The Miami Dolphins came away from their third preseason game with a win over the Atlanta Falcons and, more importantly, a feeling that the team is starting to come together in new head coach Adam Gase’s system. Where there were some giant question marks over positions like linebacker and the offensive line heading into the game, those questions marks do not seem as big looking back on the performance.
That said, not everything was perfect for Miami, and there are still areas the team needs to address in the 16 days between now and the regular season opener. Taking a look back at the game, we put together a list of three winners and three losers from the contest for the Dolphins.
Ryan Tannehill - This is an obvious choice. Tannehill stood tall in the pocket on Friday, reading his progressions and being decisive with the ball. There seemed to be an extra zip on his throws, and the offense as a whole looked like it was clicking with Tannehill at the helm. He was using his newly-provided ability to audible, and he was clearly in command of the offense. The Dolphins also used Tannehill’s strengths to open up the offense, rolling him out on bootlegs and with moving pockets, as well as using the read option to pick up 22 yards on two carries. It was one game, and the Dolphins will have to continue to see this kind of success from Tannehill, but it was a great sign that the offense may actually progress this year.
Branden Albert, Laremy Tunsil, Anthony Steen, Jermon Bushrod, Ja’Wuan James - Miami’s starting offensive line looks like it has finally been found. These five guys played well, both in pass protection and, for the most part, in run blocking. There is still work to be done, with the guys learning exactly how to work with each other, as well as making the final decision on whether or not Bushrod is the right guard starter, with Billy Turner and Dallas Thomas still considered in the position battle, but the line went from the biggest liability on the team to a solid unit that looks like it is ready to go for the regular season.
Koa Misi (and the rest of the linebackers) - As a position group, the linebackers played well. In particular, Koa Misi was really, really good. He looked healthy, which should turn him back into the solid linebacker he usually is - someone who might not make the spectacular play, but you can count on him to make the right play and tackle. Last year was a bad year with Misi battling injuries all season. If he is ready to go this year, that will be a big benefit for the Dolphins, and Thursday seemed to indicate Misi is ready to go. He recorded four tackles in the game, and seemed to always be hitting the run lanes to either force the running back in another direction, or at least slow him down to allow someone else to make the tackle.
Honorable mention - Cameron Wake - The defensive end played five snaps in the game, his first game back after tearing his Achilles tendon last October. He had a quarterback hit, but did not have much of an impact, but the fact that he was on the field is a win.
Jordan Cameron - Whatever is wrong with Cameron, he has to fix it quickly. Tannehill and Cameron worked out before the game trying to solve whatever issue is causing him to routinely drop passes. On Thursday, he dropped a pass on third down that would have picked up a first down and he let a ball go through his hands and off his helmet on a potential touchdown pass a little later. Cameron says he is not concerned and that he will get the issue fixed, but time is ticking and Tannehill has to be losing confidence in targeting his starting tight end.
Tony Lippett - The cornerbacks as a whole are still an issue, but Lippett clearly did not have a strong game. The second-year corner was beaten twice on long plays, with moves that probably should not have fooled him. To be fair, Bobby McCain could just as easily be listed as the headline for this paragraph, especially after his 44 yard pass interference call. The Dolphins need Xavien Howard to look like the real deal.
Defensive line - The defensive line is in the loser category, not for their play but because injuries decided to tear up the line. Ndamukong Suh, Terrence Fede, and Chris McCain all left the game with injuries, tearing apart any depth the position had heading into the game. Hopefully none of the injuries are series, but having three players who could have big impacts this year all leave the game is not a winning event.