Unlike most weeks during this Dolphins season when neither you, nor I, nor the Dolphins, can chew on one game for days and days after it is history, Sunday's playoff game against Baltimore is still on my mind. It is also on the NFL Network, which replayed the game much of Wednesday.
So I watched. And watched. And watched again.
And the result, inexplicably, never improved.
But one thing did become clear as I studied what happened in this defeat. Yes, the Dolphins turned the ball over five times. Yes, Chad Pennington had his worst game of the season. Yes, the defense gave up a long Ravens clinching drive in the final five minutes.
But this game was really, truly decided at the line of scrimmage where the interior of the Ravens defensive line and blitzing linebackers dominated Dolphins center Samson Satele, left guard Andy Alleman, and right guard Ikechuku Ndukwe. The score Sunday was 27-9. It was much, much, much worse than that if one judges the play of Miami's interior line.
Here is the truth of what happened:
Miami's offensive tackles didn't play great nor horribly. Left tackle Jake Long yielded a sack to Terrell Suggs while Vernon Carey gave up one to Trevor Pryce. But both tackles were responsible for man-blocking on all but a handful of pass plays. They were both 1-on-1 with pretty good rushers all game and did well on all but two plays.
So that wasn't an issue.
The interior of the line was a different, terrible story.
On one Ronnie Brown run to the left, Baltimore nose tackle Haloti Ngata picks Ndukwe up, tosses him about two feet to the left and Ndukwe lands where the hole on the left side is supposed to be. Brown actually goes head over heels over Ndukwe and then Ngata finishes him off. It looked like Brown got jacked up by a Ngata on TV and that he got right back up in defiance. But the slow motion shows Brown simply having his legs cut out from under him by Ndukwe's rag doll impersonation.
I have never seen anything like that in such tight space.
The Ravens blitzed a lot on Sunday. And the Dolphins could not figure out how to stop it. On one play, Ray Lewis blitzed between Satele and Ndukewe and neither one blocked him. He was there. And, zip, he was past and into the Miami backfield. It didn't result in a sack, but it led to an incomplete pass.
On Pennington's interception to start the second half, the Ravens rushed four. Long and Carey handled their assignments one-on-one. But Miami's interior trio cannot block Ngata and Pryce. Ndukwe and Satele double team Ngata while Alleman blocks Pryce. Except that Ngata beats both Ndukwe and Satele. So Alleman peels off Pryce to pick up the charging nose tackle. That leaves Pryce free to force Chad Pennington into throwing the football. He happened to throw it into a swarm of three defensive backs, but that is beside the point. The point is three Miami linemen are beaten by two Ravens defensive linemen.
That was bad, but it wasn't ridiculous. This was ridiculous: With the score 20-9 and the Dolphins at the Baltimore 25 yard line everything collapses for the Dolphins. On a second-and-seven, the wheels came off the cart. Dan Henning called a Ted Ginn end around at the same time the Ravens called for a blitz. The end around was set up with the Dolphins using an unbalanced line to the right side with Long outside of Carey.
That left tight end Anthony Fasano on the left side, with Alleman inside of him, and then Satele, then Ndukwe, then Carey and Long. Fasano got a block. Alleman pulled right, and that leaves Satele and Ndukwe doing their impersonation of swinging gates while a horde of Baltimore defenders poured through. Three Ravens were in the backfield as Ginn
didn't seem to want took the handoff and fumbled it.
That 19-yard loss killed Miami's momentum and pretty much sealed the loss.
"We had favorable matchups and we took advantage of them," Pryce said. "It's quite simple."
So here is the deal: The Dolphins should, must address the interior of their offensive line this offseason. They cannot compete with elite defenses with this starting group. I realize neither Alleman nor Ndukwe were slated to be starters in 2008 but that doesn't change the need to upgrade there in 2009.
Obviously Donald Thomas is supposed to come back in 2009 after missing all but two quarters in 2008. And Justin Smiley is also supposed to return. But both are hopes. The Dolphins hope Thomas, a rookie last year, can live up to his potential and not be an injury-prone guy. The Dolphins hope Smiley, who has finished each of the past two seasons on the injured reserve list, is not an injury-prone guy. Smiley, by the way, is having another shoulder procedure this offseason.
I believe the Dolphins must add at least one starting caliber guard to hedge their bet. See how the Shawn Murphy pick is starting to hurt?
The Dolphins also need a starting center. There. I said it. Satele is not a starting center, in my opinion. He isn't very physical, he doesn't really move anyone in the running game, and on pass plays, I often see him with his back to the defense, chasing the on-rushing defender that just whipped him as the defender makes a target out of Miami's QB.
I am officially debunking the myth that Satele is a good player. He wasn't that against Baltimore, and I've seen him struggle too often during the regular season to believe he's any better than average -- maybe not even that. Satele is a guy you want as a backup center-guard, a swing guy. When he assumes that role, you'll know the Miami offensive line has upgraded.
Anyway, if you forgot what the debacle along the interior of Miami's offensive line looked like Sunday, watch the video. Make your own decision.