening the season 2-0.
Bye weeks are never fun either, but going a week without Dolphins' football after back-to-back loses to the Jets and Pats, will feel a bit miserable. So what exactly do the Dolphins have to do to knock off the Patriots at home, and enter the bye week tied for first in the AFC East at 3-1? My three keys to victory are below.
Get consistent pressure on Brady
Coverage wise, there is really no way to match up with Tom Brady's talented weapons, regardless of who you are. If you take away Randy Moss and the deep ball, things are just going to open up for Wes Welker underneath. And now, if you can somehow find a way to cover both, the two rookie tight ends will be next in line to shred your defense apart.
Pressure has always been Brady's kryptonite, though. Of course, when you blitz, that means you have less men in coverage. And if New England's offensive line can pick up some of the exotic blitzes Mike Nolan dials up, there's no way the Dolphins' secondary can cover all of Brady's weapons. Last week, they didn't register a sack against Sanchez, and only hit him once.
If that happens against Brady, I can almost guarantee that they will be 2-2 at night's end. Guys like Cameron Wake and Koa Misi could sure make things easier, though. If the Dolphins can somehow get pressure with their front four (in the nickel package), they could keep six or seven guys in coverage at all times, which would obviously be the safest way to slow down Brady.
Make the Pats' offense one-dimensional
As prolific and as scary as New England's passing attack is, they are considerably more dangerous when the running game is going too. If the Dolphins can get them pass happy, odds are they are winning the game or shutting down the run. I know Brady dropping back to pass as much as possible doesn't sound like a recipe for success on defense, but when you know what's coming it's a whole lot easier to stop.
Fred Taylor is out, so BenJarvus Green-Ellis will get the majority of the reps, with the newly acquired Danny Woodhead likely to get some work as well. The Dolphins have been pretty solid up the middle, but weren't able to effectively set the edge against the Vikings and Jets. Cameron Wake and Koa Misi will need to shed blocks quickly and take great angles to the ball-carrier when ran at, which will surely happen if New England has been watching film of the last two games.
Unleash balanced attack on offense
In Week 1 we saw Chad Henne dink and dunk while Ronnie and Ricky combined for over 120 yards on the ground. Against the Vikings, Henne only attempted 14 passes and Ronnie and Ricky each nearly cost the Dolphins the game with two fumbles deep in Minnesota territory. Then last week, the passing attack came alive, but the running game was a non-factor and Dan Henning basically abandoned the bread and butter of the offense.
The Pats haven't been strong against the run or pass, so tonight presents a golden opportunity for the offense to begin clicking on all cylinders. Hopefully, we see Henne continue to build off that monster performance last week, and Brandon Marshall continue to be the focal point of the passing game, all the while with Ronnie and Ricky producing at the high level we've seen from them the past couple years.
Yes, that's a whole lot easier said than done, but for this offense to emerge as one of the league's best, that's what it's going to take. If last week was a sign of things to come from Henne, and the running game, more specifically the interior offensive line, can get back on track, how exactly would you go about stopping this offense?
Maybe they are ready for greatness, maybe not, but one things for sure, if the Bills can move the ball effectively against the Pats' defense, the Dolphins should be able to put some points on the board tonight.
As expected, both Jared Odrick (fibula) and John Jerry (sick) are ruled out of Monday night's game. Not a big surprise there, as both sat out practice all week.
With Odrick being out, we should expect to see Paul Soliai continue to work as starting nose tackle with Randy Starks working at defensive end with Kendall Langford. John Jerry being out for the second consecutive game is another pretty big blow, considering Pat McQuistan wasn't very impressive starting at right guard last week.
From the Patriots' side of things, cornerback Terrence Wheatley (foot), runningback Fred Taylor (toe), and offensive lineman Nick Kaczur (back) are all listed as out.
Dolphins offense: 207.3 pass ypg (18th)
Patriots offense: 247.3 pass ypg (10th)
Dolphins defense: 193.3 pass ypg (9th)
Patriots defense: 260.3 pass ypg (25th)
Many expect fireworks to take place in the passing game Monday night. As long as the Patriots have Tom Brady, they are going to throw the football, and throw it well. With weapons like Randy Moss and Wes Welker in his arsenal to go along with two promising rookie tight ends, the Pats are virtually uncoverable.
Not exactly the team you want to see after getting torched by Mark Sanchez, Dustin Keller, Braylon Edwards, and the Jets a week ago. But nonetheless, a great opportunity to bounce back and prove that the huge strides we saw in the first two games have some legitimacy.
