The Miami Dolphins took the field for the first time Friday night in their preseason opener against the Atlanta Falcons, and though we have much to see before we can make any definitive judgments about this team, what we saw tonight was very promising.
Here are my eleven thoughts following the game. You can catch a replay of the game at 10 AM /ET Saturday morning on NFL network.
1. Forget the final score, this game was all about Ryan Tannehill and the first team offense
Tannehill was perfect on the night, going 6-6 for 61 yards, including an 8-yard touchdown pass to WR Brandon Gibson. Lamar Miller looked quick and physical as the first team running back, though his issues with catching passes (which are real and concerning) resurfaced. The first team offense marched down the field effortlessly in their only drive of the game. And they did it all without Mike Wallace, Mike Pouncey, Brian Hartline and Charles Clay (four of their best and most important offensive players).
2. The Dolphins' new offense under coordinator Bill Lazor looks exciting when ran correctly
The Dolphins new offense was very effective tonight and showed the promise it possesses. It had everything that Dolphins fans had been hoping and asking for in the wake of last season's failures on offense. The offense was fast-paced, crisp, creative, had multiple formations and dictated the game, keeping the opposing defense on their heels and forcing adjustments.
Unfortunately, when the first team offense exited the field the ability to execute plays left with them. Nonetheless, the offense made it's mark and left a lot of fans waiting for more following the Dolphins opening drive touchdown. I'll tell you this, I can't wait to see this offense unleashed fully in Week 1 of the regular season.
3. The second team offense was hard to evaluate due to the performance Seth Lobato
Seth Lobato will always have the experience of playing nearly an entire NFL game. With that being said, I don't think he will be on an NFL roster come September. The second team offense was very hard to gauge due to the fact that Lobato, who is not NFL caliber, was at quarterback. I, along with the members of the second team, cannot wait until Matt Moore returns from his sore shoulder so I can gauge not only the second team offense, but also the first team.
With a real NFL QB, receivers will be able to make the necessary plays to separate themselves from the logjam that exists after the Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline at the WR position. Also, we will be able to tell just how well Tannehill is playing when we're able to compare his offense to a Moore-ran offense (rather than a Lobato-ran offense).
When discussing Lobato, however, it can't be ignored that the offensive line looked like hot garbage. Lobato, who played the entire game after Ryan Tannehill exited, suffered only one sack, but faced consistent pressure and the line struggled to open up holes for running backs Mike Gillislee and Damien Williams.
4. Mike Gillislee, Terrence Fede, Anthony Johnson and Chris McCain were all impressive
Gillislee broke some nice runs behind a second team offensive line that was struggling. Gillislee had eight runs for 30 yards and nearly all of his yards came on runs where he had to be creative due to a lack of adequate blocking. Gillislee showed that he may be ready to contribute in his sophomore season.
Fede looked good once again and had a nice tackle where he stonewalled a running back at the line of scrimmage. Every time I see Fede he impresses me. This 2013 Pioneer League defensive player of the year has great potential and is working with the right coach (Kacy Rodgers) to be able to turn himself into an effective defensive end.
Anthony Johnson had a beast of a tackle for loss where he blew past a guard trying to block him and clobbered the running back in the backfield. Johnson was one of a few Dolphins defensive tackles to have beast plays, showing the depth the Dolphins have at the position.
Chris McCain was around the ball constantly when he was on the field, including special teams work. McCain was in on a few tackles in the backfield and prevented the Falcons' back-up quarterback from scrambling for a first down. The only negative for McCain was getting beat bad on a wheel route from a Falcons running back, but I am excited to see more from McCain next week (hopefully earlier in the game).
5. Damien Williams was lackluster, then exciting, then injured
Williams, who I was really excited to see tonight, didn't really impress me in his preseason debut. Williams had a nice punt return, a very short kickoff return, a tough fourth down run and a few nice receptions, including a screen pass he should have scored on. Overall, Williams was very inconsistent on Friday, finishing with only two yards rushing. Williams' night ended prematurely when he was hit low and had to be carted off the field with an apparent ankle injury.
