Game Review: Pre-season Week 2 @ Cowboys

Dolphins 14 (1-1)

Cowboys 41 (1-1)

dak prescott
Dak Prescott uses the Dolphins defense as his springboard to stardom.

That was difficult to stomach. That queasy, unwelcomed feeling of watching this team fall helplessly off the rails reared its ugly head once more as Miami were completely undone by the Cowboys. There are inevitable mistakes that will occur in the pre-season. Missed assignments, blown coverages, penalties, substitution issues – these are the things most teams iron out of through the course of August and early September.

Missed tackles, poor communication, whiffed blocks, dropped passes, perhaps these can be chalked up as a bad night but they are concerns that need to be nipped in the bud before the team travels to Seattle on the fifteenth anniversary of 9/11.

Amidst the chaos of a blowout victory, there were bright spots. Few and far between, but bright spots, nonetheless. It’s often said that this team’s chance at any sort of contention for meaningful December football hinges on the quarterback. And, to that note, Ryan Tannehill played nearly a perfect game in his return to his home state.

We’ll get to the numbers in a moment but this more than just a numbers blog. We review the tape religiously here at Perfectville. After sadistically studying each drop back of the Dolphins quarterback four or five times, I came away thinking this is a different player.

Throughout OTA’s and training camp, Adam Gase has preached the importance of footwork and ability to throw under the face of pressure. Standing in and delivering a strike while taking a shot is nothing new for Tannehill, but the footwork on Friday showed an added element to his game. Absorbing pressure, finding a lane in the pocket, resetting and squaring the shoulders and getting rid of the football is something we haven’t seen before with him.

He seems to take his leadership role more seriously in 2016 as well. While the other starters dressed down, ate sun-flower seeds and laughed it up on the bench, Tannehill stayed in uniform next to Coach Gase and worked alongside him getting the calls into the other quarterbacks. He also sprinted into the frame to get Brandon Doughty’s arm ready when Matt Moore was knocked out of the game.

Cam Newton and Russell Wilson both threw touchdowns at a rate just about 7% of their throws in 2015 (top two in the league.) Tannehill threw touchdowns on 10% of his throws on Friday.

Throwing interceptions on less than 2% of a quarterback’s passes will put him in the top ten in the league in interception efficiency and throwing at more than eight yards a clip also puts a passer in the upper-echelon. Obviously, he didn’t turn it over and he averaged 8.1 yards per throw. Without getting too far into hypotheticals, I’ll just say the Dolphins receivers dropped four balls on Friday, including two in the end-zone.

Miami Dolphins v Dallas Cowboys
Ryan Tannehill may have to play all 22 positions to satisfy Dolphins fans in 2016.

This team is going to have its list of problems this year, but the quarterback is nowhere near the top.

The other big star of the first team is a player that is said to have developed a tremendous level of cohesion and chemistry with Tannehill, Kenny Stills. On the long pass play, Stills timed his break to the flag perfectly with Tannehill’s escape to the right and caught the pass in stride.

Showing his versatility as more than just a burner, the second of two touchdowns displayed an understanding of body positioning and putting himself between the pass and the defender.

Coach Gase went as far as to say he wanted to bring Kenny Stills to Chicago when he was the offensive coordinator in the Windy City. Look out for Stills in your fantasy league drafts in the coming weeks.

Laremy Tunsil was the third standout of the first team offense. I often fall victim to hyperbole and I fear the following statement would fall into that category – but Tunsil is the best lineman on this team. He was pulling, trapping, he hit a perfect wham block, showed a strong anchor in pass pro and executed at a quality starter level. I do worry about the fact that the staff thought Dallas Thomas might be a better option although I’m more inclined to believe it was about setting a precedent by making the rookie earn his stripes – and he has.

The rest of the offense put forth its best effort to overshadow the play of Tannehill and Stills and it did, to a point.

Ja’Wuan James was a disaster in the run game consistently allowing defenders to cross his face and knife into the backfield for a stop.

Mike Pouncey is the most over-rated player on this club. As I write this, we’re getting reports that a hip injury might hold him out of the opener in Seattle but the way he played on Friday might mean that’s not a terrible thing. He was consistently blown off the football and rarely got to the second level.

