Forget the score and the fact the Miami Dolphins lost to Tampa Bay Thursday night. They don’t care about that. I don’t care about that. You don’t care, either.
These are the things we should care about because they could factor heading into the regular season:
The field at Hard Rock Stadium looked great. I mean, really good. And it played safe.
This is a thing because last year the field was a mess in the preseason and even early in the regular season.
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Players complained. Indeed, Dolphins coaches were worried their players were going to be hurt playing at home.
But the Dolphins changed sod vendors and there hasn’t been an issue since. So well done by Vice Chairman, CEO and President Tom Garfinkel. He got ripped for the problem last year. He deserves praise now.
Onto the actual play:
I wasn’t thrilled with Ryan Tannehill. I’m reading elsewhere that he was sharp in his first outing 600-plus days after his 2016 knee injury.
Well, he had moments when he was sharp. He started 3-for-3 and had the Dolphins moving with two first downs the game’s first three plays.
But on second-and-eight from the Tampa Bay 35 yard line, Tannehill had Danny Amendola wide open crossing the field for a long gain. And Tannehill threw it too wide. A diving Amendola could not make the grab.
Next play, a quick toss to running back Kalen Ballage to pick up the first down was also off target.
Tannehill was rusty.
And I get it, he hasn’t played a game in a long time.
But he doesn’t get graded on a curve for missing time. He’s not six-years-old and vying for a participation award.
He was 4 of 6 for 32 yards. His QB rating was 79.9. He needs to get better. And he needs to get his offense in the end zone.
“We probably have a couple of things to clean up when we watch it, but it felt right,” coach Adam Gase said of Tannehill and the first team offense.
Again, touchdowns feel right. Touchdowns.
One of the things the Dolphins must clean up this season is penalties. Especially on offense.
The Dolphins offense was the most penalized in the NFL last season. And on that first drive -- four plays into the game -- right tackle Ja’Wuan James was flagged for holding.
The defense also picked up a penalty on the third play it was on the field -- an encroachment penalty by Davon Godchaux.
Look folks, the penalty thing got old for me last year. It speaks to lack of concentration, lack of technique, lack of discipline and lack of attention to detail.
Those things are symptoms of sorry teams. The Dolphins were a sorry last year.
This stuff has to get cleared up this preseason. No excuses.
So I look at that first offensive drive and there was ... a third-and-11 draw?
And I’m saying, “Noooooo.”
And then Kenyan Drake gains 10 yards. The unit gets right back on the line of scrimmage and, going fast, before the Tampa Bay defense is fully set, Drake picks up a yard and the first down on a fourth-down conversion.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is professional offensive football.
It takes guts to call a draw on third-and-11. I don’t know if Gase would do that in the regular season. But that and the fourth-down surprise was a thing of beauty.
Rookie tight end Mike Gesicki didn’t catch a pass on two targets. No matter.
He started and you should get used to the idea he’s going to play a lot even early on in the regular season.
Gesicki, by the way, was open in the end zone on one of the targets but quarterback David Fales threw the ball too late. An accurate and on-time throw would have resulted in a touchdown.
Rookie running back Kalen Ballage, working as the backup running back, played with starters some and with the second team a bunch. He had a nice blitz pickup working with the starters.
Against Tampa’s reserves, he had a cutback run for 14 yards that erased a defender’s angle to the tackle. Impressive.
He also had an impressive run in the second quarter that showed us a lot of things. He bounced it outside and hurdled a defender to try to get a first down. But as he went up, the ball dropped out of his grasp without anyone hitting him.
The Bucs recovered at the Miami 32 yard line and turned the turnover into points.
So we saw Ballage show his athleticism. He showed ability to handle some blocking assignments. He also showed inexperience in not holding on to the football.
“Just putting the ball on the ground, that’s something that we just have to make sure that we don’t,” Gase said. “...So that’s a young kid trying to make a big play and making a mistake and he’ll learn from that and he’ll get better from it.”
Reshad Jones did not play so rookie Minkah Fitzpatrick started. And the first-round draft pick was active playing with the starters.
Fitzpatrick was active on both run and pass plays. He made a hit on the second Tampa Bay drive that dislodged a completion from a Tampa Bay wide receiver. He had another hit a play or two later that finished off a receiver who was struggling to catch a pass. It went incomplete instead.
Fitzpatrick also cleaned up with a tackle after a six-yard run when he was playing in the slot. Why am I telling you about a tackle six yards downfield? Because if Fitzpatrick doesn’t make the stop there, the run goes for 12-14 yards into the secondary.
All three linebackers over-ran the play and Fitzpatrick was the only one who covered up on the cutback.
Gase announced afterward that the competition for the No. 2 quarterback job will take all preseason.
That’s good for Brock Osweiler because he was not sharp. He completed 10 of 21 for 83 yards. His quarterback rating was a team-low 58.2.
So all of training camp perhaps the most impressive defender has been cornerback Xavien Howard. He has locked down Miami receiver DeVante Parker practice after practice.
And players and coaches have been saying the reason Parker doesn’t make a ton of plays in practice is because Howard has been so good and will be so good this season.
Except this game, the Bucs get the ball and boom ... Ryan Fitzpatrick completes an 18-yard pass to DeSean Jackson, who beat Howard.
And then boom ... Fitzpatrick connects with Mike Evans for 14 yards, once again beating Howard.
And now I’m wondering:
Is Howard, who routinely locks down Parker, just a solid cornerback who looks better in practice than he really is because Parker is not making plays?
Or are Jackson and Evans elite and Howard just isn’t in that category?
Well, Jackson and Evans are elite.
Xavien Howard needs to play against those kind of receivers the way he practices against Parker. And Parker needs to start winning against Howard more often in practice because we’ve seen what very good receivers can do against him.
The Dolphins interior defensive line is supposed to be just fine after losing Ndamukong Suh.
It wasn’t just fine Thursday night. It was ground beef Thursday night.
Tampa’s Peyton Barber feasted running between the tackles against Miami. He carried only four times for 21 yards. But that’s a 5.3 yard per carry average. And he scored on a 9-yard run up the middle.
Not good enough from Godchaux and Akeem Spence.
This and that:
Senorise Perry is in a tough spot because he’s the fourth running back on a team that might only keep three. But he had a fine night this game, averaging 8.8 yards per carry. If he keeps performing like this, he might force coaches to keep four running backs.
Jake Brendel injured his calf the first day of training camp and hasn’t practiced since. He didn’t play this game.
That should be great news for third-string center Mike Matthews.
Unfortunatley, Matthews has not exactly dominated during his time as the backup center. He got driven into quarterback Brock Osweiler so far and fast that the defender was able to raise an arm and swat an Osweiler pass.
Osweiler is 6-foot-8, in case you forgot, so it is not easy to swat his passes.
Matthews is the brother of Atlanta left tackle Jake Matthews and the son of Pro Football Hall of Fame center Bruce Matthews. Mike needs to play up to his genetics more to factor on the Dolphins.
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