Hello again Dolfans. I apologize for not posting my defensive review. Had some Internet problems which I’ve finally resolved and am now back in action. Obviously a lot’s transpired since the last time I posted a column so I figured I’d switch it up a little and focus on what’s left on the table for the rest of the year. To start, I have to say how refreshing the Parcells, Ireland, and Sparano regime is compared to likes of (since I’ve seriously followed the Dolphins) Dave Wannstedt, Nick Saban, and Cam Cameron and Randy Mueller. During Don Shula’s last few years I was still to young to really grasp the intricacies of the draft, free agency, and all that went into the NFL. Same goes for Jimmy Johnson’s regime, but given the amount of injuries to key players this year: starting QB, starting RB, starting, NT, starting CB, key backup RB, and a key second TE from a year ago gone, I ask how would those other regimes’ teams have faired? Dave Wannstedt would’ve run whomever he had at RB into a wall; Nick Saban lost his starting QB (although Daunte Culpepper was already damaged goods) and bailed to Alabama; and we saw a similar slew of injuries with Cam Cameron and Randy Mueller’s totally decompose into a 1-15 season. Tony Sparano’s team, well, all they are is one game off the pace of last year’s team against a much tougher schedule through 10 games. Any other regime would be packing it in and we’d all be talking about the draft and free agency - and we might still be two weeks from now, but that’s the point. At 5-5 with the losses of Pennington, Brown, Cobbs, Ferguson, Allen, and David Martin prior to the season, we’re still talking about meaningful games in late November - I mean, if we handle our business against the Bills and get some help from the Saints, the rematch versus the Patriots the first week of December is HUGE! And to top it all off, we get three teams (Jacksonville, Houston, and Pittsburgh) that currently reside in our way of a Wild-Card race after that. Let’s hope December is pretty fun! Now am I saying the Dolphins can win 8 or 9 games in a row on a dramatic run through the rest of the regular season, playoffs and get into the Super Bowl? Heavens no, that’d take a miracle of epic proportions, but it’s within the realm of possibility to envision a scenario where the Dolphins could be battling for their playoff lives against the likes of the Texans and Steelers in weeks 16 and 17. And that I find refreshing. As I glanced at the conference standings Sunday afternoon after team after team seemed to get caught in a trap game (Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, almost Dallas, Houston is currently in a 17-17 dogfight*** against a resurgent Titans team, etc.) to try and make sense of what Miami would have to do to make the playoffs, which is essentially win out and get in, or go 5-1 and hope some breaks fall our way - I wonder if we have the parts left to do that. ***Houston ended up falling, thus increasing Miami's chances slightly. However, the Titans are going to be one tough battle with the way Vince Young and Chris Johnson have been playing.*** Going back to our opening day starting lineups, on defense we’re only minus two guys; Jason Ferguson and Will Allen. I will say, just in my opinion, I thought Will Allen’s play had regressed from 2008 and Vontae Davis was going to get a chance to start at some point this year - obviously the added opportunity will only go to serve him well the rest of the way and in future years. Jason Ferguson was vital cog in stopping the run, and Paul Soliai will have to seriously step up his game. However, the problem with this defense has been surrendering points, especially in the 4th quarter of games. 14 against Carolina, just last week. Tampa Bay almost eeked out a win, and New England put us away then. In fact, in our 5 wins, we’ve only held opponents to 17 points or less twice. That’s not going to cut it down the stretch. The defense has to find a way to play better. I have noticed significant improvement (or is not having to play a string of Matt Ryan, Peyton Manning, Phillip Rivers in a row again?) in the secondary not giving up huge plays. More and more guys (Joey Porter, hello) have been getting to the opponents’ quarterback. Tackling has been improved, especially by Gibril Wilson. And the rest of the team. Going against a Buffalo team that has been even more racked by injuries than we have, Miami has a chance to “rebound” in a way on defense and learn what they’ll have to do down the stretch without Ferguson in there (that’s you Paul Soliai). Offensively, in his seven starts, Chad Henne has failed to lead the offense past 24 points just twice (17 against new England, and Ted Ginn added 14 of the 30 against the Jets in the Meadowlands - a game which I attended, man was it sweet!), scoring 38, 31, 34, 25, and 24 respectively taking out the two games previously mentioned. We could only dream about such numbers last year, and off the top of my head, I can only recall scoring over 30 last year against the Chiefs in that wild 38-31 shootout. Who and how Miami is doing this with makes it more impressive. Yes, Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams were the league’s best 1-2 RB combo this year before Brown went down, but keeping up this clip without having Patrick Cobbs, David Martin, and on some occasions, Ted Ginn’s hands, and a true go-to receiver makes it all the more impressive. Throw in some injuries to some guys on the O-line in recent weeks with Justin Smiley, Jake Grove, and Nate Garner and that performance against Carolina, all things being equal, might’ve been the best offensive performance this team has put together this year. Obviously, there’s a huge need to keep guys like Smiley and especially Grove healthy, and if that means they don’t start or don’t play against Buffalo for the likes of Nate Garner - who has been damn impressive with his “position flexibility” as Coach Sparano would say, and Joe Berger - I’ll be okay with it if they’re healthy for that New England game. But Miami has to take care of its own business first against the Bills anyways. So, what do I expect down the stretch? It’s hard for me to really say - the Buffalo game in the days of Coach Wannstedt, would’ve been almost like that trap game we had against Minnesota in 2002. Road game, against a down team, a week before the Patriots. Well, there’s no way that Tony Sparano is going to let them fall into a trap. Does that guarantee a win, it surely doesn’t, but you’ve got to think they’ll come ready to