Everybody knows the third preseason game is the one NFL teams take the most seriously. For the 2017 Miami Dolphins, Thursday against the Eagles has more importance than usual.
The training camp the Dolphins have endured this year has been a camp from hell. That’s the best way to put it. Injury after injury has turned this team from a potential playoff team to a team full of talent hoping to salvage the 2017 season.
First it was Ryan Tannehill, then it was starting left guard Ted Larson, next it was soon-to-be starting linebacker Raekwon McMillan and finally it was cornerback Tony Lippett. Tannehill, McMillan and Lippett are all out for the year. Larsen will miss at least the first half of the season.
Those injuries along with running backs Jay Ajayi and Kenyan Drake having to go into the concussion protocol have put Miami in a tough situation. Even though both running backs should be good to go barring any setbacks.
With all of the misfortune, Miami has learned what we all feared to begin with. The Dolphins have no linebacker depth, the secondary continues to struggle and the offensive line looks worse than last year based on the reports from training camp and what we have seen from the first two preseason games.
The weaknesses at linebacker and in the secondary showed on Monday and Tuesday in two joint practice with the Eagles.
Those two tweets from South Florida Sun-Sentinel reporter Omar Kelly were from Monday’s practice. It didn’t get much better on Tuesday.
Miami Herald writer Armando Salguero summed it up best in his article Wednesday morning.
The Dolphins defense is the main thing I’ll be looking at on Thursday night. Clearly, they did not do so well in practice. Can Miami’s starters stop an Eagles offense lead by Carson Wentz that was just mediocre last season? If they can’t, the Dolphins are in for a long year.
Especially since they have to face Tom Brady twice, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Derek Carr, Phillip Rivers and Cam Newton, all of whom are better than Carson Wentz.
On the other side of the ball it’s all about Jay Cutler and the offensive line. It’s going to be tough to judge Cutler’s performance if the O-line is bad on Thursday night. If he is constantly under pressure and having to make things happen on his own that will be the perfect excuse if he plays poorly.
However, if the offensive line can hold up, Cutler’s performance in the third preseason game matters.
By no means am I saying Cutler has to have the game of his life, and look like the savior the Dolphins desperately need him to be. He doesn’t even fully know the offense yet, that’s not going to happen.
The Dolphins need to see flashes from Cutler though. They need to see that he can step into a throw and hit his receivers in stride. Miami needs to see him stay in the pocket, and not scramble too early.
After all, that is Cutler’s weakness. He constantly throws off his back foot and into coverage. Some call it a strength that he avoids pressure and gives his receivers a chance. I see reckless throws with turnovers waiting to happen.
Can Jay Cutler stand his ground and not abandon a play too early? Can he lead a couple scoring drives in one half of play? That’s what I’ll be looking for Thursday night.
Preseason is for practice. If Miami plays well, people will say, “Oh, it’s just the preseason. Who cares?” If the Dolphins play horrible, there will be panic.
Normally, I would say don’t freak out, it’s just the preseason. However, if the Dolphins don’t play up to par, I can’t blame anyone for panicking.