To get ready for the Monday Night Showdown in Miami, Matty I of The Phinsider and I exchanged questions. Matty's blog is THE place to go for Dolphins information. How good is it? I check it every day even though it's about the team I hate most in football.
1. Chad Pennington has a unique skill set. There are things he does very well and others he doesn't do so well. A team really has to build its offense around his game. Were there any changes in the offense that really stuck out in Chad Henne's first start?
That's something a lot of Dolphin fans wondered themselves as last week's game approached. Many, in fact, were hoping to see some changes in the passing attack; changes that would better suit Chad Henne's arm strength. But much to the disappointment of some fans, those changes were non-existent.
It was clear the Dolphins wanted to run the ball as much as possible last week - and that came as no surprise. But when Henne was asked to put the ball in the air, 90% of those passes were of the short, 7-10 yard range. That frustrated some Dolphin fans - despite the win Miami came away with - because they were all instantly hoping to see Henne start firing some deep balls left and right. But that will come in time. Right now, it's more important to let Henne build some confidence. And these receivers are also more suited to the short passing game rather than a vertical passing attack.
I wouldn't say the additions haven't worked out. In fact, the two rookie corners have been very good. I'd even go so far as to call Sean Smith's play as exceptional through four games. He won the starting spot opposite Will Allen in camp and has never looked back. He is yet to get badly beaten. The only two times he has surrendered long completions, he was in perfect coverage. On one, the receiver just made an amazing catch. On the other, it was a "back shoulder" pass in which Smith just didn't get his head around quick enough - but he had perfect coverage and was step for step with Terrell Owens before Owens came back to the under-thrown ball. Smith has played so well, in fact, that teams are picking on Will Allen - the veteran - instead of Smith. That says a lot.
The main problem with Miami's pass defense has been stopping the opposing tight ends. Tony Gonzalez and Dallas Clark each had very big games against Miami. And Antonio Gates didn't have a big game, but made key plays when it mattered most. The main culprits? Gibril Wilson, Yeremiah Bell, Channing Crowder, and Akin Ayodele. Basically, the linebackers and safeties who have been asked to cover the tight ends and the backs out of the backfield have really struggled.
And making matters more frustrating has been Gibril Wilson's missed tackles. He's whiffed on a number of tackles that have resulted in big plays for the opposition. So it would be fair to say his addition hasn't worked out. But both rookie corners have played very well - and that gives us Dolphin fans hope in the long-term.
3. We had a friendly debate over the summer on receiver play between our respective teams. Jerricho Cotchery has made me look good. Chansi Stuckey and David Clowney? Not so much (and one of them just got traded). How has the Miami trio of Ted Ginn, Davone Bess, and Greg Camarillo been?
I'll admit - Jerricho Cotchery has played better than I thought he would. But it seems like I was pretty accurate about Stuckey and Clowney.
Regardless, the Dolphins' receivers have really been a disappointment. The main culprit? Ted Ginn. Entering his third year, many of us thought that this would be the year Ginn breaks out and becomes a consistent play-making receiver. He's been anything but. Ever since his week two drop of the potential game-winning touchdown against the Colts, Ginn has seemingly lost confidence and has been losing snaps on gamedays. Over the past two games, Ginn has been targeted nine times but has only one reception for four yards. He's only "officially" dropped two passes, but I can think of at least four off of the top of my head. In a nutshell, he's probably been the biggest disappointment on the offensive side of the football through these first four games.
Davone Bess has been his reliable self. He leads the team with 20 receptions and is catching 83% of the passes that come his way. He remains a very "quarterback friendly" receiver. The problem is that he doesn't have good size or great speed - great quickness, but not great speed - so he doesn't get down the field and make plays. He averages just 7.9 yards per catch. He has a ton of upside as a slot, possession receiver - that's for sure. But he's not going to make the big play to pick up chunks of yardage at a time.
Greg Camarillo has gotten off to a slow start as he continues to come back from his ACL injury. He only has 11 receptions, but he did look as good as he has all season last week with Chad Henne under center - catching 4 balls for 42 yards. But he's nowhere near where he was last year before he suffered that knee injury - leading the Dolphins in receiving and on pace for a 90 catch, 1000 yard season.
Also don't count out rookie Brian Hartline. He caught Henne's first TD pass last week and is seeing more and more snaps as weeks go by. He's a better run blocker than Ted Ginn and might have more reliable hands than Ginn (though Ginn had great hands the past two years before his struggles this year). He has also worked more with Henne in camp because they were both on the second team offense for a while. So those two may have more of a rapport than Henne has with the rest of the guys.
4. It looks like the Wildcat has been as effective as ever, but Rex Ryan seemed to handle it pretty well last season. Would it be a good guess the Dolphins have been holding a special wrinkle back for this game? There are two very mobile quarterbacks on the roster in Pat White and Tyler Thigpen.
While I wouldn't expect to see Thigpen active this week, there's a good chance Pat White could see some snaps. The Dolphins had been actively trying to work him into the offense in the first two weeks, but things changed once Pennington went down.
Regardless of if White is used or not, I do think we might see some extra wrinkles in the 'Wildcat' this week. I wouldn't be shocked to see a pass or two out of the formation - even from Ronnie Brown. But I also don't think we can discount the base plays out of the 'Wildcat' either.
Yes, the Ravens shut down the 'Wildcat' last season. There are two major differences, though. One - no matter what you try to convince me of, the Jets defense is not the Ravens defense. Personnel wise, the '08 Ravens are far more talented than the '09 Jets. And two - the Dolphins have improved their offensive line dramatically, which will help. In the playoffs last year, the Dolphins had two backup guards starting because Donald Thomas and Justin Smiley were lost for the season. And they had a center who is now a backup in Oakland - he couldn't even crack the Raiders' starting lineip, which says a lot. Now the Dolphins have a healthy Smiley and Thomas at guard and a center, Jake Grove, who has been very good in the running game. The Dolphins specifically brought Grove in to handle these big AFC East nose tackles, too, because they believe he can handle them. So don't discount the 'Wildcat' and the basic power running plays Miami likes to use.
5. Miami brought in center Jake Grove from Oakland. I don't think it's unfair to say facing Vince Wilfork and Kris Jenkins for a quarter of the season had something to do with that decision. How has he been? Do you think he's ready for the challenge?
Grove has played well. He got off to a rough start in Atlanta, but has improved every week since then. He's proven to be a big upgrade over the run-blocking of Samson Satele. While I think he can improve in his pass protection - and his communication with the line to make adjustments at the line of scrimmage - Grove has really proven his doubters (and I was one of them when they made the move) wrong. In fact, Pro Football Focus, using various metrics, has Grove ranked as the NFL's top center so far in this young season. So I guess that's a good thing.
But like you said above and I said earlier, the Dolphins definitely brought in Grove because they like how he handles those big, physical nose tackles. And in this division, you need to have a guy who can at least turn those those tackles a little to create space for your runner. And this game will be a major challenge. We'll definitely learn a lot about Grove on Monday night.