Struggling Against the Star: Best and Worst Performers From Dolphins VS. Cowboys
Really, it isn’t as bad as the final score makes it look. The Dolphins’ Week 2 preseason game was a crisis by many standards, but the team avoided an unmitigated disaster thanks to some positive work on offense. The defense could not stop the run, and the secondary struggled to slow anyone down in the passing game. The second and third string offenses were scary, and the depth wasn’t much better on defense.
As a team, this was a performance many will hope to forget. However there were some individuals who showed progress in new schemes during the team’s outing against the Cowboys.
…But it still was mostly really ugly.
The most apparent difference in tonight’s game was on the offensive line. Jermon Bushrod’s performance will be discussed later, but he was not the man who spurred the team’s improvement up front. Laremy Tunsil played a huge role in the Dolphins’ ability to generate time for Ryan Tannehill.
At times Laremy Tunsil was commanding his assigned defender for 4-6 seconds. He performed well on pulling assignments, most notably on one early play that would have gone for a 3-4 yard loss had Tunsil not gotten to his mark with a good deal of speed. He struggled a bit against the run, but in pass blocking the Ole Miss product looked as sharp as anyone could when starting their first game at a completely new position.
Obviously, Tunsil still has plenty to learn and has to refine his skillset at an unfamiliar position. However, this was a very encouraging start. While I do not expect the competition at guard to be wrapped up following tonight’s game, this performance should give Tunsil a clear lead.
Stills’ outstanding performance in training camp finally translated to success in game action. On the team’s second drive of the night, Ryan Tannehill rolled out and hit Stills in stride flawlessly. Stills tracked the ball well and was able to haul it in.
Stills caught a touchdown pass from Tannehill in the second quarter on a well- thrown ball that lofted just over a defender as Stills dove to make the grab.
Kenny Stills found himself in the doghouse early on with the last coaching staff, but is clearly growing more comfortable in his role this season as he prepares to become one of the offense’s primary weapons.
Tannehill was shaky early on against the Cowboys. He missed an easy dump-off to Arian Foster and ended up taking a sack on third down. Later on that drive, he panicked and threw the ball on what ended up to be a tipped reception by Jarvis Landry.
However, as the night progressed, he found himself in a rhythm.
Tannehill’s best throw came on the team’s second drive, as he scrambled and hit Stills deep for a huge gain. Scrambled is the key word. All night Ryan Tannehill made plays outside of the pocket and gained extra time using his feet. There was even a QB keeper thrown in late in the second that netted the team a good chunk of yards.
Perhaps Tannehill’s best moment came in a goal line possession that would be his last action of the night. On the first play, he threw a would-be touchdown to DeVante Parker, which was dropped. On the second play, he threw a would-be touchdown to Jarvis Landry, which was also dropped. Both times Tannehill delivered accurately and decisively.
On third down, Tannehill threw a beautiful touch pass to Kenny Stills, who made the reception as the ball fell just ahead of a defender’s outstretched arms.
As a whole, Tannehill looked to be learning. With more time, he progressively improved in his processing of reads. Tannehill is rarely afforded a chance to get into a flow, but on this night he demonstrated the ability to steadily improve as he becomes more comfortable in the pocket.
Entering the preseason, many considered Pead to be an afterthought. However, through two preseason games, he has been anything but.
Isaiah Pead’s health was his main issue during his time with the Rams. Could he finally be healthy? Multiple explosive runs have highlighted Pead’s preseason performance, as well as some plays catching the ball out of the backfield.
Damien Williams seems to have already been unseated by Pead on the depth chart. While this could just be normal preseason rotation, Pead has clearly been performing at a high level in the team’s exhibition games. Given the injury history of Miami’s main running backs, Isaiah Pead could very well be earning himself a spot on the 53-man roster.
This week was more of the same for Grant. He was a serious asset for Miami in the return game and could be a major contributor to the team’s ability to generate positive field position in 2016.
Trying to stop him is like tackling a 160 lb. bowling ball moving at full speed.
It was impossible to pick just one.
The Dolphins’ run defense was abysmal on Friday night. The defensive line gets a bit of leeway since they were going against what is by far the best OL in the NFL. However, the linebackers get no such slack.
Kiko Alonso looked lost once again in the middle of the defense. Jelani Jenkins was struggling with reads and wasn’t exactly a sure tackler even when he made it to the ball carrier. Spencer Paysinger struggled mightily with his tackling as well.
The Dolphins’ linebackers also struggled in coverage. Not only were they allowing open plays in the middle of the field, but they were also letting tight ends come down with contested catches.
Most of my time this offseason was spent worrying about the secondary, but a lack of improvement from Kiko Alonso, Jelani Jenkins and Koa Misi could be equally problematic for the Miami Dolphins in 2016.
Moral of the story? This run defense could end up being just as ugly as the secondary.
Speak of the devil.
The Dolphins’ pass defense looked to struggle just as much as their run stoppers. Their issues did not go away when Dallas brought in rookie QB Dak Prescott, who looked like a seasoned veteran.
The front-seven didn’t help the secondary, producing almost no pressure and creating a situation in which play action became a lethal threat.
Byron Maxwell was burned by Dez Bryant early in the second quarter. To start the third quarter, Dallas completed two passes to go over 50 yards for a touchdown. One was a bomb that Bobby McCain could not defend. The next pass ended up being a one-yard TD.
Bobby McCain is a project. Byron Maxwell is an average player at best. Tony Lippett is not ready to play.
The secondary’s issues were expected and clearly were compounded by poor play up front. The Dolphins will need to get much better up front to mask what will almost certainly be a highly suspect second level of the defense.
Including Bushrod here seems a bit unfair. He is a career tackle making his first start at guard. However, he did make a few disappointing mistakes.
When pressure came streaming in for Tannehill, it was almost always on the right side. While Ja’Wuan James looked average all game, Jermon Bushrod looked well below the league standard at times. However he was adequate far more often than Billy Turner was in the same spot a week before.
While Bushrod is still an upgrade over anyone not named Tunsil at guard for the Dolphins, he will need to improve quickly if he wants to avoid becoming the team’s weakest link up front this season.
This could be the most disappointing performance of the night. While we knew the linebackers were suspect, and that the team’s corners were a huge red flag, many expected Jordan Cameron to improve and grow into a larger role during his first offseason under Coach Gase.
During the week, Miami’s coaches called out Cameron for his lack of progress in the new offense. They clearly weren’t just trying to light a fire under him.
On Friday night Cameron looked to be below starter quality. The Dolphins have some depth at tight end in camp, but need top end talent to maximize the benefits of Adam Gase’s system. Cameron dropped an easy touchdown on a slant and couldn’t make anything happen with his route running.
The Dolphins will be in big trouble if things don’t pick up for the talented, but perennially unfulfilling, tight end.
I would not want to be a tackling dummy this week in Davie.
The Dolphins will have to do serious work in the run game ahead of the third preseason game and cannot expect to have much success at all playing defense like that in the regular season. The passing defense performed as we all expected: poorly. The run defense was surprisingly porous, allowing the Cowboys to march down the field at will.
While the starting offense appears to be settling in, Miami cannot take much comfort in their performance given the horrifying display on defense. They will have to improve vastly in their ability to run and stop the pass if they want to be competitive, as they cannot expect this offense to carry them to victories.
Bright spots are made duller when compared to the lows that the Dolphins faced against the Cowboys, and unfortunately that could become a trend if the team doesn’t work out some serious kinks defensively in the coming weeks.