Arriving with a 2-0 preseason record, the Miami Dolphins arrived in Tampa Bay this weekend to face their long-time in-state sparring partner for yet another exhibition match-up.
The Dolphins got on the board first with a beautiful 60-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown by Brandon Marshall. The teams then traded field goals in the second quarter before the Buccaneers tied the game up at 10 with an Earnest Graham touchdown run before the half.
The Dolphins' first-team defense stayed on the field for much of the third quarter and shut the Buccaneers out, but Tampa Bay's defense matched them and held the Dolphins in check.
After adding a field goal in the fourth quarter to take a 13-10 lead, the Dolphins allowed a touchdown pass from Rudy Carpenter to former Dolphins practice-squad member Nathan Overbay.
The Dolphins will conclude their preseason schedule on Thursday at home against the Dallas Cowboys. Until then, here are my observations from the Dolphins' loss to the Buccaneers.
- I really liked how Chad Henne played in this game, especially when you consider how horrendous his offensive line was and how he was without the benefit of a productive running game. He had a great connection with Marshall deep and did a good job finding open receivers. I'm actually becoming more concerned about other aspects of the offense than quarterback, and it'd be nice if he could have a season where the line isn't holding him back.
- Matt Moore was a bit less sharp, but also didn't have the benefit of a running game or pass protection. He played the rest of the way after Henne, and it makes sense the Dolphins are giving their top two quarterbacks plenty of playing time after a lockout-shortened offseason.
- Aside from a nice nine-yard run, Daniel Thomas and the Dolphins' backs had absolutely nowhere to go in this one. Reggie Bush was consistently stuffed and the Buccaneers' defense line completely dominated in this one. Larry Johnson didn't play much but looked to be in good shape on his three touches.
- Lousaka Polite was stuffed on his lone short-yardage carry, which is something he's done so well over the past few years. Charles Clay was out with an injury, but Polite didn't take advantage and I noticed the Dolphins going without a fullback and instead motioning a tight end into the backfield multiple times. Some fans might not believe it, but I'm telling you, Polite is squarely on the roster bubble.
- Brandon Marshall's 60-yard touchdown epitomized what makes him such a good receiver. He made a great play on the ball, did a nice job staying in bounds and cutting in at the right time, and his stiff-arm to break him for a touchdown was absolutely beastly. Anthony Fasano also had a nice game receiving, as the other starting receivers were pretty absent.
- Marlon Moore made a few good catches, but I find it hard to put much stock into it. I still view him as the odd man out on the roster, and a few wide-open catches against the Buccaneers' backups realistically won't save him as much as Dolphins fans would think.
- Jake Long dressed but did not play in this one, and Lydon Murtha noticeably struggled again. He was not alone, however, as essentially none of the starting offensive lineman had good games. I noted poor individual plays for every single one of them, and it's a wonder Henne was able to do as well as he did. This unit is starting to be a big concern heading into the regular season, and it's quite problematic that only two of the spots (left tackle and center) currently have youth and long-term solutions.
- The Dolphins didn't get much of a pass rush in this one, but I did like the way Jared Odrick played. He did a good job of penetrating the offensive line and putting pressure on Josh Freeman. He actually picked his own man on one play where Cameron Wake nearly had a sack, but it was just a fluke play.
- Aside from a few good runs, I thought the Dolphins' defensive line did a fairly nice job against the run (excluding defending the quarterback scrambling). Kendall Langford held up well at the point of attack and the team handled a powerful back like LeGarrette Blount pretty well. Ryan Baker had a nice game despite playing only in the second half, and I'm wondering if he could sneak onto the roster if the team trades or cuts Phillip Merling.
- As I said before, the Dolphins were unable to generate much pass rush and didn't take down a Buccaneers quarterback once all game. Wake was the only guy getting consistent pressure on Freeman, but the quarterback did a nice job of moving around in the pocket and taking off when he needed to. On the positive side, Koa Misi made a few very nice plays in coverage including one deflection that should have been intercepted by the cornerback.
- Kevin Burnett led the team with six tackles, but I thought he had a bit of a rough game. Of course, it's not his job to chase Freeman all over the field, and the Buccaneers did a pretty good job of clearing out space for Freeman to run or dump off the pass to the back.
- The Dolphins' secondary did a nice job against the Buccaneers' receivers, but they flashed back a little to last season and failed to capitalize on what should have been interceptions to Yeremiah Bell and Vontae Davis. While solid in coverage, Sean Smith had a fairly embarrassing play at one point, getting turned around by Blount in pursuit and then completely whiffing on the punch-out attempt.
- I didn't see anyone stand out in the free safety battle, but I just have to say that I'm growing a bit tired of Chris Clemons delivering a solid hit after a catch and run. He's physical and can lay a lick on someone, but I rarely see him back a play before the pass is completed. Reshad Jones started this one, and you have to wonder if it's worth playing the guy with more upside in Jones.
- Dan Carpenter nailed his two field-goal attempts, including a 47-yarder that had plenty of room to spare. Not to be outdone, punter Brandon Fields was his usual self, averaging 51.3 yards on three punts, including a booming 69-yarder that was downed inside the 10-yard line.
- The Dolphins didn't have any kickoff returns thanks to the NFL's ridiculous new rule, and Phillip Livas failed to stand out on six punt returns, averaging just six yards with a high of 12. Livas hasn't done anything his his punt return touchdown in the opener against Atlanta, and I have a really hard time seeing him making the team.
- It's hard to spot the standouts on special teams, but Nolan Carroll had a nice recovery and tackle on a punt, and Jason Trusnik impressed me multiple times with two nice tackles.
Everyone knows the final score of a preseason game doesn't matter, but how the team (and in particular, the starters) plays does mean something, and I can't say that I'm feeling all that good about the Dolphins right now.
The starting offensive line should be significantly better once Long returns, but the rest of the unit will remain a concern and I'm very concerned about that oversized, slow and plodding right side made up of veterans Vernon Carey and Marc Colombo.
I don't like the athleticism I've seen from either and I think there could be a lot of pass protection issues over there, which in turn could kill the Dolphins' offense this season.
The defense held up well enough against the run, but two things really concerned me. First were the lack of a pass rush and getting to the quarterback. Wake got some good pressure and a lot of Freeman's throws were a bit off-target because of the rush, but I'd really like to see more sacks (and thus more turnovers).
Secondly, the Dolphins' coverage of the quarterback scramble and defending dump-off passes were extremely weak. Miami didn't do a good job pursuing the ball-carriers and they gave up way too many yards to Freeman on the ground and Blount after the catch.
As for the offense, I'm liking what I see from Henne and I feel he could get this team to the playoffs if he has a solid year and gets help, but the offensive line could really be a problem this year and they could end up getting Henne (and Tony Sparano) run out of town.
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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.