Only their second win in as many preseason games this year, the Miami Dolphins' victory over the Carolina Panthers last night was much more encouraging than their narrow win over the Falcons in the opener.
The Dolphins' first-team defense rarely saw the field, as the offensive starters moved the ball up and down against the Panthers' defense with relative ease. The Dolphins had nine plays of over 15 yards in the first half—impressive regardless of the opponent.
Running back Lex Hilliard punched the ball in for the Dolphins' first score, which was followed by a Dan Carpenter field goal and Daniel Thomas touchdown run as Miami took a 17-0 lead into the half.
Another Carpenter field goal pushed the lead to 20-0, and the Panthers scored 10 points in the fourth quarter to save a bit of face.
Now 2-0 in the preseason, the Dolphins will visit annual preseason opponent Tampa Bay next Saturday, August 27. Until then, here are my observations from the Dolphins' win over the Panthers.
- Chad Henne needed a strong performance after an ugly stat line last week and the pressure from the fans mounting. I'd say he responded in this one. Aside from a few overthrows, Henne was on point, leading the offense up the field, finding open receivers, converting long third downs, and making accurate throws. He also had a few big runs and made some nice throws after eluding pressure. It's going to take a lot more consistency to to appease the doubters, but this should quiet the talk of Matt Moore starting for at least a week.
- Speaking of Moore, he held his own and made a few nice throws. He had a pretty bad fumble, but he performed well and looks to be a suitable backup. Neither of the other two quarterbacks played, as the Dolphins gave their top two a half each to prepare for the season.
- Reggie Bush was the big story of the day, racking up 48 yards rushing on eight carries and catching two passes for 33 yards in less than a half of football. He looked strong, quick and elusive and was utilized well by offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. And while he did a good job of it yesterday, I still don't expect Bush to see many carries between the tackles.
- Thomas and Hilliard also had their nice runs and fared much better with improved blocking this week. Thomas ran hard and with good leverage inside, improving as the game went on. He learned a hard lesson early in the game that you can't jump over the pile and into the end zone from the four-yard line in the NFL, but that's not a long-term concern.
- I've said for a while that Lousaka Polite is on the roster bubble due to a number of circumstances, and while he didn't perform badly yesterday, rookie Charles Clay was impressive as well and was mixed in throughout the first half with the starters. That alone says how much of a threat Clay is to Polite's status.
- Brandon Marshall was a target machine for the Dolphins and for the most part did a nice job. Fans probably got onto Henne for an errant throw to Marshall on a slant on third down, but from the replays it looks like Marshall stutter-stepped too much and wasn't quick enough getting off the defensive back, which he needs to do. The ball was where Marshall should have been. Davone Bess was his reliable self and did a nice job getting open, while both Brian Hartline and Clyde Gates burned guys deep, only to be overthrown by Henne.
- Square on the roster bubble, Marlon Moore had a really nice grab on a low-thrown ball by Moore, but immediately followed that up with a terrible drop on a deep ball. That's not going to help him beat out Roberto Wallace, who is the clear favorite for the No. 5 (and possibly final) receiver spot.
- Anthony Fasano had another drop, but at least this one didn't end up in the hands of a defender. Mickey Shuler, who I consider the favorite to back up Fasano this season, did not play, while Dedrick Epps and Jeron Mastrud played heavily. This situation is a mess and the waiver wire will surely be scoured after final cuts.
- The offensive line held up pretty well aside from a few hiccups, and they were still missing Jake Long. His replacement, Lydon Murtha, committed three penalties and struggled in pass protection, but he's likely to be relegated to the bench. The interior line, including Mike Pouncey, more than held their own and did a good job blocking for the run.
- It didn't seem like the Dolphins' defense had to play much with the offense controlling the ball in the first half, but when they did play, they certainly held their own. The defensive line did a much better job than they did in the opener and really allowed the linebackers to make plays.
- Cameron Wake got some nice pressure on Cam Newton and Jason Taylor got in on the action as well, but there still wasn't much of a pass rush from the first-team defense. I'd really like to see more from this unit, as there is no way this team will get by during the regular season if they can't bring down the quarterback.
- The Dolphins' starting inside linebackers both excelled, as Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett racked up a team-leading four tackles each. Burnett was as advertised, showing great quickness and block-shedding ability. Top reserve A. J. Edds had his second consecutive good game, and newly signed Marvin Mitchell got in on the action as well.
- There's nothing bad you can say about Vontae Davis and Sean Smith, who held the Panthers' starting receivers to 11 yards total. Of course, the opposing talent was pretty weak and they were facing a rookie quarterback, so it has to be kept in perspective.
- It's disappointing to see Will Allen inactive due to injury once again, and the odds of him making the final roster are dwindling by the day.
- I didn't see any progress in the free safety battle, although Chris Clemons played more early and he's likely to open the season as starter.
- He was never going to make the team anyway, but CFL import strong safety Mark Restelli didn't help himself with a dropped interception right in his hands. Those fringe guys can't afford any negative plays.
- Dan Carpenter converted both field goal attempts in this one after missing in the season opener and looks to be on track for the season. Brandon Fields dropped two punts inside the 20, and would have had another if Roberto Wallace had been able to down it.
- No one really stood out in the return game, but Phillip Livas was a bit outperformed by Clyde Gates. An undrafted rookie, Livas needs a big preseason the rest of the way despite his punt return touchdown in the opener, because it will be hard to convince the Dolphins to use a roster spot on a pure return specialist.
Everything has to be kept in perspective in this one, because it was the preseason and it was against the league's worst team in 2010—a team that probably hasn't improved much at all. That being said, it was still nice to see the first-team units play quality football for a half.
It was nice to see Henne have a good game, even if he did miss on a few deep balls. He's clearly the starter entering the 2011 season and reportedly had a new fire in practice in the week leading up to this game, so it'd be nice if he could turn the corner and really take control of the offense.
There's very little to complain about with the first-team defense, as they didn't allow the Panthers to do much of anything and no points were even scored until garbage time when the starters were out. The two issues I still have are the lack of big plays (no fumbles forced, no interceptions) and the lack of a pass rush. Those things won't fly in the regular season, regardless of how good the front seven may be against the run and in coverage.
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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.