Falcons vs Dolphins: 10 Things We Learned from Miami's 23-6 Loss
But the preseason is not about the final score, it's about the opportunity for the coach to see his players in game action, running the things that they've been practicing in training camp. This valuable information will allow Joe Philbin and the Dolphins' coaching staff to reach conclusions about personnel and their coaching schemes.
Lets see if we can draw some conclusions from this game as well. Here are 10 things we learned on Friday night:
The Dolphins Ran the No-Huddle Effectively
Ever since Joe Philbin was hired as the head coach, a common word that was used about the Dolphins' offense was tempo.
Philbin, and the players who were learning his system, frequently spoke about an up-tempo offense and the no-huddle being a big part of what Miami was looking to do. The only problem was that they had a rookie quarterback in Ryan Tannehill, a host of inexperienced receivers, and existing players who weren't accustomed to the increased pace.
Growing pains were expected.
But Tannehill and his teammates ran the no-huddle very well, with very few of the mental errors that were expected. The ball was snapped only a few seconds into the play clock each play yet there was little evidence of missed assignments.
Unfortunately the effective play by Tannehill didn't result in many points, for a couple reasons.
Drops, Drops, and More Drops
Dropped balls were the theme of the night.
Many well placed passes by both Tannehill and Matt Moore ended up as incompletions, due to a epidemic of butterfingers amongst the Dolphins' receivers and tight ends.
Even the sure-handed veteran tight end Anthony Fasano dropped three passes, the most painful of which was a would-be Tannehill touchdown strike on a third down play. Miami had to settle for a field goal.
Camp star Legedu Naanee, who has had a quiet preseason up until this point, came up short in the spotlight on Friday. He was targeted five times but had only one catch and two drops. He did little to put substance behind his hype and appeared every bit as ineffective as many thought he was.
From Charles Clay to Julius Pruitt to Marlon Moore, nearly every player targeted by a Dolphins QB dropped a pass. It could be blamed on a wet football due to a pre-game downpour, but drops have been an issue in the first two preseason games as well.
One wideout, however, did step up for the offense in a big way.
Davone Bess Was a Beast
The longest tenured Dolphins receiver, Davone Bess, had a starring role on Friday night.
In what may become a familiar occurrence during the regular season, Tannehill continually relied on Bess' dependable hands and penchant for getting open. He was able to make difficult catches in traffic and served as Tannehill's safety blanket in an otherwise rough night.
He was the only receiver who looked like he was prepared to be a big part of the Dolphins offense in 2012 and Miami may come to depend on his veteran savvy, especially if fellow wideout Brian Hartline misses time in the regular season.
Bess finished with four receptions for 59 yards, both totals leading the team in this game.
Offensive Line Played Better
Throughout the first two preseason games, Miami's starting offensive line got pushed around. Their poor play resulted in sacks, hurried QB decisions and stalled drives.
It was an area that would be especially tested in this game, facing a quality Atlanta defensive front.
They held up pretty well.
By no means was it a flawless performance, but Miami was able to get its running game on track and Tannehill usually had plenty of time to get through a couple of his reads. All in all, Miami should be pleased that the unit has made progress and seems to be gelling.
Especially encouraging was the play of the right side of the line. Rookie right tackle Jonathon Martin was burned for two sacks, again, but he made noticeable improvement from the week before. John Jerry, who only a couple weeks ago was hanging on to the roster for dear life, turned in a very impressive performance as starting right guard.
Jerry was the key block that sprung a long gain in the running game on multiple occasions and held up well in pass protection. He may now be on his way out of the doghouse and into a spot on the final-53 man roster.
The Running Game Got Going
The Dolphins ran the ball for 92 yards against the Falcons. That may not sound like a big number, but it's two more yards than Miami has managed on the ground in their first two preseason contests combined.
Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas looked good, pacing the team with a combined 46 yards and 4.1 yards per carry.
Thomas in particular had a few impressive plays, displaying the ability to absorb first contact and gain more yards. The Dolphins are hoping that he turns into the physical runner that they expected him to be when they used a second round draft pick on him in 2011.
