There is a tendency to read too much into pre-season games, even a game labeled as the dress rehearsal for the season. The Dolphin offensive line has much to prove heading into the season opener against the Patriots. If this was the proving ground, the Miami Dolphins could be in trouble.
Lydon Murtha playing in place of Jake Long was clearly overmatched. The numerous penalties called on Murtha highlighted his inability to keep up with the speed of the Bucs defense. Murtha and his line-mates left the Dolphins backed up near their endzone several times and only allowed the offense to get on track once after an early Brandon Marshall touchdown.
The right side of the Dolphin line was nothing short of pathetic. The wisdom of signing Marc Columbo and making him the instant starter at right tackle is questionable. Beaten off the snap many times, his first step was constantly behind his opposition.
Vernon Carey looked as if he was playing in quicksand. He spent more time in the backfield than Reggie Bush and he was knocked on his backside on several occasions. Carey and Columob looked old, slow and fat. On the goal line, they were beaten off the ball so badly the defense was tackling the back before he took the handoff.
The bright side will be the return of Jake Long and that both Richey Incognito and Mike Pouncey played excellent football games. Pouncey laid out Bucs DT Brian Price with a devastating second level hit. With only two weeks remaining until the regular season, it is hard to imagine the Dolphins being able to fix the right side of the line. This does not bode well for the season ahead.
The following statistics agree with the analysis.
1st downs rushing – 0
3rd down conversions – 2 - 12
4th down conversions – 0 - 1
Yards rushing – 22
Yards per Carry – 1.3
Sacks – 5
Penalties – 11 - 76
The offensive line was the prime focus going into the game but there were many positives. Chad Henne played a much better game than his lofty 10 – 13, 175 yard, 1 TD numbers would indicate. His sideline pass to Brandon Marshall was a thing of beauty, along several other quick decisive throws.
Facing a constant onslaught from the Bucs defense Henne maintained his poise and showed a maturity rarely seen in the past. Aside from one fumble brought about by the sieve on the right side of the line, Henne never allowed the pressure to force him into a bad throw. His decision making under pressure never wavered. He did not make the costly turnovers that had plagued him in the past.
Henne’s performance kept the Dolphins in a game that could easily have gotten out of hand, had he turned the ball over. It may seem hard to fathom judging by the score, but it was one of Henne’s finest games in a Dolphin uniform. If Henne maintains this level of play, he may have finally turned the corner as an NFL QB.
The starting defense played a good game, but a vanilla game plan was evident. The Dolphin defense showed very little to the NFL in this game. If the New England Patriots hoped to get some film of what they could expect from the Dolphin defense they will be disappointed.
With this in mind, the defense held up-and-coming Bucs QB Josh Freeman to a pedestrian 12 – 23, 149 yard, 0 TD performance. There were a couple lapses in the secondary included the dreaded dropped INT by Yeremiah Bell, but most of the Bucs big plays came from QB scrambles. Noticeable missed coverages on the backside of the formation led to wide open check down receivers. Shawn Smith’s open field tackling leaves much to be desired. Overall the Dolphin defense performed well, while divulging little of what can be expected once the regular season begins.
Special teams did nothing spectacular and it could spell the end for Philip Livas who did not distinguish himself as a punt returner. Dan Carpenter had two field goals, including a 47 yarder that easily cleared the bar. The Dolphins did not return a kickoff in this game, a reflection of the new kickoff rules. The Bucs attempted two kickoff returns but averaged only 17 yards. Brandon Fields had an excellent night punting, including a clutch 69-yard punt when the Dolphins were pinned deep in their own territory.
In the final analysis, the right side of the Dolphin offensive line could spell big trouble if play does not somehow improve. The penalties must be cleaned up. If Chad Henne continues to build on the past two weeks, he will put all the naysayers to rest and finally solidify himself as the Miami Dolphin QB. Once the Miami defense opens the playbook, they will be the backbone of the team and should keep Miami in every game.