Emily Post, the Dolphins’ offense is not.
But can the Dolphins finally pick up good habits on offense after a decade of chewing with their proverbial mouths open?
That’s the hope Saturday night in Tampa, as the second act of the 2014 preseason begins.
Much has been made of last Saturday’s preseason-opening drive in Atlanta, in which the Dolphins traveled 73 yards without a single negative play, reaching the end zone in less than five minutes.
Never miss a local story.
Is it the dawn of a new era? Maybe. But the Dolphins want none of it — yet.
“Ten good plays,” was how offensive coordinator Bill Lazor put it, attempting to keep the hype at bay.
“The drive wasn’t perfect,” said quarterback Ryan Tannehill, despite completing every pass he threw. “There’s still some things that we can clean up, but it was definitely a step in the right direction.”
Wise words. Because it will take far more than one drive, however impressive, to erase the Dolphins’ recent history. Miami hasn’t averaged more than 23 points per game since 2002 — the year Ricky Williams obliterated the franchise rushing record.
But the way the Dolphins scored against the Falcons — with pace, precision and a bunch of backups — was impressive. And in theory, they should be even better this week.
Why? Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline both intend to play after missing the exhibition opener because of injury.
But running back Knowshon Moreno (scoped knee) hasn’t been full go yet, and the Dolphins could choose to rest him for another week.
Without him, the running game sputtered in Atlanta. The Buccaneers, with high-round picks all over their front seven, should even be a tougher test.
When these teams played in November, the Dolphins managed a whopping 2 yards on 14 carries — the league’s fourth-worst rushing performance since 1990.
“We’ve got to have more consistency,” said Philbin, who singled out Tampa Bay linebacker Lavonte David (a Miami native) for praise. “[We had] a little bit too much penetration in the backfield, not a ton, but some. We want to be a 3-yard, 4-yard, positive yardage [team] and then have a back break a tackle and hit it.
“I think Lamar Miller’s had the best camp he’s had since I’ve been here. [I’m] excited about what he’s doing.”
But no amount of progress will matter if their defense — once believed to be a strength of the team — doesn’t break its own pattern of bad behavior.
The starting defense looked lost last week. The Dolphins gave back that early touchdown on Atlanta’s first drive, getting steamrolled in 15 plays. Along with surrendering three third-down conversations and committing a couple of ill-timed penalties, Miami missed at least three tackles on the possession.
It’s not an anomaly. Rather, there’s more than enough evidence to classify the Dolphins as a bad tackling team. To wit, Miami was statistically one of the five-worst tackling teams in the conference in 2013. The Dolphins missed 116 last year — most in the AFC East.
“We want to see our team tackle better, and we want to get off the field better on third down,” said Philbin, who focused on defensive fundamentals throughout the past week.
Tackling is historically unreliable in exhibition openers, Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle argued, because it’s the first true live action the defense has seen since the previous winter.
And yet, Coyle added: “Certainly we have to tackle better.”
Despite those issues, Coyle doesn’t seem inclined to rearrange his linebackers for a second time in six months.
Koa Misi will remain the middle linebacker for the foreseeable future, and Coyle said he thinks “you’re going to see marked improvement from Week 1 to Week 2 and right on through the rest of preseason and camp.”
That’s always the hope, of course. But for a fan base whose default expectation is disappointment, the believing won’t come without a lot more seeing — beginning Saturday night on Florida’s West Coast.