The Miami Dolphins came so close to pulling out a last second victory last night over the Carolina Panthers. With under 8 minutes to play, 3rd string QB Pat Devlin took the team down the field to close the gap to six points. The defense stopped the Panther offense and gave Devlin just under two minutes. He took the team down to the three yard line before tossing a game ending interception.
What an exciting finish.
Or not. By the time the fourth quarter came around Miami fans had already come to several conclusions. One, Matt Moore is not the guy. Two, Ryan Tannehill might be the guy. Three, the Dolphins defense lacks just about everything. Want a bonus? The offensive line is still atrocious.
The excitement last night was built around the first team appearance of rookie Ryan Tannehill. His first start for the Dolphins after a solid performance in week 1 and three very good practices during the week. Unfortunately, the Carolina Panthers offense came on the field first and by the time they walked off the field, Dolphins fans were already shaking their heads.
Carolina moved the ball with ease on their first series. DeAngelo Williams had no trouble running the ball against a defensive unit that lacked starters Cameron Wake, Kevin Burnett, and Karlos Dansby. In the pocket last years rookie sensation Cam Newton never had to leave the pocket. He was never touched. A holding penalty on the Panthers kept them out of the endzone and they left the field with a 3-0 lead that should have been 7.
Tannehill came on the field and his first series was not good. In fact his first two series were not good. He looked a little shaky and nervous. Of course the Dolphins offensive line did nothing to help. Tannehill spent most of the night being harassed by a defensive front that either was in his face as he threw or standing straight up on the line of scrimmage with a clear path to bat down his passes. Three times in the first two series alone.
There was no Dolphins running game and the only thing that was good in those first two drives was the first play call where Tannehill managed to draw Carolina off-sides with a hard count.
In the meantime, the Dolphins defense continued their struggles. On series two, a badly called personal foul penalty on Vontae’ Davis put Carolina back in the drivers seat. Davis and Panther WR Steve Smith were locked in a scrum. Smith pulled Davis to the ground ripping his helmet off. Davis didn’t so much as push him when they separated yet Davis got the call. The Panther drive extended, Newton converted the drive into a touchdown.
On the Panthers next series following Tannehill’s short second series, an interception by Sean Smith on the Dolphins 5 yard line was ruled pass interference on Smith despite the fact he was on the inside, caught the ball with one hand as Steve Smith had the other arm pulled behind him. Steve Smith had become the defender and got away with a hold. The Panthers scored easily a few players later.
Tannehill however came on to the field for his third series and immediately looked like the player Dolphins fans saw last week. He was in a rhythm, hit the receivers quickly, threw the ball tight into coverage and avoided the pressure. He moved the team down the field and when he walked off it, had led the team to a 15 play scoring drive. He was sharp and the shaky start was nowhere to be seen.
Tannehill would play the entire first half but he had serious pressure all night from right side of the line where rookie Jonathan Martin had a horrible game. Martin gave up pressure all night long and forced Tannehill out of the pocket or into throws that had no shot at being caught. For his part, Tannehill handled the pressure well and never let it rattle him. Martin on the other hand played deep into the game and Matt Moore never really shook off his own jitters.
Moore was unable to move the team in his quarter and a half of play. He looked scattered and uneasy against the back-up defense of the Panthers. He had what is referred to as “happy feet” in the pocket never setting them before he threw the ball. His timing was off and he was chased down several times by linebackers who had flushed him out of the pocket. His throws were rarely on point and while he made one almost terrific pass to Charles Clay down the middle in four man coverage, the ball was just over the hands of Clay and fell incomplete in the endzone.
It’s difficult to get a read on how last nights performance will translate into real games that count. The Dolphins couldn’t stop the run at all, giving up big gains of 5, 10, and even longer runs from scrimmage. They struggled with getting pressure on any of the Carolina quarterbacks and couldn’t cover the Panther WR’s who had all day to get open. However, there was no game planning for last nights game. No defensive stunts, no disguised blitz formations, no blitzing at all, no coverage schemes, and really as vanilla as vanilla could be. In fact last night wasn’t even sweet vanilla, it was the untouched bean.
Offensively it was the same thing. No pulling guards or tackles, not blocking stunts, just simple up the middle 1 and 2 gap runs. Even the receivers ran simple routes with no curling crosses or seam flies.
Yet for all the bad that was on the field last night, there was one thing that many wanted to see. Ryan Tannehill. Would the game be too fast for him? Could he take a hit? How would he handle up front pressure in the pocket? Could he hold on to the ball? So on and so on.
Tannehill looked shaky for the first series, a little calmer the second, and then it was obvious that the game was indeed not too fast for him. Once he settled down and began leading the team he excelled. He commanded the offense, called out the blitzes (yes Carolina blitzed a lot last night), and he led the team. He didn’t dance around the pocket but stood in it, let his receivers get into their routes, threw the ball where they were supposed to be and took a few big time hits. Welcome to the NFL type hits. He scrambled, got hit, held on to the ball. Then popped back up and hit an open receiver in stride.
Tannehill’s performance wasn’t perfect but when compared to Matt Moore’s it’s obvious who gives the team the best shot to win.
A few other names made an appearance last night. Jeff Fuller ran a few plays with the first team unit and looked good. Solid route running and he caught one pass from Ryan Tannehill. Chris “always open 7-11″ Hogan caught a couple of balls, made a big hit and tackle on special teams and then let a would be touchdown pass in coverage go through his hands. On several other plays, he was indeed wide-open.
Jonathan Martin struggled the most through the night. His pass protection was absolutely horrible but at least while Carolina played their first team unit, he was matched, or out-matched by six year veteran monster DE, Charles Johnson. Johnson owned the rookie. Which you would have expected. Maybe Martin was worn out by the time he was up against the 2nd and 3rd team units.
Martin wasn’t the only one who had a bad night. Rookie TE Michael Egnew dropped a pass all by himself about 15 yards down the middle. He would catch one ball for six yards but what you saw on Hark Knocks last week was not a fluke. He has some serious flaws in his game and the Dolphins right now have to be asking themselves what they got into with him.
Next week the Dolphins will game plan for the Falcons. By the time the game rolls around, the Dolphins should have their starting QB named and if last night plays into that decision it really should be Ryan Tannehill. The Dolphins still need to find playmakers. Martin will eventually be o.k. on the right side. He is a smart guy who is learning not only the NFL but a new position as well, he played on the left side throughout college.
It’s easy, as our chat showed last night, to expect more and want more and then get frustrated when those expectations are not met. But you must remember that this is pre-season. The Detroit Lions won all of their pre-season games one season and then lost all of their regular season games. The Dolphins have lost all of theirs and gone to the Playoffs. Does anyone honestly think that the Jacksonville Jaguars would carry a 17-10 lead over the New Orleans Saints in the first half of a regular season game? Let alone win it? Or how about Green Bay getting pummeled by the Cleveland Browns 35-10?
The point is that the Dolphins played bad last night. So do a lot of teams in pre-season who really are being looked at more for how they handle a situation then the outcome. There is no denying that the Phins have a lot of work to do. They do. But some questions got answers last night. The biggest of which may just have been regarding the man the team will have to lead them on the field come week 1.