There was that ugly, uncomfortable moment Friday night when the brand new Dolphins offense that everyone should remain hopeful about had seen the football five fruitless times. And in those five possessions, this new offense with the new approach, and the new personnel, and new coach looked a lot like the same old unacceptable offense we’ve seen for years.
“Offensively, we just couldn’t get into a rhythm,” coach Adam Gase said of his unit. “We’d get a positive play and then we’d move back.”
The unit at its height of ineptitude was responsible for more interceptions (one) than first downs (zero).
And had this not been the first hour of the first preseason game this would have been a good time for that old familiar nauseating feeling that nothing much has changed with this unit.
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But, you know what?
It was early.
It was preseason.
It didn’t count.
All this will soon be forgotten.
Seriously, the Earth did not shift or shake for the Dolphins because Ryan Tannehill and his fellow starters didn’t perform to any high standard. Well, actually, minutes before the game was scheduled to start, the skies over MetLife Stadium looked so ominous it seemed as if the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were about ready to ride out of that sky.
The lightning overhead delayed the start of the game 56 minutes.
And the Miami offense took that cue to mean its time to shine should also be delayed until some other day. The starting unit looked bad and the backups looked similarly terrible until the Giants began to substitute freely.
The starting unit managed eight yards on its first possession and zero net yards on its second possession, a set of downs punctuated by a holding penalty on Ja’Wuan James.
So statistically this trip to the New York area was a waste for the Dolphins.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw for eight yards in completing two of four passes. Starting running back Jay Ajayi managed all of six yards. The Dolphins starting offense averaged two whole yards per play.
But all that is a mirage of statistics from a small sample size, folks.
Forget them. And instead of worrying about statistics, hope that your team is learning from what happened against the Giants early in this game.
The Dolphins, who looked so bad on offense early on, can turn this game into a major success if they learn one thing:
Job one on offense continues to be improving the offensive line. Period.
The Dolphins offensive line looked bad against the Giants. It looked soft against the Giants. It looked a step slow against the Giants. It looked unprepared to play against the Giants.
In other words, the offensive line looked somewhat the way the unit has looked much of the past five or six years. It looked like a weak foundation under which an entire team seems shaky.
The Giants defense, arguably among the worst in the NFL a year ago, came out on with purpose and desire and urgency. And the Dolphins could not answer the challenge up front.
On one play Tannehill was hit by former Dolphins defensive end Olivier Vernon as he threw. The quarterback was rocked several yards back off his foundation.
On another play out of the end zone, Vernon once again got past left tackle Branden Albert with apparent ease and chased Tannehill as the quarterback tried to flee a safety.
Tannehill ended up throwing what looked like an underhanded pass past the line of scrimmage simply to avoid giving up the points. But he couldn’t avoid punishment as Vernon eventually caught and leveled him again.
This is no way to let your starting quarterback get used to his new offense. This is actually the way Tannehill, who has been sacked 184 times his first four NFL seasons, the most of any quarterback in the NFL, has spent his career prior to Gase’s arrival.
So this needs to change. The idea of having Gase as Tannehill’s new coach, new friend, new mentor, and strong backstop to criticism, is that the coach is going to improve this quarterback as he improved other QBs he coached in the past.
Well, no quarterback can improve if guys up front don’t block for him.
Speaking of the guys up front, the offensive line the Dolphins put on the field Friday night looked too much like the line they put on the field in 2015. The tackles are the same. The center is the same. The two guards, Dallas Thomas and Billy Turner, were the guys who played most of 2015.
And frankly, it is time to change those dynamics.
On the Dolphins second series, I saw Thomas being virtually walked back by a Giants lineman into Tannehill’s face. And then the Giants linemen took a shot at Tannehill.
We’ve seen similar scenes before. It’s time to shelve that look. It’s time to shelve Dallas Thomas.
The Dolphins have been shuffling and experimenting with the offensive line all training camp. Thomas, part of that experiment, has been getting first-team reps ahead of first-round pick Laremy Tunsil on most days.
End this madness, Dolphins. Get serious about this offensive line and stick Tunsil in at left guard. He may not be technically better than Thomas but he’s a better player anyway.
And once Tunsil, who played left tackle in college, grows into the left guard job, he’ll be much, much better than Thomas. So why wait for a switch that will come anyway? Why wait on doing something that everyone knows must be done?
This isn’t about making changes for the sake of changes. This is about making moves with the understanding what we saw Friday looked disturbingly like what we’ve seen in the past.
No one is worried that was the case in the first preseason game. But it really cannot continue.