Bittersweet is probably the word that describes it best. There was plenty to feel good about in the Dolphins’ 13-17 loss at the hands of the Buccaneers on Saturday night.
Well, when I say plenty I’m mostly just referring to Chad Henne’s performance. But he’s a quarterback. A quarterback whose struggles prevented this team from threatening for a playoff spot a year ago. So, when Henne plays well there is a huge reason to be pleased.
But there was plenty of bad too. 76 yards worth of penalties bad. A grand total of 22 rushing yards in the entire game bad. The Tampa Bay running backs combining for 116 yards receiving bad.
Even with all the bad, though, the Dolphins were a Brandon Marshall fumble away from possibly taking a 13-3, maybe even a 17-3 lead into the half on a team that went 10-6 a year ago in the brutal NFC South.
And so the flip-flopping continues.
What should the fan base be feeling this Monday morning? Should they be thrilled that Chad Henne is seemingly coming around, or should the offensive line’s nightmare game have Dolphin fans lining up to hit the panic button? Let’s weigh the positives and negatives from a very indifferent night in Tampa.
Chad Henne may be a different quarterback: It may be the preseason, but it’s looking more and more safe to assume that Chad Henne has finally turned the corner. I’m not saying he’s going to be an elite quarterback in this league, but he surely looks like a quality one. A quarterback that is suddenly capable of putting this team on his back and actually winning games on his own. That’s crucial because with the current state of the running game, he may have to.
But it’s not just the big-time yardage and gaudy quarterback rating that has me thinking I’m looking at a completely different player. There were two plays that stood out to me against the Bucs in particular.
The first being an all out blitz from Tampa Bay that led to a simple quick out to Anthony Fasano for a 9-yard gain. But it’s what Henne did before the play that excited me. He clearly recognizes the blitz and audibles at the line to a quick hitter to Fasano. That’s the type of play that shows me he’s finally taking command of this offense. Simple, yes, but still something we haven’t seen from Chad in the past.
The other play was about a 6-yard completion to Clyde Gates on third and three. Henne’s eyes are fixated to the right of the field from his drop back. Instead of forcing the pass into his first read, though, Henne looks left to find just enough room to fit a tight pass into Gates. Staring down receivers has been my major grip against Henne from day one. The sky is the limit if he’s going to begin to go through his progressions.
And all of that isn’t even mentioning the beautiful 60-yard touchdown strike to Brandon Marshall and another well-placed deep ball on a pass Clyde Gates should have probably reeled in. Henne has always had the arm strength; he’s just never had the deep ball accuracy or the touch to utilize it consistently.
In the past two games Henne has completed 25 of 37 passes and has thrown for 369 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. I don’t want to make Henne’s maturation official until he has similar success when it counts, but being optimistic isn’t jumping the gun after what we’ve seen in back-to-back weeks.
The Dolphins addressed their depth at safety this afternoon, inking Gerald Alexander to an undisclosed deal.
The 2007 second-round draft pick out of Boise State has started 30 of 41 games in his four-year career.
At 27-years-old, Alexander had his career year as a rookie, accounting for 81 tackles, registering 2.0 sacks, and picking off two passes for the Detroit Lions.
His last decent season came in 2009 when he managed 55 tackles and two interceptions for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Alexander is listed as a free safety, which may immediately draw conclusions that the Dolphins aren’t satisfied with Chris Clemons and Reshad Jones. But not so fast.
He said he’ll learn both free and strong safety on twitter, likely meaning he’ll be competition for backup strong safety Tyrone Culver. Culver required the help of the trainers last night for an apparent injury, but was able to walk off the field on his own power.
It’s unknown whether or not Alexander is being brought in because Culver may miss time or because the Dolphins just aren’t happy with his production. Either way, Culver’s relief from Jimmy Wilson moving to corner was short lived and now his roster spot is once again in jeopardy.
Chad Henne connected with Brandon Marshall on a perfectly placed deep ball along the sideline. Marshall fought off the corner, juked the safety, and stiff armed his way for a 60-yard touchdown.
It was a thing of beauty. The same can’t be said for the rest of the night.
