Preseason Preview: Week 3 Dolphins @ Bengals

Acknowledgement:

Before we delve into the game preview, I would just like to thank and credit Kyle Phelps of Bengals ATB, for his contributions and insights in putting together this preseason matchup article.

Game Preview

Q. Last week the Dolphins had their dress rehearsal game. Was it the same for the Bengals? Which bubble players should we look out for?

Bengals:

KP: ” I wouldn’t exactly call week 2 a “dress rehearsal” for the Bengals. We definitely saw an emphasis on the first team trying to put more of a game plan together than they did Week 1. However. the majority of the snaps still went to the second and third team players.

I would expect the same against the Dolphins this week, as the Bengals seem to be mostly focused on developing their depth right now. The positive side of that is we’re sure to get a solid idea of who deserves to survive the roster bubble. Two players, in particular, you’re going to want to watch are WR Trenton Irwin and Edge Darius Hodge. 

Irwin had a fantastic camp and first week of preseason that made it look like he had the inside track for the final WR spot on the team. Unfortunately, a poor performance in Week 2 hurt his case. But, it’s not like Trent Taylor, likely his biggest competition for the spot, has done much in the first two weeks at all. So, Irwin probably has a chance to redeem himself this week and make his case for that No. 6 spot. 

Like Irwin, Darius Hodge went undrafted and has performed like a hidden gem so far. He absolutely terrorized the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1 of the preseason along with another solid performance against the WFT in Week 2. With all of the uncertainty surrounding the Bengals’ defensive edge right now, Hodge could very easily find his way onto the final roster with another big performance against the Dolphins.”

Dolphins:

Following Tuesday’s roster moves, the wide receiver competition looks like it is nearing an end. Having cut Ford, waived/injured Foster and placing Bowden on IR, the receiving room is taking shape. A big opportunity now presents itself for Kirk Merritt, a player who has been productive throughout camp, to make one last push for the final 53.

Early this week Brian Flores stated that going into the final preseason game around 3/4 positions are left unfilled on the final roster. Keep your eyes peeled at who makes the final depth spots on the offensive line. Jackson, Kindley, Deiter, Hunt, Eichenberg and Davis are all locks, Skura likely makes the team as a backup. Therefore, the battle ultimately falls on Rob Jones, Durval Queiroz Neto, Larnel Coleman and Greg Little. The Dolphins invested heavily in Jones as an UDFA, while recently trading for Little for backup at tackle. However, it is Coleman that has impressed throughout camp and in preseason even getting some reps with the starting offense.

Another interesting battle to look out for is how the corner backs lower down the depth chart can fare in their pursuit for the final roster spots. I believe McCourty makes the roster as safety, meaning the battle ultimately falls on CreVon LeBlanc, Jamal Perry, Javaris Davis and Trill Williams. As it stands Perry/Williams are the favorites to battle it out for a spot on the final 53. However with Trill Williams a hot property, its unlikely that if cut he clears waivers. It will all depend on what Miami sees in Williams long term. Throughout this week of practice Williams has continued to impress as the boundary corner in the second team.

Q. How did you fare in the first two games of preseason? What went well? Stand out performances? What/who concerns you?

Bengals:

KP: “The Bengals split their first two preseason games, beating the Buccaneers and falling to Washington. But, most aren’t worried about those results. What’s more important is the first-team defense has looked remarkable so far. One of the Bengals’ biggest problems in 2020 was the lack of a pass rush, but the first team defense has generated a sack and multiple pressures in both contests. They also haven’t allowed a score yet.

On the offense, one of the biggest standout performers has been Jacques Patrick. A former XFL running back, he is battling for the third and final RB spot (most likely) behind Chris Evans. Incumbent Samaje Perine has been either invisible or disappointing this preseason. In contrast, Patrick has arguably been the single best performer on the team both weeks. So, it’s just a matter of proving the Bengals should take a chance on the lesser known, younger talent in lieu of the more established player you know.”

Dolphins:

Technically like the Bengals the Dolphins split their first two games. However, when the starters and even second teamers were on the field they were 2-0. Tua showed promise in the first game despite the late pick and then continued to build on his strong start to the season against the Falcons.

During the Falcons game Tua showed his poise in keeping his eyes down the field, climbing the pocket with pressure in his face to allow his receivers to get open. The 3rd & 10 completion at the end of the half to Gesicki was a prime example of this. Tua’s footwork and pocket presence was a weakness in his game last year, now the improvements are clear. Throughout camp we have heard reports of Tua holding the ball for too long from the likes of Omar Kelly. While that may be the case from , it could be that in practice, in a non contact situation, Tua has not been able to experience the pressure in his face to that extent to allow him to extend the play.

