Preseason football is all about the hopefuls putting in the extra work to make the team. While the coaches’ eyes are glued to the rookies and undrafted free agents to complete their evaluations, most fans tune in to get a first glimpse of the stars. Joshua Soden turned to the tape room to evaluate the Miami Dolphins and Carolina Panthers first team players.
The Miami Dolphins and Carolina Panthers held two joint practices together before playing each other in the second preseason game. Both teams suffered significant injuries in the first practice session, with Carolina losing wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin and Miami losing free safety Louis Delmas – both to ACL tears – for the year.
The second preseason game, then, featured both teams giving their starters a hint of action before putting in the backups to contest the game. Notably, while the starters were in the game, the Dolphins seemed to impose their will on the Panthers – a good sign for Fish fans everywhere.
What Miami Did Well
Ryan Tannehill continued to make the case that he deserved his new contract extension, playing well in limited time. His passes were crisp, on time, and accurate, spreading the ball around effectively and getting multiple receivers involved in the passing game.
Two plays stand out to highlight the progress that Tannehill has made. The first was an incompletion to Jordan Cameron that should have been caught for a touchdown:
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Before the snap, Cameron motions across the formation and splits out wide, isolated against a linebacker in man coverage to create a mismatch in favor of Miami. Tannehill recognizes the advantage and looks Cameron’s way the entire time. Though one knock on Tannehill has been his deep ball accuracy, on this attempt the pass trajectory, timing, and touch were about as good as it gets. He hits Cameron in stride on a play they should have made but for Cameron’s failure to fend off the defense.
The second example was a pass on Tannehill’s final drive of the night to pick up a first down and move Miami into the red zone.
Watch as, when Tannehill drops back, Carolina moves into Cover 3 in the secondary:
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Tannehill freezes the safety with his eyes and then fires a strike into a tight window to Rishard Matthews. The Panthers’ zone coverage left a throwing lane between the underneath linebacker and the cornerback and Tannehill’s made the throw with the anticipation and accuracy necessary for the completion.
On the other side of the ball, Miami’s defense also showed well. Rishard Jones was all over the field during the two series that he played, and Miami’s first team defense forced the Carolina offense into three consecutive 3 and outs before coming up with a goal line stand to close out their night.
What Carolina Did Well
Luke Kuechly deservedly seized the title of best middle linebacker in football last season and managed to remind viewers why even in limited time. Kuechly was constantly around the ball while in the game and made an outstanding pass breakup in zone coverage ‒ one of the few blemishes on Tannehill’s night.
Here, Carolina drops into Cover 4 on 1st down. Receiver Matt Hazel runs a post route which should have left him open. Kuechly, however, recognizes the route and stays with Hazel in coverage when most LBs would have stayed at home in their central zone. Against almost any other LB, this is a completion over the middle for a significant gain, but Kuechly’s awareness and coverage skills really shine on this play.
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Carolina’s defense was also stout against the run; the Dolphins were one of the best running teams in 2014, with a 9.6% DVOA, second only to Seattle. But on this night, Miami struggled to get anything going on the ground, as Lamar MIller and Damian Williams combined for just 19 yards on 7 attempts.
The Panthers offensive starters, though, struggled mightily against the Dolphins defense. With Benjamin missing, Cam Newton’s options looked underwhelming. On third down, for example, Newton threw a perfect pass for a woulda-been-shoulda-been first down that the receiver just flat out dropped.
Miami drops back into Cover 3 and LB Kelvin Sheppard stays on the underneath crossing route run by the TE. This opens a void in the zone for the slot receiver, who is running a corner route. CB Jamar Taylor tries to close quickly, but cannot arrive before the throw. FS Walt Aikens, occupied with covering the outside receiver running a go-route, doesn’t make a break on the ball until it’s far too late. This was a well designed play and should have been an easy third down conversion for the Panthers.
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Seeing as rookie Devin Funchess – who did not play against Miami –is expected to try and fill the shoes of Benjamin this season, once again it appears that Newton will have scant options when he drops back to pass.
On the positive side, Carolina did show superior depth as compared to Miami; once the starters left the game, the Dolphins reserves relinquished a lead for the second straight game.
Both teams have room for improvement going into the season. Miami has well documented issues along their offensive line, and their depth has to be a real concern as the reserves have coughed up a lead in both preseason games. Meanwhile, Carolina is combing the waiver wire, hoping to find someone who can work well with Newton.
Joshua Soden has covered the emerging Jelani Jenkins, the fully recovered Rob Gronkowski, and previews the big games.
All video and images courtesy the NFL and NFL Game Rewind.