The Miami Dolphins kicked off their 2023 preseason with a game at home against the Atlanta Falcons Friday night. The game did not feature most of the starters for either team, with the Dolphins ruling out 31 of the team’s 90 players for the game before it even started. There was still be plenty of action throughout the game, action that could be key to deciding who makes the 53-man roster for both teams this year, and who ends up on the wrong side of the cut line.
Throughout the game, we provided you with a breakdown of the action and our immediate reactions to everything that happened. Game action is in normal font, while reactions are in italics.
We also ran our normal live chat with Dolphins fans in the comments here. You can still join fans there for their reactions.
Falcons 19 - 3 Dolphins
First Quarter Reactions
Dolphins receive the opening kickoff, with rookie running back Devon Achane back to return it, bringing it out 38 yards. Quarterback Mike White got the start at quarterback for the team, as did running back Myles Gaskin who carried the ball for three yards on the first play. White threw to wide receiver Cedrick Wilson for 17 yards on the second play. A couple of carries for Gaskin picked up eight yards before White threw to wide receiver Braxton Berrios for five yards on 3rd-and-2. White then came back on a slant pattern to wide receiver River Cracraft for 14 yards. Gaskin then picked up six yards to take the ball down to the Falcons’ nine-yard line. The drive ended there, however, as White threw a pass toward tight end Tyler Kroft who was triple covered, with the ball tipped and picked off by DeMarcco Hellams.
That looked like a great start to the game, with White looking sharp and spreading the ball around. The slant pattern to Cracraft is a pass that probably goes for big yardage if Tyreek Hill or Jaylen Waddle was on the receiving end. Gaskin is running hard, while Salvon Ahmed checked into the game as a third-down back and ran a route, though the pass when to Berrios. The throw was placed well for Kroft in the endzone, if there had not been another defender on the outside who could react to the throw. Not the ending to the drive Miami wanted, but the offense was moving the ball.
The Falcons came out running the ball, with rookie defensive tackle Brandon Pili and second-year linebacker Channing Tindall making the stop after three yards. Quarterback Logan Woodside then threw to running back Carlos Washington as Dolphins defensive end/linebacker Emmanuel Ogbah broke through to pressure the throw, picking up five yards. Washington carried for the second time on the 3rd-and-2 attempt, picking up four yards. After an incomplete pass, Washington carried again for three yards, with Jeremiah Bronson and Jaylen Twyman combining for the stop. Two passes from Woodside picked up 14 yards, with linebacker Deshon Elliott and cornerback Eli Apple making the tackles. Ogbah then stopped a run after two yards. After an illegal shift penalty, the Falcons picked up six yards on a pass to Washington on a 3rd-and-8, leading to a punt. Berrios returned the punt eight yards.
Ogbah got the start and has had an impact on the game. Time for him to sit. The second-team defense seems to be trying to make an impact. Everyone who needs to show they can play to keep themselves on the roster when cuts happen had a play in the first possession. Pili and Twyman both are looking to be the backup defensive tackle. It was a good first defensive series.
Miami’s second drive started with White holding the ball way too long and being sacked for a nine-yard loss. Gaskin was able to take a short pass over the middle and fight forward to get back to the original line of scrimmage on the next play before an illegal contact penalty on the Falcons gave Miami a first down. Gaskin was stacked up on a slow-developing run to the outside, losing a yard. White then threw a screen pass to Berrios for six yards before an incomplete pass on 3rd-and-5 led to a punt.
Gaskin is clearly going to be a big part of the offense tonight. Miami has said they need to run the ball more in 2023 as compared to last year, and it looks like that will be a part of the plan tonight. White has tried to fit a couple of passes into tight coverage early in the game and he needed to throw the ball away on the sack.
The Falcons started the drive at their own 32 after the punt, with Woodside completing a pass over the middle to wide receiver Josh Ali, with Miami cornerback Noah Igbinoghene in good coverage but just missing on the breakup attempt. A run for two yards and a pass for nine yards ended the first quarter.
Ogbah is still out there on the field. I would not have him out there, but maybe the coaches or Ogbah feel like he need to get the reps to get back into shape after his injury last year. Igbinoghene really did just miss making the play on the pass, appearing to get his hand on the ball but not being able to stop the completion.
