Game Review: Pre-season Week 1 @ New York Giants

Dolphins 27 (1-0)

Giants 10 (0-1)

damien TD
Damien Williams scores a touchdown late in the second quarter

I created a system to grade players via film study using statistics that I’ve either invented myself, borrowed from other football enthusiasts, or some combination of the two. I watched the game against the Giants just like most of you probably did -with a beer in my hand while donning my new Jarvis Landry jersey.

Then I sat down to watch the tape and chart my new stats. I will still reference them the best I can, but after two hours of doing this and only getting two drives for the offense and two for the defense done, I realized this isn’t a feasible practice for someone with a full time job that has nothing to do with football.

One such stat, that I’m proud to call my own, is wins when pressured (referring to the quarterback.) The system for wins is this:

1st down = gain five or more yards.

2nd down = cut the distance to the sticks in half (ex. if it’s second and eight, pick up four or more yards for a win.

3rd down = achieve a first down.

Ryan Tannehill’s four pass attempts included pressure on three of the drop backs and the Dolphins won zero of those plays.

The pressure came from the much maligned Dallas Thomas, but more alarmingly, from Branden Albert. These two combined for a train wreck of a night allowing Tannehill to get hit on three of his drop backs and hurried on the other. Ja’Wuan James chipped in with a hurry allowed on the play where Tannehill narrowly escaped a safety.

dallas thomas sucks
Trust me, Dallas, we’re just as tired of your crap play as you are.

The first teams were not good. There’s not a lot more to say than that. At least the defense had an excuse missing arguably the four most important players on the unit.

Regardless, tackling was poor, run filling from the linebackers was poor and nobody outright won their run defense match-ups in the trenches.

I charted Kiko Alonso missing two tackles on two attempts and having two failed run fills on defense.

Isa Abdul-Quddus had a terrible whiff on a  run blitz on the Rashad Jennings 19 yard rip on the opening drive. The four linebackers not named Alonso that saw early snaps all either had a missed tackle or poor run fits.

Despite the lengthy touchdown drive, there were a few individual bright spots. Terrance Fede acquitted himself against the run nicely registering a big run stuff five yards behind the line of scrimmage and setting the edge all night. He offers very little as a pass rusher but I could see him being a 60% snap eater if this defense transitions to a 3-4 as a five technique in the future.

Bobby McCain is a stud. I’m not entirely sure what happened with his conditioning test, but he was tested three times in coverage on these two drives nearly jumped one for a pick six, and had Ryan Nassib tallied at one completing on three attempts for five yards. If you include his three other coverage snaps on this drive, it puts him at less than a yard allowed per coverage snap.

pitts and hendy
Lafayette Pitts makes what will probably be the best play of the 2016 Miami Dolphins season. AJ Hendy cleaned it up.

I sincerely hope Jordan Phillips wins the nose tackle job over Earl Mitchell. He provides so much more as an early down pass rusher and will improve against the run as he refines his technique and learns to use his weight better. He has great hands but struggles at times keeping his anchor and it allows him to get taken off the ball in the run game. The Dolphins desperately need his position to eat up blockers because these linebackers aren’t good enough to diagnose, take on a block, disengage and make the tackle. Hell, there’s only a handful in the league that can do that and there certainly aren’t any guys in aqua jerseys playing at that level.

Walt Aikens and Michael Thomas alternated some safety duty early in the game and I found the alignment interesting as the team stayed in a base defense on a lot of 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end, three wide receivers.) Aikens would sub into the game for Koa Misi and Thomas would kick down into the slot to play the nickel. That job belongs to McCain, but it was nice to see the Memphis alum play well on the perimeter as well.

Thomas provides quality depth and is a special teams ace, but I feel awfully uncomfortable seeing him in man coverage. He got roasted by Sterling Shepard on that 24 yard catch on the first drive and looked lost while trying to locate the football. He looks more comfortable in zone where can read and react rather than using his raw physical skills.

The real standout from the first group, however, was Chris McCain. He registered two pressures on just six pass rush snaps in those first two series. He’s shaping up as a quality sub package rusher option off the edge and hopefully a long term solution for when Cameron Wake calls it a career. HIs pressure continued throughout the first half as he beat multiple left tackles for the Giants.

Matt Moore has robbed the Dolphins for half of a decade. Yeah, his 2011 run was entertaining, but his pre-season performances the last few years make me question his standing on this team. I understood it when he was a veteran presence for Tannehill, but that position doesn’t exist any more. The interception he threw was lazy quarterbacking. He had Leonte Carroo torching his man on weak side of the formation against a cover two and a good throw to the corner could’ve been a big play. Instead he threw it into a heavily occupied zone without even considering the coverage and it resulted in a huge turnover. His night got better, but it would be beneficial to this team if Brandon Doughty can seize the backup job and rid the big salary of Moore.

moore sacked
Matt Moore not exactly enjoying his 2016 cameo.

