After a disappointing performance against the Falcons a week ago, this fourth and final preseason game was supposed to help get this Dolphins team ready for the regular season. That's why head coach Tony Sparano decided he would go against conventional wisdom and play his first-team units on both sides of the ball. Not only did he play his starters, he left them in the game into the second quarter.
And what did it do? In a nut shell, it just raised more questions about this football team and almost had a terrible consequence when Jake Long suffered what looked to be some kind of leg injury, limping off the field after needing some time to get back to his feet following a sack of Chad Henne that resulted in a turnover. It does seem that the Dolphins avoided any kind of major disaster - it's looking like Jake will be just fine.
I wish we could say the same thing about this team's play.
Let's talk a little bit about what we saw on Thursday night atStadium. And please note that I'm doing this all off memory. The NFLN re-air isn't until tonight and by tomorrow the team will be announcing their cuts - so there's no use in waiting to do this. With that said, here were my impressions from this game:
-First off, some injury news. Joe Berger got the start at center while Jake Grove did not even make the trip. Jeff Darlington reports that Grove is suffering from an issue with the AC joint in his shoulder. Linebacker Channing Crowder did not make the trip, either. But Darlington tweets that it is "very possible both will play week one."
-When another team's backups give your starting offensive line this kind of trouble, you can't help but be concerned. That's what we had to sit through on Thursday night - the backup Dallas defense going toe to toe with Miami's offensive line...and winning more often than they should have. Were there times when Chad Henne had a lot of time to throw? Yes. Was there one huge gaping hole for a running back to run through? Yes. But the offensive line also yielded a sack to Henne that resulted in a drive-ending fumble. On most rushing plays, there was no place for the back to run. They got shoved back into the backfield far too often. Just not a good performance - something that has become a trend this preseason. Let's hope they can just flip that switch once the games actually matter next weekend.
-I was disappointed with Chad Henne and the passing attack more so than I am concerned. They did not look to be in rhythm for much of their time out there against these Dallas backups. I would have wished to see more of Brandon Marshall. Henne was inaccurate on that one endzone pass directed to Marshall. I know we're only seeing about 10% of the passing offense that we will see in the regular season, though. That's why I'm not concerned...yet. Just disappointed. On the plus side, Henne did look good going through his progressions and finding the open man when he had time to throw. Still, 6 of 11 for 53 yards and a lost fumble against backups? Not what you want to see.
-It was nice to see those two early 3rd & long conversions - to none other than Davone Bess, of course. Who else would Henne go to on 3rd down? You could see on one of those throws how Brandon Marshall was used to clear out the area for Bess. Davone did lead the AFC in 3rd down conversion receptions a year ago, too, so he knows how to get open. I think Marshall's presence on the field is going to do wonders for a guy like Bess - something many people probably are overlooking right now when they talk about Brandon's impact on this team.
-I know some of you want to write off Brian Hartline already - and that one dropped pass last night isn't going to help his case. But I really believe he's going to be fine. And he just has a knack for getting open in the redzone, doesn't he? Nice back shoulder grab for six last night.
-That was really good coverage by Sean Smith on Sam Hurd. But a perfect throw made Smith look bad. Truth be told, most corners would have given up that long touchdown pass if the quarterback makes that kind of perfect throw. The holding penalty committed by Smith angered me more. And yes, I'm aware Sean hasn't had a very good preseason. But don't read too much into that. Quarterbacks aren't going to be facing a base defense with a three or four man rush every play once the games start to count. The different looks and added pressure is going to make this Miami secondary look better than they have these past four games.
-Cameron Wake was a force on Thursday night. He kept getting the corner against the tackle and rushed a couple of throws while also picking up his first and only sack of the preseason. I'm anxious to see how he does once Mike Nolan unleashes his real defense in the regular season. Could it be an Elvis Dumervil kind of season for Wake?
-Jared Odrick put together his best performance of the preseason, driving his blocker into the backfield a couple of times. He displayed that power that we've all heard a lot about. He looked good setting the edge and was a big part of Miami limiting Dallas' rushing attack in the first half. We also saw his speed and motor (for a defensive end/tackle, that is) when he chased down Tashard Choice 34 yards down field (thanks to a missed tackle from Jason Allen, of course) to make a tackle.
-Rookie linebacker Micah Johnson didn't have a great night by any means. But it's telling that Johnson worked as the starter in place of the injured Channing Crowder. He also was part of the first-team kickoff coverage team. It's likely Micah makes this final 53 man team when all is said and done this weekend.
-Charlie Anderson got in some more work at inside linebacker and didn't look out of place in doing so. You all know I have been hard on Anderson. But I like his versatility. He seems to read and react quickly when he's playing on the inside. He's got the speed to drop into coverage. And he was active all game long.
-The Dolphins have a tough decision to make at the receiver position. Marlon Moore seems like a lock to make the team and be the fourth receiver. He again worked with the starters when they needed a fourth receiver and he put together a very good game - showing excellent route running for an undrafted and, quite frankly, raw receiver. As for the fifth spot, I always assumed it would go to Patrick Turner. And though he had a big play last night, it was Roberto Wallace who stole the spotlight - making three big plays for quarterback Tyler Thigpen. He had that tough grab for 22 yards. Another tough catch with a corner draped over him for 31 yards. And then he used his big frame to shield off a defender and haul in the six yard score. He certainly made his case to be on this team. Will it be enough, though? Or will the Dolphins expose him to waivers in hopes of placing him on their practice squad? No doubt - this will be one of the most scrutinized roster decisions this weekend.
Those are my impressions from last night's loss. Now I open the floor to all of you...