The first quarter felt about like an opening preseason game.
Second Quarter Reactions
Woodside threw for five yards with Apple making the stop. Three runs from running back Godwin Igwebuike picked up 27 yards as the Falcons moved into the redzone. An 11-yard run from Igwebuike found the endzone for the Falcons lead. The extra point bounced off the upright. Falcons 6-0.
That was not pretty when the Falcons turned to Igwebuike. It just seemed like they said we are going to keep feeding him until you stop him, and Miami did not stop him. The cut-back on the touchdown run led him straight into a vacated part of the field for the Dolphins, with everyone seeming to have overrun the play. Not a good look.
After a touchback, Miami continued with White at quarterback. The first play featured wide receiver Erik Ezukanma ran a jet sweep for 13 yards, including an angry-run stiff arm down the sideline. Gaskin then continued his feature back routine on the night, picking up six yards on a power run, then 35 on a speed run. Achane came in for four yards after Gaskin’s big gains, followed by a White pass to tight end Eric Saubert for six yards. After an Achane two-yard run to bring the ball to the Falcons’ nine-yard line, an incomplete pass brought up 3rd-and-8. White then threw to Ahmed over the middle for six yards, setting up a 4th-and-2 from the Falcons’ three-yard line. White threw incomplete on the play with a good pass breakup, leading to a turnover on downs.
Gaskin appears to be doing everything he can to prove he needs to stick on the roster. The Ezukanma jet sweep is a tailor-made play for Hill or Waddle, though Ezukanma ran it well here. White just feels a little off on some of the throws he makes, putting it just a little past or short of where he should put it.
It did not take the Falcons long to get away from the shadow of the goalline, picked up seven yards on a run, then 20 yards on a pass. After a run for three-yards, Miami’s defense shut down the drive with a sack from Mitchell Agude backed up by a sack from Garrett Nelson. The Falcons were forced to punt.
Cam Smith gave up the 20-yard pass, which was not what was hoped for from the rookie, but the defense came together to end that drive quickly. Agude and Nelson both could fight their way onto the roster, especially with some special teams work.
Miami came back to the Ezukanma end around on the first play, heading to the right this time, and picking up 39 yards. Achane ran a couple of times for four yards, followed by a flat pass to Gaskin for 10 yards and a first down. Achane came back for a four-yard gain, taking the ball to the Falcons’ 24-yard line. A bubble screen to Achane then picked up 11 yards, taking the clock to the two-minute warning. Achane picked up three yards, five yards, and a one-yard loss on three-straight runs, taking the ball down to the Falcons' six-yard line. After a timeout, White threw a pass that was batted into the air at the line of scrimmage, with tight end Tyler Kroft getting his fingertips on the ball but not being able to pull it in.
Mike McDaniel has no interest in using Jason Sanders from short-range tonight. Kroft almost made an incredible grab to get Miami on the board, but the Dolphins head into the halftime locker room down 6-0.
The Dolphins have been okay in the first half. Gaskin and Ezukanma are the stars of the game thus far. The offensive line has been solid - a few shaky moments, but overall they are doing well. The defense seems fine - a couple of plays an inch the other way and they could be stellar.
This is the first preseason game, with players who are fighting for a roster position trying to make a name for themselves. We have seen solid play from several potential roster bubble payers.
Mike White finished the half 9-for-14 for 85 yards with an interception and a 51.2 passer rating. Skylar Thompson will likely play the entire second half, so we will see how the two backup quarterbacks compare at the end of the night.
Ahmed was essentially relegated to a third-down role early in the game, but Miami seemed to want to see Gaskin and Achane early tonight. Will Ahmed get an opportunity in the second half?
No one really seemed to jump out in front in the cornerback race in the first half. Everyone gave up a play and there were a few “almost” moments.
Third Down Reactions
The Falcons started with the ball at their own 23-yard line after the kickoff, with Igwebuike running for nine yards on two carries before an incomplete pass on third down as Smith knocked away the pass. The Falcons punted on the three-and-out possession.
The tackle from Pili on the second-down run on a five-yard run was good as he worked his way across the field. The pass breakup from Smith was a good play. Those are the flashes from rookies needed tonight.