His replacement is either going to be Anthony Steen or Kraig Urbik. Steen saw most of his action at guard in this game but played a lot of center in the opener. My note for Steen in this game was, “more often than not, when the Dolphins get stuffed in the backfield, you’ll see Steen climbing out from under the pile.”

Urbik was the best of a bad bunch again on Friday. Steen, Ulrick John, Jamil Douglas, Sam Young and Dallas Thomas are a pretty lousy group of linemen. Urbik was the only member of that group that had any semblance of winning football throughout the second half. He should get the first crack on Thursday against the Falcons, as that instantly becomes the position to watch in game three and four of the pre-season.

Jermon Bushrod cannot run block. He and James were atrocious on the right side and then Billy Turner checks in and dominates in the ground game but can’t hold his own in pass pro. He has an aggressive initial punch but gets lazy with poor technique and lets his man get around him. Can we morph Bushrod and Turner into one player?

Jordan Cameron is a potential surprise cut. I’m not sure what he offers to this team. On the dropped touchdown, Tannehill does a terrific job of identifying man coverage with a big size mismatch, puts the ball on the wide open Cameron’s face mask and he drops it. He’s not a willing blocker, he runs sloppy routes and has questionable hands.

Dominque Jones earned some first team reps displaying a good understanding for soft spots underneath the safeties and behind the linebackers.

Jarvis Landry is my favorite Dolphin, but he frustrated me in this game. I know he received a cheap shot from the Dallas defender, and it was nice to see his teammates come to his aid, but it seems like he’s stirring up problems every possession. Just go back to the huddle, Juice. His drops are becoming a concern, too. Two touchdowns dropped and a third drop on a second quarter throw from Tannehill.

ken stills
The first of Stills’ two touchdowns showcases his plethora of skills.

I am, however, a fan of the quick hitters to DeVante Parker or Stills to the side of the formation that Landry is on. He’s an aggressive blocker and can spring those guys for big plays.

Isiah Pead has been the best back on this team so far. His 45 yard rip was the longest run of any player this pre-season across the league and that long pass completion was a terrific play from the quarterback and an impressive run after the catch.

The starting back battle is being won by Jay Ajayi. Arian Foster just looks slow and Ajayi runs more inspired. He does need to learn how to square up and run behind his pads, though.

Then there’s the defense.

Ndamukong Suh is an exceptional player, but his greatness can’t mask weaknesses on this defense. In the running game, the Cowboys schemed away from him and doubled him in the pass game nullifying his presence.

I would like to see Chris Jones get a lot of first team work this week and push Jordan Phillips for time. With Earl Mitchell hurt, I’d prefer to see Jones get running down snaps with Phillips coming in for passing downs. Jones has been the most consistent interior player so far with Julius Warmsley pushing him for that distinction – he put together another quality piece of film.

Andre Branch is my other surprise cut option. He did start heating up his pass rush later in the game, but he is often washed out as a rusher, is a complete liability in the run game and that late hit on Dak Prescott that nullified the interception was an absolute disgrace.

Mario Williams’ effort looked like a veteran in pre-season form. On one instance, the Cowboys schemed a play the leave Williams unblocked asking the back to make him miss. Alfred Morris could not have had an easier time slipping the tackle as Super Mario sort of just lunged at the former Redskin’s ankles.

Chris McCain and Terrance Fede are not unlike the Bushrod and Turner situation at right guard. If we could combine the two into one, that’d be fantastic. Fede’s run game tape and McCain’s pass rush prowess frequently jump off the film.

The linebacker position might be the most problematic unit of any NFL defense. Kiko Alonso has been absolutely dreadful so far in the middle. He’s either misdiagnosing plays, missing tackles or getting buried by a lineman climbing to the second level.

Speaking of that Dallas front, they are something else. They are a tough customer to judge your front seven against, but the Dolphins got a resounding F in that department.

dolphins d sucks
Suh contemplates if all that money is worth allowing 40 points per.

Jelani Jenkins had a rough night. His angles were poor, he got pancaked twice in the run game, and he doesn’t quite seem to understand zone coverage responsibilities. He guards space more often than he finds a man in his area.

