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Despite win over Bucs, Dolphins still have plenty of work to do

Usually I am a firm believe that you take a win any way you can get one.  After all, we saw just how hard it is to win in this league back in 2007.  But in the preseason - especially in the third game of the preseason - I'm a firm believer in seeing crisp, efficient play on both sides of the ball rather than just focusing on the end result.  Yes, the Dolphins knocked off the Buccaneers on Thursday night to remain unbeaten in the preseason.  But if you're a Dolphins fan, you certainly aren't satisfied with your team's performance.

During the first two preseason games, the Dolphins were very impressive defending the run - much more so than many anticipated.  But on Thursday night, the Bucs consistently pushed around Miami's defensive line at the point of attack.  And for the second consecutive week, there were a couple of missed tackles that led to big gains on the ground for Tampa.

All told, the Bucs' three-headed running back committee of Cadillac Williams, Derrick Ward, and Earnest Graham combined for 96 yards rushing on just 17 carries (5.65 ypc average) - an unacceptable number when you consider these three only played 2 and a half quarters.

The thinking going into this game was that the Dolphins would be able to really shut down Tampa's passing offense considering they were playing without their two starting receivers - Antonio Bryant and Michael Clayton.  But then the game started and, for some reason, there were suddenly Buccaneer receivers running wide open down the field.  By the time the game was delayed due to lightning, Byron Leftwich had thrown for 100 yards through the air in just over one quarter.  And that number would have been even higher if he wasn't so inaccurate throwing the ball - missing at least two wide open receivers, including one in the corner of the endzone.

No - this wasn't how it was supposed to be, at least in many of our minds.

Who was the biggest culprit among the starters?  The blame is probably equally shared between Will Allen and Sean Smith.  Neither could apparently contain Maurice Stovall - who has just 20 career receptions over three seasons.  Stovall caught six balls on Thursday night for 73 yards.  Of those six catches, 5 came when either Smith or Allen were in coverage.  The other was a short one yard pass.  But here's how Stovall's night breaks down outside of that one reception:

Quick slant for 7 yards against Smith.
Skinny post for 18 yards against Allen.
Fly pattern deep down right sideline that is overthrown - but Stovall definitely beat Allen.
Quick slant for 5 yards against Smith.
Skinny post for 21 yards against Allen.
Post for 21 against Smith.

If this is how our corners perform against Stovall in the preseason, they have a lot of work to do in preparing for some of the outstanding receivers they face in the regular season.

After a solid performance last week out of the starting offensive line, we were all hoping to see even more improvement this week.  That's didn't happen.  The starting unit surrendered two sacks, a handful of quarterback hurries, and failed to generate any running lanes for Miami's running backs.  The starters played together into the fourth quarter.  In those 3+ quarters, the Dolphins ran for just 62 yards on 19 carries - a putrid 3.26 ypc average.  For a line that has $80+ million guaranteed between four of the starters, these kinds of performances are not close to being acceptable.

Make no mistake about it - this offense is only as good as the offensive line allows it to be.  And we really didn't see anything encouraging for the first-team on Thursday night.

I was definitely satisfied with the pressure the Dolphins were able to get on the quarterback for most of the night.  The defense tallied four sacks (including two against Tampa's starting offensive line in the first two quarters) and numerous QB hurries.  I really love watching Nathan Jones blitz from his cornerback position - he has a knack for finding the quarterback.  Jason Taylor also was a step or two away from a couple of sacks.  All in all, it was a solid night for Miami's pass rush.  And I expect that we've seen just the tip of the iceberg regarding some of Paul Pasqualoni's exotic blitz packages.

Can we end the "dink and dunk" stereotype of Chad Pennington.  Yes - some of his throws float.  And there's no question that his arm strength is less than ideal.  But this idea that some have that CP can't throw it more than 10 or 15 yards is just ridiculous.  On Thursday night, while he wasn't very sharp by any means, he played in poor conditions, didn't turn the ball over, and made some things happen.

While it was a high-arcing throw down the sideline, Pennington put the ball right on the money to Brian Hartline 30+ yards down the field on a 3rd down in the first quarter.  But Hartline did indeed push off - good call by the ref.  Pennington showed he can throw downfield again in the third quarter when he hit Hartline perfectly in stride 45 yards down the field.  Two plays later, Pennington eluded the rush and gave himself enough time to find Anthony Fasano wide open for the touchdown.

Pennington wasn't great by any stretch of the imagination.  But he didn't turn the ball over and he did enough to put his team in the lead.

I was really looking forward to seeing how Chad Henne would perform tonight, too.  I was hoping to see what so many other Dolphin fans claim to see in Henne.  And while I saw a very strong arm, Henne was very inaccurate, held onto the ball too long once or twice, and made a simply terrible mistake by throwing an interception in the redzone.  Henne finished the night completing 2 of 8 passes for 55 yards (but if not for Greg Camarillo's run after catch, it would have been more like 12 yards) and that costly interception.  Not a very good night for the second-year QB.

Here are some of my quick thoughts on various aspects of Thursday's game:

  • Third down is the money down.  The Dolphins were 3/14 (21%).  Eww.
  • Yes - Brian Hartline stood out a little.  But I'm not ready to go overboard.  Hartline's big play came against Tampa's backup defense.  Has anyone heard of Torrie Cox?  That's who Hartline beat on his 50+ yard reception.  Cox wasn't even in the NFL in 2008.  So let's not go crazy, folks.  Yes, Hartline also made a key play earlier by turning an 8 or 9 yard gain into a 17 yard gain.  But he also dropped a would-be first-down reception along the right sideline on third down despite the ball hitting him right in the hands.  So I need to see more out of Hartline before I christen him as the second coming.
  • Ted Ginn was only targeted twice, from what I remember.  The first time resulted in a 19 yard reception when Ginn found a hole in Tampa's zone.  The other was an overthrow from CP in the endzone in which Teddy was open after his defender fell down.  I was hoping to see more out of Ginn, though.
  • What's the deal with Greg Camarillo?  Why does it seem like he's so far down on the depth chart?  Did the coaches forget what he did last year before his knee injury?  I need to see more Camarillo, to be honest.
  • Great job by Patrick Cobbs to block that punt.  But what the hell was Charlie Anderson thinking?  You don't touch a blocked punt that goes beyond the line of scrimmage.  It's that simple.  Just let it die.
  • Has Dan Carpenter locked up his job yet?  He nailed his 34 yard FG attempt and, on his two opportunities to kick the ball deep, he hit it 2 yards deep into the endzone to start the game and to the 4 yard line later in the game.  Connor Barth, meanwhile, didn't see any action.  I think it's a done deal.
  • Brandon Fields has a ridiculous leg.  His first two punts traveled 64 and 50 yards respectively.  IF he can just become more consistent, we will have found a damn good punter for a long time.
  • Punt coverage remains a problem.  The Dolphins again allowed a long punt return this week - a 30 yard return to be exact.  These kinds of mistakes cost you in the battle for field position.  And in bad weather, field position becomes even more important.
  • I like Ted Ginn as our kick returner - always have.  But Davone Bess isn't doing it for me as punt returner.  Who else do we have?  Anyone?

Clearly, there's still a lot of work to be done.  But that's what the preseason is for.  And hopefully the Dolphins can learn a lot about themselves and improve from what they see when they watch this game film. 

I also wouldn't rule out the idea that fatigue played a part in this.  Thursday night's game was the Dolphins' third game in just 11 days.

Regardless, there are still two weeks before the games actually count.  I have full confidence in Tony Sparano and his coaching staff - they'll take care of what needs to be taken care of.