Friday, October 23, 2009

A View from the Other Side: A Miami writer's look at the Dolphins

06:51 AM CDT on Friday, October 23, 2009
Bradley Handwerger / Sports Writer

When New Orleans travels to Miami on Sunday, you’ve likely read as much about the Saints as you possibly can.

But what do you know about the Dolphins?

That’s where A View From the Other Side comes in. Every Friday during the Saints' season, will ask five questions to at least one beat writer covering the Saints’ opponent that week.

Today we welcome David J. Neal of the Miami Herald. Neal covered the Dolphins daily as a summer 1989 Miami Herald intern, usually managed to avoid covering them after becoming a Herald staff writer in the fall of 1989 and returned to covering them daily in 2004. You can check out his work at the Miami Herald.

WWL-TV: The Dolphins started out 0-3, but have won the past two games. What has changed and allowed Miami to turn things around?

David J. Neal: They played a Buffalo team with a banged up defense and an injured quarterback (a healthy Trent Edwards). That was like slapping around Ironside. Against the Jets, they ran the ball successfully, slowing the Jets pass rush and allowing Chad Henne the time to play flawlessly. Defensively, they still allow too many big plays.

WWL-TV: Chad Henne didn’t start the season as the No. 1 quarterback, but has come off the bench to give the team a lift. What has he done well the past three games that have given Miami life on offense?

DJN: He's got a bigger arm than Chad Pennington, so the ball gets there quicker on the short and medium routes and gets there, period, on the long routes. Twice this year, it looked like Pennington overthrew speedster Ted Ginn Jr. when Ginn actually misjudged Pennington's ability to get the ball there and shifted into top gear too late.

Anyway, what's helped Henne most of all is the success of the running game. It takes so much pressure off of him and sets up the passing game so well. Also, he hasn't made mistakes. After four years as a starting quarterback at Michigan, he's used to being Mr. Man in the huddle as well as big games in front of big crowds.

WWL-TV: I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask about the Wildcat. Why does it work for Miami in the long run while it’s not all that successful for other teams in the NFL that try to use it?

DJN: Defenses have to respect both Ronnie Brown going between the tackles or to the left and Ricky Williams sweeping in the direction of his motion as well as a reverse as a standard play. There's often a moment of defensive hesitation -- Brown and Williams are two high quality ball carriers -- while the offensive linemen are getting into their blocks.

The way the Dolphins run the Wildcat pretty much answers how the single wing would do in today's NFL. As former Dolphins coach and single wing tailback Don Shula said Tuesday, the Wildcat is just the single wing.

WWL-TV: Miami’s pass defense is ranked No. 18 in the league. New Orleans’ Drew Brees, meanwhile, is being mentioned as an MVP candidate. What must happen in the Dolphins’ secondary for Miami to be successful against the pass on Sunday?

DJN: Cornerback Vontae Davis, the Dolphins most physical corner, has to beat the Marques out of Colston off the line when he's covering him and 6-foot-3 Sean Smith needs to be draped over Colston when he's covering him. What must happen in the rest of the secondary against everyone else? A prayer circle asking for a serious pass rush or for Brees to suddenly come down with a bad case of JaMarcus Russell.

WWL-TV: How healthy is Miami coming off the bye week and will the Dolphins be getting anyone back that could be a game-changer?

DJN: Outside linebacker Matt Roth, a starter on the strong side last year, practiced with the team for the first time since minicamp, but don't expect him to be ready for Sunday. Even after returning from missing a game with a hamstring injury, outside linebacker Joey Porter felt hampered against the Jets. Porter wouldn't say (Wednesday) that he was 100 percent, but did say he felt better than he did in the Jets win or the Week 3 San Diego loss, when he played only a few plays (one of which was a fumble-causing sack).

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