The Dolphins' offense meanwhile, and in particular Chad Henne, need to establish a little consistency after throwing all over one of the best pass defenses in football last Sunday night. I said earlier in the week that they should try and be more balanced, and not commit exclusively to the run, like we saw against the Vikings, or the pass, like we saw last week. Still though, with the way New England's secondary is playing, it's going to be awfully tempting to get pass happy again.
Patriots passing attack vs. Dolphins secondary
Usually when you go into this game you scheme around stopping Randy Moss and the long ball and Wes Welker in the short to intermediate passing game. Now though, throw in the Pats' leading receiver, tight end Aaron Hernandez, into the equation, and it's even more difficult to prepare for this offense. And that's not even mentioning the other rookie right end, Rob Gronkowski, who has a couple touchdowns of his own through three games.
Considering that the Dolphins have been abused heavily by opposing tight ends so far, what should they try to take away first and foremost? I don't think you can really commit to anything, because that would just open things up for Brady's other weapons.
There's always one simple key to slowing down this offense, though- consistent pressure. That's something the Dolphins completely forgot how to do against the Jets, after getting to Trent Edwards and Brett Favre in consecutive weeks.
Cameron Wake was man-handled by Damien Woody for the most part, Koa Misi was a complete non-factor, and some of the exotic blitzes Mike Nolan drew up were way too slow getting to Sanchez. If the Dolphins are going to continue to bring pressure, it better get there quick against Brady.
If he can sit in a clean pocket, and have time to scan the field against man-to-man coverage, it's game over. He's going to hit Moss on some deep shots, Welker multiple times underneath, and pick Miami's defense apart with Hernandez and Gronkowski.
One thing that will make things considerably easier regardless of how much pressure the Dolphins can get on Brady, is if Vontae Davis, who better cover Moss all night, can lockdown Randy Moss on the outside. Last week we saw Jason Allen matched up with Braylon Edwards, because the Dolphins like to keep their corners on the same side of the field so they don't have to flip technique.
That may work against some teams, but against Randy Moss, you better have your best man in coverage at all times. Davis has looked like a shutdown corner so far this season, but until he does it against elite receivers, we can't make that call. He's picked off Brady two times in two games. Will he make it three for three on Monday night?
Dolphins passing attack vs. Patriots secondary
We finally saw last week just how talented of a player the Dolphins have in Brandon Marshall and were reminded of just how good Chad Henne can be. And that was against the Jets, who had the best pass defense in football last season. Yes, Revis was hurt, but they shutout the Pats in the second-half two weeks ago without him.
With the struggling Patriot secondary coming to town, you would hope Dan Henning would continue opening up the playbook even if they jump out to an early lead. When the Dolphins led early against the Bills and Vikings, the offense went in a shell. They didn't take shots down-field, and almost exclusively went to the run in Minnesota.
They stayed balanced in Buffalo, but outside of that one deep shot to Marshall, the routes were all in the 5-8 yard range.
When you have a weapon like Marshall who is such a big, athletic target down-field, you would be crazy not to utilize that. Once you hit him for a couple big gains, the defense is only going to get back on their heels, and things are going to open up for Davone Bess, Brian Hartline, and Anthony Fasano.
The Dolphins shouldn't worry too much about pressure either. The Pats have only registered one sack this season, courtesy of inside linebacker Jerod Mayo. It will be interesting to see if that enables Dan Henning to do away with some of the max protection, two tight end sets that he likes to run, and run a few more three receiver formations with Davone Bess working in the slot.
However they approach this defense, there really isn't much of an excuse for Chad Henne not having another big day considering how poorly the Pats' secondary and pass rush is playing right now.
It's that time of week again. Time to sit down with a blogger from the team the Dolphins are scheduled to face for a little Q&A exchange. I don't know about you, but to me, this is hands down becoming the best read of the week. Please welcome in Derek Hanson from Foxboro Blog, Bloguin's one stop for New England Patriots' coverage. Be sure to check out the questions I answered for Derek about the Dolphins right here.
Phins Phocus: How are you feeling about the Pats' defense right now? Will they turn it around, or do you see a mediocre defense separating them from the dominate Patriot teams of years past?
FB: I'm certainly not excited by what I've seen of the Patriots defense thus far, but I also don't think that it's been the disaster that most people are making it out to be. The bulk of the points that New England gave up against Cincinnati came after the Patriots were already up by 20. The D certainly wasn't great against the Jets, but I tend to pin that loss more on the offense who blew a halftime lead by getting shut out for the last two quarters. As for the 30 points they surrendered to Buffalo, seven came off a kick return, and other seven were set up by an offensive fumble that gave the Bills great field position. That leaves 16 points, one TD and three FG's, which isn't horrendous.