Then the defense comes on the field with 12 men on the field. Substitution packages and preparedness is something you keep an eye on in these games and there were certainly some rookie coaching moments from Adam Gase and his staff. Another gaffe was made later in the game burning a timeout on the first defensive play following a kickoff. Rookie mistakes apply to more than just the players.

Speaking more on Adam Gase, Dallas Thomas opened Sunday’s practice with the first team. Although Laremy Tunsil saw some of the first team reps, the fact that Thomas gets any is the first strike on the Gase regime. Jack Conklin is an immediate starter for the Titans. Ronnie Stanley is a plug and play guy for the Ravens and Germain Ifede is kicking inside to guard just like Tunsil and playing with the first team. There’s no reason he shouldn’t be out there.

Beyond the first two series, here’s a scope of the offense for the remainder of the game:

Tunsil had a good night. He sealed his man on the Damien Williams touchdown scamper and he portrays a wall in pass protection a lot as his man is often stonewalled immediately upon contact. I’m confident he’s going to be what we thought Jake Long would be. An all-pro level lineman for a lot of years. I’ve been on the bandwagon for playing him at left tackle and moving Branden Albert inside – but that’s not an option, I suppose.

But the star of the offense was Jakeem Grant. His ability to start and stop is ridiculous. He’s a decisive return man with elite speed, that’s a winning combination for that position. I love Juice (Landry), but he can get even more targets with Grant taking the return job. We knew he’d likely win the return man job, but he’s earning reps on offense.

On Grant’s perfectly executed screen play, Leonte Carroo held his block for the entirety of the play and was the spring board for the long run.

jakeem grant
The diminutive Jakeem Grant making plays.

The two rookie receivers are showing nicely. Carroo has a big frame and strong hands and an innate ability to wall off defenders.

Speaking of blocking, I originally thought this offensive line was going to have depth for the first time since I can remember. Kraig Urbik, Sam Young, Ulrick John, Anthony Steen, Rueben Carter all got their butts kicked a fair amount of snaps.

Jermon Bushrod is an ideal sixth lineman although he might be the favorite in the club house for the starting right guard job after Friday night. But it looks, once again, like this line is one injury away from a nightmare scenario.

Billy Turner played well at right guard but was a dumpster fire when moved out to tackle. His first snap he allowed his man to go untouched for a sack on Matt Moore.

Isiah Pead was shifty and powerful all night. When Jamil Douglass entered the game in the third quarter, Pead needed his elusiveness to make up for Douglass’ play. He should star in his own Disney on Ice special because he played the whole game on skates.

For me, Pead may have made the team but he absolutely made Daniel Thomas and Damien Williams expendable. Williams is still slow to press the hole and is always late to recognize cutback lanes. Daniel Thomas is… Daniel Thomas.

More offensive line problems continued as Ulrick John and Rueben Carter were often found discussing why their quarterback was under duress. Both will be gone by the first cut.

Thomas Duarte just got hit for a crack back block but I’m pretty sure he stumbled out of his stance and it happened by accident.

He does look like a potential match-up problem for defenses, though. He’s got some natural fluidity to his stride but he couldn’t be more raw. He’s a practice squad guy as far as my eyes can tell.

I would be remise if I didn’t mention the play of Brandon Doughty. I knocked his ability to go through progressions in the game preview but he looked smart and decisive on Friday.

He really drives the ball off that back foot and looked great when he had a clean pocket.

The defense was lights out after those first two series. Four turnovers, a red-zone stand, the defensive line was mostly dominant and the defensive backs played much better than I think most expected:

Bobby McCain’s ball skills are ridiculous. They were evident at Memphis, and they were on display on Friday. That leaping interception was textbook bump and run technique trailing the receiver’s hip pocket and locating the ball.

Brandon Harris had a good night. He had perfect coverage on that post corner from the slot in the end zone after the Moore INT. There are jobs to be won in the secondary.

The cornerbacks defused a lot of the heat they were getting. McCain was sensational, Tony Lippett had a quiet night (which is a good thing for corners) Lafayette Pitts made an all-pro play and looked good in coverage and Harris played well.

Lippett finally got tested and beat in the second quarter, but he does look comfortable in man coverage. His physical traits will translate well for this team.

Then there’s Lafayette Pitts. The ball is under thrown, but that pass was not getting completed regardless of where it’s located. Pitts got in the receiver’s hip pocket, located the ball while keeping his hand jockeying for position on the wideout, and then goes Richard Sherman tipping the football over to AJ Hendy who did a good job finishing the play and being around the football.

