The Miami Dolphins and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers completed their annual preseason game tonight, with the Bucs coming out on top, 20-7. However, in the grand scheme of things, the score is meaningless in a preseason game like this. What matters is how the team, and the players, look.
For the Dolphins, it was a game of ups and downs. Some players played well. Some players, not so much. Overall, the first team offense seemed to sputter, being led unexpectedly by Matt Moore instead of the scheduled starter, David Garrard, who is sidelined with a knee injury. The first team defense was not as crisp as they probably should have been, given this is the time of year defenses normally dominate offenses. The Dolphins struggled to get any sort of pass rush, but Buccaneers starter Josh Freeman did seem to stick to quick, three-step drop type passes.
The first team defense seemed to struggle against the run as well, though they did get it together and probably come out of this game with a C+ or B- grade against the run. Once the second team came in, both on offense and defense, the team seemed to click better.
Of course, the story of the game was rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill who threw for 167 yards on 14-for-21 passing with a touchdown, in about two quarters of work. Moore, in comparison, went 7-for-12, 79 yards, and an interception. Moore never looked comfortable out there, however, throwing passes into the ground, and letting the defensive line deflect passes.
Tannehill, after shaking off the nerves in his firs three-and-out drive, looked strong, with good anticipation. He clearly controlled the offense, and was able to fully go through his progressions, on more than one occasion hitting the third or fourth option on the play.
On the lone Miami score of the night, Tannehill showed great anticipation, putting the ball out ahead of Charles Clay on a crossing pattern, letting Clay turn into the endzone with the ball.
Joining Tannehill as standouts from this game are a quartet of receiving options. Wide receivers Julius Pruitt and Roberto Wallace, as well as tight ends Clay and Anthony Fasano all played well, becoming big targets for Moore and Tannehill. Pruitt caught 6 passes for 52 yards, Wallace added another 4 receptions for 71 yards, while Clay and Fasano had 3 catches each, with 49 yards and 29 yards respectively. Clay also scored a touchdown.
However, it wasn't all roses for the Miami receiving corps. Veteran Chad Johnson disappeared in the game, dropping a couple of easy passes and finishing the game with no catches.
The defense saw some struggles as well. Besides the lack of a pass rush tonight, Jimmy Wilson made a horrible play in the first half. He tried to make a play on a Dan Orlovsky pass, going for the interception, but ended up handing the ball back to the Buccaneers wide receiver, leading to a 46-yard gain and, ultimately, a touchdown on the drive.
While that was probably the most glaring mistake on defense, it wasn't the only player noticeably struggling. Vontae Davis, continuing to serve as the third cornerback, would come in to serve as the boundary corner whenever the Dolphins went into the nickel formation and Richard Marshall moved inside to cover the slot. But, Davis clearly has not made the improvements needed to get him back into contention for the starting cornerback slot opposite Sean Smith.
Smith, meanwhile, had a couple of nice coverages, but also had a couple of moments where fans were left trying to figure out what happened. Smith, despite his size, tackles like a cornerback. Several missed or broken tackles let the Buccaneers extend drives longer than the should have.
Special teams were, like the rest of the team, a group of highlights and lowlights. Brandon Field showed why he earned his contract extension earlier this week, putting his first kick inside the 10-yard line after having it bounce just ioutside the endzone. The returners had some success, specifically Rishard Matthews, who had two returns for an average of 36 yards, with one return of 45-yards. Matthews also returned three punts for an average of eight yards.
The downside came from Dan Carpenter. DC$ missed to field goals on the night, although they were both over 50-yards.
Once Tannehill left the game, second year quarterback, the constantly forgotten Pat Devlin, came in and went 9-for-17, for 65 yards. While he made some poor throws, Devlin was also able to get the offense moving, driving down to the goal line, but failing to convert on fourth-and-goal.
The next footage of the Dolphins we will see will be this upcoming Tuesday night's episode of HBO's Hard Knocks. It will be interesting to see how the team reacts to this loss, and what is learned from the game. And, we will see if Tannehill's performance tonight was enough to earn him more reps with the starters - and possibly even a start next week against the Carolina Panthers.