Watching Jay Cutler this year will be fun.
Watching the offensive line that blocks for him? Not so much, if Dolphins-Ravens was a leading indicator.
Thursday night was Cutler’s grand unveiling — a 31-7 loss to the Ravens — and while the sample size was small, he showed just enough to justify the hype.
Cutler (3 of 6, 24 yards) was nimble in the pocket. He was smart with the ball. And his arm was as strong as ever.
But Cutler’s best play — a 31-yard sideline bullet to DeVante Parker — didn’t count.
And that’s part of Miami’s problem, one that hasn’t been fixed for the better part of a decade.
Sam Young was the Ravens’ most effective defender on that play.
Sam Young, in case you forgot, plays for the Dolphins.
He’s supposed to be a reserve, but was Miami’s starting right tackle Thursday. Ja’Wuan James was out with a shoulder injury.
Young wasn’t good. He committed holding penalties on consecutive plays — including the Cutler-to-Parker connection — and erased 50 yards of offense from the stat sheet.
And he wasn’t the only one who struggled. Somebody up the middle forgot to block Za’Darius Smith in the first half, and Cutler would have gotten crushed had he held onto the ball for another second.
Now in Miami’s defense, the line you saw Thursday night won’t be the line you see in Week 1 of the regular season. Three starters or potential starters didn’t play: James (shoulder injury), Mike Pouncey (hip) and Kraig Urbik (back).
But Laremy Tunsil will start Week 1, and even he had a false start.
More telling than any of that, however:
After two series, the Dolphins’ two Jays (Cutler and Ajayi, cleared this week from the concussion protocol) were pulled from the game.
Yet the first-team offensive line was instructed to stay on the field, a sign that the coaches saw what everyone else did: that the group needed more work.
In all, the first-team line was on the field for 17 non-penalty snaps. In that time, the offense managed just 44 yards. That’s a brutal 2.6 yards per.
But it wouldn’t be fair to pick solely on the offensive line.
That would be giving the special teams the short shrift.
Thursday might have been the longest night of Darren Rizzi’s football life.
The pain began midway through the second quarter when Senorise Perry fumbled a punt inside the Dolphins’ 25. (The Ravens scored a touchdown shortly thereafter).
But that was just a warm-up for a confluence of ugly.
Matt Darr had his punt blocked and two Dolphins committed penalties, all on the same play. All those mistakes were understandable though, since backup snapper Winston Chapman fired the ball back before any of his teammates were ready. (Rizzi, the Dolphins’ special teams coordinator, unbridled Chapman on the sidelines.)
Then for good measure, Drew Morgan muffed a punt in the second half.
So yeah, it was bad.
But there were some bright spots Thursday.
Ajayi showed the familiar burst in strength with a 19-yard run (that Young negated with his other hold).
Xavien Howard had an interception. Cordrea Tankersley had one, too.
Byron Maxwell forced two fumbles.
Davon Godchaux might be the Dolphins’ most impactful rookie.
Perry ran hard to the end zone for the Dolphins’ only first-half points.
And then there’s Cutler, the man everyone in the building came to see.
He’ll get more work next Thursday, no doubt, but for now, he showed enough.
“He was good,” Dolphins coach Adam Gase said. “We kind of got the tempo going and got comfortable. He had a couple really nice moves in the pocket, pushing up and making a couple guys miss. We had penalties on the play, so it was negated; but he felt good. He took a hit there on the screen. He’s having fun.”
If only the men blocking for him could say the same.