This was supposed to be the sneak peek. This was the dress rehearsal for the Dolphin before the regular-season show opens because this was the game the coaches prepared for the opponent, the starters played longer and units and sub packages were comprised of personnel you're likely to see in the regular season.
But it wasn't good enough. As I write in my column in the Saturday Miami Herald, the Dolphins are not yet ready for the start of the regular season, which is only 14 days away at Buffalo. (Thankfully, guys, it doesn't look like the Jets or Pats are playing much better.)
But let us concentrate on the Dolphins:
"We played sloppy, inconsistent," coach Tony Sparano said, "at times did some decent things, but couldn't finish. We just didn't finish. There was something always unexecuted one place or another on either side of the ball. They were 10 of 18 on third down on defense and on the other side we were two of 12. So we didn't stay on the field, and we really couldn't get off the field too well, either. There was something always unexecuted one way or the other.
"That's my fault. I got to do a better job."
Truth is, everyone has to do better for the Dolphins to be ready to play to start the regular season. Sparano did a study of how teams make the playoffs and he found an undeniable connection between starting fast and getting in the playoffs.
So the Dolphins must start fast in 2010.
They must find a pass rush as the first-team defense hasn't really created a consistent one all preseason. Last night the Dolphins had 26 pass-rush opportunities for their first-teamers. They did not sack Matt Ryan even once.
Sure, they didn't blitz but once. But sometimes you have to get to the passer without creating the rush. Sometimes it has to come from your core rushers without the help of corners or safeties or other blitzes.
"We really didn't do a whole lot from a pressure standpoint in this game," Sparano said. "I think you want to see what happens when you have four or five guys in the rush in the rush. At times with four or five guys you have to win your individual match-up and we didn't always do that."
Cameron Wake won his matchup twice that I counted. He didn't collect a sack, but he got a hit on Ryan or hurried a throw. I didn't see anyone else do that.
I'd like to see quarterback Chad Henne begin to find a groove. The hope was that he could pick up Friday night where he left off last week against Jacksonville. He had an excellent night against the Jags. He could not extend that excellence versus Atlanta.
Henne never looked comfortable. Never looked on the same page with his primary receiver Brandon Marshall. And he seemingly, and most troubling, never looked the defense off. He seemed to lock onto one side of the field or one receiver and throw it to that side or receiver while never seeming to think about turning his head and, whaddaya know, surprising the coverage by throwing the other way.
"We're going to need some work," Henne said. "Obviously, we're inconsistent in areas. We just got to keep on grinding. I mean time is running out. We need to start clicking and get it done in this preseason game, next preseason game and do it in practice."
Sparano said this outing probably will not affect the way he approaches the final preseason game. He did say it might change how he approaches "the next three days of practice." That probably means the intensity will be stepped up. I can only hope.
The running game, by the way, is also becoming a source of attention, if not outright concern. The Dolphins really haven't created much daylight or run lanes this preseason. I have yet to see a great block by an interior lineman at the second level of the defense. Perhaps that's a product of all the mixing and matching they've done in practice with the interior guys at RG, C, and LG.
But that sounds like something of an excuse. The fact is John Jerry has been the RG since the second week of camp. He's been a first-team fixture. The truth is Richie Incognito has been at LG for over two weeks now. Yes, the center spot has been a revolving door. Maybe that is where the problem lies. Jake Grove is the better run-blocker while Joe Berger is probably the better pass-blocker.
This position needs to get settled with some sort of permanence this week -- with permanence defined as finding the dude that will start the Buffalo game and giving him most of the work the next 14 days.
There were some positive points last night.
Yeremiah Bell is still as solid a strong safety as you will find and he had an interception. Karlos Dansby showed his coverage skills on a couple of plays in which he caused incompletions on throws to tight end Tony Gonzalez. Brian Hartline seems to be coming out of his shell a bit and is figuring in the offense pretty well. There were no obvious mental mistakes in the defensive backfield. Vontae Davis played well.
But ... even some of the positives raise questions.
How is it Davis can be showing such nice progress in his second season while Sean Smith is not? Smith missed the start because he violated a team rule, according to Sparano. Not too worried about that. But when he got in the game in the second quarter, he got tore up (yes, tore up) on a double move that left his lower body defending an out and his upper body chasing a receiver streaking down the sideline.
Smith was a good five yards behind the receiver when Ryan overthrew the apparent touchdown pass. Crisis averted, but that move is on film now. You think the Bills will try that on Smith with Lee Evans applying a banquet of double moves on Sept. 12?
"It's frustrating," Bell said. "You never want to go out and literally get punched in the mouth. They hit us off some plays tonight, they were more physical than we were. As players, the coaches can't do anything about that. We have to take that upon ourselves and go out and do a better job."
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