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Defense leads the way as Dolphins win preseason opener

I know it's only the preseason, but it's always good to get a win.  On Monday night, that's just what the Dolphins did, knocking off the Jaguars 12-9.  And before I get into all of my initial thoughts on the game, I just got to point out that Jack Del Rio did a very classy move by not kicking the field goal on fourth and goal late in the 4th quarter.  Nobody wants to see a player get hurt in overtime of a preseason game.  So I'm very glad he decided to go for it - and nice job by Courtney Bryan to break up the pass in the corner of the endzone.

Now then, onto some thoughts from Miami's win - both good and bad.  But keep in mind that the first preseason game is essentially just a glorified scrimmage.

Here's a key stat.  The first-team defense played together for the entire first quarter of Monday's game.  The Jaguars ran 11 plays against Miami's first-team defense.  The Dolphins surrendered just 28 yards of offense on those 11 plays and only one first down - forcing two three-and-outs.  Now that is impressive.

During those three series, they tallied one sack and pressured Jaguars QB David Garrard a couple of other times.  On one play, Channing Crowder blitzed and basically drove the running back picking up the blitz into Garrard's face, forcing an incomplete pass.  But a major reason for the defense's success - including Jason Ferguson's sack (which was more or less a coverage sack) was rookie Sean Smith's performance.  On the particular play that resulted in the sack, Smith did an excellent job keeping Torry Holt - Garrard's primary target on that play - inside of him when Torry was trying to get to the outside.  That's a veteran move by a rookie against a veteran receiver.

Speaking of Smith, he also made a terrific interception in the third quarter of a Todd Bouman pass in the endzone.  The big question scouts had about Sean entering the draft was how he would be tackling players at the next level.  Some said he was scared of contact.  But Smith did not shy away from contact on the only tackle opportunity he had, making the tackle.  All in all, Smith was probably the player of the game for the Dolphins.

Getting back to the first-team defense, there's a lot of concern about how the defensive line would shape up.  Would they be able to effectively limit the opponent's ground game?  Keeping in mind that Jacksonville's offensive line is probably an average unit at best, the Dolphins answered that question with a resounding "yes" on Monday night.  They held the Jaguars to 10 yards on 3 rushes.  A small sample size, of course - but a good sign, nonetheless.

Nate Jones also deserves a mention, too.  He was very good at blitzing from the nickel corner spot last year.  On Monday, Jones showed he still has a knack for getting to the QB as a blitzer, forcing an incomplete pass on 3rd down to end a drive when he got to Garrard.

The offense on Monday night was really a mixed bag.  There were good moments.  There were bad moments.  And all in all, I don't think it was really a positive night for the offense.

Heading the list of issues was the offensive line.  In pass protection, the first-team line performed very well.  But we all have been expecting that the Dolphins would be able to run the ball between the tackles in 2009 thanks to the acquisition of Jake Grove and the return of Justin Smiley and Donald Thomas to the field after season-ending injuries in 2008.  But this unit failed to produce on Monday against the formidable Jaguars defensive front.

Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams combined for just 41 yards rushing on 14 carries - a measly 2.9 yards per carry average.  Brown and Williams rarely had any kind of lane ot run through.  On one play, Jake Long even got beat badly - resulting in a loss for Williams.  I also noticed Vernon Carey getting beat a couple of times on rushing attempts.  This was not the kind of effort I was hoping to see out of this unit and I'll be anxiously awaiting Saturday night for the next preseason game to see if the unit improves over yesterday's performance.

As far as the battle for the starting right guard job goes, neither Shawn Murphy nor Donald Thomas (who rotated in and out) really stood out.  Just from watching the broadcast, I may have been slightly more impressed by Thomas because he seemed to get more push.  But the competition is probably still wide open and likely far from over.

On the plus side, Ted Ginn Jr. looked very good out there on Monday.  He ran some crisp routes - especially on a third-and-one play against Pro Bowl corner Rashean Mathis, running a terrific post and making an exceptional catch.  All told, Ginn looked confident and produced - tallying 2 receptions for 26 yards, one rush for 14 yards on an end-around, and drawing a 30+ yard pass interference call on a long pass attempt down the left sideline from Chad Pennington.  He also had a 15 yard reception called back due to holding - meaning the Dolphins called Ginn's number five times in one quarter.  Not bad for a guy many fans wanted to write off.  Hopefully this early success translates to the regular season.

As for the quarterbacks, neither Chad Pennington nor Chad Henne played very well.  But neither played bad, either.  Pennington made a couple of nice passes, especially his pass to Ginn on 3rd-and-one for 15 yards.  But he was far from classic CP.  Meanwhile, Henne made a couple of notable plays.  His 20 yard strike to Brian Hartline comes to mind right away.  On that same drive, he made a beautiful pass to Ricky Williams on a wheel route in the endzone that hit Ricky in the hands.  But he was unable to haul it in - which doesn't happen often to Williams.  He also connected with Ernest Wilford for a 33 yard touchdown.  It wasn't the throw, though, that impressed me on that play.  You or I could have made the throw.  It's the fact that Henne was under immense pressure and had three defenders bearing down on him.  He stood in the pocket, kept his eyes down the field, and found an open man.  Good stuff.

Of course, Henne was also intercepted on a pass that he had no business making.  But it's the preseason and he's young - so let's not get crazy.

Some quick thoughts on Monday's preseason opener:

  • Cameron Wake can rush the passer.  We don't know what else he can do at this point, but he showed great burst and strength when rushing off the edge.
  • Patrick Turner led the team in receptions, catching three balls.  He showed good hands but failed to bring in a pass in which he was surrounded by Jacksonville defenders.  And that's what I'm hoping to see from Turner - the ability to make tough catches in traffic.
  • Eric Green really struggled.  He was targeted numerous times and actually allowed three straight completions at one point.  He's losing ground in the battle at cornerback right now.
  • Vontae Davis didn't perform much better.  He was called for three penalties in the game - two were on special teams and the other was a pass interference call.  You can bet the coaches will rip into him a bit for those.  He also allowed himself to be blocked by a receiver on that screen pass that the Jaguars ran that would have been a TD if not for a holding call.  Davis was being manhandled in the endzone by Tiquan Underwood, a 178 pound rookie from Rutgers.  Vontae has to learn to shed that block and make a play.
  • Brandon London and Anthony Armstrong had quiet nights while Chris Williams made some plays as the return man.  Could Williams actually make the roster as the team's 6th receiver?  Possibly.  He averaged 31 yards on 4 kickoff returns but wasn't as comfortable handling punt returns.
  • We got our first taste of Pat White and it was a solid debut.  He made a few plays with his legs.  He completed only 2 of 7 passes - but was a victim of some drops, including one that resulted in an interception.  But I'm not quite sure why so many are raving over White's debut.  I didn't see anything spectacular yet.
  • Seven penalties are too many - especially when some of them are committed in the redzone.
  • Here are the numbers for the kicking competition.  Dan Carpenter drilled a 48 yard field goal.  However, he slipped on an extra point attempt off the wet infield dirt.  Connor Barth connected on his field goal attempt from 27.  On kickoffs, Carp averaged 67 yards per kick on three kicks.  Barth kicked one for 65 yards.  Just for point of reference, a 65 yard kick is fielded at the 5 yard line; a 67 yard kick is fielded at the 3.  Carpenter was the only one to reach the endzone, with his opening kick going 4 yards deep in the endzone.

So that's all for my initial reaction to Miami's preseason opener.  We'll definitely talk more about this game as the week goes on.  All told, though, it was football - and we can all agree that that's a positive.