Monday, October 8, 2012
Seven-step drop: Are Dolphins No. 2?
By James Walker
The New York Jets (2-2) still have a game to play on "Monday Night Football" against the Houston Texans.
But here are seven observations from Week 5 in the AFC East:
- Are the Miami Dolphins currently the second-best team in the AFC East? It's a legitimate question five weeks into the season. Miami is 2-3 and tied with the Buffalo Bills (2-3) for the same record. The Dolphins could be in a three-way tie for second place with the Bills and New York Jets (2-2) later tonight after New York plays the undefeated Houston Texans (4-0). Miami has been the most consistent of the three teams this season. The Dolphins have been in every game except a Week 1 loss to Houston.
- Miami's secondary is improving thanks to the increased contributions of cornerback Sean Smith and safety Reshad Jones. Both players are having career years. Smith is taking on the challenge of defending elite receivers and did a solid job defending Larry Fitzgerald and A.J. Green in back-to-back weeks. Miami has an interesting decision to make with Smith, who is a pending free agent and could command a sizable contract in 2013. Jones is improving and consistently is around the football. He made the game-clinching interception in Sunday’s win over the Cincinnati Bengals. Miami’s front seven is very good. If the secondary catches up, Miami’s defense will be tough to beat this year.
- Remember the recent talk about New England Patriots Pro Bowl receiver Wes Welker being "phased out" of the offense? There was even speculation that Welker, who is in the final year of his contract, could be traded. Well, forget about it. Welker is back to being a very important part of New England’s offense. He caught 13 passes for 104 yards and a touchdown. The Broncos could not defend Welker, who had a career-best nine catches in the first half. Welker has stepped up big after injuries to tight end Aaron Hernandez (ankle) and backup receiver Julian Edelman (hand). Even when those players return, Welker needs to keep a big role in New England. He had a funny comment to Comcast Sportsnet after the game. "Yeah it's kind of nice to stick it in Bill's face once in a while," Welker said jokingly of Patriots coach Bill Belichick. "So this is definitely a good one."
- The Patriots are clearly a well-conditioned team. Belichick has cranked up the tempo on offense and it impacts all three phases of the game. The Patriots are playing extremely fast and went virtually no-huddle the entire game against Denver. Not only must the offense be in shape, but the quick-strike offense also puts pressure on the conditioning of the defense and special teams. The Patriots showed no signs of slowing down. New England just needs to stay healthy and keep its quality depth.
- I don’t know if the Buffalo Bills have enough heart to be a winner. This was one of my biggest concerns when I made the Bills my sleeper pick for 2012. Buffalo, on paper, is not 42 points worse than any team in the NFL. You have to factor in a lack of mental and physical toughness and inability to respond through adversity. Buffalo hasn’t been to the playoffs since 1999. There were too many players in the locker room that don’t know what it takes to be a winner, especially together in Buffalo. The Bills have proved over and over that they are not a team that responds well in tough times. Last season the losses snowballed and went downhill. It’s still early. But after losing 45-3 Sunday to the San Francisco 49ers, you wonder if the Bills have enough to respond and turn their season around. They get rattled too easily. Buffalo has another gut-check game next week on the road against the Arizona Cardinals (3-1).
- Do not be surprised if the New York Jets go after a wide receiver before the trade deadline. Monday’s game against Houston is a litmus test to see what the Jets have on offense for the rest of the season. If the receivers play well, New York may be comfortable with the group going forward. But if the Jets' passing game struggles, which is what I expect, then they will be in the market for a receiver. The Jets are a veteran team built to win now. Injuries to No. 1 receiver Santonio Holmes and Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis mean the team is going nowhere fast. The Jets are proving this year they can no longer win with just defense. They need to score points.