The Dolphins might be good this year.
They might be bad.
But the Dolphins have absolutely no chance of being good if they do not eliminate drive-killing negative plays.
Friday night’s preseason 27-20 loss to the Panthers made that unmistakeably clear.
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On a night in which Ryan Tannehill completed 14 of 17 passes, Kenyan Drake averaged 6.8 yards per carry and an interception by Xavien Howard gave the Dolphins the ball at Carolina’s 9, Miami’s starting offense managed just nine points.
And you don’t need an advanced degree in football to figure out why.
Each of Tannehill’s first four series Friday got blown up by either a penalty or a play for loss.
The ugly blow-by-blow:
Drive 1: Miami needed just four plays to move from its own 25 into Carolina territory, but things unraveled immediately thereafter. On first down, Drake fell, fumbled while getting up and was tackled behind the line of scrimmage. Oh yeah, Jesse Davis held too. Put it all together, and it set up second-and-15 — a low-percentage situation, to say the least. Two irrelevant plays later, Matt Haack punted.
Drive 2: Tannehill directed the Dolphins from their own 25 into the red zone with a series of short, precise passes. Drake had it going too. But on second-and-7 from the Carolina 19, Panthers linebacker Shaq Thomas blew up the left side of Miami’s line and dropped Senorise Perry for a loss of five. Tannehill and Jakeem Grant had a miscommunication on a throw to the end zone, and that was that.
Drive 3: This failure was the most egregious of the four. Teams that start a drive first-and-goal are supposed to score touchdowns. But the Dolphins lost 10 yards on a Laremy Tunsil hold and five more on a delay of game. The drive began at Carolina’s 9. It ended at the Panthers’ 11.
Drive 4: The refs didn’t help the cause, flagging A.J. Derby for a questionable push-off that was essentially a 25-yard penalty. Instead of having first-and-10 at the Panthers’ 17. Instead it was second-and-20 at the 42. For good measure, Drake was dropped for a loss of five on the next play, and the drive was doomed. The Dolphins salvaged a field goal, but when the games count, that will get you beat.
“We’re moving the ball but we’re getting field goals.,” Dolphins coach Adam Gase said at halftime. “We had a great opportunity after a turnover to put it in the end zone and we didn’t do it; we had negative plays. We have a lot of things to clean up.”
The Dolphins simply are not good enough to get behind the sticks. It happened way too much in 2017, and Miami went 6-10 as a result.
OK, that’s the half-empty glass.
Here’s the goblet half full:
Tannehill continues to look poised, accurate and durable. He took his first in-game hit since Calais Campbell wrecked his knee 20 months ago, and bounced back up.
And while he was not explosive — averaging a pedestrian 5.9 yards per attempt — he seemed comfortable with receivers Jakeem Grant and Albert Wilson, who started for injured Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker. Grant caught four passes for 45 yards. Wilson had five receptions for 39.
“We had some good plays,” Gase said. “We had some bad plays. We have to make sure that we catch the ball.”
Tannehill, who is now 18 of 23 for 132 yards, no turnovers and a passer rating of 90.6 this preseason, completed a high percentage of passes Friday because he again had excellent pass protection. The Dolphins’ first-string offense has not surrendered a sack in six drives this summer. However, run blocking could be an issue, as evidenced by the negative runs.
And that doesn’t even reflect what happened in Drake’s longest run, a 34-yard dash down the right sideline. Drake should have been dropped for a loss, as Carolina’s defensive front pushed center Daniel Kilgore back five yards. But Drake ran his way out of trouble.
For once, disaster was averted.
But that’s a dangerous way for the Dolphins to live once the games start counting.
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