The Dolphins finally looked like a real football team on
Saturday night, as they pretty much demolished the expansion Houston
Texans in Houston's new Reliant Stadium. This game was a reprieve for
the Dolphins, who had struggled mightily in the first two games to
even execute well, let alone win the games.
But on Saturday night, the Dolphins showed that they are, in
fact, capable of playing at a professional level and doing it well.
The most important part of the game - the first half, when the
starters played - was almost all about Miami. It was a pleasure to
On offense, the Dolphins' first two drives were long,
sustained, consistent drives that each resulted in a touchdown. The
first was 61 yards, the second was 69 yards. On each drive, the
Dolphins mixed the run and the pass effectively, picking up short
yardage when needed and having several long pass plays to compliment
the running of Ricky Williams, who did not break any long runs, but
picked up the short yardage when necessary.
Miami's third drive ended with a Jay Fiedler interception,
while the 4th drive had a 22 yard gain nullified by a penalty, killing
that drive. The last Miami drive of the 1st half went 44 yards in 2
minutes, ending with an Olindo Mare' field goal after a sack on a
missed block by Mark Dixon at left tackle. In retrospect, Dixon
apparently got confused about his assignment, but that can be fixed.
Sidebar: The Fiedler interception was on a deep post pattern
by Chris Chambers down the right side of the field. Contrary to some
reports, Fiedler did have enough time to throw the ball and did not
have the ball slip out of his hand. He just put the ball in the wrong
place against a 2 deep zone coverage - a very bad move.
Fiedler was apparently expecting Chambers to cut shallower and
cross the field more diagonally, while Chambers headed more deeply
into the endzone. Coach Wannstedt said after the game that Jay made
the mistake on that play and shouldn't have thrown the ball into that
The Dolphins' defense also did their part, not allowing a
single first down by the Texans until midway through the 2nd quarter.
In the first half, the Texans had just 29 rushing yards, 46 passing
yards, 4 first downs (1 by penalty) and QB David Carr was sacked 3
times. Overall, the Dolphins' defense shut down the Texans in the
Sidebar: The Texans did have a couple of occasions where
their primary receiver got open deep against the Miami secondary. In
one instance, David Carr hit Corey Bradford for an apparent 82 yard
touchdown, only to have it called back on a penalty. On the play,
Bradford got way behind the Dolphins' defensive backs and was all
This is clearly the result of some mixups in coverage by the
starting secondary. By all accounts, Surtain and Brock Marion were
the principal guys who got beaten on this play. It's just a personal
opinion, but I don't think there is any cause for concern because of
this play. Surtain, Marion, Madison and Freeman will be fine in the
regular season. All these guys are experienced veterans and this was
just a pre-season goof.
The second half of this game was not nearly as one-sided as
the first half, but Miami pulled most of their starters after the half
and Houston sat theirs down after one or two series in the 3rd
The offense did a good job moving the ball, but didn't have
much success getting it into the endzone, until Jamar Fletcher gave
them the ball at the Houston 22 with an interception. From there, the
Dolphins punched it in on a 1 yard Robert Edwards run.
The rest of the 2nd half was a back-and-forth struggle that
saw another Houston touchdown nullified by a penalty and Miami commit
4 penalties in one 7 play "drive". It was not particularly
interesting to watch.
Overall, the Dolphins accomplished what they needed to
accomplish in this game. They got back on track for the regular
season, finding the running game, opening up the passing attack and
playing excellent defense. More importantly, however, they eliminated
the stupid mistakes that dogged them for most of the previous two
The running attack worked well for the first time this
summer. The Dolphins did not have an exceptional rushing average, but
converted nearly all short-yardage situations with the power running
of Ricky Williams, Rob Konrad and Robert Edwards. All 3 of Miami's
touchdowns were short yardage rushing touchdowns and the Dolphins
totaled 163 yards rushing on the night.
The passing game improved, with the exception of Jay Fiedler's
interception. Dolphins' quarterbacks were only sacked once all night
against Dom Caper's aggressive blitzing defense. The Dolphins
completed 67% of their passes for 190 yards.
Blocking with the new line was the best it's been since the
pre-season started, opening holes for the running backs and protecting
And the offense converted 54% of their 3rd down attempts.
