Dolphins Watch

August 23, 2009 2:53 AM

Dolphins sharp in win over Panthers

After the offense struggled Monday in a 12-9 win over Jacksonville, the Dolphins regrouped in a 27-17 win over the Carolina Panthers Saturday night at Land Shark Stadium.

Chad Pennington and Chad Henne were both razor sharp; Pennington especially so in limited action.

The former New York Jet completed 8-of-11 passes for 105 yards and a 28-yard touchdown pass to Ronnie Brown.

Henne played most of the second half, hitting on 10-of-16 passes for 75 yards, including a 2-yard scoring toss to running back Joe Kowalewski that clinched the game with 3:03 to play.

The offense, which was held to 257 yards against the Jags, gained 312 yards of total offense against Carolina.

Brown looked fully recovered from his ACL tear two years ago, running seven times for 31 yards, and he displayed some nifty moves, spinning off defenders and showing more elusiveness than he did last season.

Ricky Williams added 21 yards on just three carries and Patrick Cobbs gained 24 yards on five carries as the offensive line, which did not block well against the Jags, pounded the Panthers for 141 yards rushing.

"I was happy," Coach Tony Sparano said in his postgame press conference. "I was pleased with what Ronnie and Ricky were able to do."

The running star of the second half was Miami's fourth-string running back, Lex Hilliard, who had a second straight good game with nine carries for a game-high 52 yards, including a 39-yard TD run that was the finest of the game.

The rookie from Montana hit the hole hard and showed a surprising burst.

"Lex has done a nice job," Sparano said. "He's a big back who runs like a big back."

Pat White completed 2-of-3 passes for just four yards in limited action in the second quarter, and he ran twice for 11 yards. But the big surprise was that White wasn't involved in the Dolphins' five "Wildcat" plays.

Midway through the first quarter, the Dolphins unveiled the offensive formation that swept the league last year, as Brown lined up in the shotgun and ran for two yards on the first play.

The second time the Dolphins ran the "Wildcat," Brown faked to Williams up the middle, turned and faked to Cobbs coming around the end, then kept it for no gain.

But in the second quarter, the Dolphins ran the "Wildcat" three times in four plays to much greater success.

Williams took the handoff from Brown on a sweep and gained 11 yards and a first down.

Two plays later, Brown kept the ball and ran up the middle for five and another first down.

But the Dolphins saved the biggest play for last, as Brown handed to Williams coming around the end, and he tossed the ball back to Pennington, who lofted a 38-yard pass to Cobbs to the Carolina 10-yardline.

"We ran the same four plays that every team in the league knows we have," Sparano said. "It's good homework for us to see how they defend us."

Connor Barth ended the drive with a 22-yard field goal that put Miami ahead 10-7.

The running backs also dominated on the receiving end, as Cobbs led Miami with four catches for 56 yards, and Brown added 43 yards on three receptions. Rookie Patrick Turner was Miami's leading receiver with three catches for 25 yards.

Defense shines
But while the offense rang up yards and points, the Dolphins defense held the Panthers to 244 yards of total offense.

Last year, Carolina was third in the NFL with an average of 152 rushing yards per game, but Saturday, the Dolphins front line stymied the Panthers, holding their talented backs to 98 yards rushing.

DeAngelo Williams, who rushed for 1,515 yards, gained 40 on eight carries. But that was a misleading stat, as Miami held Williams to 14 yards on seven carries. The big one came in the first quarter, when Williams was seemingly stopped behind the line of scrimmage, broke a tackle, broke another in the secondary, and scored on a 26-yard run to tie the game at 7-7.

Cornerback Vontae Davis, whistled for three penalties last week, rebounded with three tackles and an assist, and several passes defended.

"I liked what Vontae did," Sparano said. "We shouldn't have judged him on a couple of plays. He was active and made some nice tackles."

Davis played most of the game, since rookie Sean Smith and veteran Jason Allen were out with flu-like symptoms. Test results are pending, but Sparano said Smith should be back in practice Monday.

Defensive end Cameron Wake also made his presence felt with a big hit on Panthers quarterback Jake McCown on third-and-3 on a pass that was ruled incomplete.

Special teams struggle
While the offense and defense played well, the special teams were not very good, particularly in the first half.

Returner Chris Williams, who was a bright spot in the Jacksonville game, had just two yards on three returns, and he made the biggest mistake of the game when a ball bounced off his facemask at the Miami 10, and Carolina recovered at the 14.

That led to a Decori Birmingham 2-yard TD run that gave the Panthers a 14-10 halftime lead.

Williams got an earful from Sparano on the sidelines, and was replaced in the second half by Davone Bess and rookie Brian Hartline, who managed to hold onto the ball for the remainder of the game.

Williams wasn't the only special teams performer to struggle, as the Panthers took advantage of poor kick coverage to post a 14-yard average on punt returns, as well as an average of 20 yards a kick return, including two the Panthers nearly broke for scores.

Punter Brandon Fields was the best special teams player for the Dolphins, averaging 45.4 yards a kick, including a boomer that Carolina fumbled and Miami recovered at the Panthers 14-yardline.

That led to Henne's clinching TD pass to Kowalewski.

Overall, the Dolphins could have gotten an A, but the spotty special teams bring them down to a B.

Again, Miami only has a five-day layoff before taking the field, this time Thursday at 8 p.m. at Tampa Bay.

The cornerback position should be one to watch, with Davis and Smith each having one good game so far. If Smith is fully recovered, Thursday could go a long way towards deciding who will start next to Will Allen on opening day.

Also, no player has emerged from the logjam at wide receiver, with eight different wideouts getting playing time Saturday. That group will be pared to five, though Anthony Armstrong did himself no favors Saturday when he dropped a perfect third down pass from Henne that would have given the Dolphins a first down across midfield.

Right now, he's probably the wideout most likely to go, but really, no receiver has been very impressive this preseason, so Sparano has some difficult decisions ahead.

I'll check back later with any new developments.

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