Saturday night’s dress rehearsal was a frustrating but promising test for the Dolphins against the Buccaneers.
On one hand, sloppy play, particularly two turnovers on special teams, derailed what had the makings of a dominant night for Miami’s starters. But on the other, the Dolphins’ first-team units clearly outplayed the Buccaneers’ first stringers, and took a three-point lead into halftime despite the two punt-return blunders and a handful of dropped passes on offense.
It was a polarizing night, with plenty for Dolphins fans to be excited and concerned about. Let’s grade each unit’s play:
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill may have been at his best yet as a Dolphin, confidently picking apart the Tampa Bay secondary with quick, decisive throws. He finished the night 17 of 27 for 150 yards and a touchdown, but his night should have been even better.
Seven of his 10 incompletions could have been completed if not for drops and poorly run routes. Most notably, Brian Hartline had an opportunity to snag a touchdown on the game’s opening drive and Brandon Gibson clearly dropped a touchdown late in the first half. Tannehill looked the part of franchise quarterback for the Dolphins, but we’re grading the offense as a whole, not just its signal caller.
The dropped balls lower the unit’s grade. As does coming away from two trips inside the Buccaneers’ 10-yard line with only six points. The play of the first-team offense line, while improving from previous weeks, certainly doesn’t help the grade, either.
Left tackle Jonathan Martin isn’t a complete lost cause like some projected, but showed why he’s still a work in progress by conceding a few pressures in the first half.
The offensive line’s run blocking was also lacking, as there was absolutely no push up front for either Lamar Miller or Daniel Thomas to work with near the goal line. Miller was clearly the better back of the two on the night, however, displaying some outstanding vision, burst and urgency to cut up field.
Preseason GPA: 2.54
The Dolphins’ starting defense held the Buccaneers to a mere 63 yards in the first half, and quite possibly could have had themselves a shutout if it weren’t for the two special-teams fumbles that gift wrapped Josh Freeman and company fantastic field position.
Defensive tackles Paul Soliai and Jared Odrick made it happen up front, dominating the line of scrimmage throughout the first 30 minutes. Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle dialed up blitzes early and often, forcing Freeman into some rushed, inaccurate throws.
The front seven was leaky on a few runs and cornerbacks Brent Grimes, Dimitri Patterson and Nolan Carroll were all less than stellar. But the Dolphins’ defense looked the part of a unit that is going to be extremely difficult to move the ball on, yet alone score on this season.
This very well could be a top 10, if not top five defense in 2013. But I still need to see them against an upper echelon quarterback before I completely buy them as such, as a Tom Brady or Drew Brees isn’t going to miss the throws Josh Freeman did on Saturday night.
Preseason GPA: 3.53
Third-string quarterback Pat Devlin played the entire second half on Saturday night. The Dolphins are considering keeping only two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster and wanted to get a lengthy look at Devlin to see if doing so would be a mistake.
Devlin didn’t improve his chances, throwing an interception and failing to get the offense in the end zone all half. But it’s hard to blame him for the shoddy protection he was victim to.
The second and third-team offensive line allowed three sacks on the night, and Devlin’s pocket was pretty nonexistent on many of his 21 attempts.
The reserve line didn’t do any favors for running backs Jonas Gray or Mike Gillislee either, who combined for only 23 yards on 14 carries. Gray can’t blame his blockers for an inexcusable fumble late in the fourth quarter, though, which cost his team the game and possibly himself a roster spot.
Preseason GPA: 1.6
Josh Freeman and the Tampa Bay starting offense stayed on the field for the first two possessions of the second half, but were unable to get anything going against the Dolphins’ backups.
Miami’s second-team defense was outmatched on the ground, but the pass rush didn’t skip a beat, as Freeman was still rattled on his final two drives and was brought down for a sack by linebacker Jonathan Freeny.
The Dolphins also held Tampa’s backup quarterback Mike Glennon to 3 of 9 passing, and a second-team linebacking corps that has been underwhelming all preseason, stepped up and made some plays.
Miami wasn’t able to get a stop when they needed one the most, however, conceding a touchdown with under two minutes to play on a busted coverage by fourth-round pick Jelani Jenkins. But take away the final drive, and it was the second-unit defense’s best outing to date.
Preseason GPA: 2.5
There is absolutely no excuse for turning the ball over on special teams, much less on a night when the Dolphins’ offense and defense were poised to dominate the opposition. And Miami just didn’t turn the ball over once, they turned it over twice on punt return.
The first was a lack of awareness by Nolan Carroll, who allowed a punt to graze off of his shoulder while attempting to block for returner Marcus Thigpen. The second was terrible ball security by Thigpen, who fumbled a wet ball in the rain.
Both giveaways were the reason the Dolphins lost a game in which they outgained the Buccaneers by 152 yards. And it serves as a lesson to the team that just being the most talented, doesn’t always equate to being the most successful.
The Dolphins must be a disciplined team this season. Head coach Joe Philbin has preached fundamentals and attention to detail since day one. That must begin to show dividends with his players. If not, the Dolphins could waist an improved roster with mistakes in the most basic elements of the game.
Preseason GPA: 2.86