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  Dolphins Game Summary: Dolphins at Texans
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OVERALL SUMMARY:

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 watch.

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 coverage.

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 first half.

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 alone.

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 quarter.

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 games.

GOOD STUFF:

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 the passer.

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 interceptions.

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.

INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCES:

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 safety spot.

On the other hand, McGarrahan had 1 special teams tackle and 1 assist himself.

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.

INJURIES:

Todd Wade turned his ankle in the first quarter, but his injury is not serious and he's expected back for the season opener against Detroit.

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.

MY COMMENTS:

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.

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