If Ndamukong Suh is OK, his defense should be, too.
And on Friday, Suh was excellent — when he was in.
And the same goes for his unit.
Suh and his teammates put their best quarter of the preseason on tape here in Thursday night’s 17-6 victory.
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The Atlanta Falcons managed only 30 first-quarter yards, and Suh was a big reason why. He bullied Atlanta’s interior line all night, but most notably on a fourth-and-short stop near midfield.
More importantly, a defense that was exposed against the Cowboys last week was excellent in this pseudo-home game held at Camping World Stadium.
But optimism gave way to apprehension when Suh lumbered to the Dolphins’ locker room late in the first quarter. His left ankle was hurt. The Dolphins listed Suh as questionable to return.
He never did.
“He’s OK,” Dolphins coach Adam Gase said later.
He seemed that way. Suh was on the sidelines for much of the second half without a noticeable limp.
He has two weeks to get healthy. There’s simply no reason to play him in next Thursday’s preseason finale against the Titans.
He has nothing more to prove.
Thursday night proved that he can will the Dolphins’ defense into excellence.
Gase’s assessment of his defense: “Good job. We got some hands on some balls. We just have to keep having those series where we can shorten it up. I feel like they did a great job as far as putting pressure on them — the four-man rush was good — [and] coverage was tight. I feel like we made some strides.”
Sure, there are some issues, particularly on the back end. Cornerbacks Tony Lippett and Bobby McCain took turns chasing all-world Falcons receiver Julio Jones.
Lippett was given a quick a seat on the bench after Jones beat him on a deep post. McCain entered, and was beaten so badly deep that he had no choice but to mug Jones to prevent a touchdown.
So Lippett came back in and was torched again.
If there’s a silver lining here, it’s this: There’s a strong chance that neither starts Week 1 against the Seahawks.
Xavien Howard, the second-round draft pick who was injured for much of camp, didn’t play Thursday but is expected to do so next week. He can win the job with a strong showing.
But even with a glaring hole at right corner, the Dolphins surrendered just 116 yards of offense in the first half (three quarters of which coming after Suh’s injury).
Plus, Reshad Jones did what he often does: He baited Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan into a bad throw and pounced, picking the ball off in the end zone.
But the Dolphins’ best news of the night was that Cameron Wake is back.
And he’s in a role fitting his pedigree, injury history and age: third-down specialist.
Wake acknowledged he’s not quite 100 percent yet — which is scary, considering he hit the quarterback on his first snap of the year.
“It’s like riding a bike,” Wake said. “It was good to get back out there, obviously.”
Wake took the field for the first time since tearing his Achilles tendon last October, and on his first snap he helped collapse the pocket and force a drive-ending incompletion.
The Dolphins’ line will need to carry the defense this season. On Thursday, it carried the entire team.
The offense wasn’t bad. The special teams, at times, were. (Andrew Franks shanked a 37-yard field-goal attempt.)
Ryan Tannehill threw his first interception of the preseason — it came on a tipped pass — but also directed a touchdown drive in the first half. He completed 20 of 29 passes for 155 yards.
Arian Foster was better Thursday than the week before. His 2-yard touchdown run was powerful. Jarvis Landry and Kenny Stills both had four catches in the first half.
More good: Dolphins starters converted 56 percent of their third downs. They controlled the ball for more than 19 minutes in the first half.
“We did some good things,” Tannehill said. “Obviously, we’d like to score more points. Missed some opportunities.”
Most notably: Jordan Cameron’s summer of discontent continued as he dropped another pass. Anthony Steen botched a snap in his first start at center ever. Tannehill got away with a horrible throw that should have been another interception.
And Miami again struggled to run the football. The Dolphins’ first string averaged a paltry 2.9 yards per carry — and that included a 22-yarder from Tannehill. It took 13 carries for Dolphins running backs to gain 22 yards.
“If we can eliminate those small mistakes that kill our drives, we’ll be in good shape,” Tannehill said.
So, yes, Gase has plenty to cover between now and Week 1. But the Dolphins have shown improvement every game this preseason.
And Suh has proved that, when healthy, he’s as good as ever.