Neville Hewitt is on his way to the unemployment line, Koa Misi doesn’t do anything particularly well, Mike Hull often makes tackles but it’s never moving downhill and James Michael-Johnson is just a guy.

The news that Xavien Howard is close to being ready to go couldn’t have come at a better time. Tony Lippett is going to get exposed if he has to go up against high-caliber receivers on the perimeter. His technique needs work and he’s slow to react and to change direction.

Byron Maxwell got roasted on the Dez Bryant touchdown but I’m blaming a lack of scheming in this game for two of his other completions allowed. He got in Bryant’s hip pocket and took away the outside turning Dez into where a safety should’ve been.

Lippett and Isa Abdul-Quddus made a lot of tackles after being in coverage. They were consistently tested and beaten down the field.

Speaking of bad, this officiating crew sure was flag happy and can the CBS Dolphins crew get any worse? It’s more than just Bob Griese slamming 10 Jack and Coke’s in three hours, the camera work was horrendous. They never identify substitutions and miss full plays far too often.

Bobby McCain is going to be a great nickel corner, but has no business kicking outside. He got exposed on a deep post and struggles covering down the field.

A.J. Hendy looks like a player and Walt Aikens played well again when close to the line of scrimmage. My other guy, Lafayette Pitts didn’t make the impression he did last week and Brandon Harris had a couple impressive coverage reps.

The backup quarterback job appears to be open for Brandon Doughty to seize with Matt Moore taking a shot to the head, but the rookie was not good in this game. His reads were late and his accuracy waned.

Thomas Duarte earned his walking papers with that piss poor effort on the blocked punt.

Jakeem Grant found himself on a milk carton in this game.

Dallas Thomas is still the worst football player on the planet.

This was an ugly game in most facets. The list of problems is much longer than the list of positives, but I’m required to bring you each. I’ll group the problems together to cut down on the numbered bullet points.

List of positives:

1.) The quarterback – The narrative will continue that Tannehill needs to be replaced because the team isn’t winning, even when he’s playing well.

2.) Laremy Tunsil – The starting left guard this year and the anchor at left tackle next year when this offensive line is nearly completely remade.

3.) Kenny Stills – He’s a serious downfield threat but his skills don’t stop there. 71 yards on 18 routes run, good for 3.94 yards per route run. Antonio Brown led the league last year at 3.01.

4.) Ndamukong Suh – There’s a presence of intimidation when he’s on the field and he still consistently dominates his match-up.

5.) Pass protection – The first team line kept Tannehill clean, for the most part, and allowed for some chunk plays in the passing game.

6.) Backup defensive tackles – Chris Jones and Julius Warsmley are making the backup linebackers look better than they are.

7.) Dominque Jones – Third down catches go a long way and he looks like the best blocker of the bunch sans Dion Sims.

tunsil draft
Laremy Tunsil celebrates his draft selection and his promotion to the first team.

List of problems:

1.) The linebackers – No need to single anybody out, some were worse than others, but this group is horrifically bad.

2.) The cornerbacks – Perhaps game one was a mirage, perhaps this game is just a pre season game. Either way, the back seven needs a lot of work.

3.) Run blocking – This has been a problem for several years now and the answers aren’t yet apparent. Running backs getting hit in the backfield is the best way to ensure a poor short yardage game, once again.

4.) Brandon Doughty – He looked like a seventh round rookie in this game.

5.) Jarvis Landry – If he had any other name on his jersey, he’d be higher up this list. But I know that’s not the player he is.

6.) Rookie coaching mistakes – Like I said, I’m not sure if the Tunsil decision was done out of motivation or not or what the deal was with Jakeem Grant’s usage, but it’s something we have to question.

The Dolphins play again in three days and they certainly want to get that bad taste out of their mouths just as bad as we, the fans, do.

Check back on Thursday morning for the game preview piece.

I will also be tweeting the games live @travis_writes

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

And don’t forget the Podcast fellas as Chris and Sam will probably gradually increase their on air alcohol consumption if the team continues to play like this.

Phins up!

Leave a Reply