15 of those rushing yards also came from a third down scramble by Ryan Tannehill, who showed a little bit of his speed coming out of the pocket. His mobility will come in handy when plays break down and on roll-outs.
Tannehill Made Good Decisions
Miami's hopeful quarterback of the future has displayed impressive poise and control so far in his preseason action. This night was no different.
Sure, Tannehill ended with an unimpressive stat line. He completed 11 of his 27 pass attempts for 112 yards and a interception. That gave him a putrid 37.9 passer rating.
But there was much positive in Tannehill's performance. His passes were generally on target, but had many good throws including a touchdown dropped by his receivers. He also clearly was able to get through his reads and not force any throws.
His one error was on the interception, when he didn't notice that Falcons linebacker Sean Witherspoon was in his passing lane. He threw it too low, the linebacker tipped it, and the ball floated to Falcons safety Thomas DeCoud. Despite the mistake, Tannehill stayed steady and didn't let it affect him going forward.
There was a lot to like about how the rookie played, even if it didn't result in many points.
Part of it was a product of having more time from his offensive line, but it's clear that he is comfortable and has, as expected, a firm grasp of the offense. The game is slowing down more and more for the youngster each time he goes out there.
Next step, points on the board.
The Defense Improved
The Dolphins' defense was the exact opposite. Their first unit had mightily disappointed up until this point, and with multiple starters out with injuries again it seemed likely that it would be more of the same.
Miami stepped up this time around. The Falcons were able to move the ball fairly effectively, but they were frequently forced into third down situations. Atlanta was only able to convert 6-of-16 on third downs as well, good because many of them were third and short and the Dolphins were able to stand tall against a powerful offense.
Also absent, for the most part, were big plays. There was one 45-yard pass to Julio Jones in which both Dolphins' safeties were in good position but failed to find the ball, but the starters did not give up another play longer than 20 yards. A marked improvement from the previous games, in which yards were given up in massive chunks.
It may not sound like much, but it's progress. With new coaches and a new scheme, it may be alright to settle for a little progress in the preseason.
Hard Knocks Stars Were Absent
Wide receiver Chris Hogan and tight ends Michael Egnew and Les Brown saw much more action in Hard Knocks last Tuesday than they did in this game.
The third preseason game usually has the starters playing deep into the game, but it was curious that these three players had virtually no role in the game. Many third and fourth stringers played in the fourth quarter, but none of these three had any meaningful contribution.
Logic would suggest that these players may not be big parts of Miami's plans this season, but that would be just speculation. Next week's episode will likely offer more clues to those answers.
Vontae Davis Is Locked into a Backup Role
Going into the season, it was a given that Vontae Davis was Miami's No.1 cornerback. Then came the surprise listing as a backup on Miami's first depth chart.
Even then, it was assumed that the coaching staff was simply sending Davis a message. Soon he would be back to his starting spot.
That doesn't appear to be the case.
A full training camp and three preseason games later, Davis looks locked as the nickel corner. He comes in on passing downs. Starting CB Richard Marshall bumps over to the slot and Davis covers the outside receiver.
If that wasn't a confirmation of his demotion, this should be: Davis is a regular on kickoff coverage. True starters are very rarely on coverage units.
They Still Lost
The Dolphins played an all-around good game. Many areas of concern that they had coming in ended up playing their best game of the preseason.
Miami ran the ball effectively, their quarterbacks were accurate and they ran the no-huddle very well.
They also generated a pass rush, were good in coverage and defended short yardage situations well on defense.
But they still lost by 17. They only managed two field goals.
It's clear that this team is still finding their bearings and learning how to put together a complete effort. There were turnovers, drive-killing dropped passes and poorly timed penalties that led to another preseason loss.
The scores of preseason games are ultimately unimportant and no one made the Hall of Fame by winning them, but tonight was a clear battle between one team that knew how to win games and one that is just coming together.
To the few who are optimistic that the Miami Dolphins can field a winning team, it's time to temper those expectations for this season. This very much a work in progress.
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