You know how the saying goes, “it’s not how you start, its how you finish.” Well, the opposite is true in the preseason. Tonight may have been a success for many of the Dolphins’ roster fringe players, but how the starting offense and defense plays is always the measuring stick in these exhibitions.
And the play of the Dolphins’ first-team offense and defense was nothing short of embarrassing in the first quarter. What is essentially Chad Henne’s final stand got off to a nightmare start. The worst-case scenario played itself out as Henne was intercepted on his very first pass.
Now, Henne probably should have taken a bit of velocity off of it, but the ball hit Anthony Fasano square in the hands. Fasano failed to make the grab, instead popping it up for an easy interception.
Henne’s second interception, however, was as ugly as it gets. Sparano hinted after the game that Davone Bess ran the wrong route, but that doesn’t change the fact that Henne stared him down the whole way and tried to force the ball into double coverage.
Kudos to the coaching staff for sticking with Henne, though. His confidence was obviously shaken. He needed to go out on a positive note. He did just that, hooking up with Daniel Thomas for a 25-yard checkdown and hitting Brian Hartline with a 44-yard touchdown strike with his final two passes.
Was it against a second-team defense? Yes, but it was about as important of a drive as you can have in the preseason. It could have prevented Henne’s confidence from falling out and the backlash would have been much, much worse if he didn’t end things properly.
It likely won’t prevent many fans from calling for Matt Moore to take over starting duties, though. Moore was very solid tonight, completing 11 of 18 passes for 123 yards while connecting with Roberto Wallace and rookie Clyde Gates for scores. He did throw a pick by taking a shot downfield, but those are the types of turnovers, essentially punts, that you can live with.
I still think this is Chad Henne’s job to lose, but if tonight was a sign of things to come, Matt Moore will eventually get the opportunity to take over. It’s certainly not an excuse, but for now, let’s hold off on counting Henne out until we see him play with Brandon Marshall, Reggie Bush, and Jake Long, all of who were inactive tonight.
Henne’s shaky play was far from the only concern tonight. What is supposed to be a sure-fire top five defense this season hardly looked the part on the game’s second drive. The Dolphins’ defensive line was seemingly blown off the line of scrimmage, forfeiting huge holes for Michael Turner to work with.
Julio Jones also had his way with the Dolphins’ secondary, reeling in two grabs for 43 yards and contributing a 12-yard end around. Its way too early to get bent out of shape about one drive, though (The Falcons’ second touchdown drive came against the Dolphins’ second-team defense).
This defense is far too talented to overreact to one drive in the first game of the preseason. Did they look unprepared? Well, yes. Sparano even admitted as much earlier in the week, conceding that there would be no game planning for the Falcons.
But there is still four weeks until the Patriots come to town. If these struggles continue for the duration of the preseason, maybe it’ll be time to start losing sleep. Until then, back away from the ledge. Several young, promising players would’ve had to fall off for this defense to significantly regress.
What you should worry about, though, was the play of the interior offensive line tonight. Rookie Daniel Thomas totaled a whopping five yards on four carries, with zero push to work with. It’s still early, of course, and the line could improve with time if Sparano avoids playing musical chairs this preseason, but they appear miles away from restoring the Dolphins’ running game as one of the league’s better attacks.
It doesn’t matter who is lining up in the backfield, if the line isn’t going to open any holes, the running game isn’t going to be something Henne can rely on this season. Reggie Bush eventually joining the mix isn’t going to change that.
But enough about the starters, several roster bubble players made some strong impressions tonight. Safety Jimmy Wilson only confirmed what we’ve been hearing from practice, flying to the football all game and getting in on a sack/forced fumble in the second quarter.
A.J. Edds also gravitated to the ball, registering a game-high seven tackles, getting in on a sack himself, and flashing some of the coverage ability everyone seems so high on him about.
Vince Agnew made the game-sealing interception deep inside Dolphins’ territory and Benny Sapp all but won himself the nickel corner spot with a great jump and pick in the first half.
Turning our attention to the offense, the receivers stole the show. Roberto Wallace looks like a 53-man roster lock after his three catch, 60-yard, and one touchdown performance. Clyde Gates didn’t impress in the return game, but he made his mark at receiver, catching two balls, one for a 17-yard touchdown.
And how about Phillip Livas? The undrafted rookie out of Louisiana Tech was explosive in the return game, nearly breaking a couple kick returns before taking a punt back to the house for an electrifying 75-yard score. If Livas continues to be a threat on special-teams, the Dolphins are going to find a spot for him. They may have to keep six receivers to do so, but if you make plays, you’ll make the team.
All in all, tonight wasn’t exactly a success. The Dolphins come out of tonight’s win with more questions than they entered the game with.
Anytime you survive one of these exhibitions with no significant injuries, though, it’s a successful night to some degree. Injuries can carry over to the regular season. Wins, losses, and what meets the eye doesn’t.
Complete box score
Game ball: Matt Moore, 11/18, 123 yards, 2 TD's, 1 INT