Saturday, August 25, 2012

Dolphins-Falcons Game Observations

Another week, another ugly preseason performance by the Miami Dolphins. More so than the previous two weeks, the Dolphins' roster holes were exposed in what is supposed to be a dress rehearsal for the regular season with the starts playing into the third quarter.

Here are my observations from the Dolphins' loss to the Falcons on Friday.


Offense
  • Ryan Tannehill has more ups and downs in this one, but I still saw a lot of promise. He used his athleticism well on a few rollouts and scrambles and made some nice throws, including a mid-route across the middle to Davone Bess and one across his body to Jorvorskie Lane. At this point, I'm not worried about Tannehill's development, but rather the lack of talent round him.
  • Matt Moore didn't stand out in this one against the backups and had another bad fumble, which was his issue last year. He certainly hasn't done anything to win the job over the rookie.
  • Of all the backs, I thought Daniel Thomas looked the best. He showed nice power inside and seems to have a knack for spinning out of tackles and gaining more yardage. I'd expect him to factor into the running game greatly this season.
  • Aside from Davone Bess, who showed reliable hands and a nice rapport with Tannehill, absolutely none of the receivers stood out. Not every throw to Legedu Naanee was perfect, but he had a few miscues of his own and simply does not look like a starter. A handful of other guys had some bad drops, including Julius Pruitt, Jeff Fuller, Charles Clay and Anthony Fasano. It was never more apparent in this one that Tannehill's weapons on offense are sorely lacking.
  • Clyde Gates made a great catch that was ruled out of bounds but looked in from what I saw. He also made a heads-up play on a tipped ball from Tannehill that should have been intercepted. This guy seems destined to be cut, but I can't understand it.
  • Jake Long had some struggles against John Abraham, although the holding penalty on his was a weak call. Jonathan Martin, on the other hand, was absolutely horrendous and got bowled over a few times by Kroy Biermann and others. It's too early to call him a bust, but his play is seriously ugly and he could be the worst right tackle in the league as a rookie.
  • John Jerry didn't embarrass himself in this one, and I'd say he's earned a longer shot as the starting right guard. That's due in part to Artis Hicks just offering no upside, so we might as well see what Jerry can do.

Defense
  • Cameron Wake was his old self and looked tremendous in his return from a minor back injury. Unfortunately, he once again seems to be the only guy on the roster than can really put pressure on the quarterback. Jared Odrick is the next-best guy and he's not even a pure pass rusher. Meanwhile, Olivier Vernon seemed to get neutralized at the line often despite a half-sack, Derrick Shelby didn't stand out in this one as he had in previous games, and Jamaal Westerman really didn't play until the third-stringers were in, although he did make some plays.
  • The Dolphins' interior line was once again solid and didn't let Atlanta do much on the ground. Randy Starks in particular had a nice game, as did Kheeston Randall, who played what seemed to be a full three quarters. Tony McDaniel and his $3 million salary are looking pretty expendable right now.
  • Gary Guyton probably had the best game of the linebackers, but he was still fairly inconsistent and missed two big interception opportunities. I don't think he's done a lot to make the team, but with the Dolphins' lack of depth and some nagging injuries to starters, he could stick.
  • Jason Trusnik and Austin Spitler didn't embarrass themselves except when they were caught mismatched in coverage. Both seem like good bets to make the team. Josh Kaddu is more uncertain because he's more raw.
  • Richard Marshall really struggled with the Falcons' elite receivers in this one, and Vontae Davis didn't have a great day either. He was beat by Julio Jones on a near-touchdown, missed at least one tackle that I saw, and was appropriately flagged for pulling down the receiver on his pick-six. Sean Smith was easily the best corner of the day, as he didn't get embarrassed in coverage and made a great play on fourth-and-two when he set the edge, came off his blocker and made the tackle on the ball carrier.
  • Nolan Carroll probably did the best of the backup corners, and Jonathan Wade probably did the worst. At this point, I'd guess only four players from the current roster stick around.
  • Reshad Jones got exposed in the Falcons' aerial attack, while Chris Clemons was rather invisible. the Dolphins probably won't face many passing games that are better this season, but it still shows these guys aren't there yet.

Special Teams
  • Dan Carpenter and Brandon Fields both had nice days as usual, as did long snapper John Denney, who made a stop and was always around the ball on punts.
  • Marcus Thigpen had a few nice returns and actually made a brilliant (although perhaps unintentional) play when he caught a kickoff out of bounds and forced a penalty on the Falcons after Joe Philbin challenged the initial ruling. It was a close play, as the rule states that if you catch the ball while straddling the sideline, it's a kickoff out of bounds, but Thigpen's left foot was possibly still in the air when he caught it and thus he would have "stepped" out of bounds and been marked at the one-yard line. Thigpen also returned the Dolphins' only punt and I'm feeling like he has a legitimate chance to make this team over Steve Slaton.

Conclusion

For much of the offsesason when asked how the Dolphins would fare this season, I'd said six-to-eight wins was probably about right. Now, I'm starting to think that might be too optimistic.

The Dolphins clearly lack talent on the offensive side of the ball, greatly limiting the weapons for a rookie quarterback that isn't going to be elite right off the bat. Combine that with shoddy protection and you have a recipe for a lot of punts and a tired defense.

The defense too isn't perfect. Most of the front seven is solid, but the team still only has one apparent pass rusher and the secondary is still shaky, which is only made worse by the team not putting pressure on the quarterback.

Dolphins fans should probably prepare for a losing season and some ugly football in 2012, but if you expect it, you'll be less disappointed. It'll take a while for Tannehill to develop and the roster to be reshaped with tons of cap space in 2013, so I'm not concerned about the long-term future and I'm willing to put up with a bad 2012 season as long as the young guys show progress.


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