Thompson came out at quarterback for Miami on their opening drive of the half. Miami lost a yard on a run from Achane on the first play, then Thompson was sacked for a nine-yard loss. The Dolphins then were flagged for a delay of game penalty, with Thompson then throwing to Ezukanma for no gain on 3rd-and-25. The Dolphins punted to end an ugly first possession for Thompson.
Can we just forget about that possession? Thompson better.
Miami appeared to hold the Falcons to a three-and-out again after an incomplete pass, an eight-yard pass, and a one-yard run, but Atlanta converted on a 4th-and-1 play, picking up five yards on a Washington run up the middle. Igwebuike picked up six yards to move the ball to the 50-yard line before Woodsie threw a 27-yard pass to Xavier Malone, covered by Smith. Three straight Igwebuike runs picked up 11 yards, giving Atlanta a first down at the Miami 12-yard line. A pass from Woodside picked up three yards, followed by a five-yard pass. On 3rd-and-2 from the Dolphins’ four-yard line, Washington bounced outside but was stopped by Smith for a three-yard loss. On 4th-ad-5, the Falcons made an attempt for the endzone, but Keidron Smith broke up the pass.
That was the kind of possession Cam Smith needed. He made plays against the pass and on the run. He gave up the 27-yard pass, but that felt like a rookie not realizing how fast the NFL game is and thinking he could close on the coverage. Otherwise, that was a good series. Miami gets off the field deep in their own territory, but without giving up points. Cam Smith went into the medical tent on the sideline after the fourth-down play.
Thompson connected with Ezukanma, who continues to have a beast of a day, for three yards on the first play of the drive. Achane then picked up seven yards before a one-yard Achane loss was turned into a 14-yard gain after a facemask penalty was tacked on to the end of the play. Thompson then picked up 28 yards on a pass to the left sideline to rookie tight end Elijah Higgins, followed by an eight-yard pass to Higgins on the right sideline. A run from rookie running back Chris Brooks for six yards was negated by offsetting holding penalties on both teams. Brooks broke another run for 10 yards, but then had a Dolphins holding penalty pull it back as the third quarter ended.
Rookie tackle James Tunstall was called for both holding penalties on the Dolphins on the last two plays. Not a good look if you are trying to make the roster as a depth option. Higgins, who is converting from wide receiver in college, made two good catches and turned them immediately upfield. Those were good plays. But it may have been more impressive when he lined up as a fullback on the run that was negated by the offsetting holds. The rookie is doing everything the coaches are asking of him right now.
Fourth Quarter Reactions
The fourth quarter started with Miami at the Falcons’ 42-yard line, but Thompson was sacked on a blitz that was not picked up and dropped Miami back to the 49-yard line. On 3rd-and-19, Thompson threw toward Higgins, but the pass was intercepted as the safety undercut the route.
Thompson has not had the best results tonight, which may push him back into the third-quarterback role he held last year. Mike White may not have put points on the board, but the offense was moving better with him. This position battle is not over, but Thompson is not doing himself any favors tonight.
Pili made an impact on the first play of Atlanta’s drive, stuffing Igwebuike for a two-yard loss. An incomplete pass from Woodside was backed up by a scramble that picked up five yards. The Falcons were forced to punt after another three-and-out.
Pili is flashing like he did in minicamp. He has a path to make the roster, and potentially have a rotational role in the defense this year, after being undrafted.
Thompson faked a handoff to Achane, then came back to him on a short out route, with the running back turning it upfield for 19 yards on first down. Brooks picked up three yards on second down, with Thompson overthrowing receiver Freddie Swain (or underthrowing Cracraft) on the next play. Thompson was able to find Achane on a slant for eight yards on a 3rd-and-7 play. Brooks then picked up ten yards before losing one. Thompson threw incomplete pass on second down before a false start backed Miami into a 3rd-and-16 play. Thompson threw incomplete as he was about to be sacked and Miami was forced to settle for a field goal. Jason Sanders was good on his first kick attempt of the game, connecting from 49 yards. Falcons 6-3.
Pre-snap penalties are an issue with the team, and they came up again here. Miami would find a rhythm last year, only to pre-snap penalty their way out of it. It feels like that is starting again now. Head coach Mike McDaniel recognizes it is an issue and has said he will get it fixed. The Dolphins need to figure it out quickly.