Tua did this on multiple occasions including the touchdown pass to Myles Gaskin

If we are to nitpick at the faults of Tua during the game, there were a couple of instances where his accuracy was a little off, with the juggled catch by Hollins and then the overturned catch by Waddle. Nevertheless, these were very much an anomalies in an otherwise excellent game. He got the ball out quick, made the right reads and threw with anticipation demonstrating his comfortability within this offensive system. The offense was able to consistently move the ball down field with relative ease.

The standout performance was unquestionably Sam Eguavoen who racked up 11 tackles, 4 sacks and a safety, solidifying his position on the roster. Check out Tanner Elliott’s breakdown of his performance.

Q. Which players who are likely locks for the final 53 man roster are you focusing on for development?

Bengals:

KP: “We already have a pretty good idea of who’s in and who’s out at this point. But, some guys still need that extra push to prove what they can do. In particular, second round pick Jackson Carman has been having a pretty good preseason after a rough camp. The Bengals drafted Carman to fill the desperate need at right guard. Famously, they picked Ja’Marr Chase over Penei Sewell with the fifth overall pick under the assumption that they could find a perfectly talented lineman in the second round.

They passed on more notable names when their pick came around like Teven Jenkins, Liam Eichenberg, and Walker Little because they were convinced Carman was the best player available. Unfortunately, he struggled to impress in camp and failed to ingratiate himself as a starting-caliber player. He’s performed admirably in his preseason action so far. The hope is he’s still on track to work his way into the starting lineup, but I don’t think that’s even a remote possibility unless he has another great game.

Other players to watch out for include OL D’Ante Smith and RB Chris Evans. Smith is another lineman the Bengals took later in the Draft who has unexpectedly been running with the first team. Evans, the running back they selected in the sixth round, has absolutely earned his spot on the roster. Now, the question is whether he’s consistent enough to solidify the No. 2 spot vacated by Giovani Bernard.”

Dolphins:

On Thursday Brian Flores stated how Tua would not feature nor would many of the starters. However I do foresee one exception, the offensive line. After a concerning couple of weeks, the offensive line played well opening up running lanes that had been near none existent against the Bears. However, they still have a long way to go and should feature during the game to build the much needed chemistry and cohesion.

Not only did the Dolphins improve on their run blocking but the pass blocking remained relatively consistent building on a strong start against the Bears.

The biggest factor going forward is what to do with Liam Eichenberg. After starting camp as starting RT, to then starting LG, he is now back at RT in the second team behind Jesse Davis. However, with a strong performance against the Falcons he is knocking on the door once again for a starting position. The right side of Hunt and Eichenberg was a key factor in establishing the run and the performance of the line as a whole against the Falcons.

UPDATE: Liam Eichenberg left practice on Thursday having sustained injury. The injury does not appear to be serious. Larnel Coleman replaced him at RT.

Another player I would like to see more of is Jaelan Phillips. Phillips made his preseason debut against the Falcons and looked explosive off the line setting the edge well opposite Van Ginkel. Having missed a considerable chunk of camp sidelined with injury expect him to receive some reps giving him valuable experience heading into the season.

Q. How is Joe Burrow coming along in his journey back? Do you expect him to feature in the game? If so, how much?

Bengals:

KP: “If it was up to me, I would sit Burrow this week. If I had to bet, the coaching staff probably feels the same way. But, we know Burrow does not feel that way. If the staff gives in, he might play a series or two at the beginning of the game mostly filled with simple, safe plays. But, my guess is that you won’t see him take a snap until Week 1 against the Vikings.

(UPDATE: It was announced Wednesday that Joe Burrow WILL be making his preseason debut against the Dolphins.)

Reports of his struggles have been greatly exaggerated. Yes, when camp first started, he was looking unsure on his knee and he was struggling to connect with his receivers. The defense absolutely dominated the offense early on. But, I don’t know what everyone expected. Perhaps he has shown so many good tendencies since arriving in the national spotlight that everyone forgot he is, in fact, human. Far be it from him to act a bit skittish the first few times he steps on a football field after a catastrophic, traumatizing knee injury. 

But, since then, he has returned to the confident and poised Joe Burrow we all know and love. Reports from practice since that first week have been nothing but positive. He’s been scrambling, planting, and fearlessly engineering drives with virtually no issues to speak of. On top of that, you keep hearing about all these deep passes he’s completing, which is an improvement over the one major hole in his game last year.”

Q. Do you have any injury concerns entering the game?

Bengals:

KP: “As I mentioned earlier, the injuries on the defensive edge have become rather concerning. Third round pick Joseph Ossai, who was looking like an absolute stud in camp and the first preseason game, appears to have torn his meniscus and could miss the entire season. Fourth round pick Cam Sample is dealing with a shoulder injury that isn’t expected to be serious, but will keep him out against the Dolphins. Seventh round pick Wyatt Hubert tore a pectoral muscle in training camp and is already ruled out for the year. So, it’s no surprise the Bengals went out and signed Noah Spence.

