Joe Philbin has been portrayed as the mild mannered head coach. The guy who quietly leads by example, teaches instead of instructs, speaks softly instead of yells. Following last weeks premier of HBO’s Hard Knocks, fans were impressed with the teams performance and excited about a season of miracle possibilities. It was almost a forgotten story line that these Miami Dolphins are new.
In the wake of last nights embarrassing loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, that excitement has waned and reality has set in. Fans are now seeing that the road ahead is still a long one.
For all the off-season talk of Miami’s lack of playmaking WR’s, Friday nights opening act did nothing to disprove that notion. The critics who have called Matt Moore average have another peg to hang their hat on. Those saying the Dolphins would struggle with their switch on defense to a 4-3 scheme, are a little prouder for being right. Yet, it’s just a pre-season game, and the first one at that. If reality is supposed to “set in” then perhaps we should look around the entire league. You know where Jacksonville beat the defending Super Bowl champions and the Patriots beat the New Orleans Saints by one point. As in 7-6. Is that reality?
Did the Dolphins struggle on defense? Of course they did. The first team unit was flat and allowed the Buc’s to drive the ball consistently with short passes and timed runs that gained three and five yards. Nickel and dime stuff. It worked. Last night was the Dolphins first full speed practice full contact with hitting in this new scheme and it’s only appropriate that there were problems. We knew there would be. But here is the thing, we are judging the play of the first team defense based on two drives in the first quarter of the first pre-season game. In reality, is Jason Trusnik the leading tackler?
Offensively Matt Moore struggled but so did everyone on the offense. The offensive line played average but gave up no sacks. Moore completed all but five of his passes four if you count the interception as a completion. Where Moore failed was in the delivery. He didn’t seem to have a full grasp on the offense quite yet, and that’s o.k. With David Garrard out of the rest of camp and possibly an injury cut prior to the start of the season if he is unhealthy (his contract is fully guaranteed for 2012 if he is on the opening day roster) Moore will get more looks as the number 1. It’s the man behind him however that stands the best chance to open the season as the starter.
Let’s not compare apples to oranges here. We all know that Moore performed against a Tampa Bay first team unit and Tannehill played against back-ups. So his performance should not be compared statistically to Moore’s. For that reason, I will only say that while he was 9-17 for 167 and a touchdown (another one was reversed on replay) it was not his stats that impressed me and makes me think that he will earn a shot at the first team by week 3 pre-season. It’s his attitude.
I can not remember the last time a quarterback lined up behind center for the Miami Dolphins who took immediate control of the line of scrimmage outside of a long seasoned veteran like Chad Pennington. Not Jay Fiedler, not Daunte’ Culpepper, not any of the other 16 or so starters since Dan Marino. Ryan Tannehill took control of the offense last night.
For a moment let’s forget about that and talk about his arm strength. My co-host on FinsRadio’s “On the Fin Side” texted me during the second quarter, “man does that ball come out in a hurry or what?”. And that it does. Tannehill doesn’t lock onto one receiver, he looks and then makes a decision. Sure, some of the balls were too low, some were a little too high, or the timing wasn’t quite there on a few others, but the kid missed three days of camp and has been running almost exclusively with the third team until Garrards injury report…yesterday.
What impressed me was his control. He barked assignments to the offensive lineman, he directed his WR’s and as they walked back to the huddle, he pointed to where they should have been. When Nate Garner was called for a hold, he spoke to him and smacked him on the helmet. When his pass went in the dirt he didn’t lower his head he or put his hands on his hips or roll his head back in an “aw shucks” way. He stared it down and directed the team to the next play. In the face of a collapsing pocket, he stood his ground, he focused, and he took the hits.
The story line from last night is that the Dolphins have a long way to go. They do and we all knew that before last night. We expected the worst and for some it was worse was that. The Dolphins were beaten 20-7 last night and yes, it was ugly. But it also doesn’t count. Philbin and company will go back to the practice fields, back to the meeting rooms, and they will make adjustments, they will coach, and they will begin to fix the problems they saw emerge and others they already knew were going to be an issue.
It’s easy to get hung up on a games final score. It’s easy to look at a pre-season game and declare the season is in trouble. That’s also a cop out. Had last night been a reverse and the Dolphins won 20-7 there would be many fans out there saying the Dolphins had turned a corner, that they suddenly became legit overnight. In reality, they would have beaten a team in week one of pre-season.
There is a lot of work to be done to get this team ready for the regular season and more importantly beyond that. This is not a team ready to compete anymore than the other 31 teams who will debut this weekend. It’s a pre-season game. The sky isn’t falling and the season isn’t over. Maybe a tempered enthusiasm though is a good thing.