Don't get me wrong, the defense certainly needs work and is nowhere near the level that we saw during the Patriots big runs last decade. That being said, the bulk of our defensive players have played less than three seasons, and they're still learning to play together. I do expect things to improve as the season progresses. Right now, the Pats' D has some flaws, but pretty much every team in the league has something wrong with them. I don't think there's a clear-cut favorite for the Super Bowl at the moment. With some improvement, there's no reason this defense shouldn't be good enough to keep New England in contention.
Phins Phocus: If you were an opposing defensive coordinator, how exactly would you go about stopping Tom Brady and the Pats' offense?
FB: Tom Brady simply has so many weapons at his disposal, that I don't think that any team can shut them all down. I think there are two keys to stopping New England. For starters, if you can stop the run game, the Patriots have a tendency to abandon it and become very predictable and one-dimensional. Once you've been able to shut down the run, I'd say the next key is to make it difficult for Brady to hit Wes Welker. The Jets were able to turn Welker into a non-factor in the second half of their game, and, as a result, Brady was stuck either bombing to Moss (which has a high incompletion percentage) or throwing to receivers he's less comfortable with. That's how New England's powerful offense found themselves shut out in the second half.
Phins Phocus: How much longer do you anticipate the Super Bowl window being open for this team? How much longer will they remain elite, or have they already fallen from that pedestal?
FB: I actually don't see the Super Bowl window as something that is closing on this team. I think it's a window that's been shut since last season, is currently still shut, and is about to open up again. This Patriots team is young. Yes, Brady, Moss, and Welker are all getting up there in years, but they certainly aren't rapidly declining. Then you have a defense comprised largely of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd year players, who all look good but just need time to mature. Tack on two 1st round picks and two 2nd round picks in 2011, and the Patriots are a team that could be really, really scary in a couple of years. 2011-14 has the potential for some nice Super Bowl runs with the way this team is currently set up.
Phins Phocus: With the Pats, Phins, and Jets all being tied at 2-1, how do you see this heated race eventually playing out?
FB: It's really anybody's game at this point, although I think New York and New England have a slight edge over Miami. Monday Night's game is absolutely critical. Whoever loses that game will have dropped two of two to their top division rivals. It would be particularly devastating for Miami, because you would've have blown both home games and I'm not sure you can recover from that. At least with a Pats loss, they were both on the road and there's reasonable hope for redeption at home. Still, whoever loses on Monday is going to be in a really bad spot.
I'm going to stick with the Patriots taking the division. In the end, they have the better quarterback, and the Jets just seem ripe for an implosion. Like I said though, it's anybody's game. The only team that would surprise me is Buffalo.
Phins Phocus: How do you see Monday night's game unfolding? Final Score?
FB: I'm very, very nervous about this game. No matter how good the Patriots are or how bad the Dolphins are, this annual game at Miami is usually a house of horrors for New England. One thing that I think does bode well for the Patriots is that everyone seems a little down on them. When that happens, they tend to respond by coming out and playing some good football.
I think it's going to be a fairly physical game. The Patriots will likely get their points and the big question will be how the defense plays. A key for the Patriots will be stopping the run. I think that the secondary will have their hands full with Brandon Marshall. If the Dolphins are also allowed to run all over the field, it's going to be a long night for the Patriots.
Another thing to watch is how New England plays during the second half. In 2009, the Patriots were 1-6 on the road if you discount the neutral site game in England against Tampa. In the majority of those games they held leads going into halftime before they stalled out and blew the game. Two weeks ago against the Jets it was the same old story. The Patriots are certainly going to have to reverse that trend if they want to walk out of Miami 3-1.
I think the Patriots will be able to contain the run and put enough pressure on Henne to force him into some mistakes. Brandon Marshall will get his catches, but in the end the New England offense will put up enough points to seal the deal.
Prediction: New England 31, Miami 27
It's been a couple weeks since we got a little film study in. I didn't intentionally skip a week, but last week's version was lost when the Bloguin network underwent a server change. Oh well, were back in action this week in preparation for what should be considered a must win for the Dolphins. I know that's an unfortunate situation this early in the season, especially after winning their first two games, but that's just the price you pay in a division as competitive as the AFC East.
Let's take a look back at the two games between the Dolphins and Pats last year. The Dolphins dropped the first one in New England but managed to knock off the Pats at home with Chad Henne having one of his best performances as a pro and a defense that bent but didn't break, forcing a turnover on downs and a Vontae Davis interception in the red zone.
Week 9 2009: New England 27 Miami 17
Week 13 2009: Miami 22 New England 21