Well we are now getting very close to the start of the regular season. And on Saturday, the Dolphins will really play in a game that's as close to a regular season game as you can get in the preseason. The 3rd preseason game is when the "core players" - as Tony Sparano likes to say - will get the most work in preparation for the regular season. And while the team only game-planned for Kansas City for 2 days, it's still likely the most game-planning this team and this staff has done all preseason.
On Thursday, Tony Sparano did say that the "core players" will likely play into the 3rd quarter - and possibly all of the 3rd quarter. So we are going to really get a chance to see what we might expect once the regular season opens up. So let's talk a little about what we should be looking for on Saturday night:
CAN MIAMI SUSTAIN A LONG SCORING DRIVE?
Last week, you'll remember that one of the things I was watching for was if the Dolphins could finally score a touchdown. Well they did. That's great and everything, but I'm a long way from satisfied - as we all should be - with how this offense has played through 2 preseason games.
Their lone TD drive was just a 57 yard drive. And then the other scoring drive that Chad Pennington and the starting offense produced last week was a 46 yard drive that was capped with a Dan Carpenter 31 yard field goal. So now I'd like to see if this offense has the ability to drive 70 or 80 yards for a touchdown.
Can the Dolphins sustain a long drive and cap it off with a touchdown? That's something that all good offenses must be able to do. And to this point, I haven't seen the ability to do so from this offense. But with that said, things are looking up. Chad Pennington was converting 3rd downs last week and for the first time in a while, I don't feel like Miami is over-matched on obvious passing downs. Now let's see if this confidence that us Dolphin fans are starting to feel can be sustained.
PENNINGTON CAN WRAP UP STARTING JOB
Even though many Dolphin fans already are assuming that Chad Pennington will start the regular season as the Dolphins' starting quarterback, this coaching staff refuses to make that declaration. Instead, they insist that rookie Chad Henne could steal the starting job away from Pennington. I don't think that's likely - or very wise, to be honest. And I think that another solid showing by Pennington on Saturday night will officially end the QB competition and entrench Pennington as the starter against his former team in week one.
CAN GINN CONTINUE TO PROGRESS AND IMPRESS?
I feel a little bit like Walt Frazier there by using that above phrase, but it's a logical question. Ginn really stepped up last week against the Jaguars, catching 4 balls for 58 yards in just a half while consistently beating Pro-Bowl cornerback Rashean Mathis - which is damn impressive.
I also made a comment after last week's game about Ginn possibly becoming Chad Pennington's "new Laveranues Coles." And I'm sure most of you know what that means just from watching the Jets beat up on the Dolphins for so many years recently. To be honest, this entire offense has seemed to have a new swagger to them since Pennington came to town. But none of them have instantly improved as much as Ginn has. Let's now see if Ginn can now put together back-to-back impressive games in his final prolonged action before the regular season.
CAN DEFENSE CONTINUE TO STOP THE RUN?
Last week was an encouraging display by Miami's 1st team defense in terms of stopping the run. They held one of the best running back duos in the league to 19 yards on 9 carries. Now as they face Kansas City, they will likely see a heavy dose of RB Larry Johnson. Last week, in just one half of game action, Johnson rushed for 61 yards on 14 carries. So it's reasonable to assume that Johnson could be fed the ball 20+ times on Saturday night over 3 quarters of play. This will be a very good test for this rebuilt front 7 - and will especially test out their stamina. Will they begin to wear down against the run like they did last season - as we especially saw right from the start last year in Miami's OT loss to the Redskins?
SPECIAL TEAMS ARE EXTRA SPECIAL FOR BUBBLE PLAYERS
For a rather large amount of players who are currently on the roster bubble, special teams will play a key role in determining if they remain Dolphins or not when the cut-down date approaches. Multiple times during his Thursday press conference, Sparano emphasized special teams and how those borderline players must be able to contribute to Miami's special teams. And let's face it: kick coverage continues to be a problem just as it was last year. Last week, the Jaguars averaged over 30 yards per kick return - which is totally unacceptable. So any bubble player who can make positive contributions towards improving that unit will be much closer to earning a roster spot than those who can't.
Some other things to look for:
-How will Ricky Williams do handling the starter's role and seeing most of the carries as Ronnie Brown sits out with his thumn injury?
-Can Chad Henne, once he does get in, continue to grow and impress?
-Can this offensive line perform as well as last week in pass protection when they held the Jaguars to no sacks of the QB?
-Can this defense find some way to get consistent pressure on the QB?
So let us know...what will you be looking for on Saturday night?