Home Sweet Home: Grades & Analysis from the Dolphins’ 13-9 Win Over the Atlanta Falcons

The Miami Dolphins christened Sun Life Stadium 2.0 with a victory tonight, making the view while we were driving away from the now aqua seats even sweeter. The stadium’s facelift has done wonders for the aging venue, and the Dolphins’ facelift continues to appear to do wonders on the field. Ndamukong Suh and the defensive line were once again a force to be reckoned with, and Ryan Tannehill surgically operated Bill Lazor’s offense for a third consecutive week. One thing is for sure, new stadium or not: this year feels very different in Miami. Here are our grades and observations from the Dolphins’ first win, and first home game of the preseason.

Quarterbacks: B
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Ryan Tannehill was exceptionally efficient in what will most likely be the his last preseason game. He once again demonstrated immense command of the offense and poise in the pocket despite an even further diminished offensive line. He appears to be playing to his receiver’s strengths and appropriating targets. He knows who to go to in each situation, and the versatility of the Dolphins’ receivers seems to be helping him in a major way.

Matt Moore was once believed to be one of the league’s best backup quarterbacks. His fall from grace (or whatever you want to call his former state) has to be surprising for Dolphins’ fans. Moore has been highly ineffective in the preseason, and might not be worth the money next season. While it’s always good to have a backup who knows your system, there has been a CLEAR drop-off in his abilities.

Josh Freeman looked a bit better tonight, but there is still very little chance that he makes the 53-man roster. All in all, the highs weren’t as high for this group, but there were no heart breaking lows. Overall I thought it was a consistent night for the passers, most notably as Tannehill continued his preseason excellence.

Running Backs: A

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Lamar Miller was exceptional tonight. He appears to already be in midseason form, and has adjusted well to his added weight. The several pounds of additional muscle Miller added this offseason should help him stand up to a long, gurleing season, and will help him fight for more yards after contact. Lamar Miller showed us tonight that he is not a gimmicky speed back, and that he has the power to shed tacklers and produce short gains when needed. It is worth noting the incredible progress he has made in his decisiveness since he was a young player. Miller’s ability to choose a hole and cut immediately should help set him apart this year.

Damien Williams did not play poorly tonight, but he definitely wasn’t the standout that he was in week two. The bigger story in terms of ball carriers tonight was Jay Ajayi’s debut, in which he appeared comfortable with the offense and protections, as well as physically healthy. Ajayi shouldn’t have much trouble earning the number three running back spot this season, as he adds another dimension to the group. He might not be an effective short yardage back immediately (he has to add strength to transition from college to the NFL), but he is a homerun type of ball carrier. He bounced off of some tacklers tonight, and demonstrated the quick feet that made him so successful at Boise State. 

Wide Receivers & Tight Ends: B+
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The Dolphins’ receivers got the job done tonight. Kenny Stills continues to impress with his ability to fight for the ball in traffic and come down with crucial catches. Last season he was one of the league’s most efficient receivers in terms of possessing sound hands. He is a versatile weapon, and clearly doesn’t just want to be known as a speedster.

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Jarvis Landry continues to make defenders look like fools. Seriously, one guy cannot bring him down. Landry doesn’t even know what going out-of-bounds means. Tonight he once again demonstrated his willingness to fight for extra yards, and showed how dynamic he is in space. Rishard Matthews played well and displayed his ability to use his big body to make plays in the red zone. With Miami lacking a bigger receiver while DeVante Parker is injured, look for Matthews to get plenty of red zone looks early in the year. Matt Hazel continued to show that he deserves a spot on this roster, coming up with a 27-yard reception on his only target.

It looks like the Dolphins’ receivers for this year will be Landry, Jennings, Stills, Parker, Matthews, and Hazel.

The tight end group played much better tonight and actually had some production. Dion Sims was outstanding blocking downfield on a long Jarvis Landry reception, and was able to avoid being beat like a drum as he was last weekend. Jordan Cameron is probably being slowly integrated into the offense due to his injury history, so I don’t put too much stock into the fact that he only had one reception. Cameron appears to be ready, and after next week’s game Sims should be as well.

Offensive Line: B

The “Dallas Thomas Proves Us Wrong Tour” made its third stop of 2015 tonight, coming to Sun Life Stadium. Who is this man? Where did he come from? Thomas has been an entirely new player, and has shown a great deal of promise that he can get the job done in 2015.