The Dolphins ran for a whopping 22 yards on the ground, averaging a pitiful 1.7 yards-per-carry. They also committed 11 penalties, making tonight difficult on the eyes at times.
The defense was stout against a Buccaneers’ rushing attack that ranked in the top 10 a year ago, but they were unable to contain Tampa’s backs as receiving threats.
Cameron Wake was the face of some fairly consistent pressure on Josh Freeman and the Dolphins did an adequate job keeping the likes of Mike Williams, Kellen Winslow, and Arrelious Been in check. But Buccaneer running backs LaGarrette Blount and Earnest Graham combined for 89 receiving yards.
At the end of the night, though, fans can hang their hats on two things: Chad Henne’s play and a clean injury report.
Henne’s 10 for 13, 175-yard, one touchdown performance gives him back-to-back solid showings. He looks like a completely different quarterback, taking command of the offense, making adjustments at the line of scrimmage, and actually going through his progressions instead of staring down his intended target.
And now that the starters are through the “dress rehearsal” phase of the preseason and likely won’t see much time Thursday night against the Cowboys, all signs are pointing to the Dolphins entering the regular season with no major injuries.
That makes tonight successful to some degree despite the loss and embarrassing play from the offensive line.
Look forward to much more on tonight’s game on Monday morning. For now, tells us how you think the Dolphins looked tonight in the comments.
Game ball: Chad Henne- 10/13, 175 yards, 1 touchdown, 0 interceptionsno comments
The O Line stunk, the running game did nothing, but Chad Henne was G---rrrrrrreat!
Henne finished the 3rd preseason game a very solid 10 of 13 passing for 175 yards and a touchdown. Henne also had a 143.9 passer rating.
Coming off of a decent outing against Carolina, Henne showed up against Tampa with something to prove. Henne wasted no time attempting to make some plays down field.
On the opening drive, Henne threw a nice pass to Fasano for 22 yards followed by a 60-yard touchdown bomb to Brandon Marshall. Henne was able to connect with Marshall again later in the game on a 30-yard pass that Marshall later fumbled. It certainly looks like Henne and Marshall are starting to build a decent relationship together.
Not too long ago in a Dolphins' scrimmage in training camp, Henne and Marshall connected several times and were all the talk around town. Well, in Saturday’s game, they took their work from the scrimmage to the playing field.
It is blatant that the Henne to Marshall connection has been stressed all off-season and the Dolphins offense will hopefully reap the benefits from it this year. Brian Daboll has figured out that Brandon Marshall will be essential for Chad Henne’s growth.
Henne also took a leadership role in the huddle. Henne was able to make good reads most of the night and called audiles at the right times during the game.
What might have been the most impressive part of Henne’s game, however, was the fact that he didn't turn the football over for the second consecutive week. Henne has been plagued by the bad read or throw but has avoided both the past two games.
Dolphins' fans can only hope this strong, consistent play continues from Henne.
What: Dolphins at Buccaneers preseason exhibition
When: Tonight at 7:30 p.m. EST
Where: Raymond James Stadium/ Tampa Bay, Florida
Weather: 10% chance of isolated showers and thunderstorms before 8 p.m. Low around 79.
TV: Miami WFOR-TV (CBS 4), West Palm Beach WTVX-TV (Channel 34), Fort Myers HBBH-TV (Channel 2), Orlando WRDQ (Channel 27), NFL Network replay Sunday night at 11, NFL Preseason Live
Through two preseason games, it’s difficult to put your finger on the 2011 Miami Dolphins. Week 1 in Atlanta, against a Super Bowl caliber Falcons’ team, the Dolphins’ starters were embarrassed in the first quarter, falling behind 17-0.
Then, last week, the first-team looked dominant on both sides of the ball. Chad Henne was on, the running game surprisingly shined, and the defense forced more punts than yielded first downs. But all those good things happened against what was the worst team in football a year ago.
The picture should clear up some after tonight.
Obviously, we won’t be able to judge the Dolphins with any real certainty after a preseason game. But the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were a 10-6 team a year ago in one of the toughest divisions in football.
Essentially, the Bucs are what many optimistic fans think the Dolphins can be- a legitimate wild card contender. With that said, it will be very intriguing to see how the Dolphins measure up in Tampa tonight.