play - and Buffalo is even more banged up than they were for the first go around which Miami won 38-10. But so is Miami. That being said, I believe that if Chad Henne continues to progress and show the outstanding poise and pocket presence he did against Carolina throughout the rest of the season, the offense will continue to produce. Just from an offensive perspective, riding Ricky Williams, Lex Hilliard, (and perhaps new Wildcat Kory Sheets) mixing in Bess, Camarillo, Hartline, and the tight ends, should be enough to eek us into the playoffs. Back to the defensive side of the ball and it’s another story. Facing potent passing offenses like New England, Houston and Pittsburgh down the stretch and potent running games minus Jason Ferguson in Jacksonville (pocket Hercules Maurice Jones-Drew really scares me) and Chris Johnson from Tennessee, Miami definitely has it’s work cut out for them. Miami’s been pretty good against the run so far, and with the implementing of more 4-3 fronts and the return of Paul Soliai, I’m not too worried about that. Surprisingly, Miami is tied for second in the NFL in sacks with 29 despite not having anyone with more than 5.5 (Taylor & Starks). However, and I’ve felt this way ever since Zach Thomas and Jason Taylor were in their prime under Johnson and Wannstedt, we’ve struggled to get sacks on big 3rd downs, or at least we did until the Carolina game last week. Joey Porter definitely had more bite than bark on that night, but let’s see if he keeps it up. The secondary has played better since early in the season starting with the second Jets game. Vontae Davis & Sean Smith might just be the next Madison & Surtain, time will tell I guess. Chris Clemons has been contributing; Gibril Wilson remembered how to tackle and has made some plays. I still wonder about giving Yeremiah Bell that big extension. Yes it was the right move to re-sign him, but the 4 years and the money make it look questionable, even though he’s our leading tackler. You do have to like the steady play of sub-package players Nathan Jones and Tyrone Culver. So, can the Dolphins run the table or go 5-1? I’ll give it a maybe. Certainly the way this team fights, no game ever seems really out of reach. However, it’s going to be up to the defense to stop giving up points in the 4th quarter to really help this offense out. With the loss of Ronnie Brown and really no threat of a vertical passing game unless Ted Ginn has a resurgence, the offense is going to really have to try to create some more explosive plays to take pressure off Ricky Williams and the rest of the ground game. It starts with Buffalo this weekend, but I think we have to beat the Patriots the following weekend to make the playoffs. Let’s see if this year’s Dolphins are up to the task. Other random tidbits since my last article that I think or have thought: We haven’t really seen what we really have in Pat White yet, but between picking him 44th overall and Sean Smith 61st overall there were a lot of talented players that are already contributing more than White, for instance: Darcel McBath, Mohammed Massaquoi, Andy Levitre, LeSean McCoy, Phil Loadholt, Paul Kruger, Sebastian Vollmer, and Sherrod Martin. Was White really worth taking that high over the likes of any of the above or even Clint Sintim or Connor Barwin? Unless Joey Porter really continues his resurgence down the stretch, with the abilities of Charlie Anderson and Cameron Wake we’ve seen in limited playing time, I don’t think Joey Porter is the Miami Dolphins’ starting WOLB in 2010. As somewhat crazy as he seems, I wish more of the Dolphins players were as intense on the field as Vontae Davis. Nate Garner earned himself a nice paycheck from some team next season with his last two performances. Not too many 6’7” 325lbs guys are able to play the C position in the NFL. I’d be very interested to see the split stats of him at RT vs. Vernon Carey’s and him at LG vs. Justin Smiley. I think both Carey and Smiley are better, but the drop-off in production, if any, can’t be much. This one stings me a little as YB is the only holdover from the 2003 draft, but a lot of the problems in the secondary, in pass coverage, seem like they come from YB. If he’s not going to be an every-down player any more, was his extension worth it? Piggy-backing off this one, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see Chris Clemons starting at FS and moving Gibril Wilson to SS (where he played in Oakland) in 2010. Nathan Jones and Tyrone Culver have been more valuable than I ever imagined they would be. If Jason Taylor wants to be a Miami Dolphin in 2010, he should be. What a job he’s done at playing on the strong-side. Yeah, he’s not lighting the world on fire with sacks, but the run defense has hardly dropped of versus what Matt Roth did last year. Even if this regime does draft a rookie or move someone like Phillip Merling there, they’ll be hard pressed to beat out JT - a true Dolphin through and through. For all the antics and off-field issues Brandon Marshall has, I’ve seen several Broncos games this year and I think he’d do wonders for Chad Henne and the passing game. He’s a free agent after this year by the way. In the Carolina game, every member of the 2008 draft class that was on the active roster played (Long, Merling, Henne, Langford, Thomas, Hilliard and Dotson). Of the 2009 draft class five of seven on the active roster played in the game (Davis, Smith, Turner, Hartline, and Clemons) while six of seven were active for the game (didn’t catch Pat White entering the game - if he did then I missed it). However, that speaks volumes about the current front office. Nick Saban only had three players total from two drafts that played (Roth, Crowder, and Jason Allen - obviously Ronnie Brown was hurt) and Cam Cameron had two (Ted Ginn and Brandon Fields - Paul Soliai was hurt). It’s got to make you feel good about the 2010 draft, especially with the talent it’s going to have in it. The “Leon Lett” game is being re-aired, the first football game I ever witnessed and the day my love for the Miami Dolphins began. Just for kicks, you can watch Leon’s blunder again: [ame="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=91JcuWgSH4s&feature=related"]YouTube- Leon Lett Blunder #2[/ame] Little did I know the Dolphins had some guy named Marino on the team until next season as he’d already suffered that Achilles injury. On that note, now that the memories have been brought back, I’d like to wish everyone a safe and Happy Thanksgiving! Thanks for reading, and go Dolphins!