On defense, the Dolphins held the Texans to 152 total yards
and just 39 yards rushing, while taking down their quarterbacks 5
times. The defensive line did a good job stacking the LOS, even
without Tim Bowens, who sat out the game, and pressuring the opposing
quarterback. All of the linebackers were very active, each having
some good plays and the Dolphins' defensive backs had 2
Special teams also had a good night, not committing any
terrible errors. Mark Royals had a 43.5 yard-per-punt average and put
3 of his 4 punts inside the Texans' 20 yard line. Olindo Mare' made
his only field goal and the punt return and coverage teams did a very
good job, averaging 9.8 yards per return, while holding the Texans to
a measly 3 yards per punt return.
THINGS TO WORK ON:
There was one area that really stood out on Saturday night as
needing work and that was the Dolphins' defensive backs allowing the
Texans' receivers to get behind them on deep routes. In several
cases, receivers beat Surtain, Marion and Freeman deep. In one case,
it appeared that the Texans' had an 82 yard touchdown pass before the
play was nullified by a penalty.
Because it was the Dolphins' most experienced veterans who
were beaten, it was probably either a mixup on coverage or just a lack
of concentration on the veterans' parts. The backs that helped the
Dolphins lead the league in pass defense last year will not be a
problem in the regular season - as long as they get their signals
straight in practice over the next two weeks.
Jay Fiedler had a mixed night, at one point completing 8
passes in a row and driving the team down for 2 scores, but badly
misreading Chambers' route and the defensive alignment on the
interception. He ended with 13 completions on 20 attempts for 136
yards with the 1 pick. That's a QB rating of 63.8, which is not very
good, but a lot better than his previous outings.
Ray Lucas continues to play very well, completing 4 of his 5
passes for 48 yards. He also scrambled for 12 yards on one play.
Zak Kustok got a few snaps, but passed just twice, completing
1 for 6 yards. He was cut from the team the following day.
Ricky Williams finally had a good game for the Dolphins. He
rushed 15 times for 50 yards (a 3.3 ypc average), caught one pass for
7 yards and rushed for 1 touchdown. While his ypc average is not that
good, he was very good in short yardage situations, converting 2 3rd
down and 1 situations and his touchdown run was all about second
effort as he was initially knocked back on the play.
Robert Edwards got a good chance to play and he made the most
of it. He started off a bit tentatively, but got better as he carried
the ball. He ended the night with 11 carries for 43 yards (3.9 ypc),
1 reception for 3 yards and his first touchdown run in the NFL since
1998. Most importantly, he didn't have any problems with the injury
that had slowed him down in previous weeks.
Travis Minor was the last back the Dolphins used and picked up
40 yards on 10 carries against the last team defense of the Texans.
He did have the longest run from scrimmage of any Dolphins' player of
18 yards, but was otherwise unspectacular.
Rob Konrad is seeing a lot more action under the Norv Turner
offense and he also made the most of his opportunities. He caught 3
passes for 30 yards and had another completion of 22 yards nullified
by a penalty. He also ran twice for 6 yards, once for his 4 yard
touchdown run at the beginning of the 2nd quarter and the other time
on 3rd and 1. Overall, he had an outstanding night.
Deon Dyer did get to play, but the only time he was noticed
was when he was penalized for holding in the 4th quarter.
Oronde Gadsden lead all receivers with 4 catches for 65 yards
(16.3 ypc), but had the ball stripped from his arms at the end of one
reception in the 2nd quarter that resulted in a turnover.
Dedric Ward also caught 4 passes, although for 38 yards. Ward
has replaced James McKnight as the primary slot receiver.
Chris Chambers caught 3 passes for 34 yards. He is starting
to get a lot of extra attention from opposing defenses, which is
probably why Gadsden and Ward had more receptions.
Randy McMichael was relatively quiet, catching just one pass
for 7 yards.
On the offensive line, Mark Dixon did a good job at left
tackle for most of the game. He had one missed blocking assignment
that resulted in the only sack of the game on a blitz, but that was a
mental mistake that can be corrected.
Overall, the offensive line had a very good night, allowing
only one sack and allowing the Dolphins to amass 163 yards rushing
even though Todd Wade left the game early and his backup, Brent Smith,
was out soon after.