Spence is a former second round pick who has struggled with injury, whom the Bengals picked up earlier this week after the Saints released him. The hope is new DL coach Marion Hobby can re-unlock his potential after injuries derailed his career. At the moment, Khalid Kareem is the only backup edge defender expected to make the roster who isn’t currently injured. So, Spence likely only needs to be able to hold his own on some level to make the final roster. That said, if Spence can return to the level of play we saw in the first six games of his rookie season, he could make the kind of serious impact the Bengals were hoping to get from their Draft class.”

Dolphins:

At last, Dolphins fans can rejoice as once again we have been treated with glimpses of Will Fuller and DeVante Parker (non-contact jersey) at practice.

As of Thursday, Preston Williams, Albert Wilson, Vince Biegel, Cethan Carter and Jevon Holland all didn’t practice due to injury. Adam Shaheen also did not practice, although the reason for his absence remains unknown, it is thought not to be injury related.

Fans can rest easy as all receivers have stated that they feel great in their fitness, but the coaching staff are intent on bringing them back slowly to avoid further complications heading into the season. In addition, per Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald, Holland has been walking around fine without any visible discomfort. The condition of Eichenberg is at present unknown.

Q. What is going on with Ja’Marr Chase? Do you stand by the pick giving the obvious need to protect Burrow?

Bengals:

KP: “Ja’Marr Chase is going to be fine. He was having issues with drops in training camp, and those issues popped up again against Washington. Luckily, he has that same blue collar, nose-to-the-grindstone mentality that Burrow has. He’s been working through his issues and the reports have been he’s turned the corner in practices this week.” 

“Don’t forget, this is the same guy who wanted to work on his hands in college and made the decision to catch 10,000 passes in one offseason with his fellow wide receivers. That was the offseason that preceded LSU’s undefeated run through the National Championship in 2019, the same season that put Chase on the map.

As far as the selection in the 2021 NFL Draft goes, I personally wanted Kyle Pitts, who wasn’t even available when we picked. But, I had the same mentality the Bengals seemed to have at the time. Everyone acted like Penei Sewell was this can’t-miss prospect, but the Bengals have had plenty of success finding offensive linemen in later rounds and plenty of failures in the first round.

They also replaced RT Bobby Hart with Riley Reiff in free agency, which was a HUGE upgrade. They ended up picking Jackson Carman and D’Ante Smith in the first four rounds of the Draft. Carman hasn’t exactly had the fastest start, but he’s looked fine in the preseason, and Smith has been a bit of a hidden gem so far. Not to mention, Sewell hasn’t looked great in the preseason with Detroit. So, I think the strategy was justified.”

Q. Which Dolphins’ player scares you the most?

Bengals:

KP: “It’s preseason, so I don’t know if “scares” is the right word. But, I am definitely going to be watching how well the Bengals’ secondary plays against No. 6 overall pick Jaylen Waddle. In addition to looking scary in college, I’ve been hearing nothing but good things from my friends who follow the Dolphins. It sounds like he’s the whole package, and could see a lot of playing time this week.

Naturally, as I’ve been impressed by the Bengals’ pass coverage this preseason, I’m fascinated by this matchup. I’m not currently sure who will be covering him during the game, as I’m not entirely sure when Waddle will be playing in the first place. But, I would love to see him challenge guys like Chidobe Awuzie and Eli Apple, who have both been fantastic free agency additions for the Bengals this year.”

Conclusion:

Once again I would just like to thank Kyle for his help and insights throughout this article. Be sure to go and follow him on Twitter. The preseason finale will look different for many reasons. No Tua, no X, no Byron along with many other starters. Nevertheless, over the past 2 years this organisation has shown its worth in finding the diamonds in the rough. The players that get overlooked and go unrecognized, we will get our biggest look at the potential candidates yet this week. Who they will end up being we will find out come August 31 when the final 53 is finalized. Fins Up!

Follow Bradley Davies on Twitter:

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Miami Dolphins: Know the opponent

Bengals QB Brandon Allen faces the Dolphins for the first time since their 2020 matchup.

Ahead of the Cincinnati Bengals final preseason game against the Miami Dolphins, I collaborated with Bradley Davies at Dolphins ATB to profile the team the Bengals will be hosting in Cincinnati this week. Although we aren’t likely to see a true representation of the team the Dolphins want to present in the regular season on Sunday, there will still be plenty of storylines developing and key players to watch.

Q: Who has been the biggest standout in camp and the preseason so far? Any particular roster battles that are shaping up to produce a different result than would have been expected a few months ago? Anyone we should be keeping a close eye on in the final preseason game?

If you would have asked me this question 2 weeks ago there would have only been one answer and that would be Albert Wilson. Throughout the early weeks he was everywhere and seemed to have seamless chemistry with Tua. From a potential cut candidate to starting receiver on the first depth chart, Wilson had a very impressive camp before being sidelined with injury (as is the case with nearly every Dolphin’s receiver). Ever since I would have to say the camp standout would most likely be either Holland or Waddle, both rookies have hit the ground running with their explosiveness and play making ability. 

