Dress Rehearsal: Which Dolphins Need to Shine in the All-Important Third Preseason Game?
Last week’s paltry 41-14 romping at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys was undoubtedly a setback after a relatively strong preseason Week 1 performance. Though Ryan Tannehill and the starting offense turned in a strong performance, the defense failed at just about every level for the entirety of the game. The fault did not simply lie in one player or position group, and it’s imperative that we see signs of improvement during this week’s matchup against the Atlanta Falcons. The third week of preseason tends to have the most starter participation until the regular season starts and should be the best indicator of what the Miami Dolphins are capable of. Good performances by the team and its marquis players should yield an increase in confidence and morale. On the other hand if the team falls flat, well let’s just say it would not bring forth rainbows and butterflies. One thing is for sure, the heat is on for a number of players to show marked improvement.
Fair or not, Ryan Tannehill is going to need to play lights out on Thursday. He had a very strong performance against the Cowboys last week and seemed to have developed a rapport with Kenny Stills that we hadn’t seen last season. To be honest, he was almost perfect during the few series he played, and when the offensive line gives him more than the customary negative 2 seconds, I think he can make some plays. If he continues to hit the deep ball to Stills and continues to build on his chemistry with Landry and Parker, Tannehill could develop into one of the most exciting quarterbacks in the league to watch.
The Backup Quarterbacks:
Contrary to their Week 1 performance, the backup quarterbacks looked downright lost against the Cowboys last week. If the Dolphins are going to continue any momentum that their starters begin against the Falcons, their backup passers are going to need to carry their weight. The Dolphins’ loaded receiver corps can only do its job if the quarterbacks do theirs. A bad performance can easily compromise Doughty’s, Dysert’s, or even Moore’s spot in the pecking order.
Arian Foster and Jay Ajayi:
So far this preseason, the best running back on the roster appears to be Isaiah Pead. Yeah, that’s not good. Ajayi has averaged barely over 3 yards per carry over the last two games while Foster managed -5 yards on two carries last week. Needless to say, there needs to be serious improvement fromboth running backs if the team is to have any confidence in their running game going forward. It’s expected that the two will split snaps equally this week and it seems as though they are neck and neck for the starting job. If neither Ajayi nor Foster can separate themselves and turn in a good performance this week, we may be looking at one of the worst running back situations in the NFL.
The Offensive Line:
Outside of Laremy Tunsil and Mike Pouncey, the offensive line has been well below average over the last two games. Regardless of Dallas Thomas being pulled from the starting lineup, the line still struggled mightily in both pass protection and in establishing the run. Jermon Bushrod, a career tackle playing guard, struggled to adjust to his new position. Branden Albert has been beat badly by some of the more athletic defensive ends, including Olivier Vernon, two weeks ago. Ja’wuan James has been mediocre in his right tackle position and has committed more penalties than he should. To make matters worse, Pouncey was injured last week and is not expected to be available on Thursday. While Tannehill can play without the assistance of the offensive line in spurts, it would be impossible for him to maintain a high level of play for much longer than a series or two.
As the number one cornerback on the Dolphins’ depth chart, Maxwell is expected to at least slow down the opponent’s best receiver. He did not do that last week. Dez Bryant routinely embarrassed the former Philadelphia Eagle when they were matched up against each other. Vance Joseph’s aggressive system will put Maxwell in a position to make plays, but it is apparent that he lacks the athleticism to guard top receiver talent in a one-on-one contest. This week Maxwell will be tasked with going up against Julio Jones, who annihilated him in their matchup last year. If Maxwell holds his own and slows down Jones, it would be considered a major victory. If Maxwell actually bests the ultra-talented wideout, well we may have ourselves a cornerback.
Alonso has been nothing but a disappointment thus far into his tenure in South Beach. He has looked lost in the middle of the defense and seems to be afraid of tackling ball carriers. He’s had several badly missed tackles and hasn’t made plays in coverage either. At this point it’s fair to wonder whether or not he will recapture pre-injury form. If he personally does not improve as the starting linebacker this week, it is unclear if he will be a viable option past this season. The problem remains though; there doesn’t seem to be anyone capable of replacing him.
The Linebacker Corps:
While Kiko Alonso has failed to meet expectations as a starting NFL linebacker, he is hardly the only one on the team. Regardless of his athleticism, Jelani Jenkins struggled mightily making reads and did not efficiently finish his tackles. Koa Misi does not seem to be capable in coverage and has not shown any indication that he should be part of the starting unit. Spencer Paysinger also struggled in all these areas. Considering they’ll be facing off against Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman this week, it’s almost guaranteed that we will be saying the exact same thing next week. Hopefully they sure up their tackling, because otherwise the Falcons will have an easy time controlling the pace of the game. Either way, I expect the linebackers to be Miami’s primary defensive weakness throughout the season. Even if they improve, it is unlikely that this specific unit will be anything more than mediocre.