It was by every definition a good outing for the Dolphins Friday night. The detractors might point to the Carolina Panthers being the NFL's worst team a year ago or scratching 16 players from this game, or starting a rookie quarterback.
I would point to a 20-10 victory in which the first team offense and defense looked good.
You cannot blame the Dolphins for the opponent's flaws.
"Yeah, this is just a chekpoint for us," Brandon Marshall said after making his preseason debut. "Every week you want to get better, we want to grow as an offense, we want to gel a little more as a team. We know our goal and we know where we want to be every week. We know where we want to be at the end of the season. It's important for us to not hang off the rafters when we win and not put our head in the dumpster when we lose. That pertains to every play, not just the game."
Fair perspective. It also brings up the fact that because coordinator Brian Daboll's offense is still so new to this group, you won't see their best work until "the end of the season," as Marshall said.
That means the Dolphins have to be good on offense early and rise to a higher level later on. It could happen.
The Dolphins showed improvement on several fronts:
The line blocking looked better than it did a week ago against Atlanta in that, hey, there were some holes this week when the first teamers were in the game! And Reggie Bush used them to his benefit.
Bush rushed eight times for 48 yards. He also caught two passes for 33 yards, a stellar 16.5 yard per catch average. As I wrote in my column for today's Miami Herald, Bush's Dolphins debut was not only successful but a thing that captured the imagination of fans starved for a playmaker. Please do a brother a favor and check out the column as that is how I feed my family and we ain't had no breakfast this morning yet.
One thing that did not make the final cut of the column that I will say here: Bush proved something last night. He proved all his work -- both during practice and afterward -- is paying off. He proved his got not only speed but defense-deflating toughness, which is a great combination.
What else does he have to prove?
I say the Dolphins should give him the rest of the preseason off. See you Sept. 12 against the Patriots.
I remind you Bush is Miami's most dynamic playmaker in that he doesn't rely on others as heavily to get his as does, say, Marshall. He has a history of getting hurt. The Dolphins are going to use him plenty during the season. Why waste a proven vet in preseason?
I also remind you that this preseason alone, running backs Ryan Williams, Mikel LeShoure, Ben Tate and Montario Hardesty have already suffered season-ending injuries. Why expose Bush to that in meaningless games? Why expose him to pulled groins, or tweaked ankles, or strained hamstrings in inconsequential games?
He gets plenty of carries in practice. He's involved in plenty of collisions in those. He then works overtime after practically every single practice. He's in great shape. He's not a rookie who has to adjust to the speed of the game. Lather him up, to use a Tony Sparano term, in practice where you can control the violence a bit. But in more preseason games?
Why risk him?
The offensive line had a nice night last night except for the four penalties -- three of them on Lydon Murtha. Those can be drive killers and must be eliminated. Those are about discipline and being in the moment mentally. Not acceptable.
Chad Henne was good last night. That is the truth and that is what I will always try to give you. I'm not going to gush and tell you he was great because he wasn't. He was good. He completed 15 of 24 passes for 194 yards without a TD or INT.
The good: He got Brandon Marshall involved early and often. He kept plays alive both with his patience and shuffling in the pocket and with his feet, running downfield for a total of 20 yards. That part was outstanding. His accuracy was good on short to medium range passes. His shining moment, I thought, was on the play where protection broke down, the snap from center was high, he tipped it, caught it, he moved around, kept his eyes downfield, and found Anthony Fasano for a 38-yard completion. That kind of play from a quarterback can feel like a dagger to the heart of the defense. Excellent.
The not-good: He threw a first-quarter pass to Brian Hartline who had man coverage down the sideline that was inaccurate in that it was overthrown and out of bounds, but in so doing he missed an uncovered Brandon Marshall who lined up in the slot and was covered by NOBODY. If Henne had looked for Marshall, who was lined up inside of Hartline, that play would have gone for a 25-yard gain and possibly more. He missed a wide open Hartline in the second quarter on a post pattern around the goal line and threw instead to Daniel Thomas out of bounds on a pass that was almost intercepted. He missed Clyde Gates streaking wide open downfield for what might have been the play of the night -- a 63-yard bomb behind double coverage. (Great job by Gates blowing the top of the secondary on that one, but he can't throw the ball to himself, too.)
Nonetheless, Henne showed progress. That's important.
“I mean, obviously, we moved the ball pretty well down there, got some big plays in certain situations," Henne said. "I have to watch the film, there’s some mistakes out there we’ll correct them. It’s good to get a win at home and start a run that way and winning at home that’s pretty important to us right now.
"Definitely gives you confidence, especially at home. Previous years we haven’t won a lot of games at home and get off to a start path, we’re trying to build a tradition here where this is our home field and we want to take advantage and play well here and it’s a good step for that.”
It would be nice if Henne got some more help from his tight end. Fasano caught two passes but dropped another one right in his hands, same as he did last week. If Fasano is going to catch only 66 percent of the passes that hit him in the hands, that is not good. He's got to do some work on the jugs, something I've not seen him do.
Defensively, the Dolphins forced Carolina to punt seven times. That's good.
The Dolphins limited the Panthers to 25 percent conversion rate on third down. That's good.
Carolina only had 68 net rushing yards. That's great!
Miami's leading tacklers were inside linebackers Kevin Burnett and Karlos Dansby, who each had four tackles. That suggests the Dolphins didn't allow runners to reach the secondary and force, say, Yeremiah Bell, Miami's leading tackler the past couple of years, to make the tackle. It also suggests the Dolphins didn't need to bring Bell down into the tackle box to help against the run. Bell had only one tackle.
Yes, safety Reshad Jones also had four tackles, but he played primarily with the second team. Burnett and Dansby were done for the night by that time.
“The defense, that’s understandable we had to have a better performance than we did last week," Dansby said. "We were in front of the home crowd so were just trying to build something here, win our home games and just hit on all cylinders. We did that tonight we had fun and we were flying around because people were saying we were playing uninspired football, we saw the quotes...we saw everybody was talking about so we tried to give you a show today.”
Oh, the corners were dominant. Vontae Davis and Sean Smith locked down Carolina's WRs. No, Steve Smith did not play. Not their fault. They did work against the Carolina receivers they faced.
Overall, we saw a team get better. The Dolphins made progress from their first preseason game to their second. If they continue to get better every week, things are going to be good in 2011. I hope.