Bradley Davies

In relation to the positional battles, the biggest surprise is what is happening with the offensive line. Coming into camp everybody believed that the starting line was set in stone. It was presumed that it would be: Austin Jackson (LT), Solomon Kindley (LG), Matt Skura ( C), Robert Hunt (RG) and Liam Eichenberg  (RT). Since then both Kindley and Skura have had spells with the 3rd team, while Jackson has been bullied throughout joint practices and preseason. Furthermore, Michael Deiter, a player who did not start a single game for the Dolphins, has transitioned from left guard to be the starting center.

The biggest factor going forward is what to do with Liam Eichenberg. After starting camp as starting RT to then starting LG, he is now back at RT in the second team behind Jesse Davis. However with a strong performance against the Falcons he is knocking on the door once again for a starting position.

Going into the final preseason game it is likely that we will not see many starters at all including Tua. The game will primarily focus on players that are on the bubble of the roster and practice squad players. Given the vastly changing nature of the Dolphins wide receiver room on Tuesday, I would keep a close eye on Kirk Merritt for one last push to make the roster. He has been productive throughout camp after failing to break in to the team last season

Bradley Davies

With Joe Burrow seeing his first live-game action since his gruesome knee injury, it’s probably best to protect him. No one wants to see him put his body on the line for a game that doesn’t count. That said, as I referenced in last week’s review, preseason does matter for those fringe roster players. So, it’s interesting to see how guys like Jalen Davis and Eli Apple fare against hungry Miami Dolphins receivers. Wilson and Merritt, in particular, are good ones to watch. Also, I am fascinated to see how Jackson Carman plays this week in comparison to Liam Eichenberg. Eichenberg was a player many Bengals fans were hoping the Bengals would target at 38.

Q: The big talk in the Draft surrounded the Dolphins’ decision to trade down and back up in the Draft. There were a lot of opinions surrounding this decision. But, it seems like they have found a solid player in Jaylen Waddle. Was accumulating picks and drafting Waddle the right move? Should have stayed put and selected Florida TE Kyle Pitts, popular among Florida-based Dolphins fans?

Absolutely. There is no doubting Pitts’ ability, he is a freak athlete that would have created a matchup nightmare. However the Dolphins are not short of contested catch specialists with a strong TE room. As for Waddle, his speed, explosiveness and what he brings to this offense is invaluable. He is just special and has shown that comparisons with Tyreek Hill is no exaggeration. To come away with Waddle and another first round pick from one of the picks robbed from the Texans is nothing short of remarkable. The Dolphins are much further ahead in their rebuild now than anybody could have imagined. They are a legitimate playoff contender already, and their added draft capital over the coming years gives them the flexibility to really build something special.

Bradley Davies

Of all the top pass-catching prospects in the 2021 NFL Draft, Chase seemed like the obvious target for the Bengals. But, many fans were hoping for Pitts. Few made the argument for Waddle at the time. However, so far Waddle has been the most impressive of the bunch for the Miami Dolphins. If you believe everything the national media tells you, Chase looks like the most disappointing of the bunch so far. But, he’ll likely have an opportunity to influence that narrative this week as both rookies could get some playing time.

Q: What is going on with Tua Tagovailoa? He had an up-and-down rookie season and that appears to be continuing this preseason so far. What is the general feeling around his potential as the Dolphins’ long-term solution at QB?

It is no secret that Tua’s rookie season was somewhat underwhelming, it wasn’t great but at the same time he didn’t stink like many would lead you to believe. Let us not forget prior to making his NFL debut, Tua was less than a year removed from a potentially career ending injury. I’m sure Bengals’ fans can now sympathise with the ups and downs that you endured throughout Joe Burrow’s return.

I personally believe that the Miami Dolphins had their hand forced into playing Tua before he was fully ready. With the strong starts made by Burrow and Herbert, if the 5th overall pick did not see the field over the likes of Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh Rosen, scepticism over his potential would have been even more rife across the NFL. By allowing Tua the opportunity to make his mistakes in a weakened AFC East, with both the Jets and Patriots very much below par, meant any rookie mistakes that made did not come at the expense of winning in the moment.

Any notions of his rookie struggles continuing this offseason are incorrect. Tua has come on leaps and bounds. Throughout camp the Dolphins’ passing game has improved tremendously. Despite the likes of Will Fuller and DeVante Parker not being on the field, Tua has had no issues in being able to push the ball down the field against an elite Dolphins’ defense. Tua has done this with consistency throughout camp with around 7 times more touchdown passes than interceptions throughout the entirety of camp.

