The Miami Dolphins began the preseason last Thursday by defeating the Atlanta Falcons 34 – 27. Going into the game, I had a list of five key areas of the game that I wanted to pay specific attention to.
We knew that Ryan Fitzpatrick would start the game for Miami, so I wanted to watch Josh Rosen against backup NFL talent to see how he would fair. I also wanted to see who he would target most as his comfort blanket. Another aspect of the game I wanted to pay close attention to was the line play, both offensive and defensive. And last, but certainly not least, I wanted to see if the same old Dolphins mistakes would pop up.
How will Josh Rosen play against backups?
The quarterback battle in Miami has been the talk of the town since they made a draft-day trade with the Arizona Cardinals for Rosen. Since the opening of organized team activities, Fitzpatrick has outperformed Rosen, causing some panic among some Dolphins fans. Fitzpatrick started the game and played in the game’s first two series, completing 2 of 5 pass attempts for 20 yards. He also showed off that his, almost 37-year-old, legs still had enough pep to escape pass rushers.
Rosen entered on the third drive of the game and played until the first drive of the fourth quarter. He was able to take the team down the field for a touchdown (1 yard run by Kalen Ballage) on his first drive. Unfortunately, Rosen followed up the opening drive with a very ill-advised throw that resulted in an interception that was almost returned for a touchdown.
Rosen returned to the field like a seasoned NFL vet. He came back with confidence to right his wrong. The second-year pro led his team down the field on an almost perfect “two-minute drill” before half time. He connected twice with undrafted rookie Preston Williams to get the team in position for a field goal.
All in all, Rosen played a good game. Keep in mind that he was pressured on 50% of his dropbacks and only took two sacks. For a second-year player, Rosen showed a natural feel for when his pocket is collapsing and a knack for being able to get out of trouble.
In my opinion, Rosen earned the right to start the second preseason game, so the coaching staff has the opportunity to evaluate him against a started NFL defense.
How will the offensive line perform?
The fact that Rosen isn’t currently in a wheelchair is nothing short of a miracle. If Atlanta would have fielded a blocking sled instead of their defensive line, Rosen would probably still get pressured. Out of 20 dropbacks, Rosen was pressured ten times, being hit seven and sacked twice.
If Miami wants a chance at anything other than an abysmal offense in 2019, they’ll need to fix this offensive line. Although Laremy Tunsil wasn’t active for this game, it was a completely unacceptable performance from a group of professional football players. Jordan Mills as the backup left tackle is scary if Tunsil is forced to miss any time this season. I would expect the Dolphins to be actively looking for a competent backup option.
Daniel Kilgore didn’t play terrible in his return to football after finishing last year on the injured reserve but has some room for improvement. Miami’s third-round draft pick Michael Deiter had a decent game. Deiter played the entire first half (37 plays) and by my count allowed two pressures, a sack and one penalty against him. Overall he played a solid game, he was aggressive in the running game and didn’t let many people past him in the passing game. He has some room to improve, but I believe Deiter will be a starting-caliber guard in this league for years to come.
Where will the pass rush come from?
The Dolphins starting defensive line wasn’t great. The starters weren’t able to put pressure on Atlanta’s backup quarterback Matt Schaub. In Atlanta’s first offensive possession, Schaub marched his team 90 yards for a touchdown. On that drive, Schaub dropped back to pass nine times and was only pressured once.
The lone bright spot on the starting defensive line was newcomer Tank Carradine. Although Carradine wasn’t able to register a sack, he pressured Schaub on more than one occasion and did a solid job of defending the run.
Charles Harris played the most snaps of any defensive lineman in this game and registered just one tackle. The tackle came on a play that was initially ruled an Atlanta touchdown, but thanks to Harris’ hustle he was able to chase down the running back from behind and stop the ball at the one-yard line.
If Miami’s front seven can’t generate pressure on opposing quarterbacks, this defense will struggle massively. Any quarterback in the NFL that you allow to sit comfortably in the pocket will eventually find an open receiver.
Is Preston Williams the real deal?
All offseason, we heard how impressive Williams was in practices. Fans wondered if the talent would show up on game day, or would he be a “practice warrior.” Well, ladies and gentlemen, I’m here to tell you that Williams is indeed the real deal.
I know it was only one game, but this one game showcased what was seen on the practice field just about every day. Williams was Rosen’s primary target throughout the night, finishing with four catches and 97 yards. Three out of his four catches were highly contested by the defenders, showing off his elite size and athleticism.
If this trend continues, Williams will find himself working with the starting offense in no time. Although he has the trust of Rosen, he could be a great asset to whichever quarterback wins the starting job.
Will we see the same silly mistakes?
As far as penalties go, it was business as usual for an opening preseason game. Miami finished the game with eight penalties resulting in the loss of 47 yards. For reference, Miami averaged 6.8 penalties per game last year. Brian Flores will likely clean these up throughout the preseason, and I expect to see a more disciplined team moving forward.
What I wanted to see though, was the “boneheaded” mistakes that Dolphins fans have grown accustomed to. Mistakes that create self-inflicted wounds, like missed tackles, and blown assignments.
Someone I didn’t expect to write about making those mistakes was second-year player Minkah Fitzpatrick. Unfortunately for Fitzpatrick though, he had two awful missed tackles. I expect more from Fitzpatrick in his second year. Hopefully, this was just a case of shaking off the rust.
Jessee Lopez is a writer for the Pro Football Network covering the Miami Dolphins. You can follow him @jlopezPFN on Twitter.