The Bucs will be eager to bounce back after getting shellacked by the Patriots 31-17 a week ago in a game that was a laugher early on. If the Dolphins’ starters outplay Tampa’s tonight, there will finally be some legitimate reasons to be optimistic in South Beach.
Here are the five things that need to happen for a successful dress rehearsal:
It’s once again time to take a glance at our 53-man roster projection.
With the first and second teams figuring to undergo their dress rehearsal Saturday night in Tampa, many of the roster fringe players will likely have to wait until Thursday against the Cowboys to win the coaching staff over and earn themselves a place on this team.
As a reminder, this isn’t a 53-man roster prediction. This is simply a freeze frame of what the final 53 may look like if cuts were made today.
- Quarterback: Chad Henne, Matt Moore, Kevin O’Connell
Cuts: Pat Devlin
We didn’t get a glimpse of O’Connell or Devlin against the Panthers after getting only a brief look at Devlin in Atlanta. We heard some good things about Devlin early on in camp, which positions him to unseat O’Connell with a strong preseason performance.
We’ll likely have to wait until Dallas comes to town in the final exhibition to see either, though, as Chad Henne and Matt Moore will likely steal all of the reps in the dress rehearsal on Saturday. For now, O’Connell gets the nod because of the experience he brings to the table.
- Running back: Reggie Bush, Daniel Thomas, Lex Hilliard, Larry Johnson
Cuts: Nic Grigsby
I’ll tentatively sneak the newly signed Larry Johnson on the 53. If he has anything left in the tank, he’ll likely stick. But if he struggles with the significant time he figures to see on Saturday night, he’ll have a quick exit in Miami.
- Fullback/H-back: Charles Clay
Cuts: Lousaka Polite
Most agree that the Dolphins should part ways with Lousaka Polite. Fullback is a dying breed in this league and Polite would bring nothing but short-yardage conversions to the Dolphins’ offense. But I have doubted whether or not the Dolphins would actually cut Polite.
With Sparano admitting the bleak future of the fullback position this week and with Charles Clay seeing time with the first-team ahead of Polite, I see the Dolphins making the right move when final cuts are made.
- Tight end: Anthony Fasano, Jeron Mastrud, Mickey Shuler
Cuts: Dedrick Epps, Brett Brackett
The Dolphins are reportedly in the market for a solid number two tight end and are willing to shop defensive end Phillip Merling in order to land one. It would be a wise move because after Fasano there isn’t a tight end on the team that’s 53-man roster material.
Jeron Mastrud and Mickey Shuler hang on for now, but keep your eye on Dedrick Epps. Epps had an 18-yard grab and saw some goal line reps as a blocker against the Panthers. He could unseat one with a solid performance in the final two preseason games. But I still expect the Dolphins to find their number two tight end on the waiver wire if they can’t pull the trigger on a trade.
- Wide receiver: Brandon Marshall, Davone Bess, Brian Hartline, Clyde Gates, Roberto Wallace
Cuts: Phillip Livas, Marlon Moore, Julius Pruitt, John Matthews, Patrick Carter
Marlon Moore would have given the Dolphins an awful lot to think about had he not dropped that well-placed Matt Moore pass along the sidelines that would have went for an easy score. Instead, he’s still on the outside looking in.
Phillip Livas failed to follow up his brilliant return performance in The Georgia Dome with any noteworthy kick or punt returns. But he didn’t make any mistakes, which keeps him in striking distance to land a roster spot if he can impress in the return game against Tampa.
Even if Livas and Moore shine in the final two weeks of the preseason, I feel like the top five are fairly safe regardless. The Dolphins would likely entertain the possibility of keeping six receivers if either one stands out.
- Offensive tackle: Jake Long, Marc Colombo, Lydon Murtha, Nate Garner
Cuts: Ray Willis, Matt Kopa, Allen Barbre, D.J. Jones
I don’t see much changing here from a week ago. Ray Willis returns after missing time due to the death of his father. He’s capable of pushing for a roster spot if he can impress these final two games. In that event, Garner would likely move inside because there is really no need to keep five tackles.
