In a preseason finale devoid of too much drama, as well as points on the scoreboard, the Miami Dolphins squeaked by the St. Louis Rams 14-13 on Thursday at Sun Life Stadium to finish their preseason 3-1.
Miami continue to struggle scoring touchdowns with their top offensive players, and in tonight’s case the second team led by Matt Moore managed just 10 rushing yards and 48 total yards on 13 plays. The Rams were in the top 10 of the league last year in opponent rushing yards and they were repeatedly able to shut down the Dolphins early. The Dolphins finished with 79 rushing yards on a night where they were without Knowshon Moreno and Lamar Miller, but they did improve in the second half. Still, it was a drop off from last week’s showing versus the Cowboys and more in line with their performances earlier in the preseason.
The starting defensive line may be talented, but today’s showing by the reserves didn’t exactly instill much confidence that the team is loaded with depth either. This could quickly turn into a big issue should there be any injuries down the road, but on a night where the Dolphins were consistently shuffling players around for the entire game it remains a question mark until the normal regular season rotation is set.
There is something to be said though about the team’s late-game performances with two comeback victories in a row. Moore says that it’s a sign of the team’s resilience as they look for encouraging signs heading into the first regular season game against the New England Patriots next week.
"Obviously there are positives to build off of and then you learn from the things you don’t do so well," the backup quarterback said. "I feel good with where we’re at, but we’ll turn it up here in the next 10 days so we’re ready to go."
Overall team performance with so many reserves playing was predictably disjointed and uneven, so a look at individual players who had to perform well in their last chance to impress the coaching staff is in order considering there was so much in line with final team cuts due by Saturday afternoon.
Who’s in trouble?
The Dolphins couldn’t have possibly showcased Daniel Thomas any more then they could, starting in their first drive with Moore leading the way. Unfortunately, Thomas couldn’t do much in his first action of the preseason with just 17 total yards on eight carries in the first half. Thomas did improve with a few strong plays in the second half in which he was the primary force behind the team’s first scoring drive of the night, which took 13 plays and 78 yards in just under six minutes to complete. He scored the team’s first touchdown on the second play of the fourth quarter, but the effort may prove to be too little too late for the four-year veteran.
Linebacker Jelani Jenkins continued to miss tackles tonight, though he did finish with three tackles and was able to notch a sack in the third quarter to keep the Rams from field-goal position. This could be Jenkins’ last stand, and he may not survive past Saturday.
With Brady Quinn out of the picture, rookie quarterback Seth Lobato once again had the majority of the snaps after Moore played the first quarter. Lobato nearly threw an interception on his first play and then got picked off two plays later to start a rough night.
In the two-minute drill before halftime, Lobato tried to find Marcus Thigpen in crowded coverage, who didn’t even look like he was expecting the ball. He settled down in the second half with a couple of good throws but also telegraphed several others. Still, the team didn’t get much assurance that expending a roster spot on a third quarterback would be a wise decision. For his part, Lobato said he’s shown enough to be given a chance.
"I think I’ve progressed every day," he said. "Just from the first preseason game to this last one. It felt like there have been leaps and bounds of improvement made by this offense as a whole and just continuing to drive and get better each day."
Once considered the starter not too long ago, guard Dallas Thomas suddenly faces an uncertain future. Shelley Smith rested for the final game but Sam Brenner got the starting job at right guard instead. Thomas didn’t do much when he did play and hasn’t been the same since he was manhandled by Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and subsequently lost his starting job. Thomas had to play his best game of the preseason to restore some confidence but he was a non-factor again.
Who had a solid showing tonight?
Heralded rookie Jarvis Landry gave the Dolphins a needed boost at the start of the game and he was heavily featured along with Thomas on the first drive. He caught all three passes thrown his way for 28 yards and his dynamic game is already coming through for a team desperate for playmakers.
Reserve defensive tackle Garrison Smith was a surprising factor, especially in the first half, with one sack of the night and four tackles. On a night where many of his teammates seemed to be going through the motions, Smith seized an opportunity to stand out from the pack. Whether that translates into a roster spot is another thing though.
Matt Hazel showed further proof of the Dolphins receiving unit’s depth with a strong performance. After making one reception in the first half for 19 yards, the Dolphins’ 2014 sixth-round draft pick had a big second half with several nice catches and a fourth-quarter touchdown to help give the Dolphins their first lead of the night. Making the team will be very tough, however, with so many quality receivers on the team.
Marcus Thigpen fumbled his first punt return badly and then kicked the ball trying to recover it, but his night steadily improved as he showed off his skills in the second half.
"I definitely feel like I had a lot to prove," he said. "I did put a lot of pressure on myself. At the end of the day I have to concentrate on being more productive. I feel like I left some plays out there that I just need to be better at."
He finished strong by the end when he returned one punt for 32 yards in the fourth quarter, a sign he just might be the team’s best returner. The running back/wide receiver hybrid may prove to be too versatile for the Dolphins to cut him.