Miami Dolphins: What We've Learned Through Week 3 of the Preseason
Three games into the preseason, the Miami Dolphins sit at 2-1 and we've learned a lot about the team and its strengths and flaws.
There have been both positives and negatives to gleam through on the team, as going into their fourth and final preseason game against the St. Louis Rams on Thursday (7 p.m. ET, WFOR CBS4), they have a good idea of what they will do on offense and on defense, as well as at least 45 of the 53 players who will make the final 53-man roster.
Here's a look at what we've learned about the Dolphins through three preseason games.
Miami's Offense Is a Work in Progress
The Dolphins have spent this training camp and preseason implementing a brand new, high-powered offense that at times has looked excellent, exciting and fun.
Other times, the offense has looked disjointed.
The theories and ideas behind the offense are solid, as it emphasizes quick decisions and a solid running game. Unfortunately the running game has only been solid once this preseason, and in the other two games it fell flat.
As for the quick decisions, it's caused an adjustment period that has made Ryan Tannehill a bit more inconsistent than we're used to him being. He was excellent against Atlanta when he completed all six of his passes, but since that drive he has failed to score a touchdown, fumbled once and was picked off once.
Consistency for both the running game and the passing game should come with time, but time isn't on Miami's side, as they only have one more preseason game and two weeks of practice to fine-tune their offense before taking on the New England Patriots in Week 1.
I'm not the only one who sees an incomplete offense right now, as Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald wrote this about Miami's offense:
The unit that is undergoing much change and hoping for much development while carrying much of the burden for 2014 is still, at best, a work in progress.
(Peanut gallery: But it’s the preseason. Relax. It doesn’t count.)
Well, that is true. It is the preseason and the fact the first-team offense has not scored a touchdown the past two preseason games doesn’t really count even if it does remind of the final two games of 2013 when that same unit managed only one score.
I thought we’d score more points, quite frankly. I didn’t think we’d end up with three points when we took the first offensive unit out at the beginning of the third quarter. I was expecting more production from them from a points perspective. We moved the ball well, but at the end of the game you’ve got to have points on the board, and I didn’t think we did that well.
Miami Has a Primary Running Back
The best-looking running back for the Dolphins this preseason only played 18 snaps in one game, touching the ball 10 times in those snaps.
The result was 64 yards and a grade of 1.1 on Pro Football Focus. That's what Knowshon Moreno did against the Dallas Cowboys, and he really didn't have to pass block much despite that being one of the strongest aspects of his game.
It's only one game (and only 18 snaps), but Moreno took the primary running back slot with the production in the game. He also worked well in a two-back set with Lamar Miller, whom Moreno will be splitting carries with.
There will be more on running backs later in the slideshow, but let's look at one reason why Miami's running backs looked so good against the Cowboys, and the reason why Miami's offense has looked good at times this preseason.
The Miami Dolphins Offensive Line: Now 100 Percent Less Offensive
The biggest disaster of 2013 was Miami's offensive line, but most of you already know that.
The Dolphins sure did, which is why they spent all offseason retooling the offensive line, making two big signings (Branden Albert and Shelley Smith), then using two draft picks on offensive linemen (Ja'Wuan James and Billy Turner).
The result has been improvement and a unit that when the first team is in has only allowed one sack in the preseason.
The original Dolphins' starting lineup at offensive line consisted of Albert at left tackle, Daryn Colledge at left guard, Samson Satele at center, Dallas Thomas at right guard and Ja'Wuan James at right tackle. That lineup did well in pass protection but struggled in the run game.
Against the Cowboys, Thomas was swapped out for Smith, and the result was a better run game as a whole. During the game Smith was replaced by Thomas, and in those snaps the run game seemed to grind to a halt, only to bounce back again when Smith returned.
Then there's Turner, who is an absolute mauler at guard and has had a great tendency of lead blocking for Dolphins' rushing touchdowns, something he has done in two consecutive games.
The Dolphins offensive line looks like it's progressed from an awful unit into at the very least a competent one, and if there's any more of a reason for confidence in the unit, it's the fact it's still missing the best player on the offensive line in center Mike Pouncey.
Once he returns, it might graduate from competent to pretty darn good.
Goodbye, Daniel Thomas
We discussed Miami's running backs earlier, mainly focusing on how Knowshon Moreno is poised to be Miami's primary running back.
Now we look at the running back situation as a whole.
Moreno will split carries with Lamar Miller, who also looked good on Saturday.
Also looking good against Dallas was Damien Williams, who has been great throughout the preseason showing great speed and skill. Williams likely has earned himself a roster spot.
Orleans Darkwa, who like Williams is an undrafted free agent, also had a great game against Dallas, and with a good performance against the Rams on Thursday night could seal his roster spot.
So who's the odd man out in the Dolphins' running back situation? Probably the player who's due more than $1 million this season, yet is much maligned by Dolphins fans: Daniel Thomas.
I'm not the only one speculating this possibility.
There are ALWAYS exceptions.Sometimes a team just wants to unload another GM's draft pick (cough Daniel Thomas).BUT, wait for 2nd round cuts— Omar Kelly (@OmarKelly) August 24, 2014
"@Adamg0013: are you saying Daniel Thomas could be cut by tuesday"» He's hurt, so you don't know. But he's not on Miami's 53. No secret.— Omar Kelly (@OmarKelly) August 24, 2014
Daniel Thomas lost his role, job to Damien Williams BEFORE he got hurt. And with Knowshon Moreno cleared to play he's not needed anymore.— Omar Kelly (@OmarKelly) August 24, 2014
Thomas has been injured throughout the preseason, but that doesn't help matters much, nor does his three seasons in Miami that lacked production.
He will have to come back on Thursday and really impress, but if not, consider him as good as gone.
Dolphins Defense Provides Some Hope
I've spent the entire slideshow talking about the Dolphins' offense, which has been a question mark so far.
The defense has had it's questions as well, but it looks like things are getting better with that unit.
The Dallas Cowboys have one of the more explosive offenses in the NFL, yet their first-team offense was held without a touchdown when they faced off against the Dolphins' defense.
They faced pressure from both the defensive line and linebackers and couldn't run the ball. Their only hope was having Tony Romo throw it to Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, picking on Cortland Finnegan (covering Bryant despite playing as the nickleback when he was in the game), and that wasn't enough to score on the Dolphins' defense.
The most promising aspects of the defense was the ability to get to the quarterback. Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon got to Romo three times, this following a five-sack performance against the Buccaneers (mostly by the second team). It shows this Dolphins' defense will be an aggressive one.
The interior should be fantastic as well, as Earl Mitchell has looked like a natural 4-3 defensive tackle, while Randy Starks and Jared Odrick remain at the high level they have played the last two years.
Of course, the linebackers were a point of concern throughout the preseason, yet against the Cowboys they looked their best despite missing Koa Misi. I still don't trust them too much, but they can at least hold their own, which is about all you can ask for from them at this point.
Miami's secondary has the potential to be great, even though it seems a bit boom or bust at this point. Brent Grimes will continue to be Brent Grimes, and while Cortland Finnegan is decent as Miami's second corner, it wouldn't be too crazy to see Will Davis or Jamar Taylor taking over for Finnegan sometime this season.
The safety position has plenty of concerns, including Louis Delmas' health, how they will adjust to (losing then regaining) Reshad Jones, and how well Jimmy Wilson will play in his place. Like the linebackers, the best we can hope for is that they hold their own.
Miami is good at cornerback, but great at defensive line. The safety and linebacker positions might have question marks, but they aren't as glaring as we once thought.
Statistics provided by ESPN.com. Grades provided by Pro Football Focus, which requires a subscription.