Final Game 1 Observations

Tuesday is the traditional day off in the NFL, but it gives us at DolphinDigest.com a chance to take one last look at the most recent game, in this case the 19-7 season-opening to the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome.

• Let's begin that refuting the idea that the Dolphins lost the game because they committed four turnovers. The Dolphins still would have lost had they played a clean game in that department. They simple were dominated in practically every phase of the game, other than the great job done against Michael Turner. The Falcons didn't commit a turnover, but Jason Elam missed two field goals and an extra point, and Matt Ryan missed a couple of open receivers downfield, most notably Roddy White very early in the game after he had burned Sean Smith with a double move. So the score actually could have been -- and should have been -- a lot worse than it was.

• Speaking of Sean Smith, it was interesting to note that he rotated with fellow rookie Vontae Davis at cornerback throughout the game. Neither player really distinguished himself, but we have to admit at being surprised at the move, particularly considering the great preseason Smith had.

• On defense, the star clearly was Phillip Merling. Note that he was robbed of a sack in the game when statisticians gave it to Jason Ferguson instead, but that mistake will be rectified when the Elias Sports Bureau reviews the tape of the game. Sack or not, Merling was spectacular in limited playing time. It probably was the most encouraging aspect of the game.

• Offensively, the biggest probably was the offensive line. The expensive offensive line. Bill Parcells won Super Bowls with the Giants behind a suffocating defense and a physical offensive line, and that's the same blueprint the Dolphins would like to utilize. They have spent the money on the offensive line, shelling out big bucks over the last two years to Jake Long, Justin Smiley, Vernon Carey and Jake Grove. Those guys clearly didn't produce against Atlanta. Long needs to be singled out, not only because he's the highest-paid guy on the line but also he plays the most important position. It was clear on this day he couldn't handle the speed of John Abraham, who fooled him with a change-up on one play by bull-rushing him and knocking him over. Long better buckle up at practice this week because Dwight Freeney is next on the schedule, and he's every bit as good a pass rusher as Abraham.

• What also didn't help the offense was the apparent inability of the receivers to get open. There was more than one occasion when Chad Pennington did have time but couldn't find anybody open. And this is where the Dolphins' deficiencies at wide receiver come into play. Yes, Greg Camarillo and Davone Bess are very effective receivers who rarely drop passes, but they also lack the speed to create separation on a consistent basis. Bess is a good enough route-runner and adept enough at finding open spaces that he'll catch a lot of passes this year, but they'll invariably be short receptions. Ted Ginn Jr. is the one guy with speed, but until proven otherwise he's just not an elite, pure No. 1 wide receiver.

• No, for the Dolphins offense to be successful, he needs to be productive on the ground, and that didn't happen against Atlanta.

• It also would help if the special teams could create better field position, but the kickoff returning was atrocious on Sunday. You can blame it partly on Ginn not hitting the hole quickly enough, but the blocking also seemed rather sub-par, and Coach Tony Sparano said as much the day after the game. Still, we'll repeat something we've seen many times already: Patrick Cobbs needs to be the one returning kickoffs, not Ginn.

• For the record, this was the fourth consecutive loss on opening day for the Dolphins. Maybe one of these years they can make life a little easier for themselves by starting 1-0 instead of 0-1.


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