Coming into the preseason games there was much anticipation as to how he would perform in a game setting. When evaluating his rookie season there were a few holes in Tua’s game: elements of his mechanics, decisiveness and confidence in the playbook. Throughout preseason Tua has been efficient with the ball, getting it out quickly with his feet set. In addition his pocket presence has come on enormously, as he has not been afraid to climb the pocket whilst his receivers get open. From what we have seen so far, everything is set for a big leap in 2021. Whether he is the long term solution we will see. A sample size of 9 games in an unprecedented season is not enough to make any judgement whether good or bad.

Bradley Davies

For a large chunk of 2019, a lot of Bengals fans thought the Bengals should target Tagovailoa in the Draft. I know because I was one of them. However, as Burrow’s legend grew, and Tua’s faded after his injury, it became clear who was the obvious choice. The Bengals will likely be seeing Jacoby Brissett and Reid Sinnett taking all the snaps this week. But, understanding the situation around Tua is essential to understanding the Dolphins.

Q: Opinions about head coach Brian Flores have generally ranged from highly impressed to somewhat skeptical. It was an impressive turnaround from the 5-11 team he coached in his first season. But, is there significant pressure to make the playoffs this year? What happens if they don’t?

People should not forget the position the Dolphins were in 2019. With what was considered the worst NFL roster of all time, calls for the league to investigate whether Dolphins were tanking and putting their players at risk. From starting 0-7 the Brian Flores has since gone 15-10 all in one year of a rebuild. Very few of Belichick’s coaches have been successful since leaving New England, Brian Flores is certainly one. The culture that he and Chris Grier have built in Miami is something truly different to what the Dolphins have had in some time and it is refreshing. While missing out on the playoffs this year will inevitably be a disappointment, if the team continues to develop in their rebuild and improve on both sides of the ball, Flores will be just fine. 

However as Tyler DeSena said in one of his articles, there is pressure on Flores to ensure that he has finally sorted the offensive coordinator position at the 3rd time of trying. From Chad O’ Shea’s highly technical and confusing offense, to an archaic offensive system designed by Chan Gailey specifically for Ryan Fitzpatrick, all eyes are now on George Godsey and Eric Studesville to modernise the Dolphins’ offense. However, so far so good. Pre-snap motions are being used to create separation, creating leverage allowing them to beat the defenses.

Bradley Davies

There are actually quite a few similarities between the Miami Dolphins’ turnaround and the Bengals’ rebuild with Zac Taylor. Both teams are run by young, first-time head coaches and both looked bad enough to draw tanking claims in 2019. Each targeted a franchise quarterback in the 2020 NFL Draft. Both teams hope to have found a game-breaking wide receiver with their top pick of the 2021 NFL Draft. Each head into 2021 needing to prove the rebuild is working.

The biggest difference? The Bengals have a 6-25-1 record in that time frame and the Miami Dolphins are 15-17. In fact, the Dolphins just barely missed the playoffs. Flores’ job could be in jeopardy if the Dolphins put together an abysmal season. But, Taylor is under pressure to show progress now. Another sub .500 season with no hope of playoff contention would absolutely be a death knell for this regime.

Mutualism: Offensive line and the Run game

The NFL is an ecosystem, in an ecosystem there are predators and bottom feeders.

In short, there are winners and losers every single year in the NFL and the ecosystem changes. For better or worse.

In Terms for the Miami Dolphins, you couldn’t have seen such a turnaround from 2019 to 2021. A team crafted out of street free agents, undrafted players and ageing veterans had the makings for predators to lick their chops.

It was trial by fire to see who could overcome and adapt harsh situation, and at times while trying to cool the flames, they would hinder themselves and the rest of the team.

The Defense struggles at times but found their footing, they went from prey to predator by learning and adapting to the environment.

2019

On the other hand, the offensive line is trying to find a footing to best handle it’s surroundings. At times in 2019 and 2020 there were inconsistencies. Some days the line was meshing well other days, well, they were fresh meat.

In this league you cannot have abysmal trench play, it hampers the running game and QB play. We all have seen how poorly the line played in 2019, the statistics tells a holistic story.

A Historic Rate

There are other metrics to gauge Offensive line play such as PFF’s pass/run block win rate. ESPN’s rate also shows it too.

Michael Dieter, who was a in 2019, finished as the team’s worst offensive linemen. Jesse Davis, who started 15 games, was the only other offensive linemen to make the list.

The team had the worst pass blocking scheme in the NFL. Trench play was absolutely abysmal and there were many instances where Ryan Fitzpatrick could not do anything.

Trickled down Economics

Running backs Kenyan Drake, Marl Walton, Myles Gaskin and Kalen Ballage could not even eclipse anywhere near 100 yards a game.

Fitzpatrick was the leading rusher for the team.

To say the least, the offensive line was a nagging parasite, harmful to the team overall.

Miami’s offense could not score to compete with its opponents, Defense on the field for more than 60+ snaps every week. As a team, the Dolphins could not function properly.

