These are my thoughts on the performance of each unit—offense, defense and special teams—on the Miami Dolphins roster, as updated throughout the game.
In the process of evaluating each unit, notable performances (both good and bad) have also earned some time in the spotlight.
The grades here are not necessarily cumulative and are not based on some super scientific formula. These are one man's opinions and feelings on how each unit and the players described herein performed.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill, getting his first start in the NFL, went three-and-out on his first two drives. The offense as a whole looked pretty ragged, with two passes batted down. The second drive didn't go much better, with a dropped pass by Anthony Fasano and with running back Reggie Bush being tackled for a two-yard loss before Tannehill's first completion of the night landed short of the first-down marker.
The Dolphins only converted their first first-down of the game with 15 seconds to go in the first quarter.
The second quarter looked much better at first. The Dolphins drove down the field on a 15-play touchdown drive, where Tannehill went 7-for-11 and completed a few very pretty passes along the way. But after that, the Dolphins had a hard time putting anything together. They went three-and-out just before the two-minute warning and had another drive stall out just before the half.
Might it have had something to do with them running the ball seven times for 10 yards in the first half? Yeah, that's not very good.
And oh, the second-half penalties. We'll definitely get a good look at Philbin's reaction to those penalties on the next episode of Hard Knocks. They scored just three points in the third quarter, which should also give Philbin plenty of ammo.
Pat Devlin and the Dolphins third-string offense looked better than the other two units; granted, their competition was also the third-string defense.
If there's any pressure in the preseason, it certainly wasn't coming from the Dolphins' front seven. Their defense utterly failed to get any level of pressure for a majority of the first quarter. That's a good way to give up 17 points on the first three drives.
Dolphins cornerbacks Vontae Davis and Sean Smith were both penalized in the first quarter, with Davis being penalized for a personal foul and Smith giving up a big pass interference that put the Panthers at the 10-yard line. Each also gave up big receptions in the passing game. The Dolphins also struggled against the run, losing containment on the outsides and struggling to tackle on a couple of inside runs.
The Panthers even tried to help the Dolphins, setting up a first-and-33 after multiple penalties, but the Dolphins still allowed them to get past the marker. A good tackle by safety Chris Clemons knocked the ball loose to prevent the conversion.
The Dolphins may feel a little better about themselves after giving up just six points after a 17-point first quarter, but they were physically dominated in that span. It surely left a sour taste in their mouths.
It's too early to panic, but a week after having 20 points hung on them by the Buccaneers, this performance did not instill confidence in the Dolphins defense.
This was the lone bright spot for the Dolphins in the first quarter, with solid coverage on both kickoffs and punt returns. They gave up 16 yards on the opening kickoff, and just six and eight yards on two punt returns. Field position will be vital if the offense is as stagnant as it was in the first quarter.
Their first-quarter performance carried over into the second quarter, as they held the Panthers to just 10 yards on their second kickoff of the night.
The second half was just as good. Marcus Thigpen opened the third quarter with a 35-yard return out to the 31-yard line. Dan Carpenter booted a 52-yard field goal that put the Dolphins within 10 points.
The starting job was Tannehill's for the taking tonight. He left it on the field.
The rookie quarterback got off to a rough start, as did the offense as a whole, but he responded well and warmed up by going 7-for-11 on the first touchdown drive of the night. He made quick reads and got the ball out quickly for the most part, despite an offensive line that gave up some pressure early.
But he looked a lot more like a rookie quarterback with 19 games of starting collegiate experience than he did last week. Twice, he hung onto the ball far too long and took a pair of sacks as a result, including three more. It's better than turning it over, but he has to get the ball out quicker with consistency. He also has to step into his throws, and had four passes deflected at the line of scrimmage.
It's as if neither Tannehill nor Moore wanted the starting job. The only difference is Moore's struggles came against the second- and third-team defense.
He finished 5-for-15 passing (33.3 percent) for 57 yards, and despite a few bright spots, hardly looked like the "gamer" many were expecting to see emerge at some point this preseason.
Luckily for him, Tannehill didn't exactly wow the audience either. The starting job is still up for grabs.
One of Hard Knocks' most infamous characters this season, Davis has come under fire for poor conditioning and maturity issues. A dropped interception was followed by a 15-yard personal foul penalty to comprise Davis' two most memorable highlights of the night before he was replaced by Nolan Carroll in the second quarter.
So there's at least one bright spot.
He averaged 54.5 yards per punt in the first half. That's really all you need to know. This game could have been a lot worse if Fields wasn't the one punting.
On the night, he averaged 48.3 yards per punt. Fields was in midseason form, angling his punts beautifully and allowing his coverage unit to get into position. He's always been a solid punter, and put on a clinic tonight.
With the Dolphins offense being forced to punt seven times, you want a good one on your side. The Dolphins should thank their lucky stars over Fields.
As the first player highlighted by Hard Knocks to actually do something, wide receiver Chris Hogan pulled in three passes for 30 yards. The most notable of the three was a 17-yard reception, where "7-Eleven" actually wasn't open, but wrestled his way out of a tackle and picked up about 10 extra yards.
And on the ensuing kickoff after that touchdown drive, he flew down the field like a missile and made the special teams tackle. That versatility is a great way to earn a spot on the roster.
Hogan has clearly had good practices and had a good game tonight. He has yet to earn reps with the first-team offense, but he could be on his way up the depth chart with continued performances like this.
Lamar Miller (three carries, 11 yards; three receptions, 27 yards)
Pat Devlin (13-for-20, 118 yards, touchdown, interception)
Michael Egnew (reception, six yards; drop)
Rishard Mathews (four receptions, 39 yards)