Another heartbreaker. But wow, what a game! We learned a lot yesterday about the future of our Dolphins, and the future looks bright. For once, Dolphins fans could walk away from a loss, disappointed but hopeful. But, there's still much room for improvement.
This week, we saw a game where the Fins’ top offensive star came into the game as a question mark. Reggie Bush was a game-time decision, and decided after pre-game warm-ups that he was good to play. But Reggie Bush wouldn't be the story in this game, after being out-shined by the team’s newest star, Brian Hartline.
Take a look at the breakdown of each aspect of the team in this game…
Quarterback – Ryan Tannehill has grown as a player. From where he started, we have seen progress each week. This week, his 431 passing yards is one of the highest totals in Dolphins’ history, and broke Dan Marino’s team rookie record by over 100 yards (322 in 1983). As Palm Beach Post’s Ben Volin tweeted Sunday: “The 8 highest passing games in Dolphins history belong to: Marino, Marino, Marino, Marino, Marino, Tannehill, Marino, Marino.” Not bad for a rookie in his 4th NFL start, especially considering most of his success came in the face of ferocious blitzes. Yesterday was the first time I looked at Tannehill and thought that the Dolphins were onto something, and his performance gives us hope that maybe, just maybe, they’ve ended the 12-year-long hunt for the next franchise quarterback.
Passing Game – Who can overlook the amazing things that happened in yesterday’s game through the air? Brian Hartline posted 253 receiving yards, including an 80-yard TD set up by one of the most beautiful play-action fakes I’ve ever seen. At the same time, Davone Bess racked up 123 yards, marking the first time since 2001 that two Dolphins receivers posted 100-yard games (Gadsden/Chambers). Both Hartline and Bess would record career high totals in this game. It seems like Hartline has finally emerged as the Dolphins’ #1 wide receiver. However, Legedu Naanee’s phantom fumble in the 4th quarter not only killed a drive but killed the team’s momentum. Luckily, it didn’t turn into Cardinals’ points, but for a guy’s first catch of the season to look that inept (in such a critical point in the game) is inexcusable.
Running Game – Reggie Bush was relatively ineffective against the Cardinals fierce front-seven. He had some nice runs in the 4th quarter to keep the defense honest, and has shown that the injury he sustained in week 3 will not be a big concern. In this game, the passing game took the spotlight on both teams.
Defense, front seven – The Dolphins’ pass rush finally showed up! Much of this has to do with Cameron Wake squaring off against a rookie right tackle, but you don’t get a career high 4 sacks in the game without a bit of skill. With that, the Dolphins were able to completely shut down a Cardinals’ running attack which had previously been ranked in the bottom-quarter of the league. The Cardinals almost completely abandoned their running game in the second half.
Defense, pass coverage – This is the Dolphins’ darkest spot in this game. Squaring off against Larry Fitzgerald is no easy task, even for the league’s greatest defenders. But, Sean Smith held him to only 64 yards on 8 catches, and pulled in 2 interceptions of his own. The secondary generally did a nice job of tackling after the catch, but that’s about where the kind words end. Richard Marshall, who has shown signs of inconsistency, was out of his league against Andre Roberts, allowing him to catch 6 balls for 118 yards and 2 TD’s. Marshall did a poor job in coverage against Roberts on the Cardinals second touchdown, where Marshall’s inability to cover the stop-and-go allowed Roberts the easy score. Nolan Carroll was sometimes outmatched at nickel corner, and Jimmy Wilson wasn’t much help either. This is clearly the Dolphins’ weakest position, and need to be urgently addressed.
Special Teams – One week removed from missing 2 forty-something-yard field goals that could have beat the Jets, Dan Carpenter showed up to this game hopeful to redeem himself. After knocking home two 2nd-quarter chip shots, Carpenter’s day was looking good. That is, until he lined up for a 51- yarder at the beginning of the 2nd half, which he drove wide right. Normally, the kicker would get a pass for missing a 50+ yard FG wide, but Carpenter is already under the residual microscope from last week. Fans are suddenly clamoring for his replacement.
The Dolphins need to learn how to close out games. They have shown a tendency to build a lead and then come out flat in the second half, milking their lead and trying to run out the clock. The Dolphins came out and stomped on the throats of the Raiders in week 2, but since then, it looks like there have been no halftime adjustments and not much in the way of killer instinct in the past two games.
Overall, the Dolphins played a nice game yesterday, on the road, against a 3-0 team who has surprised a lot of people this season. On paper, the Dolphins were outmatched by the Cardinals fearsome defense. But this Sunday, they showed that they have the heart and fortitude to play with any team in this league. Moreover, they gave us fans something we haven't had in about a decade - hope for the future. Hope that we are FINALLY on the right path, and that maybe we can be successful by developing a coach and quarterback tandem who could be a force in the NFL for the next decade.