Sort of like eating gas station sushi to fill your hunger on a road trip, it does not end well.

2020

The good news about the offensive line was that it did not get worse. As a result of newly introduced reinforcements into the NFL landscape there were some improvements.

Helpful Vets

Jesse Davis has been the anchor of the offensive line for the Miami Dolphins since he was drafted in the 2017 NFL draft. As a rookie, he has played in 47 of the team’s 48 games. He’s been improving every year.

Ereck Flowers was brougth in as a Free Agent to plug the hole at Left Guard. He was an important piece to help Austin Jackson understand the NFL before going down with a season ending injury.

The Miami Dolphins have been looking for a solid center since Mike Pouncey left in 2018. They got one in Karras, who did a decent job protecting Fitzpatrick and Tua as the quarterbacks.

The Newbies

Some people may think that Jackson was drafted too high despite having played less games than other starters in college. He showed that he can play left tackle in the NFL, but is still very raw.

Kindley was given no reconsideration as a right guard in 2020. His ability to protect Tua’s blind side helped the team establish a running game that finally eclipsed over 100 yards in the final 6 games. Kindley shifted to left guard when Ereck Flowers went down.

Robert Hunt played on the right side as a right tackle alongside Solomon Kindley, protecting Tua’s blindside. Although Hunt was decent, his highest celling as a lineman looks to be a fixture at Right Guard.

Impact

Overall, the play was significantly better compared to 2019; however, it can always improve. Per PFF, the Dolphins offensive line was ranked 28th. A slight improvement over the worst rank in 2019.

Few teams invested more in improving the offensive line than the Dolphins did entering the 2020 season. They spent draft picks on Austin Jackson in the first round, Robert Hunt in the second round and Solomon Kindley in the fourth round — all who played more than 700 snaps in 2019.

An offensive line with three rookies, would struggle early on, but did improve slightly. Robert Hunt looked to be the best out of the bunch as his 76.4 PFF grade from Week 12 through the end of the regular season was 5th out of 37 right tackles.

2021

As Pre-season winds down we see glimpses of what this Dolphins offensive line could be, thus as it factors into offensive philosophy.

Scheme

Contrary to Ben Fennels point (I love ya ben) but the Offense looks to be a pass first offense. In theory, it will open up the run game.

In fundamentals of an RPO-based offense the offensive line has to consist of guards and tackles that can run block well. The top three run blockers on this offensive line consists of Soloman Kindley, Robert Hunt and rookie OL Liam Eichenberg.

Eichenberg has tried out playing Left Guard at camp but looks to fight Jesse Davis for the starting RT spot. He took first team reps at Right Tackle for the first time against Atlanta and looked consistent opening up holes in the run game.

“Eichenberg is an extremely solid, if unspectacular, tackle prospect. He saw his performance take a massive leap from his first to his second season as a starter. His pass-blocking grade went from 63.5 in 2018 to 85.6 last year and his run blocking grade from 60.8 to 78.8.”

PFF’s Mike Renner on Liam Eichenberg

Recipe for Success

I expect some growing pains on the offensive line to happen against the 3rd pre-season game against the Bengals and early on in the regular season. Furthermore, there has been a noticeable trend from since last year particularly on the right side of the line.

Last season on the right side proved it with the Combo of Hunt/Kindley as the running game was efficient running the ball to the right. Pass protection and the running game worked on Tua’s Blindside.

Thanks to some help from Kyle Crabbs and Sharp Football analysis, rushing YPC produced on the right side of the line.

It’s about fundamentals and execution this pre-season. If the entire line can stay disciplined, stay confident and build upon fundamentals, this OL will be even better.

Not only will it not harm the team but become another strength to push the Dolphins to the top of the NFL ecosystem.

Follow Hussam Patel on Twitter

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Improvements We’d Like to See

Credit: Trojan Wire

Last Saturday, the Dolphins fell to the Bears in their first preseason game. The Dolphins starting offense showed signs of life, but only put up 3 points. The starting defense locked down the Bears offense. There were still issues for Miami though. Containing Justin Fields and poor OL play were the most significant. 

Below is a list of improvements we’d like to see in tonight’s game versus Atlanta.

OFFENSE

The starting OL was below average. 2020 first-round pick Austin Jackson had the toughest day out of everyone.

Austin Jackson was the lowest rated Dolphins OL versus Chicago

On one play, he was driven straight back at QB Tua Tagovailoa. Jackson was thrown back and flew into Tagovailoa’s legs. The Dolphins escaped disaster on that play. Jackson stayed in after most starters were pulled and finished the first half. The Dolphins will look for more consistent pass protection from Jackson against an Atlanta DL that isn’t as dangerous as Chicago’s. The Dolphins traded for OT Greg Little, so it’s no secret Austin Jackson’s performance was a concern.

