The Miami Dolphins (1-2) rolled into the year as one of the teams on everyone's short list to stay home for Super Bowl XLI, but after their first two games of the season, both losses, they looked like they would be a team struggling to even make the postseason.
looking for their second straight win this weekend.
Head coach Nick Saban brought his disciplined, defense first-style to
With playoff-tested veterans on both sides of the ball, mixed in nicely with talented youngsters, the Dolphins have plenty of time to rebound from their sluggish start and still make a playoff run.
**Offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey, who formerly served as Pittsburgh's offensive coordinator and Buffalo's head coach, brings to Miami his scheme based on a strong, power running game to set up play-action passing down the field. On the face, Mularkey seems to have the personnel to get the job done, but that offensive success will depend on the return to health of newly acquired quarterback Daunte Culpepper.
Just two short years ago, Culpepper led the NFL in passing yards, was second in touchdown passes and led the Vikings to the NFC divisional playoffs. Culpepper had solidified himself as one of the top quarterbacks in the league, his numbers rivaled in 2004 by only Peyton Manning's record-breaking accomplishments. Last season however, all the success hr built with the Vikings came to an abrupt halt.
Between implications from the infamous "Party Boat Scandal", a horrific eight interceptions in the first two, and a devastating ACL injury that put him on injured reserve, the momentum Culpepper created for himself in 2004 vanished into thin air. After Brad Johnson filled in and almost led the Vikings to the playoffs, Culpepper was suddenly viewed as expendable. New head coach Brad Childress decided the best move would be for Culpepper to pack his bags and sent him to
Through the first three games, the Dolphins are still wondering if Culpepper will ever regain his previous form. He has thrown only one touchdown in three games and has been picked off three times. Not the kind of numbers expected out of the supposed savior of the offense and first legitimate playmaker at the quarterback position in
Culpepper's early struggles may be attributed to the possibility he is not healthy yet, in which case fellow castoff Joey Harrington would take over. It also could be simply because he is not used to the new offense.. If the latter is true, the best move would be to let Culpepper play himself out of the funk. Against
When Culpepper does use play action, he'll have plenty of weapons to get the ball too.
The main man in the passing game for the Dolphins is wide receiver Chris Chambers. The acrobatic Chambers plays bigger than his 5'11'' frame thanks to long arms and a tremendous vertical leap that have helped him register 13 catches for 153 yards so far. His strength is getting vertical on the defense, but Chambers isn't afraid to mix it up in the middle of the field either. Marty Booker is the perfect compliment to Chambers. The veteran is steady, dependable, and relies more on route running and yards after the catch to help the offense. Former Texas Tech star Wes Welker does the dirty work as the team's slot receiver and rookie Derek Hagan looks like he could be a vital cog in the future of Miami's offense.
Having one of the most athletic tight ends in the league might help Culpepper as well. Randy McMichael, in his fifth season, has solidified his place as one of the best in a new breed of tight ends asked to play more receiver than blocker. After having 73 and 60 catches in 2004 and 2005 respectively, McMichael is off to a slow start with six thus far, but as Culpepper heats up, so will McMichael's numbers.
The Dolphins offensive line has been a sore thus far, allowing Culpepper to be sacked a league-leading 15 times. Left tackle L.J. Shelton was cut by
The patchwork group's struggles have not only hurt the team in pass protection, but also the running game.
2005 1 st round pick (2 nd overall) Ronnie Brown is the future of the franchise at running back. He is built thick and strong (6'1'', 223) and has so many of the characteristics teams look for in a running back: vision, hands, speed, blocking ability, ability to run between the tackles or outside the tackles. Thus far however, due to the inconsistencies of Culpepper and the offensive line, Brown has only accumulated 190 yards on 3.4 yards per carry. Although he does have two touchdowns, Brown needs to be a larger part of the offense in order for the team to be successful.
Despite their performance through three weeks, the Dolphins have plenty of offensive talent. But until they can consistently move the ball, the best approach would be to blitz Culpepper and stuff the run until the quarterback can prove he can beat you downfield. The line struggles allow for more of an opportunity to attack the line of scrimmage and create confusion for
defense will be led by a familiar face this season as former Texans head coach Dom Capers has taken over and installed a hybrid of his 3-4 defense, which head coach Nick Saban employed part of the time last season. So far, the Dolphins defense is ninth in the league in yards allowed, a good start for a unit with so many new players.
Two players who are not new by any means are defensive end/outside linebacker Jason Taylor and middle linebacker Zach Thomas. Although they have both been in the league over ten years, both proved they still had it in 2005 by making the Pro Bowl. Taylor and Thomas may not have many more years in front of them, but they are still capable of leading a defense.
Joining Taylor on the defensive line are a cast of veterans, who like the aforementioned leaders, are nearing the end of their careers, but still have enough to produce in the league. Kevin Carter and Vonnie Holliday are capable of playing tackle in a 4-3 or end in a 3-4 making it easy for Capers and Saban to adjust to their personnel. The space-eaters in the middle, Keith Traylor and Dan Wilkinson, will see action on the field together in run situations in a 4-3 setup or at the nose position in a 3-4 alignment.
Flanking Thomas on the next level of the defense are Channing Crowder and Donnie Spragan. Crowder, a second-year player out of
The part of the defense that may show some growing pains is the defensive backfield. With a combination of young players and first-time Dolphins, cohesiveness may not be developed until late in the season. Newly acquired cornerback Will Allen comes to
after five up-and-down seasons with the Giants. He may not be the most aggressive tackler in the world, but his speed and experience
makes him a tremendous asset in coverage, as long as he can stay away from the
injuries that plagued him in
While the numbers this season show the pass defense out-performing the run defense, teams should still attack the Dolphins through the air.
likes to bring blitzes making it essential for an opposing offense to have multiple options through the air on any given play to capitalize on the rush. Short drops and attacking the corners on the outside should soften the defense up enough to attack the edges in the run game. One thing that will be very hard to do for any team is to lineup against the Dolphins and run right at the heart of the defense. Any defense clogging the middle with Thomas, Crowder, Traylor, Wilkinson, Carter, and Holliday is going to be successful until proven otherwise.
**A few misses by Olindo Mare early shouldn't deter from the fact the Dolphins should have a solid special teams unit once again. Mare, who has been kicking for
since 1997, is 82 percent during his career on field goals, which he exceeded last year. Like many other kickers that extend their careers, Mare has lost some off his range, but is still one of the best in the league.
Punter Donnie Jones, another Saban guy from LSU, has had a spectacular beginning to his 2006 campaign, booming kicks at a 45.5 yard per kick clip. His placement on kicks inside the opposing 20 yard line needs to improve, but the strides he has taken so far in his third year in the league, gives every indication he will fix this aspect of his game and become one of the better punters in the league.
was looking for upgrades at the return positions in the off-season even bringing
in former Virginia Tech star Marcus Vick, but the answer to their return problems
was already on the team. Third-year wide receiver Wes Walker may not be the speedster most teams envision
anchoring their return game, but his vision, quickness and fearlessness make him
a hot commodity. His increased role in the passing game has not taken away his focus from the
return game yet, as Welker has averaged 24.1 yards per kick return and 14.7 yards
per punt return through three games.