- Offensive guard: Richie Incognito, Vernon Carey, Ray Feinga
Cuts: John Jerry
I still expect the Dolphins to clean their hands of John Jerry in the same way they did former third-round pick Patrick Turner last preseason. We haven’t heard much from Feinga lately, but he surprisingly spent time with the starters early on in camp.
- Center: Mike Pouncey, Joe Berger
I feel like the Dolphins are very open to potentially cutting Berger after he disappointed when given the opportunity to start a year ago. But they likely need to see something from Nate Garner, who has spent time at center in camp and this preseason, to feel comfortable dropping him.
Center is crucial to the success of the running game and poor snaps can lead to turnovers. The Dolphins need a capable center in case something happened to Mike Pouncey. Richie Incognito can get the job done, but he looks improved early on and the Dolphins probably want to keep him put at guard. As for now, Berger will likely make the team by default.
Yesterday we took a look at the Dolphins’ defense- a potentially elite unit that could be more turnovers and fewer points away from surfacing as one of the top defenses in football. But the consensus is the defense is already playoff ready.
Everybody knows what really needs to happen for this team to defy logic and surprisingly land one of the conference’s six playoff spots. The offense, which ranked 21st in total yards but a pitiful 30th in points scored a year ago, must at least find an identity if the Dolphins are going to seriously compete.
In 2010, while Chad Henne deservingly takes on the bulk of the blame, it’s the running game that disappointed me the most. If you can compliment a great defense with a dominant, ball-control running game, you may not have a Super Bowl recipe but you have what it takes to make a playoff run.
The Dolphins weren’t able to do that under Dan Henning last year. The passing game was actually average, ranking in at 16th, but what was a top five rushing attack in 2009, freefell to 21st.
Accompany the demise of the running game with Chad Henne gift wrapping games for opposing defenses with costly interceptions at the worst times and red-zone woes that probably won Dan Carpenter owners dominance in fantasy football, and it’s easy to see why it’s so difficult to pinpoint what exactly went wrong in 2010.
But it’s a new year. There’s a new offensive coordinator in Brian Daboll. Daboll doesn’t exactly have an imposing track record, but he brings refreshing youth and energy to the table.
The running game is remodeled, with a new starting center in rookie Mike Pouncey, Vernon Carey’s move to right guard, and the new Reggie Bush-Daniel Thomas running back tandem.
Bush along with fourth-round pick Clyde Gates, also addressed a need for speed, as the Dolphins’ offense seemed incapable of producing chunk yardage a year ago.
With all that said, Chad Henne is still under center. Once again, the success of this football team will live and die by Henne’s right arm. So that’s where we’ll start in our playoff formula for the Miami Dolphins’ offense.
It’s time throw on my cape and take on my role as captain obvious. Everybody knows, NFL analysis and casual fans alike, that something in Chad Henne’s head must start clicking this season if the Dolphins are going to sneak into the playoffs.
Does he have to be great? Well, that depends. If the new-look running game is good enough to play ball-control offense and the defense takes the next step, I would settle for Henne just cutting down on interceptions.
If he’s able to move the ball efficiently again and avoids the costly mistakes that lost games for the Dolphins in 2010, he’ll be a much better quarterback and this will be a much better football team.
But judging by the glimpses I’ve seen for Henne, I actually think he’s capable of more. After all, we’re talking about a quarterback that threw for over 300 yard three times and over 250 yards six times last year.
He has all the tools to put up big yardage this season, especially in Brian Daboll’s attack that utilizes more of a vertical passing game. I also think he’ll benefit more from the Reggie Bush addition than people realize.
Not only will Reggie open up Checkdown Chad’s conservative reads, he’s a player defenses have to account for on every play. That will only open up things for Marshall, Bess, and Hartline.
With all that said, though, the light bulb actually turning on in Henne’s head is far from a sure thing. Excluding Drew Brees, who emerged in his third season as the starter in San Diego, most of the top NFL quarterbacks had already established themselves going into their third year under center.
Henne’s habit of staring down receivers, probably the biggest thing holding him back, doesn’t appear to be a thing of the past judging by the first two preseason games. But here’s to hoping…
Henne’s magic numbers: 3,700 yards passing, 20 touchdowns, 12 interceptions