The running backs didn’t have a great performance. Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed showed potential with the first-teamers, but hesitated and lacked vision at times. FA signing Malcolm Brown also struggled, with 9 yards on 8 carries.

Some of these struggles could be attributed to poor OL play, but the RB’s weren’t doing their part either. 

Ahmed was solid in the passing game and has been contributing all week at practice. Although Miami plans on a committee-styled RB room, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Ahmed get more work with the starters.

It will be important to keep an eye on all the RB’s and see how they fare against a slightly easier front-7 in the Falcons.

DEFENSE

The starting defense got off to a great start, and the Bears didn’t pick up a first down until the end of the first half. There were still issues with the defense later on in the game.

Miami has always struggled against mobile QB’s, or any QB once they get outside the pocket. Last week, Bears rookie Justin Fields showed that it was still an issue.

Although Matt Ryan and AJ McCarron aren’t dual-threats, Feleipe Franks is. If Franks gets time with the 2nd-team, it will be interesting to see how Miami’s front-7 contains him. 

The pass rush was lackluster for the most part. Besides a handful of good plays, Fields had plenty of time to throw. In that game though, rookie Jaelan Phillips and Emmanuel Ogbah didn’t play. If Miami can get into the Falcons backfield, the defense is going to be even scarier than last week.

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Preseason Preview: Week 2 Falcons @ Dolphins

Acknowledgement:

Before we delve into the game preview, I would just like to thank and credit Hunter Thompson of Falcons ATB, for his contributions and insights in putting together this preseason matchup article.

Training Camp

Q. What do you hope your team will gain from the joint practices held in Miami?

Falcons:

HT: “I hope the team really decides to step up and compete and stays tough and physical with Miami this week. I know going against new players is huge for development, so I hope we see them gain confidence and have good meaningful reps.”

Dolphins:

Heading into the joint practices with the Chicago Bears, I stated how the primary focus would be how to deal with the mobility of Justin Fields. The starting defense to a certain extent did manage to contain Fields, however never really exerted a lot of pressure with Fields having all day in the pocket never really needing to scramble. Coming into the second week of preseason, the Dolphins will face its second kryptonite; elite receiving tight ends. Facing the likes of Kyle Pitts and Hayden Hurst, all eyes will be on Eric Rowe and the rest of the Dolphins’ defense as to how they contain the threat that Pitts poses.

Coming out of the 2021 NFL Draft, Pitts’ NFL comparison was Darren Waller, a player that torched Eric Rowe Week 16, despite him being right on him nearly every play. Rowe v Pitts will be the biggest matchup to watch out for. Also look out for how Miami’s linebackers especially Jerome Baker looks in coverage.

Nevertheless, the receiving threat posed by the Falcons extends far beyond containing Pitts, especially with the likes of Calvin Ridley coming off the back of a 1,374 yd season where he averaged 15.3 YPC. The whole secondary will for sure be tested after a very good first week of preseason.

UPDATE: Following the first day of joint practice, the battle has been as anticipated. Thankfully for Dolphins fans, aside from the play shown above, by most accounts Eric Rowe had a fantastic day.

Highlight of the day would be where Rowe had a PBU on a touchdown pass intended for Pitts.

Q. A lot of Dolphins fans had their hearts set on Kyle Pitts, how has he performed so far?

HT: “We have yet to see Pitts play in the Falcons uniform, but based on the Training camp we’ve been hearing, he is a standout in camp. He is helping fill the hole left by Julio Jones when he got traded to Tennessee. If Pitts plays this game, look for him to take over the game if he is as good as he is being advertised. “

Fan Q. How strong is the receiving unit this season without Julio? How much involvement do you anticipate Russell Gage having this year? Is he the definite WR2?

HT: “The receiving unit without Julio will look very different. Look for the Falcons to implement a lot of two tight end looks to take advantage of having both Kyle Pitts and Hayden Hurst on the roster. And for Gage, look for him to be a potential flex option or low-end WR2 for you and your fantasy team. I think he will still be the third option, but who knows for certain.”

Preseason

Q. How did you fare Week 1 of preseason? What went well? Who stood out? What/who concerns you?

Falcons:

HT: “We lost 23-3. And it was a tough game all the way around, we struggled in the trenches on offense and only amassed 139 total yards. Nothing really on offense went well which is concerning, but the defense actually had some standouts in Ogundeji and JTM at the EDGE positions. Marlon Davidson (who is out this week) also managed to stand out in the DL department.”

Dolphins:

The Good:

Despite losing 20-13, the Dolphins started preseason very positively. Box scores in such games are largely irrelevant. The Dolphins starters and second team played very well. By the half, the Bears had barely managed a first down against a defense not featuring, Howard, Jones, Phillips or Ogbah. The offense were successful at moving the ball down field with Tua going 8/11 and 99 yards. However, Miami did struggle in the red zone, being stopped on the goal line and then the eventual pick to end Tua’s evening. Nevertheless, I would not be worried about this, as Tua has excelled in red zone drills all throughout camp.

