The Thanksgiving match-up against the Dallas Cowboys (7-4) was disappointing only because I felt that the Miami Dolphins (3-8) put themselves in a position to win versus a quality opponent, and didn’t get it done! It was clear from the start of the game that the Dolphins have the ability and talent to defeat playoff caliber teams, but sometimes lack the ability to take advantage of opportunities playoff teams display. I’m going to touch on those missed chances looking back at the Dallas game, as well as looking into the month of December and how Miami can build on it’s strenghts for a strong finish to the season. Here are my five big observations on the state of the Dolphins following the Cowboys game:
1) The Table Was Set- There’s no doubt that the Dolphins defense came out ready to play on Thanksgiving Day! This unit set the tone early with two interceptions by defensive backs Vontae Davis and Sean Smith. Those two turnovers provided the Miami offense with instant field position at their own 46 yard line and the Cowboys 26 yard line, but could only manufacture three points ( a 26 yard field goal by Shane Graham). If the Dolphins would have started fast and played with a two touchdown lead early in the game, it might have changed the way Dallas played on offense, and possibly lead to a different outcome to the football game!
2) Red Zone And Third Down Issues- This part of the Dolphins offense was clicking and looking efficient over the last three weeks (11 touchdowns in the last 14 red zone trips) as the team started to score points and extend drives offensively. It also helped the Miami defense stay rested, and as a result, the defense started to gather turnovers (six turnovers in the last three games), sacks and more pressure on opposing offenses. You build confidence and momentum as a unit when you can sustain drives and score points! Twenty-five percent on third down and not converting inside the twenty yard line (0-4) keeps opposing teams in the ball game, and you’re never able to create any separation on the scoreboard. The Dolphins had plenty of “chunk plays” against the Cowboys (three plays of 35 yards or more), but it never led to any consistency throughout the game.
3) We Have Plenty Of Playmakers! – Offensively, quarterback Matt Moore has provided stability and has shown he has the talent to lead this offense. His decision making, timing in the pass offense and accuracy has benefited the entire unit. Moore paced the Dolphins offense to three straight drives of at least 70 yards in the second half against the Cowboys, and can stretch the field vertically with his arm. Wide receiver Brandon Marshall bounced back after his one catch, five yard outing against the Buffalo Bills and exploded for 103 yards on five receptions against Dallas. Davone Bess and Brian Hartline are the perfect complement to Marshall because they both have the ability to run after catch, and have hands that you can count on as a quarterback. Recent games have also showcased tight ends Anthony Fasano (three touchdowns) and rookie Charles Clay’s versatility. The running back tandem of Reggie Bush and rookie Daniel Thomas have provided a blend of power and speed that has taken pressure off of Moore and the passing game.
4) Defense Is Coming Together – This is the unit that has really picked it up over the last month of the season. Opposing teams are finding it very difficult to get into the end zone with any kind of consistency, as the Dolphins defense will conclude November having only allowed two touchdowns in four games. The Dolphins defense ranks sixth in the NFL in points allowed at 18.7 per game, and are starting to create turnovers on a regular basis. Linebackers Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett are piling up the tackles that all of us expected from this duo, as well as getting more involved rushing the passer. Pressure is coming from everywhere and it shows with eleven sacks over the last four games! Safeties Yeremiah Bell and Tyrone Culver are starting to create second thoughts for receivers thinking about coming across the middle of the field, making it difficult to complete a high percentage of passes over the top of the secondary.
5) Lookin Forward To Five - Now that there’s five weeks left in the season, let’s take a look ahead and forecast the remaining games left on the Dolphins schedule. Next up are the AFC West leading Oakland Raiders and quarterback Carson Palmer, who looks to be finding his timing after sitting out the first half of the season. Other than Palmer, the Raiders haven’t scared anybody and are leading a weak division. Miami should be able to attack Palmer in the pocket and slow down the running of Michael Bush.
I can see Miami outscoring the Raiders at home and also doing the same to the visiting Philadelphia Eagles, who are trying to figure out if there’s a reset button to push in case of emergency! The Eagles are in full free-fall and rutter-less without quarterback Michael Vick, who should be back in the line-up when they visit Sun Life Stadium. The Eagles present problems with Vick and LeSean McCoy as a dual-threat out of the backfield that will challenge the defense. Tight end Brent Celek and DeSean Jackson will put pressure on the secondary (and Special Teams), but look for Vontae Davis to match-up vs. Jackson most of the afternoon.
The Buffalo Bills aren’t the team they were a month ago because of all the injuries they’ve suffered and that game will be won by taking care of ourselves. Win the turnover battle and be efficient in the red-zone should bring the Dolphins a sweep of the Bills!
Tom Brady and the New England Patriots look to be the class of the AFC right now, and it will take a perfect game to defeat them on the road. To win this game, the Dolphins must slow down the high-scoring Patriots offense, and make the winning score somewhere in the mid-twenties.
That brings us to the finale and the New York Jets! I really can’t see the Dolphins losing this game at home because quarterback Mark Sanchez is so unpredictable. The Jets aren’t the dominate team everybody thinks they are, and Miami will close out the season at home with a victory.
The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed by The Finsiders Blog represent those of individual writers, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions, policies or desires of the Miami Dolphins organization, front office, coaches and executives. Writers' views are formulated independently from any inside information and/or conversation with Dolphins officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.