Moving on. Divisional game. Miami Dolphins at home. That's all that matters right now. Just as our favorite team and players are doing, it's time to stop mourning and start figuring out how we can make this a W. I'm not simply being nice when I way Miami gives New England trouble. More than any other division rival, they seem to know us pretty well and know our tendencies. However, in the last 5 games, we're 4-1 against the Fins and with Tom Brady under center, 3-0. That being said, Miami has managed an impressive 3rd in yards per game rushing...and that's WITHOUT Ronnie Brown. I also believe Head Coach Tony Sparano has been burning the midnight oil watching game film from our Saints matchup.
But on to the Dolphins. As is our custom, Head Blogger Matty I of The Phinsider and I exchanged questions on our upcoming matchup. Matty offered some excellent insight into how his team is doing this year and how some of the young guys have progressed.
Read on after the jump...What impact has Ronnie Brown's absence had on the Dolphins? Can you think of any situations where his presence might've swung a game in your favor?
Well the Dolphins have only played two full games since Brown went down with his foot injury. In those two games, the Dolphins are 1-1. But I'll admit I can't help but think that if Ronnie was still healthy, the Dolphins wouldn't have lost to Buffalo last week.
Why? First off all, the 'Wildcat' really lacks any teeth without Brown. Ricky Williams is a talented back and all - but he's not nearly as good as the 'Wildcat' triggerman as Ronnie is. Truth be told, Brown is the 'Wildcat.' Secondly, I get the feeling that offensive coordinator Dan Henning doesn't attempt that ridiculous 'Wildcat' pass on first and goal from the three yard line against Buffalo on their first drive of the game last week - which resulted in an interception, of course. If Brown was healthy and the 'Wildcat' was as effective as usual, I think they decide to just pound it in. Also, if they were planning on throwing it there out of the 'Wildcat,' at least it would have been Ronnie - who has experience and some success throwing the football - rather than Ricky. In fact, Ronnie might decide to not even make the throw after seeing how the defense reacts. Ricky, on the other hand, doesn't have the experience and tried to force it in.
Most importantly, though, is how I think too much of the load is falling on Ricky's shoulders. The Dolphins got away from running the ball in the second half. And I can't help but think that if the Dolphins had a healthy Brown to go with Ricky, Dan Henning wouldn't have gotten away from the running game.
The bottom line is simple: Ronnie Brown was this offense's best player. And they aren't the same offense without him.
The Dolphins are #3 in rushing yards per game. Tell us about some of the guys who have stepped up in Brown's absence.
Well since Brown went down, it's mainly been Ricky Williams as the guy who has stepped up. Beginning with the game against Tampa Bay three weeks ago, Ricky has three consecutive 100 yard rushing games. He had just one all of last season. In fact, he hasn't had a run of 100 yard games like this since November of 2003. Dolphin fans everywhere just hope that he can keep it up as the increased workload takes its toll on him.
The other player who has stepped up - and who will probably see more carries on Sunday than he ever has - is running back Lex Hilliard. Hilliard is a second year player (spent '08 on practice squad) out of Montana who is a big, physical runner with lots of power. And he got his first career carry just two weeks ago against the Panthers. It was a 3rd & 16 and Hilliard ran up the middle, bouncing off defenders, for 18 yards and a first down. But in his two weeks of experience, he has just 9 carries for 46 yards. The coaches, I'm sure, just wanted to ease him into the role. Keep in mind that Hilliard is this team's fourth running back and just narrowly made the cut out of training camp. But injuries to Brown and to third running back Patrick Cobbs has thrust Hilliard into a bigger role. So far, he's looked promising in limited action. But I think he'll see a good 7 to 10 carries on Sunday - his biggest test yet.
Now that Jason Taylor has been around for a while, do you feel like he's been able to make significant contributions on the field or do you feel he's more valuable as a veteran locker room guy?
It's hard to know for sure how much of an impact in the locker room Jason Taylor has had this year. Keep in mind that this is a team that is not short on locker room leaders, especially on defense (Jason Ferguson and Joey Porter, for example). But it says a lot that Taylor was voted one of the team's captains back in the preseason by his teammates even after that ugly 2008 offseason mess that resulted in his trade to Washington.
On the field, Taylor has made significant contributions. Has he been as good as he was when he was younger? Of course not. But to even expect that is crazy. He's still an effective pass rusher, though. He is tied for second on the team with 6 sacks and probably gets more pressure on the quarterback than anyone else on this team other than Cameron Wake. Throw in a fumble return for a touchdown and an interception that set the Dolphins up deep in opponent territory - and yes, I'm pretty happy he's back in Miami.
Chad Henne was going to ease into the roll of starting quarterback until Chad Pennington's season ended abruptly. Was Henne's "instant" promotion a positive or a negative? Where have you seen Henne improve and where has he struggled?
I don't want to say his promotion was either a positive or a negative. He obviously brings something to this offense that they didn't have with Chad Pennington under center - a big arm. But that doesn't replace all of the things that Pennington brought to the table. His accuracy, his knowledge of the game, his leadership. With all that said, however, Henne's promotion to the starting role this season is definitely a positive in terms of what it means to this franchise's future.
As far as his play is concerned, his big arm comes as advertised. He can make all of the throws. We've seen his decision making improve. He had a tendency of holding onto the ball too long. But recently, we've seen him throw the ball away when necessary. And outside of last week's game, he hasn't really had issues with forcing the ball into coverage. I've also been impressed with Henne's ability to roll out and throw on the run.
But there are two main areas that Henne still needs to improve in. One - his accuracy. Sometimes he's perfectly on the money. Other times he's off. It's more of a consistency issue than an accuracy issue - which is a good thing. He has the ability to be extremely accurate. He just needs to be more consistent. Two - his tendency to stare down receivers. This is the biggest issue, in my opinion. He still tends to telegraph where he's going to throw by staring down his receiver. But I've seen him do this less and less as he has gained experience. Hopefully this is just something that goes away as he gets more comfortable in this offense with these receivers.
In our last matchup, Brady threw for 332 yards, 147 of those to Randy Moss. Do you feel like the Dolphins' young secondary has made some positive strides? Is Vontae Davis the guy who will get Moss and if so, will Randy Moss have a tough day?
I think that Vontae Davis and Sean Smith have definitely made some positive strides. And every time either one gives up a big pass, I see it as a learning experience for those two kids. With that said, I'm very worried about Sunday because it's beginning to look like both of those two young corners are hitting the dreaded "rookie wall." Most rookies only played in 12 or 13 games per year at the college level. We're now getting to that point where their bodies aren't used to taking this weekly pounding. And if either of them are a step slower because of this, Sunday could be a long day.
As far as who covers who, I'm still not too sure. I thought we'd see more of Sean Smith on Randy Moss last time - simply because of his size. But Vontae got the duty last time and didn't play poorly outside of one or two plays. Unfortunately, you can't give up one or two big plays per game and hope to win. The only thing I can guarantee you is that we'll see plenty of Nate Jones covering Wes Welker whenever Wes is lined up in the slot. Outside of that, it's anyone's guess.
A big shoutout to Matty I from for his most excellent answers. Head on over to The Phinsider for my answers to his questions.