Dolphins punter Jake Bailey did the kickoff for Miami, resulting in a touchback. Woodside got lucky on his first throw, with Keidron Smith jumping the route and breaking it up instead of coming away with the pick. A false start penalty backed up the Falcons, but Woodside was able to sit in the pocket and find a receiver for 23 yards. Jaylen Twyman was able to get to Woodside on the next play, recording Miami’s third sack on the night. Woodside then threw an outlet pass toward Washington, but the running back had not turned to look for the ball and it fell incomplete. On 3rd-and-19, Pili was able to pressure Woodside, who found a receiver for seven yards, with linebacker Channing Tindall immediately making the tackle.
That was a good stand for the Dolphins, save the 23-yard pass. Pili continues to make in impact on the game - but so does Twyman. Those two could make it so the Dolphins have to keep both of them.
Thompson’s first pass fell incomplete as he targeted wide receiver Chris Coleman, but the Falcons were called for pass interference and Miami picked up eight free yards and a first down. Thompson then ran for 12 yards, only to have Higgins called for holding. Brooks picked up 10 yards on the 1st-and-15 play, then Thomson threw to Coleman for 12 yards, giving Miami a first down at their own 35-yard line. Thompson then threw to Brooks for 11 yards, with the running back running for two yards on the next play. After a Higgins false start penalty, Thompson threw to Achane for three yards on a bubble screen. On 3rd-and-10, Thompson was sacked for an eight-yard loss and Miami had to punt. Dee Alford returned the punt 79 yards for a touchdown. Falcons 13-3.
Penalties again. The Dolphins seem to really want to see what Brooks can bring to the team. He is getting a lot of work in the second half. A couple of bad missed tackles on the punt return, then no one was down the lane when Alford cut back, leaving just Bailey to try to make the stop - and that was not going to happen.
Thompson was called for intentional grounding on the first play, leading to a 12-yard loss. On the second play, he threw right to Coleman, but Breon Borders picked off the pass and returned it 26 yards for a touchdown. For the second time tonight, the extra point was missed. Falcons 19-3.
Just a mess right now. Simple as that.
Thompson looked to find his own rhythm, starting the drive with an 11-yard pass to Ezukanma, then running for five yards to get out of bounds just before the 2-minute warning. On the snap before the break, Thompson was sacked for a seven-yard loss and a fumble, which Atlanta recovered at the Dolphins’ 34.
A sack and lost fumble had not happened yet tonight. Someone is getting close to a bingo, right?
Atlanta went for the endzone on the first down pass, but it fell incomplete. Washington then was stuffed for a one-yard loss by Agude. Woodside slid to avoid a hit on what should have been a sack by Tindall, but Twyman hit Woodside late, leading to an unnecessary roughness penalty. An incomplete deep pass was then followed by a one-yard run from Washington to finally start to kill the clock. Washington then ran up the middle again for a two-yard run and the end of the game.
Immediate Post-Game Reactions
There is a lot of good, especially in the first half, for the Dolphins, but down the stretch, that just got ugly. Too many mistakes, penalties, and sloppy play. These are players trying hard to make the roster and not representative of what the Dolphins will be, but still, that was not good. Thompson may be in trouble. The NFL allows for an emergency quarterback this year, but he has to be on the 53-man roster. Thompson and White should both have a spot on the roster, but if Thompson looks like that again next week against the Houston Texans, he might be a practice squad option this year and Miami will take the chance that both Tua Tagovailoa and White will not get injured during a game. It is a risk, but Thompson did not look comfortable at all tonight.
The team has tomorrow off before a practice on Sunday, then they move to Houston for joint practices with the Texans. Sunday may just be a pre-snap elimination workout. They have to get that fixed in a hurry.
The good included Gaskin and Ezukanma, both of whom had strong performances as runners and receivers. Achane had a solid debut with more to come. Cam Smith had some good moments, though he did have some rookie mistakes as well. Pili and Twyman both had strong days. The offensive line looked decent - even with most of the starters out. Liam Eichenberg seemed fine at left guard, though we will probably continue to see him out there even if the starters are not.
On to Houston.