Dolphins vs. Falcons: Game Observations

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Dolphins vs. Falcons: Game Observations
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The Miami Dolphins had their first post-lockout game action Friday night, defeating the Atlanta Falcons 28-23 in the preseason opener.

Two Chad Henne interceptions, coupled with 17 unanswered points by the Falcons in the first quarter, put the Dolphins in a big hole before Henne connected with Brian Hartline and Matt Moore with Roberto Wallace as the Dolphins pulled within three before the half.

The Falcons added a Matt Bryant field goal in the third quarter, but the Dolphins answered with a touchdown pass from Moore to rookie Clyde Gates to give Miami a 21-20 lead entering the final quarter.

Undrafted rookie Phillip Livas made the biggest play of the day with a 75-yard punt returned for a touchdown, and a late Falcons field goal was not enough after the Dolphins won the game.

The Dolphins will face the Carolina Panthers on Friday, August 19 in the second week of the preseason. Until then, here are my observations from the Dolphins' win over the Falcons.


Offense

  • It figures that, with all the scrutiny Chad Henne is under right now, his first pass of the preseason would be intercepted. Obviously, this was not his fault as it bounced off Anthony Fasano's hands. His second interception split the blame between Henne and Davone Bess, who weren't on the same page on an option route. He recovered nicely on his final drive, with a big run for a first down and a nice long touchdown pass to Brian Hartline.
  • Kevin O'Connell didn't get to throw a pass, but he did have a seriously nice run on a play that was called back. Pat Devlin didn't impress anyone either, and this battle is probably going to be won in practice.
  • Matt Moore certainly held his own as well, showing good poise and decision-making for the most part. It's important to remember that he played well into the third quarter against the Falcons' third-stringers. Fans that hate Henne won't want to hear it, but as of now I simply don't see Moore beating out Henne for the job. A bad first month in the regular season could certainly change things, however.
  • The Dolphins' running backs had nowhere to go because of poor offensive line play the entire game. Daniel Thomas had a great catch and run, but Kory Sheets and Nic Grigsby really struggled. I honestly don't see either making the team, and Grigsby just doesn't look like an NFL back.
  • Despite a bad drop, Roberto Wallace did a nice job led the team in receiving and hauled in a nice touchdown pass. Clyde Gates also looked good on his few passes, but no one really stood out otherwise. I have to imagine Wallace has the edge on the fifth receiver job, with Marlon Moore and the rest getting the axe.
  • Dedrick Epps was one of two tight ends to catch a pass, but nobody looked particularly impressive at the position, and the blocking wasn't there either. This "battle" is one of the more pathetic ones on the team, and I imagine the Dolphins will be scouring the waiver wire in September.
  • I have very little good to say about the offensive line. The pass protection got progressively worse as the game wore on with the backups, and the run blocking was nonexistent throughout the game. I'm pretty concerned about the Dolphins' aging right side of Vernon Carey and Marc Colombo.


Defense

  • It's early, the but Dolphins' first-team defensive line got handled in a way I wouldn't have expected, allowing Falcons' running backs Michael Turner and Jason Snelling to walk all over them. Guys like Jared Odrick had a few individual nice plays, but overall the group didn't do its job of clogging the line all that well.
  • The first-team linebackers struggled against the run as well, and it wasn't until A. J. Edds began playing that someone stood out. Edds notched a sack on John Parker Wilson and racked up a team-high six tackles, looking fully recovered from the torn ACL that wiped out his rookie season.
  • The Dolphins' pass rush was nonexistent early on as Matt Ryan did a good job of releasing the ball. Jason Trusnik recorded a sack against the backups, and Quinton Spears had some nice pressure late on the final defensive play of the game.
  • Julio Jones made the Dolphins' secondary look silly early on, and Nate Ness and Tyrone Culver were out-muscled badly on Harry Douglas' touchdown grab. Benny Sapp didn't have a terrible game and tightened his grip on the nickel job with Will Allen missing so much practice lately. Vince Agnew had a nice pick to seal the game, but that's not really going to get him on the roster.
  • Not much movement was made on the free safety battle, with neither Chris Clemons nor Reshad Jones playing particularly well. Both guys were around the ball a lot, but not close enough to make so many plays. Clemons had a vicious hit on the quarterback that knocked him out of the game, but aside from that was unspectacular.
  • Seventh-round cornerback Jimmy Wilson was probably the star of the day on defense, racking up five tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. His one negative play I saw was where he missed the ball carrier and instead took out Ikaika Alama-Francis in his pursuit. But overall, Wilson's performance was encouraging and I expect him more than ever to make this team.


Special Teams

  • Dan Carpenter missed his lone field goal attempt, but it's no cause for concern. Team MVP Brandon Fields was his usual self and did a nice job punting. Good thing, because the Dolphins will need him this season.
  • Phillip Livas stood head and shoulders about fellow returners Clyde Gates and Kory Sheets in this one, averaging 28 yards on three kickoff returns and taking a punt back 75 yards for a touchdown. The issue with Livas is that he's a diminutive 5'7", so he's not yet a contributor elsewhere. He'll need to show consistently good return skills this preseason to warrant a return specialist spot on the roster.


Conclusion

It's important not to overreact in the first game of the preseason after an offseason shortened by the lockout. However, it's certainly not a good feeling that neither the first-team offense nor defense did anything that we can really be happy about. I'm sure the team kept things simple, and what we saw Friday is not necessarily what we can expect in the regular season (especially on defense), but there wasn't anything encouraging from this game.

There were positive performances from young guys like A. J. Edds and Jimmy Wilson, but overall things were concerning. The offensive line in particular was bad throughout the game, and that's something that will doom this team if it doesn't get better.

Fans that want to see more of Matt Moore will have to do so in the preseason, because the reality is that Henne's brief stat line from this game wasn't as bad as he played and he's been outplaying Moore in practice. Like it or not, Tony Sparano is going to sink or swim with Henne in 2011.


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Chris J. Nelson majored in journalism at Georgia State University and currently works for Turner Sports in Atlanta. He operates his own Miami Dolphins website, The Miami Dolphins Spotlight, and he can be followed on Twitter here.

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