Dallas Cowboys vs. Miami Dolphins: Dolphins Preseason Week 3 Game Preview
The Miami Dolphins are 1-1 this preseason, an uneven stretch where they continue to show progress in some aspects while showing regression in others.
Miami's receivers are showing themselves to be a deep unit where painful cuts will be made. As many as seven different Dolphins receivers deserve to be on the final 53-man roster, yet Miami will have to make some tough decisions.
On defense, the Dolphins continue to have major problems at linebacker, where Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler continue to fail to play up to their big contracts. Rookies Jordan Tripp and Chris McCain have shown themselves to be good for the future but are not ready now.
Miami's pass protection has shown itself to be good, but its run blocking is positively woeful. The team's running backs seem to either not see any holes to run through or actually don't have any holes to hit.
In Dallas, where the Cowboys are 0-2 this preseason, the picture looks worse. Dallas' defense looks like it will be one of the bottom-five units in the league, while its offense still seems to rely entirely on quarterback Tony Romo, tight end Jason Witten and wideout Dez Bryant. Dallas' offensive line looks slightly better than last season, but not by much.
The two teams meet in Miami on Saturday in the hopes of fixing their issues in what's essentially the unofficial tuneup to the regular season. Expect the first units of both teams to get plenty of time on the field.
Miami Dolphins Preseason Week 2 Recap
The Dolphins defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20-14 last week in a game that saw Miami's first team play very unevenly.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill started off the day sharp, but toward the end of his run he started making a few bad decisions in trying to force throws up and down the field. Mike Wallace was targeted three times and recorded zero catches, with one non-catch coming on a screen play designed for him that bounced off his jersey.
Miami's offensive line performed well in pass protection with the exception of Dallas Thomas, who was graded out for the game at minus-9.6 per Pro Football Focus. Thomas allowed Gerald McCoy to have free rein in Miami's backfield, which led to McCoy finishing his night with a sack and forced fumble.
Miami's defense didn't particularly play well, save for Chris McCain and Will Davis, as the Buccaneers' inability to score (especially the first team) was more due to Tampa Bay's own incompetence on offense than Miami's competence on defense.
Miami's receivers did play well in the game, with Damian Williams and Rishard Matthews leading the way with three catches each. Matthews would add a touchdown during the game, courtesy of a Matt Moore-led two-minute offense at the end of the first half.
News and Notes
Davis Has Possibly Earned the Nickleback Job
Adam H. Beasley of the Miami Herald reports that Will Davis is the front-runner to land the nickleback position.
Per Beasley: "He has been steadier in practice this year and has done enough in the minds of coaches to move past Jamar Taylor for the nickel corner job—at least for the time being."
Davis has impressed the Dolphins throughout training camp and the preseason, as he's not getting beat on plays as often as he was last season. In fact, it's been the opposite, as Pro Football Focus has Davis thus far graded at 5.6 for the preseason, which is the highest among cornerbacks.
Clay "Optimistic" About Return
Charles Clay has struggled with a knee injury throughout the preseason, but according to James Walker of ESPN.com, the tight end is optimistic about his return.
Clay and the Dolphins won't decide if he will return Saturday night against the Cowboys until later on Friday. However, he has practiced in full all week, and Clay told Walker that he does feel ready, saying:
I feel good. It felt good to get back out there and get the timing and things back down with the quarterbacks. Mentally, I’ve been getting myself prepared. But just being able to get out there and physically being able to run through everything is a good feeling.
Clay is integral to the Dolphins offense this year, specifically with his pass-catching abilities. It would be nice to see him work with the offense against the Cowboys on Saturday, but his overall health should be the most important consideration.
Daniel Thomas, Caleb Sturgis on the Hot Seat
Hal Habib of The Palm Beach Post wrote early Friday that running back Daniel Thomas and kicker Caleb Sturgis are possibly in danger of being released by the Dolphins if they don't turn things around.