If this defensive line group wasn’t so loaded, Julius Warmsley would have a shot at making this team. Perhaps he can win that fourth defensive tackle job because he created pressure from that spot and got his opposition going backwards against the run often.

Walt Aikens played better closer to the line of scrimmage. This might be my mind wandering in pre-season form but I wonder what he would look like putting on 20 or so pounds and playing that Deone Buccanuon/ Mark Barron role. Not as an every down guy, but perhaps a sub package linebacker.

aikens
Walt Aikens improved upon his disastrous 2015 campaign.

As I’m writing this, he blitzes off the edge, makes a hustle sack and causes a fumble. He really shined in this game.

Jordan Phillips played a ton in that game and was a problem for the Giants all night. I’ll repeat myself from earlier, I really want to see him win that starting gig.

Neville Hewitt is not ready like I thought he was. He gets caught in the wash and winds up chasing more often than not. His coverage should find him on the 53, but his run defense leaves something to be desired.

He’s in competition with James Michael-Johnson. JMJ has a chance to make this club as the fourth linebacker. He worked downhill against the run more than any other reserve linebacker on the night.

Mike Hull threw his hat into the ring for backup linebacker work. Where JMJ seems to do his best in play diagnostics, Hull excels with his motor. When he gets it right, he’s a force of a run defender. I would not mind seeing him further developed and possibly stashed on the practice squad if we can keep him there.

The defensive line won far more than it lost. Chris Jones played throughout the entire night and has acquitted himself well. He and Julius Warmsley are likely competing for the same roster spot and I don’t want to cut either at this point.

DeAndre Coleman walked his man into the backfield right to where a failed exchange between the QB and RB happened and he falls on the ball on the fumble. Good play will get rewarded and this should be a coaching point in film.

I would like to see James Burgess get some second team reps. There appears to be some natural instincts there with some natural ability. He and fellow undrafted rookie Akil Blount intrigue me.

Despite Chris McCain’s pass rush prowess, he is a relief pitcher. No interest in playing the run, just wants to get up field. Potential weak side backer in the eventual switch to the 3-4?

Stars of the night:

Jakeem Grant – On one possession, he caught three passes on back-to-back-to-back third downs to move the sticks. He gets in and out of his breaks quickly, has a knack for finding the soft spot in coverage, and showed good hands.

Bobby McCain – An explosive ball hawk that can finish plays, McCain gets out of his backpedal quickly and closes even faster. His interception was a play we haven’t seen a Dolphins defensive back make in some time. Well, aside from Lafayette Pitts just a couple drives later.

Chris McCain – He will absolutely make this team and get rotational work. I see him spelling Mario Williams and hopefully coming in for exotic blitz packages on third downs.

Laremy Tunsil – I’ve read some mixed reviews on him for the game but I loved his game. He anchored in pass pro, opened a huge hole on the Williams touchdown run and never really got walked backwards.

Walt Aikens – He was all over the field, played in the box extremely well and wasn’t asked to cover deep. That’s not his game, playing downhill is.

Isiah Pead – He ran harder than anyone, shook a lot of tackles (including four missed tackles forced on one run) and has to be the front runner for the third tailback job.

Duds of the night:

Dallas Thomas – Walked into the quarterback on his first pass pro, dreadful run blocking, this guy is not only non-starter quality, he’s not roster worthy.

Branden Albert – The word is that he doesn’t give much effort in pre-season, but I hate that excuse. Block your guy and protect your quarterback.

Matt Moore – His decision making remains awful, his accuracy is shaky at best, I don’t see the reason for him on this roster.

Kiko Alonso – He was either out of position or in position to miss a tackle.

It’s just the first game of the pre-season so I’m not ready to anoint this team a champion or hit the panic button. There are positive signs with some of the young guys and plenty of things to improve on for the first team.

Up next, the Dallas Cowboys. Check back on Thursday for the game preview.

I will also live tweet the games @travis_writes.

You can also contact me via email at traviswingfield@yahoo.com

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2 Comments

Leave a Comment

  1. Great write up, insightful and very much appreciated. I don’t disagree with much but think Aitkens as a lb maybe a stretch, albeit totally agree he is so much better playing downhill. I had a different view on Duarte also, who I thought took his TD well, waiting for his blocker (caroo?) and then jinking inside – but that could be because of the dearth of TE play we saw and also he was up against scrubs..
    Thanks again and look forward to next weeks review bro.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for the kind words. Please feel free to drop comments as you please. I would love to interact with readers more.

    I hear ya about Aikens, just thinking outside the box as its a common preseason practice ;).

    I’m a fan of Duarte, but he’s as green as they come. I don’t think he’s rosterable yet. Practice squad then a contributor in 2017.

    Like

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