All of the talk regarding the Dolphins and Texans preseason game on Saturday night has centered around Dustin Keller’s horrific knee injury. And that’s understandable, considering losing Keller is a difficult blow for the Dolphins’ offense and the outcome of these exhibition games is meaningless.
But there was still a game in Houston that needs to be evaluated. A game that possibly exposed Miami’s lack of depth at numerous positions, including tight end. A game where the Dolphins’ starters actually showed some promise, but their backups were thoroughly outplayed in a 24-17 loss to the Texans.
Let’s grade their performance, unit by unit.
Perhaps the Dolphins’ starting offense shouldn’t have been kept in the game for much of the first half. Many have blamed head coach Joe Philbin for Keller’s injury, citing how the defense had been pulled several series earlier and that the Texans had both of their starting units on the sideline in baseball caps.
But there’s no denying that the first-team offense needed reps after two lackluster performances in Canton and Jacksonville. Keller could have just as easily went down on the first drive of the game as opposed to in the second quarter, after all.
As for every other play from Ryan Tannehill and company, there was some poor protection, a few sloppy penalties and an unacceptable third-down drop by Lamar Miller, but there were also two touchdown drives.
Tannehill, for the most part, was more comfortable in the pocket and efficient throwing the football. His perfectly-placed toss down the sideline for a 33-yard gain late in the first quarter and his gutsy, laser-beam touchdown pass moments later — both connections to wide receiver Mike Wallace — highlighted an encouraging effort from the second-year quarterback.
I thought Tannehill held the ball a little too long on more than one play. He still has some tentative tendencies when his first read isn’t open. Luckily, for Tannehill, though, he’s a great athlete with the ability to escape the pocket when a play breaks down, which he did on a few plays against the Texans.
Dolphins fans were ecstatic to see Tannehill finally hook up with Wallace on three beautiful throws, but he’s also been establishing a nice chemistry with slot receiver Brandon Gibson. Gibson is going to be a huge asset over the middle of the field for Tannehill this season, especially now that Keller is out for the year.
As for the running game, Daniel Thomas temporarily silenced many of his critics — including me — with a purposeful running performance. One game doesn’t change the fact that he’s been very inconsistent during his first two seasons in the NFL, but it does offer hope that perhaps he’s turned the corner.
Protection remained a major problem, but when John Jerry returns to the lineup at right guard, some of those issues should be resolved. Outside of the injury to Keller, there were several reasons to be encouraged about how the Dolphins’ first-team offense played.
Preseason GPA: 2.2
Unlike the starting offense, which played most of the first half, the Dolphins’ starting defense only played two full series and half of a third. In limited time, Kevin Coyle’s defense held their own against one of football’s most dangerous offensive attacks.
Texans quarterback Matt Schaub completed two nice throws on the first two plays of the game, but Miami cornerback Brent Grimes showed off his outstanding ball-hawking skills with an interception to end the drive. It was just the sort of play that the Dolphins’ secondary has been missing for years.
The run defense was stout save one play and the pass rush gave Houston fits. Cameron Wake had the key third-down sack on the Texans’ second drive, blowing right by the right tackle with an explosive inside move. But Oliver Vernon showed some promise getting after the quarterback himself and would have had a sack of his own on the same drive if it weren’t for a holding penalty.
The Dolphins’ first-team defense did give up a couple of first downs on their third series before being replaced by a second unit that easily conceded a touchdown to Schaub and the Texans, but the starters passed the eye test for the second consecutive week.
Preseason GPA: 3.13
Has quarterback Matt Moore ever been this inept attempting to move an offense down the field? Moore completed only three passes for 15 yards. And he played nearly an entire half of action.
Moore had poor protection all night, as backup tackles Will Yeatman and Dallas Thomas were clearly overmatched, but he also missed open receivers, including an overthrow to a streaking Brian Tyms down the sideline that should have went for six.
Miami’s backup running backs only managed 34 yards on the ground collectively.
It was a forgettable night for the reserve offense and many players who wasted their last chance to impress the coaching staff, as the starters will play well into the second half during next week’s dress rehearsal and the 75-man cut-down deadline is before the final exhibition.
Preseason GPA: 1.8
The backup offense was about as bad as it gets, but the second and third-team defense wasn’t much better. The Texans pretty much had their way with the Dolphins on the ground and through air, as many roster-fringe defenders are now as good as gone.
Miami’s backup secondary was especially leaky. Houston backup passers Case Keenum and T.J. Yates were able to deliver the football down the field at will and the Dolphins’ corners and safeties had no answer. Most notably, third-round pick Will Davis, who was an interception machine in training camp, was beaten badly in coverage on a double move for a touchdown.
The Dolphins love their starting linebacker corps, but depth at the position is obviously lacking. Nobody from the group has elevated from the pack and the Dolphins might as well flip a coin to make some decisions regarding who should be kept on the 53-man roster.
There were a couple of positives that deserve mention. Missed tackles were few and far in between, as opposed to early and often during the first two preseason games. Also, undrafted rookie free agent A.J. Francis was a disruptive force against the run and rushing the passer.
But on a night when a key starter went down for the season, Miami’s obvious lack of depth on defense is becoming an increasing concern.
Preseason GPA: 2.23
There were no big returns, fumble recoveries or near 60-yard made field goals, but the Dolphins’ special-teams units didn’t make any noticeable mistakes on the night. They didn’t concede any big returns on punt or kickoff coverage and didn’t muff a punt for the first time of the preseason.
The newly crowned starting kicker Caleb Sturgis continued to impress, splitting the uprights from 43 yards out and booming three of his four kickoffs for touchbacks. Speaking of booming, Brandon Fields had a 66-yard punt. Fields also parked one inside the 10-yard line.
Overall, a mistake free special-teams game is a great special-teams game.
Preseason GPA: 3.57