On Sturgis, Habib wrote:
Nobody thought much a couple of weeks ago when the Dolphins signed Danny Hrapmann. Just a body to kick in one exhibition while Sturgis’ groin heals, we thought. But then, a week later, Miami dropped Hrapmann and brought in John Potter, who made kicks from 48 and 51 yards last week. Package that with the fact Sturgis started off sizzling as a rookie last year before cooling off (for an overall so-so season), and that this is his second straight camp with groin issues, and you’d be naive to think that Sturgis still has this thing locked up. I suspect coach Joe Philbin would not mind if the offense stalls around the 30- or 35-yard line against Dallas just to give Potter another look from distance under pressure.
Meanwhile, Habib had this to say about Thomas:
[Thomas] Has a career 3.6 average. A power back who has averaged 2 1/2 touchdown runs per season. And he has missed considerable time this camp due to injury. Thomas seems like the kind of player who makes coaches say, “We know what he can do” when they really mean, “We also know what he can’t do.” He’s not bad; he’s not great. If the Dolphins keep only three backs, I can see Lamar Miller and Knowshon Moreno being backed up by free agent Damien Williams, who’s comparable to Thomas but could offer more promise down the road.
The situations between the two are different. Sturgis is only in his second year and started off his rookie year well. However, this is the second straight preseason dealing with a groin injury, as Habib notes, which should lead to some questions about his offseason conditioning. The battle between him and Potter should continue through the fourth preseason game against the Rams.
As for Thomas, he is what he is—which sadly for him is mediocre. I believed that the Dolphins should've released him last year after training camp, as he has consistently underperformed.
With Damien Williams doing well, this should give the Dolphins some incentive to release Thomas, who isn't particularly needed if they have a healthy Knowshon Moreno (who has had knee issues this preseason).
X-Factor and Matchups to Watch
Brent Grimes vs. Dez Bryant
Brent Grimes will be forced to cover some of the best wide receivers in football this regular season.
Dez Bryant isn't one of those receivers (as the two clubs don't meet after the preseason); however he will provide a great test.
With this being a dress rehearsal, expect both players to be on the field for quite a while, and expect Romo to throw some passes Bryant's way.
Dolphins Defensive Line vs. Cowboys Offensive Line
This is the type of game Miami's defensive line should shine in. The Cowboys offensive line is improved from last season; however there are still some issues.
Can Miami stop the run? Can it get the requisite pressure on Romo?
Dolphins Offensive Line vs. Cowboys Defensive Line
Last season, these two units were among the worst in football. Miami had the worst offensive line in the NFL, while the Cowboys defensive line wasn't very good.
The Dolphins have worked to make improvements up front on offense, and so far the results have been mixed. The pass protection is there, but the run blocking is very suspect.
For the Cowboys, the defensive line has only gotten worse, thanks to the loss of DeMarcus Ware. It's a work in progress, and the situation isn't likely to change come 2015.
Dolphins X-Factor of the Game: Dion Jordan
I expect a lot of Dion Jordan in this game, as he will be working as both a linebacker covering Witten and as a defensive end. How disruptive will he be? Can he cover Witten well and be the answer to Miami's issues covering tight ends?
That should be revealed Saturday night, at least partially.
The Dolphins will actually be preparing for the Cowboys the same way they'd prepare for a regular-season game.
Expect the offense to utilize Wallace and Miller on screen passes more, as well as running back Marcus Thigpen, a player also likely fighting for his roster spot.
Tannehill will also go deep to Wallace plenty of times on Saturday night as the two players attempt to build a rhythm together.
On defense, Miami's pass defense will get a major workout. The blitz packages won't be too exotic, but they will get players in the backfield.
In the end, this should be a fairly high-scoring game, and even though it doesn't really count, the edge will go to Miami due to its defense.
Dolphins 31, Cowboys 27
Game grades provided by Pro Football Focus (subscription required).