The Dolphins entered Friday night’s preseason game at Dallas with some concerns about their tackling.
They left with alarm bells ringing loudly in their ears.
The Miami defense was practically nonexistent in the 41-14 loss at AT&T Stadium, a situation made even more worrisome by the fact that the first unit was mostly intact when much of the damage was done.
“We really have to get off blocks better,” defensive end Mario Williams said, “and then make tackles. We all had some missed tackles that we definitely have to make.”
A week earlier, the Dolphins allowed the New York Giants to open the game with a 74-yard touchdown drive amid some sloppy tackling, but they were also missing the guts of their defense — tackle Ndamukong Suh, ends Cameron Wake and Williams, cornerback Byron Maxwell and safety Reshad Jones all sat out.
Friday, Miami had no such excuse. While Wake and tackle Earl Mitchell were held out as they recover from injuries, the rest of the starting defense was on the field for the first three possessions — the entire first quarter the first two snaps of the second.
And the results of those three possessions were not encouraging.
Even with Suh and Williams leading the pass rush, the Dolphins put zero pressure of Cowboys quarterbacks Tony Romo and Dak Prescott, allowing them to stand tall and pick out receivers.
Despite Maxwell’s presence as the top corner, Dallas’ passers completed eight of their nine passes for 125 yards and a touchdown for a near-perfect passer rating of 155.7. Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant smoked Maxwell on the 28-yard touchdown pass, beating him to the pylon in the left corner of the end zone.
And worst of all, the Dolphins made Dallas running back Alfred Morris, who last season averaged 3.7 yards per carry for Washington, look like Adrian Peterson, missing tackle after tackle as Morris rumbled for 63 yards and averaged 7 yards per attempt.
Morris’ runs during that stretch included gains of three gains of 10 or more yards, including a 20-yard run in which Williams had a clear shot at him in the backfield and let him slip away, and a 15-yard touchdown after he was stacked up at the line of scrimmage, only to cut left and break a tackle by end Andre Branch to get into the clear.
In all, the Dolphins’ No. 1 defense allowed 188 yards and two touchdowns in three possessions.
“On defense, we’ve just got to do a better job of stopping the run,” coach Adam Gase said. “We’ve just got to get some negative plays, get our hands on some balls, and when we do, we have to finish it with a turnover.
“That’s why it is preseason. We have to figure everything out.”
After Friday, there seems to be much to figure out — and not just for the starters, as the shaky defense continued long after they made their exit.
The Cowboys torched the Dolphins for 300 yards in the first half alone, and finished the game with 170 rushing yards. Prescott, the fourth-round draft choice making a bid to earn a job as the aging Romo’s backup and possible successor, wound up with 199 yards and two touchdowns on 12-for-15 passing for a perfect 158.3 rating, well as two rushing TDs, one on a 20-yard scramble. Morris finished his night with 85 yards on 13 carries.
The Dolphins did not manage a sack and they did not force a turnover a week after picking up four sacks and four takeaways in their victory over the Giants.
When they finally did make a play — cornerback Isa Abdul-Quddus intercepted a Prescott pass midway through the second quarter — the play was wiped out by a roughing the passer call on Branch.
Still, Williams said, there is no panic – yet – in the Dolphins’ locker room.
“No,” he said. “We know each and every one of us, we can make those plays. All of us, including myself, need to come out and grind in camp. We’ve just got to regroup and bring our feet together and tackle. That’s the biggest thing — we need to focus on that.”