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What to look for from the Miami Dolphins offense and defense in third preseason game (both affect the season opener)

Before practically every preseason game you get from a lot of NFL journalists stories and posts about what to expect in said upcoming game. You get five things to watch. Things to look for.

I rarely give you that stuff because ... too easy.

But today is different because ... too important.

No, what follows is not five items. I'm going to tell you two things the Miami Dolphins absolutely, positively must do Thursday night when they play the Atlanta Falcons in their third preseason game that will definitely affect their chances of success in the regular season opener against Seattle. One of those is predictable. One is hasn't been mentioned anywhere else that I've seen.

From the Dolphins defense, the coaching staff must get good tackling. A friend of mine, who happens to have no life, studied the third preseason game of all 32 NFL teams a couple of years back. And he counted the missed tackles. And he tells me the percentage of missed tackles in those games was 32 percent.

So according to this non-scientific, one-time study, NFL players were missing nearly one out of every three tackles they attempted in the third preseason weekend of 2014. That is a lot.

And apparently in continues.

You've certainly seen it from the Miami Dolphins defense the past two preseason games.

"That’s the whole NFL," Dolphins coach Adam Gase said of the misstacklitis that has become epidemic in the NFL preseason games. "You turn on tapes of a lot of other defenses too, this is what it is. It’s a race to see who becomes the best tackling teams in football as you go throughout the season, because the only live work you really get nowadays are in games.

"Unless we want to start doing live out here and taking a chance of somebody getting hurt in practice, I mean it’s really not something that’s going to happen. We have to make sure we’re great on technique. We have to get tight to them. We got to run our feet. Those are some things that we have to do a better job of. I know the coaches are really trying to do a good job of correcting things on tape. We have some drills that we felt like were helping us. We’re not taking our drill work to the games and we just need to do that. That’s going to be a big emphasis for us this game.”

So improved tackling is key for the Miami defenseThursday because this is the last opportunity many of the team's top defenders will get this preseason to improve their skills before playing Seattle Sept. 11. The reason it's the last chance is, barring an upset of the routine, most top Miami defenders will not play in the fourth and final preseason game.

So this is it. Get it right now, or go into the season hoping to eventually get it fixed.

On offense the goals are much more intriguing. Yes, the Dolphins want to improve their running game. That, by the way, gets better as the NFL season matures because practices rarely include live blocking drills.

"The only way you get good at it is you do it in those preseason games," Gase said. "That’s why trying to run the ball when we get out there – we got a little pass happy there towards the end (at Dallas), but that will happen every once in a while in a preseason game – but we need to rep in live games.

"This week, obviously, you try keeping it as balanced as you can so we can get it on tape, see where our deficiencies are and then correct them."

And major goal No. 2 for the offense is perhaps the most important goal of this entire game for the Dolphins. And that is be as vanilla and boring and basic as possible.

The Dolphins' offense must be, well, lame against the Falcons.

And they know it. Indeed, Gase has gone through his playsheet and made certain that nothing he really, really likes will be run against the Falcons.

Why?

Falcons coach Dan Quinn was the defensive coordinator of the Seattle Seahawks in 2013 and 2014. The success his Seattle defenses had those years catapulted him to his current position. And in Atlanta Quinn runs a mirror image of what the Seahawks still run. Furthermore, the coaching connections that were forged during Quinn's time in Seattle are still strong.

So the Dolphins don't want to put anything on tape that the Seahawks might see works against a scheme of defense they run. That would allow them to work on such a play over the next couple of weeks. Secondly, the Dolphins don't want to do anything on offense that might lead Quinn to suggest to his friends in Seattle any strategy for stopping the Dolphins.

This isn't skullduggery stuff. I simply know the Dolphins have had internal conversations about not showing a lot to the Falcons in a game that doesn't count in the standings, and in so doing, could alert a team they open the regular season against.

Where does that leave us?

It'll be interesting seeing how basic and mundane the Dolphins can get on offense. It will be interesting seeing if that basic and mundane stuff works. And it will be important to keep perspective about what is before our eyes.

You will not read from me Friday morning that the Miami offense didn't fly high (if it doesn't) because one of its goals was actually to be under the radar.

So adjust your inner punditry accordingly in this regard.

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