On defense, Zach Thomas lead the charge with 5 tackles (2 for
losses, if you count the sack) and a sack. He was penalized once for
defensive pass interference, but that was just a little
over-aggressiveness, which can be forgiven.
Right behind Zach was Adewale Ogunleye, the surprise of the
defensive line, who had 4 tackles and 2 sacks on the night. He plays
a lot like Jason Taylor and has played himself into the starting left
defensive end slot.
Patrick Surtain was next with 3 tackles, but allowed a couple
of receivers to get deep on him. Fortunately, the Texans weren't
able to capitalize on those mistakes.
On the other hand, Jamar Fletcher had a very good night. He
made 2 tackles, including one sack, and intercepted a pass on a tipped
ball. He has been steadily improving and appears to have found the
consistency that he needed earlier in the pre-season.
Henry Taylor, Jason Taylor, and Larry Chester all had 2
tackles each. Jason Taylor is drawing extra attention from opposing
blockers, so his sack numbers will probably not be exceptional this
year. Henry Taylor may have managed to secure himself a place on the
roster with his play in the pre-season.
DT James Atkins had one sack late in the game, but it was not
enough to keep him from being cut yesterday.
Shawn Wooden, who has had an excellent training camp, picked
off one of David Carrs passes and had a special teams tackle. He is
another bright spot on the Dolphins' defense.
Trent Gamble had 3 special teams' tackles on the night, which
could push him ahead of Scott McGarrahan in the race for the final
On the other hand, McGarrahan had 1 special teams tackle and 1
Brock Marion had a single tackle, but was running right beside
Patrick Surtain, trying to keep up with a couple of Texans' receivers
who had beaten them deep.
Joshua Symonette, in an effort to find himself a place on the
roster, also had a special teams tackle.
And last, but not least, S Jason Moore had 2 tackles and a
special teams tackle.
There were other players who contributed to the defensive
effort, but none in a significant way, either good or bad.
Mark Royals punted 4 times for an average of 43.5 ypp, putting
3 of his punts inside the Texans' 20 yard line.
Olindo had a decent night on kickoffs and made the 39 yard
field goal he attempted.
Jeff Ogden returned 2 punts for 20 yards, while Albert Johnson
returned 3 punts for 29 yards.
Miami didn't get a chance to return any normal kickoffs. The
first one was a touchback and the second was an onsides attempt by the
Texans that Miami recovered.
Todd Wade turned his ankle in the first quarter, but his
injury is not serious and he's expected back for the season opener
Brent Smith, on the other hand, continues as the hard luck
kid, tearing the ACL in his right leg, which is the opposite leg from
the one he injured last year. He is out for the rest of the year.
And Jamie Nails suffered a bruised knee that could keep him
out of the final pre-season game against the Bears, but should be back
for the season opener against Detroit.
In good injury news, Robert Edwards did not show any ill
effects from playing on Saturday night, either after the game or the
next day. That is very good news for both him and the Dolphins.
Obviously, this game was a much needed shot in the arm for the
team and the fans. The Dolphins' performance was the kind of
performance that everyone associated with the team (including the
fans) had been hoping for. The team eliminated mistakes, executed
well and controlled the game from the beginning.
Which is not to say that it was perfect. Fiedler made at
least two bad decisions on throws - one of which was intercepted and
the other that could have been. He is still behind where he needs to
be to start the season.
The lapses by the secondary were bad looking, but they don't
worry me. I don't think that Surtain, Madison, Marion and Freeman are
a cause for concern - they just got a little distracted when the game
started going the Dolphins' way.
And the improved play of Jamar Fletcher was good to see.
Hopefully, he will continue to play well and justify the first round
pick the Dolphins used on him.
On the sentimental front, how could anyone not cheer for
Robert Edwards? If he makes the team this year and contributes in any
kind of meaningful way, he has to be the feel-good story of 2002.
And right now, it looks like he will be the final running back
on the roster.
I was especially pleased to read that his teammates all
congratulated him on his touchdown. Nothing will help him more than
the support of his teammates.
In the interesting-but-ultimately-useless stats department,
the Dolphins defense has given up an average of just 92 passing yards
per game this pre-season.
The bottom line for this game was that Miami did what they
needed to do - eliminated the mistakes and put together several good
drives on offense.