6. The defense had trouble getting off the field and had plenty of mental mistakes
The Dolphins' mental mistakes resulted in extended drives and eventual points for the Falcons, the first being a touchdown drive on the first team defense that lasted 15 plays. Both starting safeties were guilty as Louis Delmas committed an illegal contact that gave the Falcons a first down and Reshad Jones illegally used his hands near the goal line on third down to offset a holding penalty by the Falcons' Jake Matthews to give the Falcons another cahnce. Philip Wheeler hit Matt Ryan late the next play to draw a roughing the passer penalty and set the Falcons up with a first down at the two yard line. The Dolphins, as a team, had ten penalties for 78 yards.
The Dolphins' defense watched three drives of at least 13 plays, the drive allowed by the first team being the longest. The good news is-- it's the first game of the preseason. This is the time that these mistakes will (and can) happen. If the mental errors that caused these issues on Friday night continue through the latter part of the preseason, then we will have reason for concern.
7. Covering scatbacks is going to be a problem this season
Jacquizz Rodgers, someone who fits the scatback description quite well, ran right by a couple of attempted tackles by Koa Misi and Philip Wheeler after a checkdown pass from QB Matt Ryan. Quicker, faster running backs will be an issue for this team on checkdowns, whether in the middle of the field or on swing passes towards the sideline. The coverage of scatbacks is something that I expect to be a recurring issue with the Dolphins this season, but this issue can be reduced greatly if the Dolphins' linebackers improve their tackling (though better play recognition and proper angles could also help). Which leads us to...
8. Tackling was an issue
The Dolphins tackling was atrocious in this game. This may be a result of the new CBA that restricts practice time in pads and the amount of hitting/tackling allowed in practices, but all excuses aside, the Dolphins need serious work in this area. The Dolphins defense was unable to get itself off of the field due to a multitude of simple mistakes such as missed tackles and penalties.
Head Coach Joe Philbin will likely look to correct this issue throughout the week as to not tackle (and play) so sloppily on defense when the Dolphins travel to take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers next week.
9. Reshad Jones' suspension may be a problem
I am a big fan of Jimmy Wilson, Reshad Jones' proposed replacement as safety while the latter sits out the first four game due to suspension, but a Wilson mistake nearly cost the Dolphins a touchdown in the first half. Wilson, playing second team safety, came up to make a stop in a huge hole that formed in a space that DE Derrick Shelby and LB Jelani Jenkins left unoccupied. Wilson had a huge area to cover, but his angle of pursuit was a bit off and it left him susceptible to a juke move.
Wilson was shook out of his shoes and whiffed on what would be a touchdown-saving tackle. Luckily for Wilson the play was erased due to a holding penalty by Falcons' rookie tackle Jake Matthews. We've seen Jones miss similar tackles, but not often. It will be interesting to see if Jones' absence has any ill-effects and how the Dolphins choose to replace him.
10. I'm a fan of Misi in the middle
Koa Misi, one of the biggest linebackers the Dolphins have, seems to be a good fit in the middle. Misi is a smart player who knows where he needs to be, and that is a great asset to have in the middle of the defense where being out of your run lane can lead to allowing huge gains on the ground. Misi, a former defensive end, is also a bull when blitzing. Double "A" gap blitzes are a staple of defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle's system, so we will see Misi hunting quarterbacks plenty this season.
I expect Misi to be much better in this role than Dannell Ellerbe was due to the difference in physicality between the two players. For the record, Ellerbe looked good in his outside linebacker role tonight. The swapping of duties with Misi should benefit Ellerbe greatly and we will see it on the field with a faster playing and more effective/impressive Ellerbe.
11. Will Davis showed ball-hawking ability
Davis is often forgotten about as many fans prefer to talk up fellow cornerback Jamar Taylor, who was taken a round earlier than Davis in the 2013 NFL Draft. However, it was Davis that showed play-making ability on Friday. Davis had an opportunity to pull down four interceptions. While none of the plays were finished, which keeps stat sheet watchers from knowing Davis' impact, the ball-hawking ability that Davis displayed was promising for the future of a secondary that currently has two starting cornerbacks over the age of 30.