The Miami Dolphins have a slew of roster decisions to make this preseason. Some players will make those choices easier by shining in the spotlight while others fade.
1. Ryan Tannehill – Tannehill put in a solid performance, completing 60% of his passes for 162 yards, 2 TDs and a QB rating of 119.2. Furthermore, he ran twice for 16 yards. As impressive as these numbers are, they would have been even better had he gotten a bit more assistance from his tight end and receivers. Jordan Cameron and Devante Parker each dropped a sure touchdown. Even worse, the usually sure-handed Jarvis Landry dropped another two passes in the end zone.
Why it Matters: While this is only a preseason game, we got our first glimpse of the Gase effect on Tannehill. The QB’s passes were crisp and on target, and he seemed relatively comfortable directing traffic in the team’s revamped offense. Moreover, as I predicted in my article, Adam Gase’s 12 Step’s to Rehabilitating the Dolphins: Step 7, the rookie head coach has installed rollouts to take advantage of Tannehill’s ability to throw on the run, as well as quarterback keepers to capitalize on his versatility as a runner. In other words, Gase is providing his quarterback with every option needed to succeed.
2. Kenny Stills – Stills caught three passes, including two touchdowns for 71 yards. Moreover, he ran an exquisite route on a 55 yard bomb, and, unlike last season, seemed perfectly in sync with Tannehill.
Why it Matters: If Stills can return to the form he showed in New Orleans, or even exceed it, he and Devante Parker would give Gase precisely what he is looking for, a pair of deep threats to spread defenses the way he did in Denver with Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, and later, Emmanuel Sanders.
1. The Wide-Nine Defense – There is no way to sugarcoat this. The defense, which gave up 433 yards, played poorly at every level. The Dolphins’ front four failed to get pressure on Tony Romo, which, in turn, allowed Cowboy receivers time to break away from Miami’s inexperienced defensive backs. The front seven’s ineffectiveness against the run was equally disturbing.
The typical criticism of the wide-nine defense is that it leaves gaps along the middle of the line for running backs to exploit, but against the Cowboys, the exact opposite seemed to be true. Every time a Dallas runner found a log jam between the tackles, they simply broke outside, beating the linebackers to the edge for big gains over and over again. Even when Miami defenders did catch up to ball carriers, the tackling was atrocious. As a result, the Cowboys averaged 5 yards per carry and ran for 3 touchdowns.
Worst still, there were a handful of players that distinguished themselves with particularly poor performances. Andre Branch missed a tackle on an Alfred Morris TD run, and later, negated an Isa Abdul-Quddus interception with a late hit on the QB. Byron Maxwell was beaten badly on a stop & go route by Dez Bryant that resulted in a TD, while Bobby McCain dropped an interception and gave up a 58 yard bomb to Brice Butler that resulted in a first and goal from the one yard line.
Why it Matters: If the Dolphins can neither pressure the quarterback nor seal the edge, Russell Wilson could singlehandedly pick them apart in the season opener, be it with his arm or his legs.
2. Thomas Duarte – Duarte’s pitiful attempt at a block all but invited Dallas’ Vince Mayle to get his hand on a Matt Darr punt. The result, a 10 yard shank that left the Cowboys in excellent field position to score the game’s final touchdown.
Why it Matters: Special teams can decide games. Moreover, the ability to contribute on special teams is often the determining factor in who survives preseason cuts. Needless to say, Duarte ‘s halfhearted play was a significant blow to his chances of making the final 53-man roster.
3. Arian Foster – While the sample size was exceedingly small, two carries for -5 yards, there is no denying that Foster looked tentative and slow. In fact, he was outplayed by every other running back on the roster.
Why it Matters: Despite everything you may have heard, Foster is not a sure thing to make the team. Given his injury history, his signing was always a gamble, at best. While Foster is sure to get additional opportunities to make a contribution in Thursday night’s game against the Atlanta Falcons, his contract is, nevertheless, structured in such a way that it would allow the Dolphins to part ways with him for a mere $400,000 in guaranteed money should his comeback fall short of expectations.