Stand out performers include Tua (despite INT), Justin Coleman (the one man hit sticking machine, who needs to learn to wrap players up), Nik Needham, Mack Hollins, Eric Rowe, Salvon Ahmed, Jakeem Grant and Noah Igbinoghene who made some good plays, despite a rather troublesome camp.

The Bad and the Ugly:

Without sounding like too much of a broken record, the offensive line struggles exhibited during Week 1 of preseason will be the primary focus heading into Saturday’s game. Facing the Bears elite defensive line, the offensive line was decimated throughout the first day of joint practice. Despite some bounce back during the second day of practice, the offensive line remained an issue heading into the preseason debut. While the starting pass protection was fairly good, with Tua Tagovailoa complementing the line for giving him a relatively clean pocket, run blocking was almost none existent.

As Chris Spooner eluded to in his recent article, the left side of the line including Austin Jackson and Solomon Kindley was especially problematic in establishing the run. Consequently, PFF gave Kindley a 45.7 run-blocking grade while Austin Jackson graded even worse scoring a dreadful 38.1.

For a full recap of the game, go check out Tanner Elliott’s post game analysis.

Q. What are your expectations going into the game? What do you hope the team takes away from it?

Falcons:

HT: “I am going into this game with low expectations for a few different reasons. Mainly because it’s the preseason and I don’t think the game itself matters as much as meaningful reps for each player. Last week we saw a few standouts even though we as a team struggled, and that’s the biggest plus of the preseason for me. But I hope we see the offensive line step it up. Last week against the Titans the line struggled the entire game and we can’t afford two weeks of that. When the line struggles it makes the evaluation process for skill positions so much harder.”

Dolphins:

Going into the second preseason game, the main thing I hope to see is consistency. If Tua can string together another couple of good series to his depleted options at receiver, it will be a success, even against a shaky Falcons secondary. I would like to see a lot more of Jaylen Waddle in this game as a receiver, as he left week one without a catch. I would also like to see more of our pass rush in getting pressure in at the QB.

However, all eyes will be on how the offensive line performs. As aforementioned, pass blocking was relatively good during the first game. I want to see this continue with consistency while beginning to open up running lanes for the backs. The return of Liam Eichenberg can bring some optimism to fans, although I wouldn’t get your hopes up.

Q. Are there any injury concerns affecting the team heading into the game?

Falcons:

HT: “I don’t really have any major concerns coming in, I’d like to see Marlon Davidson playing in the game, but it is what it is.”

Dolphins:

In contrast with that of Atlanta, Miami’s situation is a lot more tenuous, especially at wide receiver. As I stated in a previous article when healthy the Dolphins have an elite receiving threat, however we are yet to see it. Coming into the first day of joint practice, the following receivers were missing:

In addition, Preston Williams remains on PUP and Allen Hurns has been placed on IR.

While availability for a preseason game is not a big issue for the likes of Parker and Fuller, until those players are on the field we will not see the full capability of this offense. With the offensive line woes many people have questioned the decision to pass on Penei Sewell. However, with the options at receiver now, thank god for Jaylen Waddle.

Outside of the receiving room Jaelan Phillips returned to practice this week, but given his value, he will be brought back form injury very slowly, making him an outsider to feature heavily in the second preseason game. Liam Eichenberg, Brandon Jones and Ogbah have all returned to practice this week. Rookie TE Hunter Long has been dressed for practice, but has not participated in team drills due to ongoing pain stifling his return.

Q. Which player on the other team scares you the most?

Falcons:

HT: “Jaylen Waddle. 100%. His explosiveness is concerning for the young defense we are going to be fielding.”

Dolphins:

Calvin Ridley no doubt. His route running is truly elite and one of the most technically gifted receivers in the game. Any one who can torch Xavien Howard the way he did in camp, deserves fearing.

Q. What are your expectations going into the season?

Falcons:

HT: “We are at a weird point where we are retooling the roster while still trying to be competitive, which looks strange. But looking at what we did in the draft and how some of those picks are playing we are running a pretty decent first offseason under the new regime. But that also makes this conversation difficult because no one really knows what to expect from this current roster. Some fans are expecting a playoff push, while others are expecting another top 10 draft pick.”

Dolphins:

Dolphins fans you will just have to keep your eyes peeled for the Dolphins ATB staff’s expectations and season prediction article in the coming weeks.

Conclusion

Once again I would like to thank Hunter for his help and insights throughout this article. Be sure to go follow him on Twitter. Many have predicted this game to be the “dress rehearsal” for the season with the final game intended for those players on the edge of the roster. As such expect Tua to get more reps and thus hopefully more highlights for us fans to revel over until the season. Fins Up!

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