Nolan may have nowhere to hide this Sunday, however, when the Dolphins hit the road again to take on Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings in the Twin Cities. The new defensive-minded coach had a fairly easy debut against the Bills, but now has an unenviable task in dealing with Minnesota's diverse and high-powered offense.
The Dolphins entered the 2010 season opener with many doubts on the defensive side of the ball, with a handful of new starters and a different coordinator. The unit didn't disappoint, though, as it held the Bills to 166 total yards and just 57 in the second half in a 15-10 victory, Miami's first to kick off a season since 2005.
Miami hasn't started 2-0 since opening the 2002 campaign with three straight victories en route to a 5-1 start.
Two years removed from its 2008 AFC East championship season, Miami plays five of its first eight games on the road this year and its defense had to make up for a sputtering offense in Week 1. Quarterback Chad Henne was appreciative of the effort.
"I thought they did a great job," Henne said after the game. "They got us the ball with some good field position in the first half, and they stopped them at the end. They gave us the ball and the chance to run out the clock."
Dolphins newcomer Karlos Dansby, rookie Koa Misi and fellow linebacker Cameron Wake each had sacks against the Bills, while wide receiver Brandon Marshall made his Miami debut with eight catches for 53 yards.
It's a given Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano will have a few sleepless nights worrying about how the defense will shut down Favre, Adrian Peterson and the rest, but scoring on one of last season's toughest defenses won't be easy either.
Minnesota returns most of its defenders from a year ago, and they're most likely ready for Week 2 after having some extra time to rest from a season- opening loss in New Orleans on September 9. In a rematch of last season's conference title game, Favre and the Vikes were escorted out of the Superdome with a 14-9 loss.
Many criticized Vikings head coach Brad Childress for neglecting to keep the ball in Peterson's hands in the second half, and Favre didn't have a memorable performance by passing for only 171 yards, 76 of which came on throws to tight end Visanthe Shiancoe. In Childress' defense, most of his offensive starters missed the preseason, which may have led to such a stagnant performance. He feels confident the players have put the Saints' loss behind them and are ready for this week after plenty of time to prepare.
"I think they're past that. I think they let it go off their back," Childress noted this week. "The downside is that you have to play early. The upside is you get a little bit more time to prepare for your next game."
The Vikings' defense kept them in the game, and solid play from linebackers E.J. Henderson and Chad Greenway was key. The two combined for 21 tackles as Henderson returned from a broken leg suffered last December. Minnesota's defense will get a taste of Miami's Wildcat offense this week, leaving more responsibility on a front line which features two of the biggest and most talented tackles in the league in Kevin and Pat Williams.
A big key Minnesota must improve on is forcing turnovers. It did not have any against the Saints, but managed six passes defensed. Miami, meanwhile, did not record any turnovers in its season-opening win as well.
The Dolphins lead the all-time regular season series with the Vikings, 5-4, breaking a deadlock in the series with a 24-20 home win when the teams last met, in 2006. The Vikings won the previous three meetings, including a 20-17 home triumph in 2002. The Dolphins are 0-3 in Minnesota since last winning there in 1979. The home team has won the last six installments of the series since the '79 game.
The most memorable meeting between the franchises was Super Bowl VIII, won by Miami by a 24-7 count in Houston.
Childress is 0-1 against the Dolphins, while Sparano will be meeting both Childress and Minnesota for the first time as a head coach.
WHEN THE DOLPHINS HAVE THE BALL
Miami scored just one touchdown in last Sunday's win, a one-yard run by running back Ronnie Brown (65 rushing yards, 1 TD). He will be counted on to get the Dolphins' offense going early with hopes of quieting the raucous crowd at the Metrodome. Counterpart Ricky Williams ran for 62 yards on a game-high 18 carries last week and has been averaging nearly 100 yards per game in his past five road tilts. If the Dolphins can establish the run early, it will open more opportunities for Henne (182 passing yards) to record his first touchdown pass of the season. Henne isn't the most talented signal-caller in the league, but managed to pass Gus Frerotte for seventh in team history with 3,060 passing yards following last week's output. Rookie guard John Jerry, who was drafted in the third round in April's draft, started for the Dolphins and was part of a line that allowed three sacks. Marshall was Miami's biggest acquisition this offseason and didn't disappoint, making a game-high eight catches for 53 yards. His presence alone will make it easier for other receivers to contributed, including Davone Bess. Bess (6 receptions 51 yards), Miami's top receiver a year ago with 76 receptions for 758 yards.
