It seems as though the upside and downside of this football team drastically switched from last week to this week. A week ago, the offensive woes had everyone concerned, but now the defense, and in particular the secondary, is the cause for some of the negativity.
But seeing Chad Henne have an outstanding first-half, and witnessing our first glimpse of Brandon Marshall contributing, has brought back the excitement. After the second preseason contest, let’s see how both sides of the ball and each team graded out.
Because the end of the second quarter featured a hybrid first and second string offense and defense, I have modified the grading format accordingly. Instead of dividing the grades up by first-team, second-team, and third-team, I’m just grading each half.
The major theme of the night for the starting offense had to be “that’s more like it.” After failing to score or move the ball into opponents territory in four possessions against Tampa Bay, the first-team offense bounced back in a big way Saturday night.
Chad Henne made sound decisions, checking down when need be and got the ball down field when things opened up. Going 11 for 14 is impressive enough, but when you factor in two of those incompletions were drops, maybe Henne had his best half of action to date. We are grading the offense as a whole, however, so those two drops are only detrimental to the grade, not more evidence for our argument.
One of those drops was another by Brandon Marshall, which continues to be a little concerning. Outside of that play, though, Marshall was very solid, reeling in four balls for 65 yards, and threw two fantastic blocks which led to touchdowns by Anthony Fasano and Ronnie Brown. Speaking of Fasano, is this a sign of things to come with defenses focusing so much attention on Marshall? Bringing Fasano’s production back after it’s one year hiatus, would be an asset of an X-factor for this offense. There’s still a long way to go for that to become a reality, but it’s something to look forward to nonetheless.
While the passing game shined in the second quarter, the running game wasn’t much of a factor. There’s obviously no reason to worry about that, though, as I think it’s safe to say Ronnie and Ricky will average more than eight carries in a half.
I’m also counting Chad Pennington’s one and only drive with the starting offense, because Brandon Marshall, Ronnie Brown, and the starting tackles were still in the game. And what a drive it was. The highlight was the spectacular 37-yard grab by Marshall on a Chad Pennington down-field lob to set things up. Pennington also showed some awareness, scrambling for 13-yard run to move the chains, and made a nice check-down toss to Brown, who ran off Marshall’s block for the score.
Pennington surely proved he’s still capable of leading an offense, despite yet another shoulder surgery in the offseason. That could entice a team with struggling quarterback play or a key injury to pursue a possible trade, but for now, the Dolphins have great security behind Henne.
Going into halftime with 24 points, Tyler Thigpen and the second/third-team offense wanted to keep the big plays and scoring coming. Unfortunately, Miami only put up another three points in the second-half, and weren’t nearly as explosive as the starting unit.
They weren’t necessarily stagnent, as they did move the ball deep into Jaguars’ territory on two drives, but they turned the ball over on downs on one and had to settle for a field-goal on the other.
They also struggled to get the running game going, with Patrick Cobbs and Lex Hilliard only accounting for a combined 34 yards on 13 carries. Thigpen was a decent 8 of 12 for 76 yards, but at the end of the day, leading the offense to only three points in an entire half isn’t going to cut it.
After two preseason games it’s obvious that secondary is still the weakness of the defense, and probably the entire team. Vontae Davis and Sean Smith were picked on for much of the first-half, surrendering some troubling big plays.
Davis continues to bite too hard on the receivers initial move, while Smith looked like he was confused on whether or not he was in man or zone coverage on the 22-yarder he conceded, as he passed up the receiver to the inside and hesitated to follow him on the drag route.
Chris Clemons, outside of one tackle, was invisible for the most part, which has negative and positve condintations. The run defense, though, was pretty stout. But as much credit as the front seven deserves, the secondary was equally responsible with fantastic run support.
Vontae Davis came up and made a couple outstanding wrap-ups on Maurice Jones-Drew on the perimeter. The front seven forced the runs outside, but Davis and company were instrumental in limiting positive yards with sound tackling.
The pass rush was inconsistent at best. Starks got through the line and registered his first sack from the nose, and Charles Grant knocked Garrard out of the game in the second quarter, but that pocket was pretty clean for the most part, as Garrard and McCown picked apart Miami’s secondary.
Once again, expect that to significantly change in the regular season, when Mike Nolan begins to spice things up a bit with multiple blitz packages.
The secondary continued to be a cause for concern when the backups came in. Luke McCown had his way with the Dolphins’ defense, passing for over 150 yards and threw a touchdown pass.
The pass rush turned up the heat slightly, but weren’t able to register a sack. They did force one bad decision by McCown, though, as Jonathan Amaya picked off his first pass as a Dolphin. The run D’ continued to be solid, but Jacksonville really didn’t focus much on the run to give them much of a test.
There were a couple bright spots on the Dolphins’ overall special-team unit, highlighted by Nolan Carroll likely locking up kick-return duties, averaging 25 yards on four returns and breaking off a 36-yarder.
But the shady play of the kickoff team was dismal to put it nicely. The Jags returned four kicks a first-down from Dolphins’ territory, but bailed them out on two of those returns, fumbling one and committing an illegal wedge penalty that probably wouldn’t have changed the outcome much, if at all.