The Ravens inadvertently did the Dolphins a huge favor by sandbagging the most important game of the preseason.
When word trickled out about an hour before kickoff Saturday that John Harbaugh was going to sit eight starters on offense — including quarterback Joe Flacco — it was a bit deflating.
After a ragged first two exhibition games, the Dolphins needed a better showing Saturday, particularly against a team that had owned them the last two seasons. They never got the chance in their 27-10 loss to the Ravens. Not really.
But when the regular season opens in two weeks, the Dolphins might ultimately be grateful for the experience.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
Because Flacco’s backup, the athletic Robert Griffin III, was a better simulation of who they will see on Sept. 9: Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota.
And, a few rough moments aside, the results were pretty decent — particularly since Miami has historically struggled against mobile quarterbacks.
The first-team defense played the entire first half and surrendered just three points.
The Ravens in that time gained 141 yards (3.7 per play), were held under four yards per carry (albeit on a gaudy 21 attempts) and had just 59 passing yards.
“Our defense is doing a good job,” Dolphins coach Adam Gase said at halftime. “We kind of had a rough start there at the beginning but the guys got their composure and started executing what Matt [Burke] was calling. It was good to see.”
There was good:
Robert Quinn’s third sack in two games. No carry by a running back longer than 10 yards. Holding Griffin to 4.4 yards per pass attempt. Allowing just three of eight third-down conversions. A red-zone stop after the Ravens had first-and-goal at the Miami 1.
There was bad:
Eleven Ravens first downs, including two by Dolphins penalties. Griffin’s 21-yard scramble, in which Andre Branch bit on the fake and gave up the edge.
And there was ugly (or at least weird):
Kiko Alonso wandering over to the wrong sideline after a third-down stop, earning a five-yard substitution penalty. The exchange was so bizarre, the Ravens trolled him by tweeting out the video.
There were also some new wrinkles.
The Dolphins seem to have their starting secondary set — Xavien Howard and Bobby McCain as the corners, Reshad Jones and T.J. McDonald as the safeties and Minkah Fitzpatrick as the nickel — but Burke switched up personnel at times throughout the first half.
Cornerback Torry McTyer got work on the boundary.
Fitzpatrick briefly played safety with the ones.
And McDonald spent time as a de facto linebacker, occasionally lining up in the box when the Dolphins were in nickel.
Speaking of linebacker, perhaps that competition is not as settled as we thought.
Jerome Baker was atop the depth chart. But Chase Allen has consistently been the better player.
He was again Saturday, making the most of the first-team reps he received.
Allen has not been the Dolphins’ first, or even second option at strong-side linebacker. Stephone Anthony was the starter when training camp began. Baker was the first one on the field Saturday (he technically did not start, as the Dolphins opened in nickel).
But Allen made a strong closing argument to be Miami’s starter when the season begins.
Mariota will be waiting.
And the Dolphins better be ready.
He did not play when the teams met in 2017, held out by a hamstring injury.
The Dolphins won that game because his backup, Matt Cassel, was brutal.
Barring something crazy happening in the next two weeks, there will be no such luck this time around.
So the Dolphins will need to be better on both offense and defense than they were then, and arguably Saturday.
The Dolphins’ starting offense finally reached the end zone, but not until their fourth possession of the night (and 10th of the preseason).
In all, the Dolphins’ first string scored 19 points on 11 drives this preseason.
And more than half of those came Saturday night against a defense without starters Terrell Suggs, Eric Weddle and C.J. Mosley.
NOTE: The Miami Herald is now offering a digital sports-only subscription for $30 per year. This is unlimited access to all Herald sports and sports stories, thus allowing you to comment in the section below as many times as you wish. Click right here to get started immediately.