The Vikings will see many looks from Sparano's offense on Sunday. They allowed 308 yards to New Orleans, which recorded only 79 yards on the ground against a stout Minnesota run defense with the two Williams' directly in the middle. The blockage up front will allow Greenway (12 tackles) and Henderson (9 tackles) to have a better look at what Miami will be running in their dynamic offense. Sack master Jared Allen (4 tackles) hopes to make Henne his first victim of the season. Even though they've only beat the lowly Bills, the Dolphins are a serious offensive threat with the running back tandem of Brown and Ricky Williams. Minnesota's secondary was able to hang with a New Orleans offense that was rated No. 1 in scoring and fourth in passing a season ago. The Vikings' secondary will be able to make more plays if Miami fails to get its ground attack going. Cornerbacks Antoine Winfield (9 tackles) and Asher Allen (6 tackles) did a fine job in the loss, even though Saints top receiver Marques Colston ended with 62 yards on five catches. The Minnesota secondary allowed just one touchdown catch in the loss, with safety Husain Abdullah (5 tackles) and cornerback and offseason addition Lito Sheppard (3 tackles) both playing well on the night.
WHEN THE VIKINGS HAVE THE BALL
Favre (171 passing yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) didn't look so sharp in the Week 1 loss in New Orleans, but neither did anyone else on Minnesota's offense. Much of that rests on Childress, who's been criticized for years for his questionable play-calling. Favre can succeed with unorthodox play, but as he gets older the timing tends to evaporate. He needs two more touchdown passes for 500 in his career and has now thrown 26 for scores since turning 40, passing Warren Moon for the NFL record for that age group. He also needs 500 passing yards for 70,000 in his career. The home crowd has been kind to Favre since his first day as a Viking, and he went 9-0 as the host a year ago when including the postseason. Favre didn't have a monumental night against the Saints, with his favorite target being Shiancoe (4 receptions, 76 yards), who had the team's only touchdown catch of the night and continued his rapport with the veteran quarterback. Wide receiver Harvin had only one catch for 12 yards and ex- Dolphin Greg Camarillo (29 yards) finished with one catch. Camarillo will be ready for this meeting after Miami traded him to Minnesota for defensive back Benny Sapp during the preseason. Much of the attention, as always, will still be centered on Peterson, who's arguably the best back in the NFL. Peterson was running hard in the first half of last week's loss, but didn't have much of a chance to produce in the second. Behind a strong line, expect more this week.
This may be a bad week for Nolan's defense to shoot for an encore performance following a win in Buffalo. Nolan not only has to have his players ready for the bruising running style of Peterson, but the cutthroat approach of Favre will pose big problems if the Dolphins are unprepared. The Dolphins recorded seven passes defensed on Sunday, but failed to intercept Bills quarterback Trent Edwards. Buffalo did end with just 116 yards passing and its top wideout, Lee Evans, was held to 34 yards on four catches. Granted the Vikings will be without Sidney Rice (hip surgery), but second-year wideout Harvin and tight end Shiancoe have been accustomed to plenty of work the past two years. Free safety Chris Clemons (5 tackles) made his first regular season start last week and two of his five stops were for losses. He left a good impression with Sparano, but faces a bigger test on Sunday. Cornerbacks Jason Allen (6 tackles) and Vontae Davis (2 tackles) and strong safety Yeremiah Bell (8 tackles) are the last line of defense if Peterson gets past the linebackers. The Dolphins were hoping to have linebacker Channing Crowder back after missed the Bills game with a groin injury, but he's been ruled out again for this week. New linebacker Bobby Carpenter (2 tackles) got the start in Crowder's absence. In addition, rookie end Jared Odrick suffered a hairline fracture in his right leg against Buffalo and is expected to miss a few weeks.
The Vikings didn't light up the scoreboard with New Orleans last week and left some fantasy owners in disbelief with a poor passing attack. Shiancoe had the best day of the group, while both Harvin and wide receiver Bernard Berrian finished with one reception each. Harvin said this week that he has found a solution to his recurring migraine headaches, and the Vikings hope so too. Camarillo may get some more looks as well, since he's going against the team that traded him. Peterson is a fantasy monster as usual, but a lack of touches in the second half diminished the possible astronomical performance owners may have expected. Using Minnesota's defense is always a wise choice, especially at home.
Miami's dual approach at running back can be a problem at times, and this week poses a big threat against the stingy Minnesota run defense. Brown and Ricky Williams usually split the carries, yet it's unclear who'll get the nod inside the five-yard line. Even though Henne is a very unpopular pick at quarterback, Marshall and Bess still deserve a shot. Expect to see the Dolphins throwing more than usual if their running back-by-committee scheme is unsuccessful.
The Vikings will be playing in front of a rowdy home crowd and have won nine straight as the host, including the playoffs. In order to avoid starting a season 0-2 for the first time since 2008, Minnesota hopes Favre and his receivers will be on the same page after failing to connect in Week 1. A lack of depth may have been the issue on that, leaving the squad frustrated. Miami enters the Twin Cities on a high note and will attack the Vikings early with many looks on offense. It's a difficult task to run on the Vikings, who expect to see Brown and Ricky Williams on a regular basis Sunday. If Henne is wearing Jared Allen as a cape, which is what Childress is hoping for, look for Minnesota to come out on top and erase the memories from Week 1.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Vikings 31, Dolphins 17