By now you watched the preseason opener from the stands, on television at home in South Florida, or on the NFL Network replay. So you know what the Dolphins receivers and quarterbacks and running backs did. If that's all you're interested in, you are dismissed.
This post is about football in the trenches.
This post is a critical look at how the Miami offensive and defensive fronts fared against the Jacksonville Jaguars Monday night. A word of caution: The Jaguars are a physical team along their defensive front. Conversely, their offensive line has had issues dating back to last season and is probably among the bottom third units in the NFL.
So working with those facts for perspective, let's get to the breakdown of what happened.
Start with this truth: Randy Starks played very well Monday night. He was undoubtedly the most active defensive lineman of any that played with the first or second team. But I'm not just going to tell you. Let me show you.
On Jacksonville's first possession of the game, the Jaguars are in shotgun on third-and-13. Charging from his defensive end spot, Starks hits quarterback David Garrard just as he throws the ball. It's a bad throw because that's what happens when a 300-pound man hits you in the gut. It's an incompletion, and the Jags have to punt. Thank you, Randy.
On Jacksonville's second possession, Garrard has no tangible pressure on a first down completion. On second down, there is great coverage by Channing Crowder and Sean Smith and Garrard pulls the ball down instead of throwing it. It results in coverage sack, officially credited to Jason Ferguson.
And on third-and-7 from their own 24, Garrard throws another incomplete pass that forces a punt. The reason for the incompletion? Randy Starks hits the quarterback again as he is throwing, and the ball falls short of an open receiver.
Jacksonville's coaches adjust. The next two series, the Jaguars double-team Starks. Jason Taylor and Joey Porter and Phillip Merling are rushing, but the Jags try to stop Starks with two blockers. And that leaves Nathan Jones unblocked on the blitz to force another errant throw by Garrard.
It's more of the same in the next Jacksonville possession. Brad Meester and Vince Manuwai double Starks on a play that results in a pass completion to Jarett Dillard. Next play, Manuwai is blocking Starks and a back chips him coming out of the backfield.
No other player on the Dolphins defensive front draws as much attention from the Jags. Starks is done for the night after this series. Good work.
But that's not all the good work on D.
Crowder played very well. He was very active. He had the tight coverage I mentioned earlier. He blitzed three times, never getting there but applying good pressure. He also blew up a screen pass that gained only 2 yards, making the tackle but getting no credit for it. In fact, the game book gives neither Starks nor Crowder any tackles. Talk about misleading.
So who else was active on the defensive front?
Ferguson had excellent penetration on a short completion to Torry Holt. Jones, as I mentioned, came free on a blitz. Jason Taylor had supporting pressure on two pass plays -- meaning he didn't get to Garrard first, but he was there as well, which is a good thing against a 236-pound quarterback.
Joey Porter was mostly quiet and Phillip Merling, who played a lot, didn't have any play that stood out to me.
On the Dolphins offensive side of the equation, I am fascinated by how coaches handled the right guard platoon. Starter Shawn Murphy and backup Donald Thomas alternated first-team snaps every other possession. But here's the interesting thing:
Thomas only played with the starters. When the starters came out after halftime, Thomas was done. Murphy, meanwhile, got snaps with the subs in the third quarter.
So which of the two played better? You must understand that I do not know the Dolphins' blocking schemes nor do I pretend to know what technique Miami coaches want used in certain situations. Having said that, it seemed to me the offensive line was more cohesive when Thomas was in the game.
Murphy had one bad moment when he missed a blitzing Justin Durant up the middle on the first Miami possession of the game. The whiff forced a bad throw by Chad Pennington. Muprhy also used terrible technique when I saw him bear hugging Derrick Harvey once to prevent the defensive end from going through him on a Ronnie Brown run.
But Murphy had a couple of good moments, also. He had a great peel block that wiped out CB Brian Williams on Ted Ginn's end around. He also had a nice second-level block on linebacker Darryl Smith later on.
I noticed something that we all probably take for granted but should be said anyway about Jake Long. In his second season, the Dolphins are obviously expecting him to be something of a horse and leader of the offensive line. Maybe that's the reason I saw him get blocking help from Justin Smiley only once on passing plays.
It was otherwise Long out on an island the entire game against Jacksonville defensive ends or blitzing linebackers. The only time he was soundly beaten was when Long found himself with one knee on the ground, trying to stop a charging Durant from getting past. The play resulted in a 1-yard loss for Ricky Williams.
Right tackle Vernon Carey also gets very little help in pass-rush situations, and that was not a great idea on one play in which he blocked no one as two blitzers zipped past, forcing an incomplete pass to Davone Bess. Carey was otherwise solid.
So, you should be asking now, how did new center Jake Grove do this game against John Henderson, Rob Meier and Atiyyah Ellison? I would say Grove more than held his own. I would say if he can win as many as he loses against Henderson, the Dolphins are going to be fine at center this season.
Grove got the better of Henderson in a one-on-one situation on the drag route Ginn caught in the first quarter. Grove then had a beautiful cut block on Durant on the 11-yard run Williams had with 6:57 left in the first quarter.
I am not saying the offensive line dominated. Absolutely not. They were barely efficient. But what I am saying is there is individual talent here. Once these guys find some cohesion, I would expect the overall picture will improve. Inserting Thomas in the starting lineup this week would speed that up.
And I believe that is what the Dolphins will do.