The rest of the offensive line was not as stellar, and Billy Turner had another rough outing. It wasn’t an awful evening for the group as a whole however, and Tannehill was only knocked down on one occasion. Ja’Wuan James played well, as did Pouncey before he left with an injury. Pouncey’s injury is most likely very minor, and he promised that he will not be missing any games because of it this season.

Dallas Thomas appears to be making the difference for this unit, as James and Pouncey can cover up some of Billy Turner’s mistakes. If Dallas Thomas can keep up the good work, I have a good deal of faith that the Dolphins’ offensive line can prove plenty of people wrong this season. Good job, Thomas. Everyone loves a redemption story.

Defensive Line: A+(+++++)

DefensiveLine Domination

Has a unit ever recorded a sack on every single play of a season? Because I think this year’s Dolphins’ line could come close.

All joking aside, the Ndamukong Suh effect is being felt all across the defense. Earl Mitchell has looked outstanding in the preseason, and Suh eats up double teams. He has no problem being blocked by two linemen because he can usually beat them anyway. Wake, Vernon, and Mitchell have been feasting.

Derrick Shelby had another strong performance. It’s incredibly promising to see this young player develop as he provides a rotational option behind Wake and Vernon on the edge. Shelby was frequently in the backfield tonight and recorded three tackles.

As a whole, this Dolphins’ defensive line is shaping up to be a serious threat to opposing offenses in 2015. And yes, it could be even scarier than we had all anticipated.

Linebackers: C+

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The Dolphins linebackers were mediocre tonight. There were missed tackles and sloppy plays, and any positives really were thanks to the play of the defensive line, which opened up massive holes in the blocking for them to make plays. It is becoming clear that their job this season will not be to make plays, but to simply clean up the scraps that the line leaves for them. It really will be about coverage and playing preventatively. If the linebackers can avoid any major errors, the defensive line can compensate.

Jelani Jenkins was a strong performer tonight. Jenkins recorded a sack and was all over the ball. He appears to be coming along very nicely this season, and could be a bright spot for the Dolphins’ at a position that is otherwise struggling to find its identity. Another bright spot happened to be the two undrafted rookie linebackers, Hull and Vigil. While Vigil seems to have locked up a roster spot, it appears that there could be room for one more, and Hull is closing in on a role with this football team. Both can solidify their roster spots with good special teams play.

Defensive Backs: B

This unit was really a mixed bag. The starters played well, and Brent Grimes had a huge impact tackling in this game. Reshad Jones looked good for his limited number of reps once again. Some of the backups were also able to hold their own, as Bobby McCain and Tony Lippett both appear to be learning the system as rookies.

Every week there is a unit in my book that earns a B simply by being invisible. They didn’t do anything awful, but nothing exceptional happened. In week one it was the tight ends, last week it was the linebackers, and tonight it was the defensive backs. However, if you’re a defensive back, not having your name called is probably a good thing.


Special Teams: A

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People I know you only opened this article for one reason. Yes, for an update on the Caleb Sturgis VS. Andrew Franks kicking battle.

Both kickers looked very good tonight, and the competition appears to be driving Sturgis’ play in a good direction. However it is clear that Franks has the stronger leg, and booted a 51-yard field goal that probably would’ve been good from 55-60. Sturgis avoided major errors, but it is clear that he is still somewhat hampered by his groin and quad injuries suffered over the last two years.

The rest of the special teamers also looked good tonight, and it seems that the Dolphins could be a much-improved team in that category this season. Which is good because I wont have to punch holes in as many walls over us giving the other team field position every drive.

Overall: B+
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Wins and losses don’t really matter (not even “really”, they just don’t matter period) during the preseason, but this one still felt good. The Dolphins’ reserves managed to not squander the opportunity created by the starters, and the team leaves without the sour taste of defeat for the first time in 2015.

Attendance was a positive in the newly renovated stadium’s debut (until the starters were pulled and everyone left), and the fans that came were rewarded with a good showing on both sides of the ball. Tannehill’s improvements and defensive line’s domination were both obvious, and the Dolphins appear to be trending in a very positive direction heading into the season. The team continues to impress, and in what was likely the starter’s last action of the preseason, they showed fans that they are ready for the Washington Redskins, and for the rest of the regular season.

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