In the preseason, morale is heavily impacted by what meets the eye when the starting units are in the game.
The Dolphins seemingly did a complete 180 from their struggles a week ago, and the first-team offense and first-team defense put on a show in the first half.
Albeit it was against the team who picked first in the draft and a team that was resting several key starters, but progress was clearly made.
The negatives may seem a little nitpicky considering it was such a sound performance, but nonetheless, here are my top four positives and negatives from last night’s win.
Interior offensive line coming along: What a difference a week makes I guess. In Atlanta, Mike Pouncey flashed some glimpses but Richie Incognito and Vernon Carey created no push for Daniel Thomas to work with.
With Reggie Bush making his debut and getting the start over Thomas, the Dolphins’ interior offensive line, as well as the tackles Lydon Murtha and Marc Colombo, pushed the Panthers’ front seven around.
I’m not sure we’ve seen running lanes that big since 2009. Let’s remember that the interior O-line may have been the biggest weakness on the entire team a year ago, so it’s been awhile since we’ve seen much success on the ground for the Dolphins.
We saw a lot of good things in the first half, but I’m most encouraged by the progress made up front. Part of me feels that Chad Henne struggled so much a year ago because he didn’t have a respectable running game to lean on.
That’s a tough situation for a young quarterback. He’ll only improve if what we saw last night from the Dolphins’ offensive line is a sign of things to come.
Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas: The holes may have been there, but it was up to Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas to make the most of them. And that they did.
Bush sliced and diced his way to 48 yards on eight carries and had another 20 yards negated by a foolish Brandon Marshall block in the back. He was also obviously a playmaker in the passing game, taking two receptions for 33 yards, as he could develop into Mr. Checkdown’s best friend.
Daniel Thomas got off to a rough start, being stuffed twice on the goal line before getting replaced by Lex Hilliard who eventually ran it in on fourth down. He began to find his groove in the second quarter, though, and finished the night by leading the Dolphins in rushing with 52 yards on 12 carries. He also redeemed himself by finding the end zone for the first time as a pro.
Bush was clearly the more productive runner last night, however. All things the same, Bush may become the offense’s primary back after all. I worry how he’ll hold up with that type of workload combined with all the receptions he figures to have, but if he can stay healthy, big things could be in store for #22.
Chad Henne bounces back: Henne did what he had to do last night. He was consistently able to move the ball down the field and found a way to distribute the football to his playmakers. He hooked up with Brandon Marshall five times, Davone Bess five times as well, and got the ball to the explosive Reggie Bush in space.
Outside of one near pick on a Daniel Thomas out route, Henne was very sound in his decision making and clearly looked the part of starting quarterback in this league. A similar performance in Tampa Bay next week and he’ll head into the opener with a nice bit of momentum and confidence for the Patriots.
Like I’ve been saying all along, the weapons are in place for things to finally start clicking for Henne. It’s all up to how he handles adversity at this point. If he can simply put mistakes behind him and not let them lead to more blunders, he’ll be a quality starting quarterback in this league. Still a big IF, but at least we know what he’s capable of.
Defense dominates: This was a virtual guarantee heading into last night, but it was still nice to see. The starting defense had to be peeved about letting the Falcons run all over them a week ago and with the Panthers starting a rookie quarterback, everything was stacked in the Dolphins’ favor.
They stuffed DeAngelo Williams on his three carries, got pressure on Newton, and blanketed the Carolina receivers. If there was one grip, it had to be Jeremy Shockey and Greg Olson combining for five grabs as the Dolphins have struggled with containing tight ends in the past.
But Miami did a great job of keeping everything in front of them and sniffed out most of Newton’s completions for minimal gains. The Dolphins didn’t create any turnovers but I only counted about one opportunity to do so- Kevin Burnett couldn’t quite reel in what would have been an impressive pick.
The Panthers’ first-team offense was forced to punt four times and only managed three first downs. That’s a successful night for the Dolphins’ defense.
Let’s remember who the Dolphins were playing: Okay, so this isn’t an indictment on the Dolphins, as they did what they had to do against an inferior opponent.
But let’s remember that the Panthers were 2-14 a year ago. They were starting a rookie quarterback without the luxury of Steve Smith to throw to and the defense sat key starters like Jon Beason and Chris Gamble.
So while fans should be encouraged by last night’s performance, it’s no time to start making reservations to Indianapolis. These Dolphins are going to have to show us they can do more than just outplay one of, if not the worst team in football if they seriously want to compete in one of the league’s toughest divisions.
Chad Henne still having some deep ball issues: Since it’s still the preseason, I’ll chalk Chad Henne overthrowing would-be scores to Brian Hartline and Clyde Gates as timing issues.
I expect timing to improve as we inch closer to the games meaning something, but still, Henne commonly overthrew receivers that were open deep a year ago. He was solid last night in just about every aspect, but with a cannon attached to his right shoulder, it would be a shame if he can’t develop a little more accuracy on those deep bombs.
Penalties: Whether it was Lydon Murtha negating an eight-yard scramble from Henne and a nine-yard Brian Hartline reception with an illegal hands to the face and holding penalties, or Brandon Marshall doing the same to a shifty 20-yard Reggie Bush run with a block in the back, the Dolphins shot themselves in the foot too often last night.
Without those penalties, the Dolphins probably head into the half up by more than just 17. But that’s what the preseason is for. You would be hard pressed to find many teams that don’t commit their share of penalties this time of year. It’s just something to work on for the Dolphins.
Backups get outplayed: A week after rallying from the 17-point hole the starters dug them in to beat the Falcons with a 28-6 run the game’s final three quarters, the second and third-teams were outscored by the Panthers 10-3 last night.
They weren’t decisively outplayed by any means, as it could have very well been a tied half if Matt Moore doesn’t fumble deep inside Miami territory on a play he should have just taken a sack instead of trying to do too much.
But what we didn’t see were any standout performances from the roster fringe players. Last week Jimmy Wilson and Philip Livas stole the show in the second half. Last night was nothing short of a boring, blah performance from the Dolphins’ backups. The result could lead to some roster fringe players seeing their bubble burst.