The Dolphins have gotten off to a pretty rough start this preseason, finishing their first two games with a record of 0-2 against the Chicago Bears and the Carolina Panthers.
However, when you take into account that the starting players have greatly outplayed their opponents' starters, it would indicate that the Dolphins current record is not an accurate picture of what the team's regular season success will be.
The third game of the preseason is usually treated by teams as a sort of dress rehearsal, and it's currently unknown whether or not the Dolphins plan on treating it this way, especially with the storm coming. But for the sake of this story, we'll assume the starters will play a full half, as is customary. With that said, here are five things to watch for.
The Dolphins starting defense against the Falcons starting offense
Going up against the sorry Bears offense with Jay Cutler at quarterback and the wide receiver starved Panthers offense is not a true challenge for a defense that's projected to be in the top ten defenses for 2015, some have even gone as far as to say that it will be the best in the NFL. Such is the impact of the signing of Ndamukong Suh.
But the Falcons have a good quarterback and weapons that are very dangerous in wide receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White. It will be interesting to see whether or not the Dolphins defense will be able to shut down a team that actually has their offense as a strength as opposed to a weakness.
Will the Dolphins banged up secondary be able to hold off Jones and White? Will the defensive line be able to continue its domination of every offensive line they've met thus far and apply pressure to Matt Ryan? Suh has wanted more playing time, and he's likely about to get it.
Ryan Tannehill needs to remain sharp
There's been a lot of hype about Ryan Tannehill's improvement this offseason, and through the first two preseason games, the hype appears to be more than just hype. It seems to be real. Through the four drives that Tannehill has led, three of them have gone for touchdowns. He's also thrown 22 passes and had 18 of them be completed. That's really sharp.
Now, Tannehill needs to keep that sharpness going. He's already been forced to work with a less than stellar offensive line this preseason since left tackle Branden Albert is still recovering from his injury, and now that Jason Fox is down with a concussion, that leaves the possibility of Dallas Thomas being at left tackle, a possibility that leaves a very sour taste in the mouths of fans.
But this is potentially a good chance for Tannehill to have a real test of his abilities. Against the Falcons, there isn't a lot of danger for him to be beat down since the Falcons have a rather weak defense. Nevertheless, there is a danger, and Tannehill will have a chance to show he can function even when his pocket isn't necessarily holding up. If he can, there should be a big reason to be encouraged.
What do the linebackers look like with Koa Misi back in the lineup?
Linebacker Koa Misi returned to practice very recently, and as a result, he was inserted right back into the starting lineup - predictably at SLB in place of Chris McCain. The return of Misi makes the other two starters Jelani Jenkins at WLB and Kelvin Sheppard taking charge in the middle, for better or worse.
Coverage has been a real issue for the linebacker corps all throughout training camp and preseason, and part of that is because Sheppard and McCain have weaknesses in that department. The return of Misi will help that out, and we'll see how much it will against the high-powered Falcons offense.
Offensive Line depth
As of right now, it appears that there is little to no depth on the Miami Dolphins offensive line, particularly at the left and right tackle positions. So here's the question: how bad will the pass protection and run blocking be with Dallas Thomas at left tackle and (probably) Jamil Douglas at left guard once more.
It's this lack of depth on the line that has caused fans to want so desperately for Ryan Tannehill to stay off the field and let Matt Moore play in the "dress rehearsal" game instead. But if there was ever a chance for the young players to prove that they have potential to improve, it's now. Some players sink when thrown into the deep end, and some manage to swim.
For now, let's just see if they can at least tread water.
Can the Dolphins backups step up and start making plays?
The starters have yet to put together a bad performance this preseason, and there's very little indication (besides the offensive line) that the starters will stop doing so. The biggest issue is not the starting lineup, it's the depth of the team. I just mentioned the overall depth of the offensive line, but the depth has issues for the rest of the team as well.
The secondary is in danger with Jamar Taylor seemingly always injured, and Zack Bowman and Will Davis have had several struggles on the boundary. The linebackers are also in flux with Jordan Tripp's ankle keeping him from getting any practice.
Both losses for the Dolphins have come due to the failure of the second and third team players to beat the other team's second and third team players. If these fringe players want a roster spot, they'll have to start making plays, and fast.
This story was written by Luis Sung. Follow him on Twitter: @FLSportDebater
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