Who says the preseason has to be boring?
The Miami Dolphins' preseason game against the Houston Texans certainly didn't come off as boring, as it gave Dolphins fans some encouraging reasons for optimism to go along with devastating reasons of doubt.
It was certainly one of the weirdest preseason games I've ever seen the Dolphins participate in, and one that definitely proves that you cannot take the final score of a preseason game seriously—the Dolphins lost 24-17, but I would be writing the same article had they won by that score.
So let's take a look at the positive signs for the Dolphins that show why you should be encouraged, followed by the negative signs that show why you should be discouraged.
Then at the end, you decide how to feel about the game.
Signs of Hope
Let's start off with Miami's biggest sign of hope: When the two first teams played against each other, the Dolphins were competitive against one of the top teams in the AFC.
When going up against Miami's first-string defense, Matt Schaub was picked off by Brent Grimes, sacked by Cameron Wake and under pressure when he was in the pocket.
Here are his numbers against the Dolphins first-teamers: four-of-7 for 47 yards, no touchdowns and an interception.
Another sign was how Miami's first-team defense handled Houston's running game, holding Ben Tate to 12 yards on four carries for an average of 3.0 yards per carry.
Now on offense, we saw the ultimate signs of hope: Ryan Tannehill and Mike Wallace have a connection.
Tannehill only targeted Wallace on three passes; however, the results of those passes were telling: three-of-3 for 58 yards and a touchdown.
Here's their biggest play, a 33-yard connection between the two that put Miami into the red zone.
I would be remiss if I didn't nitpick this pass a little bit while praising it at the same time.
This illustration I made manages to do both. There are only two parts on the field that Tannehill could've thrown the ball to that would've resulted in a catch.
Throwing it to the maroon zone that I crudely colored it into would've forced Wallace to slow down a little bit to adjust to the ball, while throwing it into the Miami Dolphins aqua zone would've resulted in Wallace catching the ball in stride, scoring a touchdown.
Anywhere else would've resulted in at best an incomplete pass. So kudos to Tannehill for throwing it to one of two spots on the field that would've resulted in a good result for the Dolphins, and kudos to Wallace for making the necessary adjustment and pulling in the catch while maintaining the awareness to stay in bounds.
However, the next time Tannehill finds himself in this situation, it would be better if he attempted to lead Wallace in front where no one was with the pass, leading to a touchdown.
It would be alright though, as Tannehill threaded the needle to Wallace three plays later for a nine-yard touchdown pass. This was outstanding due to an excellent route by Wallace and an excellent pass by Tannehill.
This was a bit harder than it looked, so I drew it out here.
Wallace's route (in aqua) wasn't exactly a complicated one, but he ran it well. The challenge came from how Tannehill was going to throw the ball, and he threw it with great precision, as awfully illustrated by the red line in this picture.
Overall Wallace and Tannehill showed great chemistry when in together, and Tannehill showed great poise in the pocket as well. Against Houston's first-team defense, Tannehill went 7-of-9 for 82 yards and a touchdown with no turnovers.
Another great performer who gave some optimism was Daniel Thomas, who ran well against the Texans, gaining 25 yards on five carries to go along with a catch for 27 yards in the second quarter. I still don't think there should be a competition at running back, but Thomas is showing improvement and could be a viable weapon for the Dolphins if he keeps up this performance.
Then there's my underrated performance of the day: Jonathan Martin. His improvement in the last three games has been nothing short of miraculous. From the looks of it, he's not the weak link in the Dolphins offensive line, not by a mile at least.
There were plenty of negatives in this game. We all know what the big one is, and it is indicative of a bigger one that we will discuss later.
But the first negative we have to discuss is Josh Samuda.
Here's my analysis on him: He's a good kid and a natural center. He can play center well.
But he's not like a Mike Pouncey who can switch to guard and do well there—far from it.
Samuda got beat early and often and in all likelihood is the reason why there's a running back competition. His horrendous blocking has made Daniel Thomas look more valuable, giving him more playing time to improve. (Thomas owes Samuda a steak dinner after the preseason at the least.)
Then there's how this right guard issue has affected Lamar Miller.
Miller got blown up behind the line of scrimmage a few times due to Samuda's lack of blocking. Combined with holding penalties by Dion Sims and Michael Egnew that flushed away great runs by the former 'Canes back, Miller wound up looking horrible against the Texans.
I'm not going to dwell on Miller's terrible performance since a few great runs were negated by penalties, and the pass protection issues (which Miller did a decent job with) will go away when John Jerry or Lance Louis gets healthy and reclaims the right guard slot.
But one issue I will dwell on that will remain an issue with me is the decision-making of head coach Joe Philbin.
Here's the part of the piece where you head to the comment section and try to talk me into thinking that Philbin is the second coming of Shula.
He's not; he's more Andy Reid-ian—though that does have its perks to a point.
I blame Philbin 100 percent for Keller's devastating knee injury.
Maybe the first-team offense should've been on the field to gain a rhythm; however, Keller didn't need the reps—Egnew and Sims did.
Now I understand that this was a freak injury, and it could happen to anyone at any time during the game. I don't even think it was a dirty hit even though rookie safety D.J. Swearinger hit his knee directly with his helmet.
But there's the problem right there: Swearinger is a rookie fighting for a starting job with the Texans at safety. He's on the second team and hopes to get the call-up to the first team.
When you're in the situation Swearinger is in, you might be a little bit more aggressive than one would normally be. Add in the general rookie inexperience and you get plays like this.
It's unfortunate and a part of the game, but it shouldn't have happened. Keller had rhythm with Tannehill already, and the Dolphins have three more tight ends (not counting Charles Clay) who need the reps more.
Who gets the blame for this? Philbin, who wanted to get that extra touchdown and honestly felt he needed Keller on the field to accomplish that.
He didn't, but he learned that the hard way.
This isn't the first questionable decision from Philbin, and it won't be the last either. The knock I have with him is his decision-making and play-calling, which has haunted the Dolphins plenty of times and will continue to.
The decision-making likely cost Miami someone who was about to become its most consistent offensive weapon for the season.
In due time, it might cost Miami the game.
Let's hope that Michael Egnew proves himself worthy of that third-round pick. If not, things won't look so good for this offense—which means it won't look so good for this coaching staff.
After the third preseason game, are you optimistic or pessimistic about the Dolphins?
Honestly, this game was a mixed bag for me.
I felt great about Tannehill's performance as a whole and was pleasantly surprised by Daniel Thomas' performance as well.
The offensive line gave me some concern, but it's nice to know that John Jerry coming back will fix some of its problems.
The only thing that worries me is the poor decision-making by Coach Philbin. But the good news is that this team does have the talent, and the players look like they are starting to click.
Now if only the coaching staff can get out of its own way, things are looking up in Miami.
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